Although our company operates under both names, FCI Stamp Restoration Service and First Choice International Inc., we actually recommend that you address your letters to First Choice International Inc. This is probably more important when sending items by regular First Class Mail. The reason for this is that there is nothing in this name, which would indicate the contents of the letter. When filling out any customs forms we recommend that you specify the contents to be “documents” with a declared value of less than $100. Otherwise, we may be charged the HST, our Harmonized Sales Tax and potentially other import duties which I cannot recoup even though the items are returned to you after being repaired.
Send items to:
First Choice International Inc.
57 Daugaard Ave.
Paris ON N3L 4B9
Tel: (519) 442-3396
Cell: (519) 501-5757
Usually, our turn around time is 3 – 4 weeks. Depending on the quantity of items sent, difficulty of the repair, volume of orders and other factors, this may vary from time to time. Work of this nature, as you can understand, is not of an assembly line nature and we attempt devote to every item the time and care it deserves. We usually try to give some indication on how busy we are on our main web page.
On the main web page we mentioned that we will return items in the same manner as received, (if possible). In order to protect yourself, we strongly recommend that you use some form of registered mail or an equivalent traceable mail or currier service.
Due to the constant turn over of items it is almost impossible if not, at the very least, cost prohibitive to insure items, which are temporarily in our possession. We therefore DO NOT have insurance for the purpose of restoring stamps, covers or other articles of paper. We take all reasonable care that your items are returned to you in the best possible condition.
Although we take all reasonable precautions, it is possible that on very rare occasions, items may be damaged during the restoration process. It is understood and agreed that YOU, the customer assume ALL risk during the time the stamps are in our possession and that we, (First Choice International Inc., FCI Stamp Restoration Service) are NOT responsible for any loss or damage to your items however caused.
Most of what is described on these pages applies to covers – at least to some degree. The work is very similar but often can and will be more time consuming if for no other reason than the physical size of the items, which often have larger areas in need of attention. Please send us scans of these items – both front and back, so that we may be able to prepare a proper quote. Usually restoration and repair cost around $50 and go up from there. In some circumstances this cost cost be a little lower if the item may only need light cleaning, for example. It is always beneficial to send us a scan.
We also are interested in and make repairs to articles of paper of any kind. Should you have such items you wish to restore, please feel free to contact us to see if we are able to take on this kind of work.
Should you have specific questions regarding any of your stamps, it is best to send of good quality scans of both the front and rear of these items. The scans should have an optical resolution of at least 300 to 600 dpi.
With few exceptions, we scan all our customer’s items, stamps, covers and other articles of paper before we ever perform any type of work. This serves a number of purposes. First we have a record of exactly how we received an item. Second it gives us a reference for the purpose of regumming or other such processes where we need to match the colour to the original – our monitor is colour matched to the items being scanned. And last but not least, we can then generate a Certificate of Restoration by providing our customers with “before” and “after” images.
At a meeting, my one and only, with the American Philatelic Society’s board of directors in San Francisco in 1997, I was told that the Certificates of Restoration issued by my company are of no value. It seems to me that the person making this comment was somewhat confused. We are issuing a Certificate of Restoration and not a Certificate of Authenticity. It also seems to me that there isn’t anyone more qualified to ascertain what restoration work was performed than the person or persons actually performing the work. At best, people at the APS or any other organization can only hazard an educated guess.
Pricing Example 1 (in USD) – mint stamp, in condition as described in catalogue, valued at $50.00
Repairs required: Replace missing corner, regum
- Replace corner …..……………………………….18.00
- Regum ……..………..……………………………...7.50
Maximum charge is 20% of value ($50.00) is ……$10.00
The charge will be $10.00 (the lesser of $25.50 and $10.00)
Pricing Example 2 (in USD) – mint stamp, in condition as described in catalogue, valued at $500.00
Repairs required: Replace missing corner, regum
- Replace corner …..……………………………….18.00
- Regum ……..………..……………………………...7.50
- Surcharge, (3% of $500.00) ….………..………..15.00
Maximum charge is 20% of value ($500.00) is …$100.00
The charge will be $41.50 (the lesser of $41.50 and $100.00)
In most cases, for the purpose of calculating repairs, we use the values of the stamps as listed in the Scott catalogues either mint or used as the case may be. We will accept values as listed in other catalogues such as Michel or Stanley-Gibbons provided you notify us of your intent. (FCIstamps@gto.net)
Yes, our pricing can be somewhat confusing but the reason we price repairs this way is to allow new and long time customers to send us material which is of lower value and still have it be a cost effective repair. New customers will often wish to send us stamps or covers of a lower value in order to try our services. Also, in many cases, customers would like to have lower priced stamps restored, which belong to complete sets of stamps containing high priced items.
