Stamps Are Art Blog
In a previous post I introduced you to Blue Wool cards and discussed how you can use them to quantify light exposure without having to invest lots of money in expensive light meters. In this post I will show you how you can use Blue Wool cards to protect your paper based collections and collectibles from to being exposed to too much light. As before, the information in this blog post applies to baseball cards, comics, posters, paper art prints, as well as philatelic stamp art. As a reminder, Blue Wool cards include rows/stripes of pigmented fabric that are calibrated to indicate cumulative exposure to different amounts of light. Over time, starting with the top stripe, and working down, each stripe begins to fade based on increasing amounts of light exposure. An indication that a stripe has begun to fade can be used as an indication of a particular amount of light that the stripe has been exposed to. In this way, a Blue Wool card placed next to your paper based collectible can be used as an indication of how much light your collectible has been exposed to. This knowledge alone is valuable, but when combined with one other piece of information, Blue Wool cards can be very cheap and powerful tools in the hands of those interested in paper conservation and preservation. As I have mentioned, each stripe has particular pigments/dyes that are known to fade in a similar manner to that of known historic items. For example, the 5th stripe from the top is know to mimic the light fastness of of the colors used in many modern 20th century stamps. Thus, the amount of time it would take the 5th stripe fade, is the same amount of time it would take for a 20th century stamp to fade when exposed to the same amount of light. The amount of time it takes to cause a stripe to show evidence of fading can be analogized to that of filling of a "light bucket," with each exposure to light acting to fill the bucket with an added quantity of lux (a measure of the amount of visible light per unit area at the surface of an object where the closer a light source is to an object, the higher the lux will be). It is known that the light bucket of the 5th stripe from the top will overflow after about 32 Megalux hours of cumulative VISIBLE light exposure. Lower intensities of light will of course take longer to fill the light bucket. Confused, sets use the chart below to help explain the light bucket concept further. What the chart shows is how much LUX different amounts of typical light emit. VISIBLE Light Condition Light at Surface of an Object (Approximate) Direct Bright Sunlight 100,000 lux Shade in Direct Bright Sunlight 10000 lux Direct Bright Sunlight in a room 5000 lux Halogen Lamp 700 lux Typical Fluorescent Room/Office Lighting 300-500 lux Typical 100 watt bulb at a distance of 3 ft 100 lux Museum Lighting 50 lux for sensitive materials (i.e. stamps) Wax Candle at 1 ft 10 lux Full Moon 1 lux Effects of Indirect Sunlight Thus, exposure of the 5th stripe of the Blue Wool cart to the 10,000 lux of indirect full sunlight, 8 hours a day, over 1 year (365 days) would cause the 32 Megalux bucket represented by this stripe to be filled with 10,000-lux x 8 x 365 of lux, or equivalently about 29 Megalux, an amount of illumination that would be just short of causing visible fading of a modern stamp. Effects of Office or Room Light The analogy above can be extended to understand the effects of any lighting condition. Lets consider the cumulative exposures to light that would occur in a typical room/office illuminated by bright fluorescent lamps (500 lux), in which case, with 8 hours of illumination each day for one year, a modern stamp would be exposed to (500 x 8 x 365) or 1.5 Megalux over one year. At this rate, the 30 Megalux bucket of the modern stamp would begin to overflow/fade after about 20 years of cumulative illumination (30 Megalux = 1.5 Megalux x 20 years) under normal office or room light. Using a similar calculations, when exposed under 50 lux of illumination (proper museum lighting), even moderately lightfast materials like modern stamps would evidence fading in about 200 years. If 200 years seems to you to be very far in the future, consider the Declaration of Independence, which is displayed in the National Archives under light conditions that are much less that 50 lux, and but for this low level of light would long ago have faded from existence. Hopefully you will by now understand how it is that you can use Blue Wool cards to protect your paper based collections and collectibles from to much light exposure. By placing a Blue Wool card next to your collectible, you can monitor how much light it has been exposed to. Assuming you know what the light fastedness of your particular treasured item is, you can anticipate whether or not it has reached a point when if will begin fading and protect it, before it does so, by removing it from the light. BUT, before you quickly conclude that 50 lux, 200 lux, or some other amount of VISIBLE light illumination is an acceptable amount of light you can expose your collections to because the calculations above show that it would take hundreds of years before they would show signs of fading, I advise you to wait for my next post on "What Is a Safe Amount of Light Exposure - Part 3". For those of you that can't wait - the answer is very simple, there is NO safe amount of light exposure for paper based collections.
