Suddenly Stamp Collector

I inherited a stamp collection.

It was my father’s from when he was young. It’s been fourteen years since he passed, and probably forty+ years since the box has been in storage. I only came into it over Christmas, and now I don’t know what to do with it. It is weird. I mean, it’s wonderful, but it’s weird. Actually, I sorta put off going through it for a few weeks because I wanted to have the time and mind space to process it.

For one thing, if you have ever lost someone, you know how haunting it is to see their handwriting years after the fact. I re-read my dad’s letters every June but this box is full of things he wrote long before I was born.  The whole collection is dived into little envelopes inside slightly less-little envelopes scrawled with things like “WAR” and “COMMI” and “$AVE” (btw, way to up one on Ke$ha, Dad!). These are words written on envelopes from places he went to school. Places he worked. Places he loved. Places I know nothing about.  Again – weird.

For another thing, the stamps. Whoa. There are so many of them. And I have no clue what to do with them…
I mean, I have no delusions of Antiques Roadshow grandeur – I’m never going to just sell one and buy a yacht, but yes, I’m thinking there is some value here. Of the ten I attempted to look up online, the price range was anywhere from 50cents to $30 each. And there are thousands of them. I mean, the whole collection fits in a shoe box but it packs a punch. Half of them are used/postmarked so that decreases the value I imagine, and honestly I don’t really want to sell them, but I don’t want to let them sit on a shelf either. They have been in a box for decades — now they deserve to come out and play. And if there are a few that are exceptionally valuable, I want to pull them out and conserve them properly. This is probably the only thing of monetary value I have ever, or will ever, inherit. It seems disrespectful to let it waste away. 

I should probably take them somewhere for an expert opinion. From looking online, it appears that people must inherit stamp collections quite a lot because there are dozens of services that do nothing but sort out old stamp collections (there is even a site called, ha!). Have any of you ever used one of these services? Any recommendations? Anyone in the Northern Illinois area know of a reputable dealer? I feel like this must be an industry where sellers could easily get ripped off so I’d like to start with someone who knows what they are doing. I don’t mind paying a fee for their time, I just don’t want to walk into a scheme. I clearly have no idea what I’m doing here. There is no 1-800-Grandpa-Stamp-Collector service. (Or is there?)

I’m hoping after I sift out and conserve anything valuable, I’ll be left with a pile of old/used stamps I can use for display purposes. I’m thinking of buying an extra large, extra deep frame and foam-mounting a hundred or so of my favorites in a grid (not unlike what I did with these paint chip pieces years ago). Or something. I don’t know yet, I just feel like sticking them all in an album isn’t good enough. They ought to be in view, right?

Also. This is interesting. The box has a bunch of postcards and envelopes he collected as kid that were to and from his father and grandparents, whom, oddly enough, according to the addresses I see here, lived in a house not far from an apartment I lived in when I was 22. Isn’t that odd? I walked by that house a hundred times and never realized that was where my grandfather (who died before I was born) lived most of his early life. I always remarked on that house’s garden though, which was very unlike me at that time. I can’t say I ever felt especially drawn to the house, but I definitely made a point to notice it and set it apart from the others on the street. Isn’t that crazy?

One of the postcards is from the early 1900’s. It’s in Hungarian and as best I can tell it was mailed shortly after they immigrated. Google translate tells me it’s something about a trip/voyage, but I don’t know what else, which is killing me. I’m desperate to know what it says. Not that it would matter now, but I can only imagine, if I had immigrated to a new country where I didn’t speak the language and hardly knew a sole, without a telephone or photograph to remind me of home, a postcard like that would have meant a great deal. It was saved for a reason. It was loved.  And now it’s been in a box for a century and nobody knows what to do with it. I know my dad saved it because of the stamp, but, I think I will save it for other reasons.

Since the postcards and envelopes are actually my favorite part, and they won’t be of much value to anyone but me, I won’t feel bad if I get a little crafty with a few of them. I love this copy machine enlargement idea from Blueprint magazine (RIP Blueprint!).

Can you think of any interesting ways to display postage stamps? I’m all ears. 