I must categorically state that in no way can or do we make any claims as to any increase in the value, perceived or otherwise, of any stamp or other article of paper, which was sent to us for restoration or repair. You, as the owner or keeper of these items, are solely responsible and must make these value judgments, which are purely subjective.
There are different situations we come across when we reperforate stamps. Much depends on the width of the existing margins if any. Depending on the width of margins, we have to employ techniques to suit the individual cases. See “Reperforating Stamps – How do you reperforate stamps with wide margins?” and “Reperforating Stamps – How do you reperforate stamps with narrow or non-existing margins?”
If margins allow it, we will trim the very minimal amount of paper from the tips of the longer perfs and then recut the holes slightly deeper in order to make the perforations uniform once again. Often this involves removing paper of only a few thousands of an inch or a few hundreds of a millimeter. – The cost would be as shown on our price list, US $7.50
If margins are too narrow or non-existent and you would like to have perfs on the side where this is the case, we can add paper and reperf the stamp as per the original. As this is very time consuming work, the cost for this service would be the same as replacing a corner or thin, $18.00
It has been written that one way to tell whether or not a stamp has been reperforated is that on reperforated stamps, the perforations are misaligned from the perforations on the opposite side of the stamp. From our experience we found this to be true in some cases but by far not all, - unless someone can show us evidence to the contrary. Either way, we will do our best to restore the items to their original state.
We use a set of proprietary dies and punches, designed by us and manufactured specifically for our company. The use of this tooling ensures exact spacing, along with the proper hole size. Accuracy of this tooling is within 1/10,000th of an inch. For more info refer to the section on Perforation Spacing – Actual vs. Catalogue
Certain measures are taken to recreate the perforation tips in a manner closely matching the originals. What this means is that our perforations will not have a straight cut along its edge, rather a more natural torn appearance. Also, for stamps requiring to be regummed, we take additional steps to reduce or eliminate gum on the perforation tips. This will ensure that perforations maintain their proper look and feel.
The variety of gum encountered on stamps is more numerous than the countries from which the stamps originate. Aside from the different types, there are variations in colour, sheen, flexibility etc. On some stamps it appears relatively flawless, on others, the gum will have developed fine random cracks throughout. We attempt to match gum on stamps as closely as we know how to original gum. This is not and exact science and is often difficult to match 100%. In order for us to achieve the best possible results it is helpful for you to send along other stamps with original gum, which we can use as a sample. These can be stamps of low value, (with original gum), from the same set, or barring that, stamps from the same era.
There are a number of ways gum can be applied. Many of which have been discussed in books, stamp catalogues, magazines and the like. What makes regumming stamps more difficult once they are torn from a full sheet is that it is much more difficult to control the paper as there is no easy way to restrain the paper during the regumming process. We pride ourselves on being able to apply gum in a fashion that closely matches the original without disturbing the newly applied gum.
Since we are in business of restoration, we attempt to recreate the look and feel of the stamp, as it was when it was originally torn from the sheet. Our methods ensure that during the regumming process, gum being applied to the tips of perforations is either eliminated or greatly diminished. See also “perforation tips”.
Unless thins are filled prior to stamps being regummed, it is not possible without the stamps showing obvious flaws where in the thin areas. As part of the restoration process, we will therefore always fill any thins which become apparent prior to us regumming a stamp. From our experience we would estimate that in 8 or 9 out of 10 cases, thins are apparent while the stamps are dry, yet there are cases where these flaws don’t show up until after a stamp is wet and these may be discovered only while performing other restoration work.
Sometimes, stamps may not have any faults other than lightly disturbed gum. If that is the case and you would like to have the gum restored to its mint condition it may be possible to do so without removing the original gum by redistributing the existing original gum. The operative words here are – lightly disturbed.
As most of you know, light creases can often be pressed out with reasonable success. Heavy creases usually mean one thing, - the paper fibers are physically broken and need to be bridged with the addition of new paper. Although we take great care in adding only minimal paper, a few fibers at a time, paper is added never the less. Obviously, this will slightly affect the paper density in this area and may show up slightly darker than the surrounding paper when held up against a strong back light.