The Superman #1 comic book is coming up for auction on August 14. And I thought the price for the British Guiana stamp was something to behold. At least, unlike the Guiana stamp, this paper rarity was well taken care of. If it was a one of a kind item, because of its condition, it could easily beat the record price spent on the Guiana stamp. But because the comic book is not unique, it will ONLY fetch around 3 million dollars. Hope whoever decides to buy the Superman #1 comic will know to keep it out of the light, Update - the comic sold for "only" 3.2 million !
In one of my previous posts about light and its harmful effects, I asserted that exposure of your baseball cards, comics, stamps and other paper based collectibles to seemingly small amounts of ordinary room light can cause fading of your collection. In this post I will show how it easy to quantify such fading without having to use expensive electronic instrumentation. Our discussion begins with the "Blue Wool" cards below, which many museum curators use to estimate the effects that museum lighting has on various pigments, dyes, paints, papers, and other non lightfast materials. The Blue Wool cards comprise a set of horizontally dyed stripes. What is of particular interest about the blue wool cards is that the light fastness of the pigments of the dyes in the stripes can be used to mimic that of many items of history, and value, for example, stamps and art. By placing the cards/stripes at desired locations, the cumulative fading effect of any light in the vicinity of the cards can be visually quantified. It takes about 3 times the amount of cumulative illumination to fade each stripe as the stripe that is directly above it. For example, depending on geographic location, season, humidity, the 3rd stripe from the top will begin to fade after exposure to about 3.6 Megalux hours of illumination, the 4th stripe from the top will begin to fade after exposure to about 8-10 Megalux hours, and the 5th stripe after about 30 Megalux hours. The middle blue wool card above shows a lengthwise left section protected from all light by aluminum foil (Al), a middle section that is not protected at all, and a lengthwise right section that is protected with an ultraviolet (UV) filter. The right blue wool card shows the aluminum foil and ultra-violet (UV) filter removed after the dyed stripes on the card were exposed for 8 months to the light of a south facing Canadian window. Comparison of the middle section of the middle and right card above against the corresponding right section illustrates one point that your beach going experience should have taught you; that exposure to ultraviolet UV light should minimized, which in the case of paper based collectibles can be accomplished via use of UV filters. A more important philatelic observation is this: even when when protected by ultra-violet UV filters, your stamps and paper based collectibles can be damaged by the visible light component of light. This is the reason the right sections of the middle and right blue wool cards above show fading. Why? ... because of something many collectors fail to consider ... that UV filters DO NOT filter VISIBLE wavelengths of light. However, the most important take away is this: although blue wool cards above show that filtering of ultra-violet light does indeed reduce fading and damage, they illustrate that every time VISIBLE wavelengths of light are used to view your philatelic collections (whether or not ultra-violet UV filters are used) fading and/or damage will occur. In fact, each exposure to VISIBLE light will irreversibly and cumulatively add to any previous stamp fading or damage that has already occurred; the additive effects of exposures to such light is known as "reciprocity." This is one of the reasons that the British Guiana looks like it does. But, although I have illustrated that blue wool cards can be used to measure and quantify light exposure, I have not yet shown how it is that you as a collector can make use of them to protect your collections. I'll do so in my next post.
