Them pesky US self-adhesive stamps are realing in their sorrows with this bit of advise.

"...straight lukewarm 80-proof Absolut vodka with a drop or two of Dawn dishwashing detergent as a wetting agent.." (but read the whole story! - aj.)

From an e-mail group I follow, I sent an immediate e-mail to Al requesting permission to publish it. - aj.

reply from Al:

From: AL [email protected]
To: "A.J. Ward" [email protected]
Subject: RE: Glue you too!
Date: Sun 11/09/08 05:12 PM

Dear AJ,

Thank you very much for the kind words. Yes, do post it so it will help people, and thank you for asking. This was my good deed for the day and I hope it revitalizes trade in U.S. stamps, so you would be doing everyone a favor. Only thing I forgot to include is a statement along the lines of the following: "I'm comfortable with using this process, but the collector who owns especially valuable stamps should first test it for himself before immersing those high-dollar stamps in full grain alcohol. Use your culls and throw-aways first, and if you're satisfied with the results then go at it with confidence. I emphasize I'm no expert, just someone who loves stamps, but this seems to do the trick and **** fast!"

Would you be so kind as to place that short paragraph somewhere high in the story where it makes sense?

Thanks AJ -- let's work up a trade sometime soon.


Original Text:

U.S. Stamp Soaking Method that WORKS!!!

By: Al Harris
P. O. Box 265
Jacksonville, AL 36265 USA
  • My phone: 256-435-4001 (Sorry, I cannot accept collect calls.)

    Time to soak? Grab a bottle of 190-proof Everclear or an 80-proof Absolut (vodka). Don't drink it! Use it as a solvent to dissolve the !#@%*& self-adhesive glue from the backside of contemporary U.S. stamps.

    Editor's Note: Al now provides a service for doing this: See details below
    (Especially if you're a dealer or massive collector without time on your hands! - aj.)

    Al has further refined this method in conjuction with some other interested people and the lastest text follows:

    Removing gum or glue from self-adhesive stamps from the U.S. and other countries is now a reality thanks to the Gum-Kleen Yahoo Group.

    I'd like to thank [email protected] (Dick) for coming up with the winning formula by suggesting that we switch from Evercleer (190-proof) ethanol to denatured alcohol. His reasoning: you can buy roughly the same amount of Evercleer (750 ml) as you can denatured alcohol for less than half price, or buy an even smaller can for smaller stamp-soaking jobs.

    In fact, the local hardware store here in Jacksonville, AL, had denatured alcohol for $3 plus tax for a can containing roughly 750ml (vs. about $14 and tax for Everclear, as sold here in liquor stores).

    I experimented with Dick's formula by switching to denatured alcohol, and by-doggies it stripped those stamps slap clean without harming the stamp paper or glue and with no sticky residue left behind! The ink was not harmed in any way when the test stamps were soaked just long enough to remove the glue.

    I washed them well with a wetting agent afterwards (Dawn Dishwashing liquid -- just a drop or two) and the stamps, a mixture of U.S., felt like new when dried in the press.

    So, this concludes our mission for the group, and I thank everyone who participated. The group will now close for further postings, but our work will remain at that location as reference material. For those who would like to print out the final formula, here it is once again:

    1. Rinse stamps in a tray of lukewarm water with three or four drops of wetting agent such as Kodak Photo Flow, Dawn, or Ivory Liquid. The wetting agent is actually a dispersant and it not only softens the paper but it gets into the fibers faster, which allows the denatured alcohol to get to work faster.

    2. Drain pan and rinse under tap water, then empty.

    3. Pour denatured alcohol on the wet stamps. Float the stamps in just enough denatured alcohol to do the job -- the alcohol will barely cover the number of stamps you have in the tray. PLEASE NOTE AND FOLLOW ALL WARNING LABELS on the can of alcohol.

    3. Agitate the tray (by gently rocking back and forth) or rub the stamps clear of all glue. My wife Patt bought a package of Disposable Nitrile Gloves for using with the denatured alcohol. The package says it is for mechanics, painters, plumbers: the gloves resist harsh solvents such as oil, gasoline, paint, and "many solvents and chemicals." One size fits all, and the package we bought contained 12 gloves.

    4. When finished, pour the used alcohol into a separate storage container, screw on the lid, and store the old and new alcohol properly to avoid build-up of fumes, sparks, etc.

    5. Thoroughly rinse the clean stamps in a tray of water and a few drops of wetting agent, then switch to plain tap water.