It doesn’t matter whether or not a stamp is mint or used. Creases can be repaired on either. We cannot however repair creases on mint stamps by retaining the original gum. The gum needs to be removed, the crease repaired and the stamp regummed. Charges for this work would be the same as for repairs of thins. The new gum actually helps hold the paper fibers in place. Used stamps need the addition of minute amounts of water-soluble adhesives in order for the fibers to remain in place.
Often thins are caused by removing stamps from albums which have been improperly stored and have been exposed to excessive amounts of humidity. Often this is the case for mint or unused stamps, which still have gum on the back. The gum sometimes softens and becomes sticky in humid conditions and the stamps end up sticking to the album pages. During removal some of the original paper remains stuck to the album. Used stamps sometimes are mounted with hinges, which are difficult to remove and are being damaged during the process of removing the mounts or hinges.
This often is a tedious and time-consuming process. There are no mechanical means by which one can duplicate the original process which created the paper the stamp was printed on – at least that we are aware of. Hence, this becomes a manual task. We need to ensure the added pulp matches the original paper as closely as possible, in density, texture as well as colour. Often this is a process, which needs to be repeated several times in order to get it as close as possible to the original. And yes, size matters. The larger the affected area, the more difficult the repair. As with creases, unused stamps requiring the application of new gum have the advantage of having the new gum retain the added paper. Used stamps need small amounts of water-soluble adhesive in order to affect the proper repair. All new paper then needs to be toned to match the surrounding original paper.
Holes are restored similar to the way we restore thins.
If at all possible we do what we can to ensure our processes are reversible. Unfortunately, this is not possible in all cases, primarily when straight edges of stamps are perforated or perforations are slightly deepened in order to give them better definition. Most other operations allow our work to be undone or reversed. This is because we work with water-soluble adhesives. What this means it that stamps which have had creases or thins repaired or perforations rejoined can be soaked in water and the added fibres removed. The same holds true for perforations, which have been added.
Stamps, corner blocks, or whole sheets, originally joined, may become inadvertently separated. This is usually due to handling over the years or pulling stamps stuck in stock albums or a myriad of other reasons. We used different techniques to rejoin separated stamps, blocks or sheets. In many cases it may be possible to rejoin items while leaving the original gum intact.
Most but not all ink is grease based and therefore not water-soluble. As with anything, there are exceptions to every rule. Many collectors are aware that some countries use fugitive inks mainly to thwart the fraudulent reuse of a stamp since the soaking it in water will cause the inks to dissolve. Whether this is intentional or not, experience has shown us that there are some colours which are more likely than others to exhibit this trait. In particular, some orange, red or brown coloured stamps are more likely to suffer from this happening. There is little we can do to stop this from occurring other than the speed at which we work. These inks can dissolve rather rapidly and soak into the paper, which cannot be bleached out. The more work and time expended on these items, the more the problem manifests itself. This can be especially evident when we need to fill thins on the back of these stamps, something we can only do while the stamp is wet. Speed is of the essence.
Relatively recent Canadian stamps use a phosphorescent ink or dye in the area of the stamp’s margins. Since this is done for security reasons, these dyes are not readily available. In fact, I have not yet been able to establish a source, (if you can help, let us know). On the other hand, in most cases, stamps of this nature are still plentiful and of low value, therefore we have had no demand for this type of service.
Often, damaged stamps exhibit holes, which by their very nature eliminate any part of the printed image on the front of the stamp in its location. Also, heavy creases other abrasions or missing corners will damage the image printed on the front of the stamp. After any missing paper is replaced we will manually reconstruct the image to the best of our ability. Small flaws will be difficult to detect however larger areas are accordingly more difficult to restore and although done with much care, are also somewhat more easily detectable.
Some American stamps were originally produced with grilles, rectangular patterns of tiny pyramid shaped impressions, which usually break through the surface of the paper. The grilles could be pressed into the paper from the front or rear depending on the issue. Currently, we have a die with a test pattern, which seems to work nicely. However due to the prohibitive cost to make a complete set of these dies we have not yet done so. Should you however have a need to get work done, which requires the use of this type of tooling we will get the appropriate dies manufactured. Obviously this will require additional turn around time. Having said that, as long as the stamp does not need to have a thin filled in the area of the original grill, we have successfully restored many stamps of this nature.
As is the case with grills, embossed stamps present a whole range of other issues. Although not impossible, it severely limits the type and extent of any repairs we may be able to perform on these items. At the very least, we would need a high quality scan of both the front and back of these items in order to give you a reasonable answer as to what we can and cannot do.