Now that the Sotheby's auction is over and the British Guiana philatelic treasure has found a new home, I have some personal philatelic observations and thoughts. During it’s world tour, I wonder how many people had the chance to view the British Guiana 1 cent Magenta stamp, only to be left with the same lingering questions that it left me with. How in the world did the Guiana achieve its philatelic status as most expensive piece of stamp art, and yet look as mistreated as it does? Is it just me, or does the stamp look faded, written on, ink stained, and generally ready to disintegrate at the next slightest bit mistreatment (as evidenced by the image below). The stamp has been held by many world class stamp collectors, and yet appears to have been given the care one would expect from an amateur. Yes, I know that it was known to be in bad condition from its first discovery, but how much more damage has been inflicted by its subsequent owners, via their storage in wallets, pockets, briefcase, and under pillows? The stamp’s condition oozes mistreatment and lack of preservation and care. What have all its owners been thinking? Their signatures and other markings have been left on this stamp like a dog marking its territory. Perhaps this is because the stamp is thought of by those who belong to the .1% only as a status symbol and not as a privilege that comes along with an obligation to preserve this rarity for future generations. The stamps fragility can be attested to by the fact that the National Postal Museum declined to dip it in benzene stamp fluid during its analysis/expertization process. As far as I can tell, the stamp museum also did not try to expose the stamp to UV expertization light, choosing to use the VSC6000, Leica Microscope, X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (XRF) and the Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscope (FT-IR) instead. If so, kudo’s, as both dipping fluid and UV light have been discussed by me as DO NOT USE WITH stamps. Further to it's condition, the stamps history is replete with its display at multiple philatelic exhibitions, each associated with their own exposure of the stamp to photons - lux - lumen and their cumulative irreversible contribution to the fading of the stamp. If the amount of light in the display case at Sotheby's is representative of the amount of light the stamp has been displayed under during its numerous stamp exhibitions, world tours, and auctions, the British Guiana has not much life left before it fades away before it's new owners eyes. Aside from its previous public displays, I can only imagine how much further light exposure each of the previous owners exposed the stamp to during their personal and private viewing pleasures, all which have and will cumulatively lead to its eventual demise. So, I end this post with a plea to the owner, take care of your little stamp treasure a little bit more than the trivial amount the 10 million dollars you paid for it must represent to you. The more care you afford your new stamp art, the more status you will gain – at least on StampsAreArt.com, and who knows, if the stamp survives, by philatelia and the future generations that will give you the credit you will deserve for saving your piece of philatelic enjoyment for them to enjoy. And, one final request, try not to sleep with your stamp. ;-)
Watch a video of the final hammer come down for the British Guiana 1cent Magenta stamp at the Sotheby's auction in Manhattan on 17 June 2014. Although the stamp broke the world record for the most expensive stamp ever sold, in view of the pre-auction estimates, the results were a little bit disappointing IMHO. In any case, I think it will be along time before we will see a single stamp sell for this price, unless the media starts reporting how the real inflation rate is being hidden by the monkeys in the Fed and the Bureau of Statistics to keep people from panicking - remember the late 70's. If you would like to repost the videos below, please :-) do so by linking to this web page rather than the videos themselves. The video below includes the start and end of actual bidding. The video below includes pre-bidding activities.
In my last post I suggested that before making assumptions about the safety of the plastic sleeves, sheets, films, envelopes, holders and storage products you use with your collections, you might want to learn how wrong choices of plastic could negatively affect the condition and value of your collections. To support this suggestion, look at my next example below: where ink from the stamp on the right can be seen to have been transferred onto the clear plastic sleeve that is has been removed from on the left. The transfer of ink was caused by interactions between the chemicals the clear plastic was made from and the ink of the stamp. Can you imagine your reaction if you were the one using the plastic stamp sleeve below and saw the damage, but instead of with the stamp below, with a Jenny Invert or British Guiana 1c magenta philatelic rarity? You should ignore the warning this stamp sleeve is trying to give you only if maintaining the value of your rare stamps, baseball cards, comics and art is of no interest to you. Image from Collings and Schoolley-West, The Care and Preservation of Philatelic Materials, London and State College, The British Library and the American Philatelic Society, 1989, reproduced by permission of the British Library "To many people, plastics materials all appear the same but their variety is enormous. Many contain plasticizers, which act as molecular lubricants and are incorporated into the plastic's manufacture to increase the flexibility of the plastics in sheet form. These external plasticizers can volatilize and cause the plastic to become brittle or migrate into adjacent material where they can act as solvents for many inks, particularly gravure printing inks, ball-point and felt-tip pens and typewriter inks. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics have been commonly sold for storage of stamps, postcards, first-day covers, etc and are amongst the worst offenders. In addition to the plasticiser problem, PVC degrades to emit acid gases which can migrate into adjacent materials. Under no circumstances should PVC be used for any long or even short term storage." Page 43 of Collings and Schoolley-West, The Care and Preservation of Philatelic Materials. In addition to the PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic describe above, four other types of plastic have been and continue to be commonly advertised and sold as mounts, holders, slabs, l-sleeves, and pages for storage and display of collectibles: PET - archive grade polyester film (sold as Mylar D and Melinex 516) PE - polyethylene PP - polypropylene PS - polystyrene Even though all of the types of plastic have been sold by plastic suppliers as being safe for storage and display, the evidence presented by the stamp above clearly illustrates that some of the suppliers of plastic storage products are not telling the truth. So which of the plastics above is the "safest" and the "best"? Even though your "trusted" stamp supply dealer may be selling and advertising their storage, display, and paper conservation supplies and products as being usable for archival preservation, at this time, there is only one type of plastic that is considered by the United States Library of Congress Preservation Office as being "safe", which has very stringent requirements for the protective films and and plastic sleeves they use for paper preservation and archival storage of their collections. If you are serious about paper protection and paper preservation, your protective plastic films and their "omposition must be clear, colorless, (biaxially oriented/stressed/drawn) film such as DuPont Mylar© D, Melinex © 516 or equivalent. The clear and colorless polyester film must not contain any plasticiser, surface coatings, UV inhibitors, or adsorbents and be guaranteed to be non-yellowing with natural aging. As received, the film must not contain any coloring agents. A certification of compliance with the above requirements must accompany the shipment." (The Library of Congress, Specification Number 400-005-1/93). See brief background on types of plastic for more info about which plastics are safe and unsafe. However, remember, even though your plastic or stamp supplier may sell their clear plastic sleeves and envelopes with labels stating them as being mylar sheets, polyester film, mylar film, and/or PET film suitable for archival storage and display, the products should be labeled as being DuPont Mylar D, Melinex 516, or equivalent. With out such labeling, all bets are off as to safety. So how long are you willing to wait before your rare stamps and their value is reduced by your use of harmful plastic stamp products? If you are willing to wait, in a future post, I will be providing sources for DuPont Mylar© D, Melinex © 516 or equivalent plastic storage products. Stay tuned!