    6. Place stamps into your drying press a few at a time. The next morning, the U.S. self-adhesive stamps will be free of all glue and stickiness.

    Because the denatured alcohol acts quickly, this is a fast process.

    Good luck with your stamp soaking.

    Al Harris

    The Original Method

    If you can brave the flashpoint and other dangers, with Everclear you can soak the glue off a single on-paper "Forever" self-adhesive in less than a minute. In less time than you can conventionally soak a tray or even a bathtub full of ordinary foreign stamps coated with commonplace glue, you can fill several blotter/drying books with no loss of color or damage to the stamp or paper (see comment below). In my opinion, it even bleaches the paper somewhat without degrading the ink!

    Absolut is tamer; the risks are less, but the soaking time is greater. Both do the job about equally well.

    I've recently run experiments based on my more than 35 years of experience in developing film and paper in a darkroom plus many years as director of publicity and publications at Jacksonville (Alabama) State University. I'm now retired and have loads of time on my hands to soak stamps. I've found the following process works quickly and efficiently; soaking is no longer a chore.

    Many noxious solvents, including turpentine, have been recommended as a remedy for the USPS "goof-up" �- i.e., glue that has no water-soluble layer and resists being soaked off envelope paper with lukewarm water.

    I claim no originality for this fix. I'm no expert, and probably many others have discovered the same thing by accident (spill a little here, spill a little there and finally there's bound to be a soggy US stamp stuck somewhere on your shot glass).

    "There Are Risks You Should Understand !"

    (from a follow up posting 11/11/2008 - aj.)

  • You should NOT use a tray of Everclear or any other alcohol product anywhere near an open flame, such as a wall heater or anything that might cause a spark, such as a water heater or other appliance that may have a short circuit. Don't smoke near Everclear. Read and follow the warning labels on the bottle. With cold weather upon us, this becomes even more urgent.

  • It could be -- and probably would be -- deadly if someone filled a tray with Everclear while smoking. In my experience, nothing is worse than an alcohol fire: you can't see the flames with your naked eye and wouldn't even know where to point an extinguisher if you had one. Many years ago, on assignment as a photographer at a Talladega 500 stockcar race, I personally witnessed a pit crew member catch fire as a spark ignited his refill can, and he was flown to a Birmingham hospital where he nearly died as a result of the fire. So, please, for safety's sake, emphasize safe handling of the product, know the hazards and your limitations in putting out such a fire, and know how to handle grain alcohol fires specifically. Most important of all: Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

  • Some people think it's enough to dump used grain alcohol down a kitchen or bathroom drain; well, there's a trap under the sink that can hold enough alcohol to possibly catch fire or explode unless flushed out with plenty of running tap water from the sink.

    A lot of people are interested in this alcohol-based soaking method and are using it because it works, according to e-mail in my in-box. I keep and use it as a solvent while knowing proper, safe storage is of utmost importance.

    Enjoy your hobby, but know the risks and be prepared for the worst.

  • In my musings, I envisioned a darkroom approach.

    I figured I could soak the stamps in straight lukewarm 80-proof Absolut vodka with a drop or two of Dawn dishwashing detergent as a wetting agent to help the stamp turn loose from the glue faster. As a photographer would do, I "agitated" or gently rocked my "dissolving tray" to help the alcohol erode the glue much better. The Dawn and alcohol work remarkably well together.

    After a few minutes, I gently begin rubbing the glue side with my fingers and placed the glue-free stamps on a paper towel. Lo and behold, the congealed glue rolls off the stamps easily like a mass of depleted rubber cement. It looks like KY Jelly straight from the tube.

    Then, as another experiment, I switched to Everclear, a 100 percent full grain alcohol which is widely available and cheap. It carries numerous warnings on the label. Take them seriously! Use good ventilation and turn off off gas flames. The results were astounding! The Everclear cut the soaking time in half. I soaked from a standard paper envelope a US self-adhesive in far less than a minute. The envelope paper would have dissolved, I think, had I not removed it quickly.

    I experimented with Q-tips on large batches of stamps (all US commems). Finally, using my fingers to massage the glue was much faster.

    I had to attend to the work continuously or the stamps would over-soak in the Everclear. Finally, I cut the Everclear with a little distilled water and the time became manageable but still fast. Experiment to see what's right for you.