  1. says

    What a wonderful collection!
    I’ve seen stamps in masses in picture frames like you said. It looks great, but I wouldn’t like to do this with very old stamps.
    What I would love to do is wearing one or two (of the less valueable ones) as a pedant or an earring, covered with resin.

    • says

      That’s a great idea — resin. Maybe a charm bracelet? That would be so cool.

  2. says

    Maybe you could display them on large world map. You might scan the handwritten envelopes and use them to label the stamps on the atlas.

    • says

      That would be fun! It might also spark my interest to fill up the blank spots. I love a good collection….

  3. says

    I like your idea of using them in a grid pattern (the stamps) to ensure they are protected grab some old projector slide protector sheets, they can be trimmed down to fit and will keep the stamps safe. The idea about using a world map is also neat, place the stamps at the locations that correspond. Sandwiching each stamp between small pieces of plexi or glass and hanging them from a mobile would make for a nice display, take an old globe and do a 3-D version of the map idea, use the least valuable of them to decoupage a box to hold stamps or paper for correspondence, cover a mail-sorter, glue them to the back of glass beads and then onto a flat-top screw to make knobs for drawers/cupboards, glue on a magnet instead of a screw for fridgies (fridge magnets), submerge some in resin to make neat pins, rings, pendants etc.

    All a stamp is really is a small piece of paper, so anything you would do wih paper you could conceivably do with the stamps as long as you are comfortable with using it and possibly destroying its monetary value. Many stamp collectors would be horrified if you devalued it, but others might see it as making their own collection more valuable (the value is dependent on many factors, but one is that there aren’t many left – one less means all the others increase in value slightly). I agree that an album is rather dull and won’t allow for true enjoyment, which is the purpose of a collection is it not?

    • says

      Dang, Joelle, You are a powerhouse of ideas!! I especially love that idea for drawer knobs. I have been hunting for one of those dresser/catalog units with tons of drawers — this would be perfect for that.

      And I agree — a collection should be enjoyed, not stuffed in a book.

    • says

      Thanks! Last night laying in bed I thought of another, just a modification on another idea, but if you have enough colours you could do a picture using the stamps like those portraits made up of photographs when you zoom in.

  4. says

    OMG I love this envelope in the frame! Very good idea! And nice pictures as always!

  5. Susie in Sacramento says

    such a cool collection, they sure don’t make stamps like they used to. I’m with the other commenters that the grid display idea would be fabulous! and i really hope you have good luck finding somebody to help you appraise them, maybe local historical societies or museums have people that know about this stuff?

    • says

      That’s a good idea. I have a friend who volunteers for a historical society…big on genealogy and alike…I’ll bet she could recommend a source.

  6. Deb says

    This is awesome. Not everyone gets a treasure like this from a now-gone relative. I like the idea of a shadow box or map display. The map could be quite big, but how neato would that be?

    You might check at local universities (I suspect there a few in the Chicago area) for special collections/archive departments in their school libraries. The library staff could provide some insight into preservation and help you get in touch with reputable experts who could help with assessing the value.

    • says

      That is a good idea — I will check in. There are a dozen universities within spitting distance of my home/work. I’m not sure if any of them have a first-class historical-friendly library, but Librarians usually know their bidness.

  7. says

    First, get a book on stamp collecting. That will give you a general idea of how to proceed. I remember stamps soaking in our bathroom sink and tweezers for stamps all around the house. You can cull out the ordinary ones easily. I would sell the valuable ones, keep the ones on the postcards,and make some big art of the postcards like the picture. Then, I would take all the ordinary ones and unleash all your inner art school craziness and make a really big collage. Also, find the best stamp shop in Chicago and start making friends with the people there. Did you know that there are stamp clubs that meet in banks? That’s because their collections are stored there. Also, most of the collectors used to be men. What a lovely way to spend some time, going through your Dad’s stuff.

    • says

      Yeah, I think you have the right idea. Separate the wheat from the chaff, then go to town having fun with the chaff. I think he would want me to do something fun with them, anyway.
      There is stamp and coin shop not far from my office but I haven’t gone in yet…I’ll keep you posted.

