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Most stamp collectors are familiar with the technique of soaking used stamps off envelopes. However, have you noticed that soaking modern self-adhesive stamps is very difficult? The gum does not want to give, and the paper becomes so fragile waiting for the gum to soften that the stamp becomes easily torn. If you are like me, you have tried soaking modern self-adhesives and have ended up with slightly faulty stamps at best. However, with an understanding of gum one can use a little known Ronsonol-based technique for perfect used self-adhesive stamps.
TECHNIQUE TO UNSTICK SELF-ADHESIVE STAMPS
1. Place several self-adhesive stamps on trimmed paper pieces into a ceramic or plastic watermark tray as pictured below.
2. Submerge the stamps in Ronsonol lighter fluid. Note on Ronsonol fluid. Ronsonal fluid is flammable, a known carcinogen, and should be handled in a well-ventilated area. Many collectors typically use RONSONOL lighter fluid (in the yellow bottle available at many stores) as a watermark fluid. Ronsonal will not dissolve regular stamp gum (water solubles), but quickly softens and slightly dissolves self-adhesive gum without damage to the stamp.
3. Allow the stamps to soak in the fluid for 4-5 minutes. Using a pair of wide tipped tongs, carefully begin lifting a corner of the stamp from the paper as pictured below.
5. Use the tongs to continue carefully lifting the stamp away from the paper. By sliding the tongs between the stamp and paper the stamp should lift away fairly easily. If not wait a little longer or add more fluid.
6. Remove the paper piece and place the stamp back in the fluid back side facing up. Rub the back of the stamp to remove most of the gum residue. Remove most of the remaining "gum balls" by rubbing with fingers or tongs. Residual "gum balls" can be stuck to a scrap piece of paper.
7. Place the stamp to the side to allow it to air dry. Repeat the process with the remaining stamps. It should get easier the longer the stamps soak. Add more fluid as necessary to keep the stamps covered.
8. Once the stamps are done, dispose of the sticky fluid and wash with warm soap and water. You may then refill the tray with Ronsonal and rewash the stamps to remove traces of any gum. Removing gum traces is important because trace amounts can stick and cause thins or tears later on.
9. Allow the stamps to air dry again.
10. Optional: Once dry, the stamps can be placed in warm water and briefly rinsed. The water may become cloudy as the trace lighter fluid rinses away from the stamps. Stamps can then be blotted dry and pressed in a book!
Caution: Rinse tongs and watermark tray very well to remove all traces of self-adhesive gum. This is important so one does not get a more expensive stamp unknowingly stuck and damaged later. Or one can keep separate tongs and a tray for this purpose.
Q&A From Ebay Members
12/25/2012 Hello from florida. I have some early better US stamps that are mint with original gum that have been stuck on paper and I would like to remove them but not by soaking, in order to save the original gum which is still on them. What methods can you use. Ronsonol or what other method to remove the paper from the mint stamp and not destroy the gum. Thanks much. Maurice
Thanks for your question. Unfortunately there is no way to remove stuck stamps without the use of at least some water moisture. Ronsonal does not affect gum. If the stamps are of moderate value (that keeping the gum somewhat intact is desirable) you could experiment with two dampened large thick sponges, wetted with warm water but not soaked, and place a stuck piece with stamp between them like a sandwich. Check every few minutes until the piece can be lifted off of the stamp. Do not slide the piece off, lift it off instead and only once it is very ready and easily done. At very best this will result in disturbed, but at least original, gum. Experiment with non-valuable stamps (even used on piece) until your technique is strong enough to make a go with your better stamps. You can also use a chamber with water at bottom and then place your stamps on a dry plate above the water, but not in it, in the sealed chamber. This high humidity environment will take much longer but might give better results. Once the stamp is lifted allow it to air dry gum side up. ... Take your time and realize there are no guarantees it will work. At worst, you will have made the situation more sticking leading to stamps that should just be soaked and unused no gum. But this is about what most stamps that have become stuck end up as anyway. An unused no gum stamp is worth about half of what a disturbed original gum stamp would be, so preserving some of it if possible is desirable for more valuable stamps. Good luck. Note this technique is used at your own risk and I cannot accept responsibility if you are not satisfied with your individual results. If your stamps were worth a substantial sum of money, my advice is to seek a paper conservator first, or simply leave them as stuck on the pieces.