    The already-exposed glue on a "Forever" stamp acted rather like a snail dissolving in salt. By stripping a whole sheet of "Forever" stamps, I found the glue could finally be removed entirely with finger- or thumb-rubs long before the paper got too soggy.

    The plan worked like a gem �- and history overruns with real-life examples of solutions that arrive to us in dream packages. After several "trials," I tweaked the process and tested several alternate theories.

    I found:

  • 1. Not just ANY alcohol will do. Don't use rubbing alcohol. Avoid bourbon and corn mash whisky as they usually include caramel coloring and other ingredients which can stain the stamps, leaving a prematurely "old" looking soakers. The cheapest high-octane clear alcohol works as well as the most expensive, which you'd be better off sipping while you soak your stamps. Remember: use the cheapest and highest-proof clear alcohol for stamps; use the tamest, best-tasting alcohol for drinking. After glue-removal, you can even soak some of your stamps in coffee -- instant or ground bean, it matters not. This is how we used to do "sepia toned" prints in the darkroom before the costly (and foul-smelling) commercial sepia solution came along. Patt saves my culled (torn or damaged) stamps for decoupage, and so before I'm finished and while the stamps are wet, I give them a long soak in coffee as she loves the warm, brown hues. I rinse, then dried them in a separate blotter book to avoid staining my good stamps.

  • 2. You can buy everything you need, excluding the alcohol, for about $5 USD at a thrift store. You need only two trays: one for soaking and a slightly larger plastic tray or small tub for rinsing (agitate it by hand during rinsing unless you splurge on a professional model, or increase your son's allowance for providing agitating services).

    Not knowing the long-term effects of alcohol on stamp paper and ink, even when hinged to acid-free album pages that remain closed so to avoid sunlight, I rinse my stamps about five minutes or longer in cold tap water, then begin removing them in small batches to the blotter paper. This gives me "insurance:" time to pluck and blot a number of stamps that I can easily handle; otherwise, I'd find myself with a mound of stamps that would be drying and sticking together before I could place them into my drying press.

  • 3. For heaven's sakes, DON'T DISCARD THE USED ALCOHOL � AND DON'T DRINK IT EITHER!!! AND KEEP IT AWAY FROM CHILDREN (teach them soaking techniques with lukewarm water and foreign stamps). By the time you've soaked a large batch of stamps, the alcohol is laden with dissolved glue. Only someone who got an A in chemistry might know what it really contains, and it certainly can't be good for you. Keep it out of reach of children. A brown plastic darkroom bottle is handy for storing old alcohol. Cheesecloth or nylon hose and funnel work well for removing solid matter and other particulates from the used "soup." Simply pour the leavings into the jug then rinse out the cheesecloth or nylon. Keep a tight lid on the bottle of used alcohol. With luck, your used alcohol may last six months or much longer depending on your level of stamp activity � never mind that it turns a bit gelatinous. In this regard, you can see how an approximate $17 investment (in my state) in a tray full of Everclear (190-proof, 750 ml to the bottle) can cost less than pennies per use, especially if you cut it with distilled water. (Only college students and fools actually drink this stuff straight; if you drink it at all, heavens to Betsy, just let the vapors pass over your favorite glass of juice).

  • 4. As opposed to darkroom work, light is not a problem, you can work anytime; simply line your 8x10 or larger plastic trays in the bathtub or kitchen sink area under good light so you can see (as well as feel) when the glue is gone. Each globule you leave behind may represent a sticking point, so be thorough. Check with spouse ahead of time to ensure you're not about to hold up someone's bath time or other personal matters.

  • 5. A wetting agent of some type is needed. You can spend $15 or more for one of the commercial wetting agents, like Photo Flow solution, or you can spend fraction of pennies with a drop or two of Dawn dishwashing detergent. Wetting agents help penetrate the paper without harming the stamp.

  • 6. After the job is done, blot and enter the stamps in your drying press. You'll find that the next day, if you've followed these points to the letter, the dried stamps will shake free and cascade from the press as easily as if you'd soaked them in water. If not, you've missed a step or misunderstood a point. In my experience, the No. 1 cause for sticky stamps in the drying press is that you've gotten in a hurry and not rinsed long enough to remove all the glue. And, remember, the longer you re-use the alcohol solution, the more dissolved glue accumulates in it. Don't be a miser: start over with a fresh bottle occasionally!