  8. says

    Stamps/postcards/envelopes are pretty big on ebay. Search out values/sale prices on ones that have been sold that you own. Put some up for auction with a reserve and see what happens. Ebay is international – the whole world of collectors will be looking at your treasures. I hope that helps! 🙂

    • says

      Very true! Identifying what is there/what it’s worth is the hard part. It took me hours to search out those ten (there are thousands!). Could take years. Don’t think I would mind that, but I’m itching for an art project 🙂

  9. says

    Your dad sounds like he was such a cool guy. My crafty sister covered a trunk with stamps…looks great and has held up well too. I think she adhered them with ModgePodge…

    • says

      I can imagine! I covered a small canvas with random stamps a few years ago — it’s pretty cool…a whole trunk would be awesome!

    • Anonymous says

      hey april and peaches!
      i was just goiing to comment about this. i also have the leftover stamps (which were from my sisters stamp collection… thank you april) in my craft room and i use them in mixed media pieces. the good thing is they don’t take up a lot of room. have fun! jennifer

  10. says

    My father and mother covered a lovely coffee table with them. Grandma is still mad, but it’s super cool!

  11. Anonymous says

    Just saw your post. As the daughter of stamp collectors (both parents), I also inherited their collections (in books — I almost think your Dad’s way would have been more fun!). I love looking through them once in a while — the artwork is amazing, compared to today’s issues. Dad stopped collecting after a certain point, because he didn’t like the “lack of artwork” on current day stamps. I also empathize with you, as I don’t know what to do with them either!
    However, it sounds like you (and others) are on the right track(s) with info sources, the non-valuable extras, creating crafts/artworks/etc. — don’t have much to add there, except find details on the web or buy a book on basics of stamp collecting to give you skills in handling and storing the stamps properly. Project: I’ve seen a large metal trash can (used by an elderly stamp collector) decoupaged(?) with extra stamps – pretty cool!
    Good luck with them, and Enjoy!
    Lynn in southern NJ

  12. says

    My exceptionally creative Godfather was somewhat of a stamp collector, as they pertained to his own travels. He was also an accomplished photographer, developing his own black and whites. He covered several x-large photo mats with fabrics purchased from various destinations and then mini-framed (black) corresponding stamps/b & w photos from each area onto fabric. Entire montages were then framed in black and grouped on a huge living room wall, inspiring many a conversation during which he could again become excited about what he and my aunt had seen and done. Awesome mementos.

    Maybe an idea for some of your Dad’s collection, Peaches?

  13. says

    My mom used to collect postmarked stamps. She asked all her friends and family to rip off cool stamps from envelopes they got in the mail, so she had huge piles of little corners of envelopes. Then she would collage them all on canvas and put them in a shadow box that she would write something on with glass paint. I’m probably not doing a great job of describing them, but they were wonderful. She’s an artist and had several commissioned. Not sure if that would work for you since yours aren’t on envelopes, but it’s a thought! Thanks so much for sharing–sounds like you’ve got something really special!

  14. Anonymous says

    Postmarks can sometimes make stamps more valuable, especially if you can still see the name of the place where the letter was sent. Please don’t remove any stamps from envelopes/postcards before someone who knows what they are doing gets a look at them. Imperfections like misprints and typos in the stamp make them more expensive.

  15. says

    No idea on what to do with the stamps other than what has already been mentioned but I love that you used to walk by that house your grandfather lived in and noticed it out of all the other houses on the block. So very cool. 🙂

  16. Koliti says

    Hey Peaches! Here’s an idea for the postcards – you can make a vertical mobile. Take a postcard and punch a 1/16″ hole at the center top and center bottom, about an 1/8″ from the edge. Connect postcards together with a 6mm split ring, connect as many as you like, and hang them from a little hook in your ceiling in a corner where you’d like some movement. Enjoy as your vertical mobile twirls in the corner when it catches a breeze. Enjoy watching your cat watch your mobile 🙂 Happy crafting.

  17. says

    Why not make them into a beaded curtain? Put them between little panes of glass or plastic and hang them on fishing line with big shiny beads? Would look awesome in a doorway or in front of a window.

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