6/13/09 I have read your article on removing SA stamps from paper. I used paint thinner and was successful for the most part. My only issue using that method is the amount of gum left on the stamps. I am going to try acetone next. My question is why do some SA come off very easily with warm or hot water? I looked at if it was possibly different printers using different glue but in comparing the printer and which SA stamps are problem stamps there is no relation.
Thanks for your question. I have also experienced the same variation in apparent water solubility. I have two theories neither of which is necessarily correct. I believe in some cases it does matter how much pressure is applied to the stamp when it is initially affixed to the mail. Since it is a pressure sensitive adhesive, with more pressure it may be activated to a larger extent. In cases where it is lightly affixed, the bond with paper my be loose enough that water may release it. Another theory is that the manufacturers have all developed their gum formulas over time such that earlier stamps may be water releasable more readily. I believe the most recent issues are entirely non water soluble. In water, from my experience, these gummed stamp's paper will literally fall apart and leave behind a gummy ball. I have gotten to a point where I only remove $1 and up stamps from the pieces. All other stamps I scissors trim close to the stamp. Appreciate your writing!
2/14/09 With interest I have read your article unsticking modern self-adhesive stamps. The technique was not new to me, it is just good you share it as it is the best way to soak the sticker stamps. On one thing I only partly agree with you. If you have a stamp on piece it indeed is good practice to remove it from the piece, however it adds to the value and attraction of a stamp if it is used on cover in the correct time and period and especially the high values and commemoratives should stay on cover. The acid holding paper is not as great a risk as you state in your article. Most of my postal history collection is more than 120 years old and I see no traces of the acid influence on these items. Still I notice a lot of collectors do soak everything. You can tell by the prices the modern dollar values reach on auctions when they are on cover. stamps with the minimum catalogue value of 20 cents can reach over 100 USD on cover. They are rare.
Thank you for your good points. I agree with you. I will update my guide to mention that often a stamp is worth more on cover and if possible collectors should consider keeping it that way rather than immediately removing stamps from cover. I need to clarify on acid paper as well as you mention. The cardboard type papers associated with Priority Mail and Express Mail are most acidic and can damage higher dollar stamps if left on those types of pieces. The majority of standard envelopes are not a concern. Thank you for sharing!
2/12/09 Have heard denatured ethanol will also work nicely in removing self-adhesive stamps from pieces.
I have not used denatured ethanol myself but would be willing to give it try. As with any fluid be sure to test it carefully before using it on valuable stamps. Some inks may be fugitive (fade or run) in certain fluids. I have not yet experienced ink run when using Ronsonol. Thank you for sharing!
1/3/2009 Does it have to be "Ronsonol" lighter fluid when removing self-adhesive stamps from paper?
I have not experimented with other lighter fluids; however, if they contain the same chemical then it should work. The key chemical in Ronsonol is Naphtha. One word of caution, I like Ronsonol because it is clean and high quality. Other fluids may not be as high quality. Therefore, I advise you to experiment with other fluids using less valuable self-adhesive stamps first. Remember with any chemical fluid to have adequate fresh circulating air to avoid breathing the fumes and work with gloves if you are concerned with getting it on your hands. Follow the cautions on the package foremost. Thank you for your question.
10/16/2008 Isn't it OK just to leave the stamps on the piece (envelope paper) and scissors trim them closely?
I have heard of this and pratice it myself with lower value stamps where the labor time is not worth the effort. The aesthetics of a stamp on paper are not too difficult to get use to. However, the paper on nearly all paper envelopes and USPS papers are not archival quality. It contains acids and other chemicals that will eventually come to harm a stamp over several decades. Therefore, with higher dollar stamps I do prefer to remove them from the pieces using this technique. To each, her and his own. Thank you for your question.
With a little patience and the right technique one can easily dissolve self-adhesive gum on modern stamps and have perfect fault free used stamps every time. You can use this technique to remove adhesive tape from stamps on packages too. Enjoy your sound used self-adhesive stamps off paper!
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