  • 7. Other caveats to remember: Only time will tell how long the stamps can last before reacting to the alcohol process. I believe the stamps will last indefinitely. Fifty to a hundreds years from now, you want your heir to be proud of the bright, like-new condition in which he finds his stamps in the albums you've bequeathed. You can test this process by speeding up the "aging" factor. Simply leave a dry, test set of stamps, hinged to acid-free paper, outdoors under blazing sun for a number of days (take indoors if rain is predicted, of course). After a month or six months of this (it's your call, but the longer the better), and if there are no discernable age spots or discolorations, I'd call it a success. Because I'm retired and liable to keel over dead long before sufficient, exhaustive testing is done to prove just how long they'll hold up, I've neglected this step. Younger bodies coupled to more scientific brains than mine are required for this. But, if you can repeat the experiment I've outlined here and get the same results as I've reported, then we're on the right track.

    I hope this article helps boost, renew and reinvigorate U.S. stamp collectors' interest in U.S. stamps once again. Don't let the necessarily cost-conscious USPS folks spoil your hobby. To hear many collectors tell it, they were on the brink of dumping or giving away their entire US albums and collecting WW only, and many others said they were ending their US collecting with the advent of the self-adhesive glue in 1974. If anyone still feels that way, send them to me at the address below.

    "My" system, now yours as my gift of gratitude to the many who have helped me, has some negative points: for example, EVERY US stamp coated with self-adhesive glue automatically becomes a soaker, so you'd better find a way to enjoy soaking. On the other hand, I enjoy quiet time in a darkroom or other "soaking space" listening to soft music and watching the soaking tub fill with my little gems.

    If you have questions, call or e-mail me for a problem-solving discussion at 256-435-4001. (I cannot accept collect calls -- I live on a frugal disability budget). As I mentioned, I'm retired and have plenty of time to experiment -- if the solution to your problem is not obvious and is of sufficient interest to others, I will work on it.

    My e-mail: [email protected]. And, if you find the soaking process helpful and feel charitable toward a disabled collector (me), send me a few of your good-condition used or duplicate commems, either U.S. or WW variety, on paper or off, at P. O. Box 265, Jacksonville, Alabama 36265, USA.

    By the way, I specialize in birds, insects, snakes, U.S. and WW scenics. : )

    High Regards,
    Al Harris

    Al's Soaker Services

    (from a follow up posting 11/10/2008)

    Allow Me to Soak Your Stamps

    My recent article about how to soak the self-adhesive from U.S. stamps gained a lot of positive feedback, but many readers tell me they're simply too busy, no matter how fast the process is, because of their careers, family, and other issues.

    I'm retired and have the time. Allow me to soak your stamps, which will save you time, energy and money.

    For 1,000 stamps minimum, I can safely soak the glue from your US-issued stamps for only 7-cents each -- that's only $70 per batch of stamps. This is a value-added offer: your un-soaked, on-paper stamps aren't doing you much good in their current state. Correctly, safely soaking and press-drying can return your investment in my service by moving those stamps down the trading- and sales-stream much faster and at higher value.

    My recently-posted article (above) tells you everything you need to know to use 190-proof Everclear alcohol to do the job yourself. But if you have a thousand or many thousands of stamps, do you have the time to do it? If not, I do! For $70 for the first thousand and 7-cents for each stamp thereafter, you can be the proud owner of glue-free U.S. issues, used or mint. If you have less than a thousand stamps, send $20 plus 10-cents per stamp.

    My address is:

    Al Harris (E-mail me!)

    "..a disabled/retired higher education administrator who needs something to do before I go crazy from boredom! I have the skill and resources to provide excellent service for you."

    P. O. Box 265
    Jacksonville, AL 36265 USA

    My phone: 256-435-4001 : Mon.-Fri. 10am-4pm

    Editor's Notes: Al advises, when sending material, to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) with sufficient postage (in USD {$US} or the same value in mint stamps from your country), add insurance, and specify "delivery confirmation", if available, on your package and the SASE.

    Further: this was/is initally a "survey" to find out if there is interest in this service but notes he will do the work and offers the following:

    "Minimum stamps and payment required for test: 500 stamps @ 7-cents each equals $35. Or, optionally, you may send me 500 used commemoratives on paper for my own collection in lieu of payment for the test batch (indicate which are mine to keep) . All other rules, including SASE with some form of equivalent payment ($35 USD or $35 USD in stamps apply)....less than a thousand stamps, send $20 plus 10-cents per stamp."

    Presented by AJ's Encyclopedia of Stamps and Philatelic Links

    (putting the wide web world to work)