Is A UV Lamp A Necessary Tool For Stamp Collecting?

Whether you are an experienced or amateur philatelist, there are always new tools to discover to help you with your collecting adventures. These tools range from the highly useful to the fairly useless. One such tool is a UV lamp, with many stamp collectors wondering if it’s a necessary tool.

A UV lamp is not a necessary tool for stamp collecting, but it can definitely enhance your hobby. From finding hidden details in stamps to identifying potential faults, a UV lamp can offer valuable assistance in properly examining your collection.

Below, we discuss the uses and advantages of UV lamps for stamp collectors in more detail, so that you can decide whether it is truly a necessary tool to add to your repertoire. But first, what is an ultraviolet lamp?

What Is An Ultraviolet Lamp?

Simply put, ultraviolet, or “UV,” is a type of electromagnetic radiation. The wavelength of ultraviolet radiation is shorter than that of light visible to the human eye, but longer than the high-energy radiation of x-rays. 

Ultraviolet radiation is present in the sun’s rays, yet we also use it in specialist lighting. The purposes of such lighting vary widely, but the everyday uses you will likely be most familiar with include use in tanning salons, fluorescent black lighting, halogen lights and, as we will discuss in this article, for conducting a comprehensive study of stamps.

It is important to note that ultraviolet radiation can damage living cells and tissues, especially during exposure to large quantities at once. For instance, it is the ultraviolet radiation which poses the risk of sunburns, and why it is important to never look directly into an ultraviolet lamp due to the risk of damage to your eyesight.

When it comes to using UV lamps for hobbyist purposes, it’s important to know that there are two main types of ultraviolet radiation – longwave and shortwave. Shortwave UV has a wavelength of around 254 nanometers, whereas longwave UV has a wavelength closer to 360 nanometers. Both can be used for identifying different things, and which you use is dependent on your needs.

Why Use A UV Lamp For Stamp Collecting?

For stamp collectors, ultraviolet lamps can be used for a variety of different reasons, depending on your needs as a collector.

For example, UV lamps can aid in the detection of faults on the stamp, such as evidence of tampering or damage, which could reduce the stamp’s value. On the other side of the scale, however, ultraviolet lamps can also be used to detect hidden details on stamps, which could only be seen and appreciated with the use of these specialist tools.

It isn’t just stamps that hobbyists use ultraviolet lamps for, with collectors of items including currency and rocks also using UV to get more out of their hobby. However, for whatever reason you are considering the purchase of a UV lamp, you need to know the facts before deciding to make that investment.

Long Wave vs Short Wave

Now you know that there are two different types of UV light, let’s take a closer look at how each can be used when it comes to stamp collecting and classifying. As both wave forms have different uses, it is important to know specifically what you are hoping to achieve with the use of a light, in order to make sure you choose the right lamp for your needs.

Shortwave Ultraviolet Lamps

To start, let’s look at how shortwave UV lamps can be used for philatelic pursuits. Shortwave ultraviolet lamps are used to detect phosphorescence. Phosphor has been used on stamps all across the world for over fifty years, for various reasons including tagging and mechanical sorting of postal mail.

Postal sorting machines are able to detect the phosphor on stamps attached to outgoing mail, which speeds up the sorting process considerably. By finding these marks, the machines are able to rotate the envelope into position, making sure the postmark and cancellation is correctly applied to the top right hand corner, with the address clearly visible.

So, using a shortwave ultraviolet lamp on stamps will allow collectors to see these phosphor marks, which will appear as an afterglow on the surface of the stamp.

Shortwave UV lamps are also useful for detecting faults, imperfections, or attempted repairs on stamps, such as erased ink. These, of course, may significantly impact the value of a stamp, so a shortwave ultraviolet lamp is a great tool for collectors who want to be certain of the condition of their inventory.

Longwave Ultraviolet Lamps

Different to shortwave radiation, longwave UV light is used for detecting fluorescence on stamps. Like phosphor, fluorescent tagging is used on stamps to facilitate automated mail processing systems. Fluorescence can be identified by a glow underneath a UV lamp.

