Copyright (C) Martti Tolvanen 1995
I've been active in stamp correspondence for over 8 years now (hey, that was before the Stamps list and r.c.s!), and I thought I could try to condense some of my observations into a series of postings in rec.collecting.stamps. I intend these texts to be contributions to the Stamps FAQ, too. (Hi Gert!) Feel free to redistribute my opinions in your home pages, philatelic club newsletters etc. if you think they deserve it.
Planned parts in this series: I. Franking your letter II. Packing and cancellation III. Trading ethics and accounting IV. Wish lists
So what do you need to do in order to make the most of your franking for your trading partner? In a nutshell:
Now, to make the short story long, let me bore you with several screenfuls of more details.
Let's start by thinking about six basic aspects in the selection of stamps.
First, don't use damaged stamps. Using stamps that are damaged before your letter has even started its journey are like a slap on your stamp collector friend's face. Learn the proper technique to separate stamps without tearing them or leaving short perfs (fold the perforation row both ways before tearing). Don't use a knife or scissors to separate stamps! If you or a less skilful mail clerk goofed with a stamp, save it for mailing your contest replies or whatever but do not use it in philatelic mail.
Second, don't use meters. I repeat, don't use those obnoxious meter labels unless you've made sure your friend actually wants them. I know, there are philatelists who collect them, but for most of us it's stamps we're looking for. Given the choice between a label of $3.20 and two booklet strips of five .32 stamps, which would you rather receive yourself? Then, on the other hand, if your friend is a meter freak, using hard-to-find variants might be a big favor.
Third, commemorative/special stamps are usually more interesting than definitives. (Do I really have to say this to stamp collectors? Looking at the letters I receive, yes!) Your friend is likely to have several pieces of the most common stamps of your country that have been in use for years, so why burden him/her with yet some more? Among commemoratives, the smaller the printing, the more interesting the stamp. Stamps issued only in booklets or mini-sheets and semi-postal stamps are especially interesting. OTOH, some elusive definitive variants can be even harder to get, so they might be the number one choice if your friend is a definitive specialist.
Fourth, avoid stamps with the domestic letter rate value. In many countries stamps are issued in sets where the lowest value is extremely common but the top ones, representing various foreign rates, are really hard to find as naturally used pieces. (USA is an exception, issuing almost solely letter-rate stamps.) OTOH, se-tenant combinations of letter-rate stamps may be real gems.
Fifth, various margin and corner attachments can be enough to make the difference between a common stamp and an unusual item. Never tear off the margins, and use a maximum number of your center-position stamps in non-philatelic mail, so you can use plate-number singles etc. for nearly all your philatelic letters.
Sixth, the most recent stamps are the ones your friend is least likely to have yet. But still, there's no better way to know what would be most appreciated than asking.
A good rule of the thumb for selecting stamps: it's best to use the ones that you're least likely to have in your used duplicate stock later.
Having decided what to use in franking, the next question is how much. You should be aware that any serious postal history collector will keep the envelopes of your letters intact and will want them to have exactly the correct postage applied ("proper-usage covers"). Use of a single less common stamp with the correct rate is especially desirable. If you thought you got a nice scarce value sent to your friend by slight overfranking, you may have in fact spoiled a postal history item.
So it may be a good idea to consult your friend's opinion on overfranking. It's also a good idea because in that way you can let your friend know you're going into some extra spending for her/his benefit.
The age of the stamps you use in franking is another thing to consider. Some dislike the use of stamps outside their normal selling period, but then there are others who would drool at a "mixed franking" of two different definitive series if a new series has been recently introduced. Sometimes you may have an occasion to send a naturally circulated first day cover as a special treat to your friend.
Should one rather use many small-value stamps than fewer high- value ones? I don't think there's a single correct answer for this, it depends entirely on how difficult the high values are and how easy the low ones, and on the preferences of the receiver, of course.
I hope I have made you realize that there can be quite many tastes for stamps and covers. Your trading partners are your friends - care for them and provide them what they want outside the envelope, too. Careless franking can be interpreted as lack of respect or as philatelic ignorance - would you like to have either property associated with yourself?
Therefore, whenever you can get hold of really nice stamps in a normal post office or at a philatelic counter, get some extras for franking purposes. If you have the choice, ask for sides and corners in order to have more plate numbers and other interesting attachments on your letters. If you just can't find anything useful near you, order those extras from a philatelic sales office, fulfillment center or whatever it's called in your country.
What - your local mail clerk does not want to take the five seconds extra it would take to pick up another sheet of stamps? Well, there may be cases of bad service that are beyond remedy, but some of it could be turned into good service. If you show up regularly in your local post office and always chat with the people etc. you're bound to notice a difference sooner or later. If it's not considered improper in your country, you could even take a box of chocolates for Christmas to the nice people there, and after that they should be ever more helpful :-). Let them see that you appreciate their work and that they make you happy selling all those nice stamps, so they'll go eagerly to the next window or to the cash vault to find what you're looking for if their personal stock is finished, instead of the usual "Don't have it."
(What I wrote about service may sound too obvious, but I thought I should write it down anyway because I've seen collectors being refused special service only due to their own self-centered attitude. If it can save you several trips to your nearest philatelic counter, why not make an effort in getting good service locally?)
Depending on the extent of your correspondence, you'll have to tie some dollars or some tens of dollars of capital in a reasonable stock of interesting spare stamps, but that's what it takes to send your letters always with a good franking.