Albums are the nearly universal means for keeping stamps, used for both beginners' and world-class collections, and it is common to characterize the size of a collection by its number of albums.
The arrangement of stamps on an album page depends on the taste of the collector and the purpose of the collection. A collection with "one of each" stamp may have rows of stamps packed onto each page, while a specialist's page might have a dozen examples of the same type of stamp, each captioned with a description of printing details or colour shades. Traditional page creation was done with pen and ink; in recent years page layout software and computer printers have become popular. AlbumEasy, available free, for both Windows and Linux, is an example of one of the many page layout programs.
Many collectors buy preprinted albums and pages, which are produced by several manufacturers. The gamut ranges from worldwide albums, with only enough spaces for the common stamps and a few more, to one-country albums with spaces for every type of stamp known. The usual format is to print a black-and-white picture of the stamp in each space, reduced in size so that a real stamp will cover it up, and add a thin frame around the stamp. Captions range from minimal mentions of perforation or watermark, up to a paragraph giving a little background on the stamp's subject. Album pages are almost always one-sided; two-sided pages save space, but require interleaving sheets to prevent stamps from catching on each other. Pre-printed albums come in various formats where the collector can mount a used stamp with a hinge, create a pocket for the individual stamp using a pre-cut mount to stick to the page, or the easiest type called a "hingeless album" system where the pre-printed album page includes a place to put your postage stamp.
One of the first albums was the Stanley Gibbons “V.R.” published in the early 1870s. This was followed by the “Improved”, and then the illustrated “Imperial” albums. Present-day makers include Safe, Lighthouse (Leuchturm), Lindner, Palo, Scott, and White Ace. Once collectors have started using a particular brand, they have a strong incentive to stay with it, and the manufacturers offer annual updates for the stamps issued during the previous year.
In the earliest albums, stamps were adhered to the pages, using either their own gum (as if put on an envelope) or glue. Stamp hinges were introduced soon after, allowing stamps to be removed without major damage to either the stamp or the album page. In the second half of the 20th century, stamp mounts were introduced. Mounts typically hold the stamp between two layers of plastic, with the front layer transparent, and are attached to an album page, allowing the stamp to be displayed without an adhesive touching the stamp. When properly used, mounts allow the stamp to be removed from the album in the same condition in which it was inserted. An album in which the mounts are affixed at the factory, either as mounts for individual stamps or as larger strips, is called "hingeless".
Better-quality albums have padded covers, which reduces possible pressure on the stamps exerted by adjacent albums on a shelf. Careful collectors do not cram albums tightly together, so as allow for a bit of air movement through the pages, and to prevent gum oozing or sticking.
- Richard McP. Cabeen, Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting (Collectors Club, 1979), pp. 30-34.
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