CAUTION ... ALERT ! ... many plastic philatelic, comic book, baseball card, art sleeves, mounts and holders sold as "inert" and "safe" may not be what they purport to be! Most collectors trust (and leave to) the manufacturers and distributors of the collection storage products to sell plastic merchandise that is "safe". The next few posts will provide examples of plastic sleeves, holders and mounting products sold by "trusted" manufacturers that over time have not lived up what collectors should expect. The first example illustrates a portion of a plastic sleeve for holding larger items such as envelopes, letters etc, which was sold to trusting collectors by the well known manufacturer Lighthouse Lechturm. As can be seen, the top sheet has started to decompose and turn a discolored yellow brown, which is a sign that a chemical breakdown of the plastic in the sheet has begun. Any paper items held within or by this plastic product would be exposed to its chemical reactions and eventually would be damaged. The bottom sheet is shown without discoloration in the condition one would expect the holder to remain. The "safe" stamp holder shown above implicates the art and philatelic products of other manufacturers, who in most cases purport their plastic products to protect and be "safe" and "inert", even when they with or without knowledge know that the plastic, rubber, adhesives, and paper being used with/in their is not. How is a collector to know whether the plastic storage products they have purchased are safe? Well the first step is to conduct a visual inspection. If any discoloration is present, its a good sign that your collection is in danger and that your plastic storage containers need to be replaced. But as you will see in further posts, just because there is no discoloration in the plastic is not a sign that it is necessarily safe to continue to use. All this begs the question, how can a collector be certain that the manufacturer of the plastic storage products they are about to purchase is selling a product that will be safe? For my answer, you will have to wait to the next post.
If you are on the fence as to what your next art acquisition should be - sit no more! In a world where gold and diamonds are valued by weight, how does rare stamp art stand up to run of the mill ordinary rare art. Consider Paul Cezanne's "The Card Players", which is estimated to have been sold for upwards of 250 million dollars, whereas the British Guiana 1 cent Magenta stamp is estimated to gavel in at over 10 million dollars at the auction at Sotheby's on June 17. How is that possible that this stamp art rarity can be worth more than the most expensive Cezanne? Well, the approximately 1 sq meter of canvas that "The Card Players" was created on very conservatively weighs no less than 200 grams, whereas the British Guiana 1c Magenta Stamp very conservatively weighs no more than 1 gram. In other words, the one of a kind stamp rarity weighs 200 time less than the one of a kind art rarity. Assuming the 1c Magenta stamp sells for 10 million dollars, when the weight value of each is compared, the 1c British Guiana wins and crushes not only the Cezanne, but as well as all other items that have ever been sold at auction by a factor of over 200 times! In other words, were you to value your purchase the Magenta 1c stamp art and Cezanne art based on price per pound/gm, you should make sure your check book had more than 2 billion dollars (as pronounced by Dr. Evil in Austin Powers) :lol: . All this makes me wonder, is the rare philatelic stamp art market about to explode in value? Update 30 May 2104, just learned about this stamp article at glenstephens.com which values the 1c magenta at $US600 billion per kilo. At $10 million dollars, the British Guiana stamp art is really starting to look like a bargain !!!!!