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How to Collect Topical Stamps for Fun and Relaxation
(Excerpt from ATA Handbook #69 by John H. Groet, 1963)
Edited by Ray E. Cartier, 2003

(Part 3)

Additional Requirements

Buy top quality stamp hinges or, even better, use miniature plastic mounts that act like an envelope to each stamp. Your hinges must be peelable, when completely dry. Never attempt to remove a mis-mounted stamp immediately after applying it to a page. The page or the stamp may tear. Forget it for an hour and come back to it, carefully removing it from the page with stamp tongs. Everyone makes mistakes in mounting. The wise collector lets his mistakes dry before correcting them. Never, never use any kind of glue or tape!

Stamp tongs are essential. Learn to use them, because perspiration, dirt and skin oil are enemies of stamps and album pages. A good pair of tongs is a low investment.

Arrangement, Mounting and Write-up Order

Order is the first essential to arranging a stamp collection. Order will enable you to find any stamp in your collection and permit additions with a minimum of effort. Your first move, then, is to devise an orderly mounting system.

Study an ATA checklist. Its contents are arranged in a definite sequence. If your topic is sports, trains, maps, ships or the like, your checklist offers a model for systematic arrangement of your album. Scientific topics have inherent systems of order developed by scholars over the years. Thus, your arrangement can be one established by others or even one of your own invention. The most important principle to obey in an album arrangement is to make your system of order simple, easy to use and adaptable to as little repetitive write-up as possible.

For example, if you arrange a topical collection by country, you may find dozens of stamps from dozens of countries depicting an identical subject. By necessity you will be repeating this subject dozens of times in your write-up. If you arrange by subject, a page can be sub-headed “wrestling” and all stamps picturing wrestling mounted on that page or the following pages.

When a topic is large, this rule is not rigid and mounting by continent or by country group may be a necessity. I have seen a very large collection of Railroads on Stamps handled very effectively in this fashion. It has been a regular award winner at stamp shows. The choice of order is yours, just as the choice of a topic is yours. In both cases, they must interest you. Furthermore, the order you choose must assist in telling the story of your collection.


Put your stamps in the order you intended to use them. You are ready now to begin an arrangement.

First remember that only one page of your collection may be seen at a time. Each page is a separate picture, the link between the pages being the topic and uniformity in page size. An attractive display of stamps is achieved through symmetry, balance and clearness.

Symmetry merely means grouping the main elements of your display so that the left side of a page is almost identical to the right side. Balance is a pleasing arrangement to the eye.

For example, four rows of stamps are arranged on a page; all rows containing the same number of stamps; all rows being of the same length. What is achieved? Excellent symmetry, but poor balance. The page appears bottom heavy. Clearness is the result of correctly using symmetry, balance and a simple write-up.

Stamps of varying sizes are more difficult to arrange than a uniform set. As a starter, I recommend straight line mounting, that is, the bottom of all stamps in a given row on a straight line. In some instances you might decide to set the centers of all stamps in a straight line. Such a technique avoids the jumbled look often associated with odd-sized stamps that are mixed together.

My suggestion is not offered as an inflexible rule. As a matter of fact, many disagree violently with my approach. Why don’t you experiment on your 8-½ x 11 page. Arrange the stamps you intend to mount in various ways. When you hit upon an arrangement pleasing to the eye, sketch the outline of the stamps and the write-up space on your worksheet and use your sketch as a guide in finally mounting your album page. Or, if you know how, create squares or rectangles on a computer page in which each is slightly larger than the stamps, thus creating a border around each stamp or cover.

The spacing of stamps on an album page bears considerably on its finished appearance. Strive to maintain uniform spacing between stamps on all pages. If you don’t want to use a computer, you can buy quadrilled sheets at an office supply store. These contain faint cross-hatching of lines to aid page arrangement. On quadrilled pages, two spaces between stamps is generally pleasing to the eye; three squares between larger stamps is excellent. To give a collection that roomy appearance, allow three spaces between all stamps regardless of size.

Uniform spacing between rows throughout a collection is desirable, but not always practicable. To fill a page with an extremely long set, you must necessarily decrease space between rows.

If your page carries an outside border, do not mount your stamps too close to that border. You should mount at least one square from the edge of a quadrilled area. If you pages lack a quadrille, spacing from the border requires diligent use of a ruler.

For new collectors, I recommend a simplified arrangement system, coupled with your system of order, to permit frequent additions to a collection without constantly re-doing pages. While not suitable for competitive exhibits, the simplified mounting system is ideal for organizing a collection. As your collection grows, you may decide to remount it, and you can do so without wiping out a large investment. (Topicalists, like all collectors, are constantly remounting and changing their collections. This is part of the fun of collecting.)

- back to part 2 | on to part 4 -

Reprinted through the kind permission of the American Topical Association.


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