I decided to write this article because of the many letters I receive in bad condition from the people I swap stamps with. The article is going to help you even for regular letters – not necessarily for swapping stamps.
The reason I am disappointed sometimes by stamps I receive in post is that people often forget stamps are delicate and everything – from heat to water may damage them irreparably. Even when using some materials for protecting them, they may be poor in quality, dirty or sticky, so your precaution may actually turn to be of no use. But first things first.
Making sure you have everything you need
I prefer a clean table when I prepare a swap. I said clean – not orderly, because creative chaos may prove to be your ally. Pictured above: my work table. (1) Envelopes; (2) Transparent pouches; (3) Scales [I use kitchen scales for lack of a better option]; (4) Stickers; (5) Tweezers; (6) Sponge Damper; (7) Label printer; (8) Stamps for postage; (9) Stamp with custom text.
Preparing your stamps for swap
When preparing your stamps for swap, you must take good care of them. You need to secure them in such a way that they will not be damaged in transportation, and the things that you use don’t damage them.
- Carton or carton-back stockcards
- Clean plastic sheets or sheet protectors
- Used carton (it may be dirty)
- No plastic
- Scotch tape
I am all in favor of ecology, but not when it comes to stamps. Using bad or dirty repurposed carton from boxes is not the best idea. No plastic means no protection against heat and water, which may damage the stamps. Using scotch tape (in excess) may damage the stamps even when you use too much of it. I received stamps even when I purchased them almost wrapped up in scotch tape and this is stupid – when trying to untangle them from the scotch tape you can bend them. My worst example is Postbeeld who really treat the purchased stamps they send like hay in a haystack.
If you use stockcards instead, you can get two things done at once: to begin with, the stamps are already protected. Also, the carton-back stockcards build width for your sending which makes a solid base for stamps to be smug and cozy. Also, it’s more difficult to intentionally or unintentionally bend the letter.
When placing the stamps on stockcards, make sure your hands and table are clean and use tweezers. Do not stack too much on a stockcard, and do not mix sheets with stamps. The width built up by stamps may be small, but it can, when pressed during transport, bend the sheets. Also make sure you do not mix self-adhesive with gummed stamps because the self-adhesives ones can ruin the gummed stamps.
Making your package water- and heat-resistant
After placing the stamps on stockcards, stack them neatly and then wrap them in plastic. I use clean plastic sheets, but if you don’t have any, even new A4 sheet protectors, the kind you use in binders, will do. You don’t need to wrap your stamps in plastic if you are going to use a plastic courrier envelope.
Instead of scotchtape, use stickers to wrap the plastic around the stockcards. Stickers have the advantage they peel of easily and in the process you do not ruin the stamps. Make sure before you use them that your package is airtight.
As mentioned bfore, you can use a plastic courier envelope if you feel like it, but make sure in this case you supplement in carton because except for water or heat, these envelopes offer no protection.
I prefer carton-back envelopes, like the one in the picture above. They are affordable and offer double the protection of regular envelopes. When choosing your envelope, make sure you do not choose one that’s too big or too small. Too big will mean that the package will slide inside the envelope during the travel and this may result into damage of the stamps. Too small will mean that the corners of the envelope, which are the most vulnerable parts during transport, may get bent, as well as the stamps. Ideally, there should be enough protection and as much as 2cm space top and bottom that’s free.
When choosing an envelope, choose one that has a peel stripe for closing, rather than the ones you need to dampen. I received letters that were closed with water or glue and the contents was stuck to the envelope. That’s a pity.
Addressing your envelope
You can of course write directly on the envelope using a ballpen (no ink!). If you write directly on the envelope, make sure that you write before you place the contents inside the envelope. I had to bin many stamps due to energetic writers who carved their signature into the stamps.
I prefer to use labels instead. To begin with, my writing is nothing to brag about, and then it looks nicer. They come in cheaply these days, and if you buy a thermal label printer it can accommodate a lot of sizes and does not need supplies such as ink. If you send a lot of letters, like I do, then it’s worth thinking about the investment.
When printing the label I usually print out the “Priority” label as well, if I don’t have any at hand. Priority labels are to be used when you pay the priority postage. Normally you would not need to if you’ve already affixed enough stamps to pay the prio sending, but in some sorting stations they are machine recognizable and if not detected, the letter may end up being dispatched economy class despite the fee being paid properly.
Of course you will need two labels, one for the sender and one for the addressee. Most countries have the custom to put the sender address in the top left corner, and the addresse in the bottom right one. I do not know the rules applicable in all the countries, so I usually place the addressee label on the side with stamps, and my sender address on the other side. It seems like a safe rule until now, nobody tried to deliver to me back my letters.
Alternatively, you can use a regular printer and print label-sized address blocks which you can then glue to the letter. I personally don’t like that because of the mess, cutting, and excess paper left after printing 2 addresses.
One last word of caution from my side – it pays off to write or stamp your letter with the text “Please do not bend”. A too small postbox or a hectic postman may ruin your letters right in the last mile.
Franking your letter
For lack of a better option, I use kitchen scales to weigh the letter. Of course, you don’t need to do this at home, because each decent post office will do that for you free of charge. But as I like to prepare my letters at home and just drop them in a postbox irrespective of postal working hours, this is a good thing you can try at home that’s going to save you time. Once the letter is weighed, go to your local post office webpage and check the fee for the stamps.
After you know the fee in stamps you are supposed to affix to the letter, select your postage stamps. Where possible, use a minisheet or a whole series of stamps – people love that. Make sure you use enough stamps to cover the postage category you are sending at (economy or priority). Peel carefully self-adhesive stamps and affix them to the letter. For gummed stamps, use a sponge damper. Don’t use glue! If the person you’re sending the stamps to also collects postally circulated stamps, then they can recover the stamps. Glued stamps may stick better, but they are lost for humanity.
When you place the stamps on letters, make sure you don’t stick them directly in the top corner of the envelope. During travel this will damage the stamps. Leave a 1-2cm area around the stamps. Most likely, they will get to their recipient secure and ready to be recovered from the envelope.
Above you can see the ready letter, ready to be dropped in a postbox nearby. Make sure you check twice that all’s in order: the stamps are secure, the envelope is sealed, addresses are correct, the right amount of postage has been affixed to the letter, and it’s ready to go.
I used for the letter from this post:
- A5 carton-back envelopes
- 5-row stockcards
- plastic sheets
- thermally printed labels
- a stamp with personalized text
- postage stamps
I did not use:
- old, used or dirty carton
- prio labels