Longwave ultraviolet lamps can also be used to identify the type of paper the stamps are printed from, and even detect inconsistencies on stamps, such as those which have undergone an attempted repair, or even forgeries. This makes a longwave ultraviolet lamp a brilliantly useful tool for collectors looking to resell or trade their stamps, to ensure they are of proper value.

Which UV Lamps Are More Useful For Stamp Collectors?

When it comes to deciding which kind of lamp would be the most useful for you, it all depends on what you are hoping to use the lamp for. The above descriptions should help you decide whether shortwave or longwave radiation will offer the correct form of light for your needs.

Generally, for stamp collecting, longwave ultraviolet lamps have more benefits and helpful uses than shortwave ultraviolet lamps. Hobbyist collectors may prefer to choose smaller, flashlight-style lamps for ease, but if you’re more serious about your radiation, bigger, more industrial lamps are available for purchase too.

However, if you can’t choose, you will be glad to hear that it is actually possible to get lamps which are interchangeable between shortwave and longwave radiation – offering the benefits of both in one very useful piece of equipment!

Using A UV Lamp To Find Hidden Details On Stamps

It is not uncommon for countries to issue stamps that feature hidden details which are only visible through the use of a UV lamp. A fun example to give would be the UK’s Royal Mail issues of stamps inspired by popular culture, with “secret messages” that fans and philatelists adore.

In 2018, Royal Mail released a special collection of ten stamps inspired by the popular, magical movie franchise Harry Potter. Each of these stamps are awesome and make great keepsake collectibles as is, but shining a UV light over them enhances the stamps even more.

Harry Potter Stamp Spoiler Alert!

For instance, when the light is shined over the images of characters holding their wands out, a luminous glow appears at the end of each wand. When the light is shined over the stamp depicting the iconic Hogwarts Express train, its lights shine gold and bright as though it is chugging its way through the night.

This is just one (particularly magical) example of many stamps worldwide that are enhanced by fun, hidden-message tagging, only visible through the use of a UV light. So, if you don’t own a lamp, you could have a collection of secretive stamps just waiting to reveal themselves to you, and you don’t even know it yet!

Important Things To Note About The Use Of UV Lamps

First of all, it is crucially important that you never look directly into your UV lamp.The rays can be damaging to your vision, and there won’t be anything to see in there that’s worth the risk! For this reason, it is important to also make sure you keep your UV lamp out of the reach of children.

UV lamps also work better when used in a dark room.  It doesn’t have to be pitch black, but the darker the room, the clearer the results. Of course, stamps will have to be removed from any protective mounts or coverings in order to get the best results.

Where To Buy UV Lamps For Stamp Collecting

If you decide to go ahead and invest in an ultraviolet lamp to use for your stamp collecting, you want to be sure that you are purchasing the right equipment from a retailer you can trust. For practicality and to ensure to protection of your stamps – not to mention your own safety around the light source – we’d recommend sticking to official vendors.

A good suggestion of retailers to buy from are companies that specialize in philately. By doing this, you can ensure that the lamps are being sold with stamp collecting in mind, and you will be able to reach out to the vendor to discuss any philately-specific questions you may have before placing your order.

Otherwise, we recommend shopping around to find not only the most reliable outlet, but also the best deal on your ultraviolet lamp. Depending on the type you are looking for, these lamps can be pricey, and we want to be sure you’re making the right choice before you invest. If you have questions, just ask the retailers, as they should be happy to help you out.

Is A UV Lamp A Necessary Tool For Stamp Collectors?

UV lamps are not necessary tools for stamp collectors. It is perfectly possible to enjoy philately as a hobby without a UV lamp, as there is so much beauty and information to be taken from stamps without going beyond what the naked eye can see.

You don’t need radiation to effectively compile albums and create a collection you are proud of. After all, stamp collecting is a hobby that can be enjoyed by all, with or without specialist equipment!

With that said, it is true that UV lamps can enhance your experience with philately, and they are necessary for certain aspects of stamp collecting. If you want to ensure the quality of your stamp, detect faults, or even see hidden designs, you can use a UV lamp to help you.

Final Thoughts

UV lamps are not necessary for stamp collecting. However, the possession of such a tool would definitely enhance the philatelic experience, and allow the collector to deeply examine and uncover more about their inventory, and learn more about each stamp along the way.

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