Unfortunately for many philatelists, most stamps have evolved from having a water-activated adhesive backing to being completely self-adhesive. This has caused significant problems for album-makers and those with stamp displays, who may be unsure of how to remove self-adhesive stamps.
To remove a self-adhesive stamp from its cover safely and effectively you need to either soak it in hot water, or use a chemical solvent to remove the adhesive. Regardless of the method you choose, you need to be patient and take care when removing self-adhesive stamps.
Keep reading to find out more about how a self-adhesive stamp works and how to remove one, as well as to learn some insightful tips and tricks to ensure your stamps are preserved to be like-new once more.
A Brief History Of Self-Adhesive Stamps
What Does ‘Self-Adhesive’ Mean?
Simply put, ‘self-adhesive’ refers to something which is able to adhere to another surface by itself, without the need for other substances to make it stick.
In philately, a self-adhesive stamp is one which adheres to a cover by itself, as many government-issued stamps do today. This is because the stamps are backed using a special type of pressure-sensitive adhesive, making them easy to place and smooth out onto an envelope, just like a sticker.
Before Self-Adhesive Stamps
Prior to the creation of the self-adhesive variety, stamps were traditionally backed with a gum-like adhesive which was activated by contact with water.
These more traditional stamps did therefore not feel sticky to the touch, but needed a small amount of water on the back of them, in order for them to stick to an envelope. If they weren’t moistened, they would remain dry, making them perfect to slide easily and perfectly into albums or displays, and preserved in like-new condition forever.
Self-Adhesive Stamps Today
The first self-adhesive stamps were actually issued back in 1960s Africa, where the natural climate was causing the stamps to stick together from the humidity. Today, most government-issued stamps throughout the US and the UK are self-adhesive, and have been since the early 2000s.
Not only are self-adhesive stamps generally considered more convenient than water-activated ones, but they have also made the die-cutting process simpler during manufacturing. Self-adhesive stamps can also be sold in books or in much larger quantities on rolls, which is useful for businesses and those purchasing large amounts of stamps in advance of needing them.
However, despite their rise to prominence, the philatelic community has not generally welcomed the evolved usage of self-adhesive stamps, due to the problems they cause for collecting.
Why Remove Self-Adhesive Stamps?
The main reason a collector would want to remove a stamp from the cover it is attached to is usually so they can properly display the stamp in an album. The extra paper the stamp is attached to will effectively double the thickness of the stamp, therefore creating bulk and giving an unnecessary bumpy texture to the album.
Because the mainstreaming of self-adhesive stamps had such an effect in the field of stamp collecting, many philatelists have voiced their displeasure at this new development of stamp issuing. In some cases, collectors even chose to give up on the hobby for good.
However, hope isn’t lost, as there are still ways to safely remove self-adhesive stamps from their covers.
The Most Popular And Effective Stamp Removal Techniques
The Dish Soap Method
This first method of removing self-adhesive stamps is certainly popular, not least because it doesn’t require any special ingredients that won’t already be in your home. To soak a stamp from its cover using this method, you need two heat-resistant trays (baking trays are ideal), some hot water (make sure it’s not too hot to handle), and a small amount of dish soap.
Fill each tray with the water and add a splash of dish soap to one of them. Then, soak the stamps in the tray with the soapy water, with the cover side facing down.
After ten to twenty minutes, you should see the stamps begin to peel away from the paper. If it takes much longer, you can push the stamps around in the water a bit to encourage them along. When they are peeling, pick them out of the soapy water and place them in the second dish.
In this dish, you should be able to remove the backing by peeling it away from the stamp. By rubbing the back of the stamp gently with your thumb or fingers, you should be able to easily remove the rest of the adhesive gum, which should be gooey from the soak. If this step isn’t working, and if it seems like the paper is close to ripping, return the stamp to the tray for more soaking.
Once you are satisfied with the removal, leave your stamp to dry face-down.
The Bestine Method
If asked about methods for self-adhesive stamp removal, many philatelists will suggest the use of a product named Bestine. It’s a tried-and-tested method which is both simple and effective in ensuring the preservation of stamps, which has even been featured in The American Philatelist magazine. So, what is Bestine, and how can it be used in philately?
Bestine is a solvent, consisting mostly of a chemical named heptane. As well as removing adhesives, it has also been used as a thinning aid for rubber cement, and also as an ink remover. It can be found in hardware stores, art stores, and online. To remove a self-adhesive stamp using Bestine, you will also need an eye-dropper tool and some talcum powder.
With the stamp facing down on the surface in front of you, use the eye-dropper tool to sparingly place a few small drops of Bestine onto the cover of the stamp which you are trying to remove. You will see the drops soak through the cover in seconds and make it translucent. Immediately turn the stamp over and you should be able to slowly peel it away from the cover with ease, almost as if by magic!
Once removed, the stamp will still be sticky. When it has dried, you can use a tiny sprinkling of the talcum powder to neutralize this adhesive (more on that below). And that’s it – your stamp is ready for the album! If you are using Bestine, or any other chemical solvent, please ensure you are working in a well-ventilated area.
Tips For Effective Stamp Removal
Practice Makes Perfect
If you are planning on attempting to remove self-adhesive stamps for the first time, it would certainly be a good idea to have a practice run first!
Especially if your goal is to safely remove a rare or valuable stamp, it can’t hurt to try out your chosen method of removal on a common stamp beforehand. This will ensure you are confident when removing your desired stamp, and help to avoid any possible mishaps in the process.
Trimming Your Stamps
Before you begin to remove the stamp, you should trim the cover or envelope to which it is adhered to within a few millimeters around the stamp. Never trim the cover so it is perfectly aligned with the stamp, as this will make it much harder to peel it away.
Ensure No Re-Sticking
One of the most agonizing results of effectively removing a self-adhesive stamp is to find it has re-adhered to a different surface in the drying process!
When you have soaked your stamp off its cover, be aware that it may become tacky again as it dries. Therefore, when you are finding a good place to leave the stamp to dry, make sure you steer clear of leaving it on paper products, or fluffy fabrics which might get pesky fibers on the stamps.
When stamps have been soaked, they may become slightly curled or wrinkled as they dry. Therefore, we recommend using a pressing device on the stamps after they have finished drying, in order to get them back to being flat, straight, and good-as-new. If you don’t have a press, you could always sandwich the stamps in greaseproof paper, and nestle them inside a heavy, hardback bookinstead.
A highly useful and resourceful tip to help remove self-adhesive stamps is to use talcum powder to help eliminate any residual adhesive remaining on a peeled stamp – regardless of what method you used to remove it.
Talcum powder – or baby powder – is brilliant for neutralizing adhesives and blotting up moisture. Therefore, a small sprinkling of the powder onto the back of a stamp which is still just that little bit tacky can make all the difference in ensuring its removal is as effective and near-perfect as possible.
To remove self-adhesive stamps safely, you need to soak it in hot water or use a chemical solvent. This process requires patience, and if not done carefully you can easily damage the stamp. For this reason, you should practice the technique using stamps that are not valuable first.