Stamp collecting is primarily a visual hobby. To me there is something exciting about a display of carefully selected and mounted stamps. But this has to do with the fronts of stamps. In this Guide I will discuss gum and the backs of mint stamps.
First, all stamps are issued with or without gum on the back. This includes the very first postage stamp issue in 1840; the famous "Penny Black" of Great Britain.
Full original gum but heavily hinged.
The overwhelming majority of all stamps were issued with gum for the obvious reason of allowing the user the convenience of affixing them to the article to be mailed by licking and sticking. Stamps issued without gum and the backs of used stamps will be the subject of another Guide.
How to mount mint stamps in an album has been a subject of intense and progressing concern, debate and controversy from the late1860's to the present day. Many pioneer collectors back in the 1840's, 50's and 60's used the gum on the back of the mint stamps they aquired to affix them to their album pages. This soon proved to be an unworkable practice because it did not easily allow for the trading, selling, upgrading and rearrangement of their stamps on the page. And, of course, this practice virtually destroyed the gum on the backs.
In the late 1860's (perhaps 1869) a French stamp album publisher may have been the first to recommended the use of the stamp hinge for mounting stamps. He gave intructions on how to make them in the preface to his album. They were to be cut from gummed scrap paper or stationery to a size smaller than the stamp, folded in the middle and attached to the stamp and album page like a trap door. It caught on and became a standard practice well into the twentieth century. This allowed for the easy removal of a stamp but most often resulted in disturbing the original gum and marring the album page as well. Careless removal of these early paper hinges, in many cases, resulted in horrible hinge thins whereby some of the stamps paper was removed from it's back with the hinge. Most pioneer collectors were not much interested in a stamp's condition. (See my 1st Guide on How To Grade Stamps)
Glued homemade paper hinge on back of stamp issued in 1892.
By the1890's stamp collectors had become more sophisticated and stamp condition became more and more important. High quality commercial prepared stamp hinges had begun to be manufactured for stamp collectors. These hinges allowed, if used properly, for the collector to mount and remove stamps from the page without thinning. Of course, there were those who slobbered all over the hinge welding it to the stamp and page rather than just moistening them. This practice was not much better than the paper hinge era and resulted in the kind of stamp defects described above. Even when properly used these "peelable" hinges left varying degrees of gum disturbance on the previously Mint Never Hinged (MNH) stamps.
At some point in the late 1930's the condition of a stamp's gum began to be more and more important to collectors. It became so important that the clear plastic stamp mount was developed to replace the hinge an preserve a stamp's gum in pristine condition. The stamp was inserted between two foils sealed at the top and bottom. The rear foil was gummed so the mount could be affixed to the page.
This development, in my opinion, was the start of the gum "craze" in stamps. The pursuit by collectors for MNH and their relative scarcity, due to the mounting practices outlined above, allowed dealers to ask and get huge premiums for them. A whole series of gum grading descriptions began to appear in dealer advertising. MVLH (Mint Very Lightly Hinged), MLH (Mint Lightly Hinged), MH (Mint Hinged), Heavy Hinged (HH), Hinge Remnant (HR) and so on.
In many cases it seemed that the gum was being collected and not the stamp! I once had a choice between a perfectly centered US #C1 lightly hinged and the same stamp mint never hinged but was poorly centered. The dealer was asking twice as much for the MNH copy and got it! But not from me. I like the fronts of stamps as you may have guessed.
Which one would you select?
This Guide is meant primarily for the beginning stamp collector to gain perspective on a subject that most of us "old salts" lived through and know quite well. More Guides to come! Cheers! Dan