For now, we are not equipped to restore stamps manufactured with self adhesive backing, the peel and stick type. For potential future work, we would appreciate any guidance in obtaining the proper adhesives. (FCIstamps@gto.net>)
Although our research has not indicated that paper produced about 100+ years ago had phosphorescent additives, paper which is that old seemingly exhibits small traces of such. I am not aware of the origins of this but suffice it to say that any paper we add may show ever so slightly when viewed under various wavelengths of UV light. Perhaps anyone reading this might help shed some “light” on this seeming phenomenon. (FCIstamps@gto.net)
As with any type of restoration work, we encounter stamps in various degrees of required cleaning. In many but not all cases if the stamp exhibits signs of dirt on the face, especially in the margin area, we can use a dry process by which the original gum is not affected. In some instances where the dirt does penetrate the paper either form the front, which is very difficult to remove, or from the back, which is somewhat less complicated, gummed stamps may have to have their original gum removed and be regummed. In extreme cases cleaning may affect the actual paper and require that paper be added and the stamp regummed if necessary. From time to time it is necessary to use a variety of chemicals ranging from relatively mild to quite aggressive. We will always begin our task with the mildest chemicals we have, perform spot tests and then cautiously progress to the stronger ones.
Problems encountered in this area, although in some cases similar to cleaning of dirt can be significantly different due to the root cause of the spots. Often these are caused by various degrees of mold and in many cases, although the paper still seems intact, that damage has already been done. The integrity of the paper will have been compromised as the fibres in that area may have been attacked and destroyed. We can lighten and sometimes eliminate these spots but on numerous occasions the paper in these areas will disintegrate and the areas will need to be filled and restored with the addition of new paper. As I mentioned above, much depends on the severity of the condition.
Not totally uncommon is the discovery of items, which have been poorly stored by someone using adhesive tape, or poorly mended using “Scotch® “or similar type tape. I am in no way trying to single out this make of tape or imply that it is not a good product since I believe they may also make archival tapes. Adhesive tapes of this nature applied many years ago, will in most cases have experienced a yellowing of the substrate and adhesive along with a degree of softening of the adhesive. None of which is something you want to have come in contact with your stamps. We have found some chemicals, which perform reasonably well when it comes to the removal of the tape and the adhesive residue. Depending on the type of ink used on the stamp and the penetration of the adhesive into the paper fibre, this procedure will have varying degrees of success, (sometimes the image may be slightly lightened), yet in most cases the results are big improvement over the stamp’s un-restored condition.
It is not uncommon to discover that stamps have previously been repaired or altered by others. Without attempting to “blow our own horn” so to speak, often this work is less than adequate. Certainly there were and probably still are other “restorers” out there of who you may be aware, it is no different as with any other craft. Some are better than others. The work we most often run into is that stamps have been previously poorly reperforated. The spacing, hole size and depth are wrong and perforations often still exhibit straight edges along the ends. Thins have been filled by gluing paper over the affected areas, white-out or type correction fluid has been used to fill thins and holes and gum has been applied as to accumulate on the perforation tips. For what its worth it is our intent to have stamps leave our premises in a condition that matches stamps of their original issue as exactingly as possible.
On some used stamps a particularly heavy cancellation may be encountered, which can severely obscure the main image. In these cases we may be convinced to attempt to lighten the cancellation somewhat in order to reveal more of the stamp’s image. Having said that, the ink used for the cancellation is in most cases chemically similar to that of the printed image. Hence, attempts to lighten such cancellations need to be carried out with extreme care, as it is easy to go just a little too far and negatively affect the image underneath.
This may be technically possible in some instances but under NO circumstances will we be convinced to remove an existing cancellation, no matter how little of the cancellation may be evident.
Amongst other uses, the use of this type of light can be useful in determining filled thins and other repairs.
Although I was a member of the APS for a relatively short time in the 90’s no one at First Choice International or FCI Stamp Restoration Service is currently a member of any philatelic organization with the exception of the Grand River Philatelic Society.
There are numerous ways to detect repairs, from watermark fluid to side light tables, UV lamps, magnifying glasses and microscopes. We have found so far that your ordinary $100 scanner can be your best friend. Scanning a stamp or cover with a resolution of 600 DPI or greater will in most cases reveal not only flaws but also the majority of repairs or alterations. In my humble opinion, I would have to say that although we strive to perform the best possible work it is virtually impossible to make these repairs or restorations undetectable.
I had been asked by the American Philatelic Society to identify items, which we restored or repaired. In almost the same sentence I was told that we could not make any repairs or restorations, which are undetectable - exactly what I said in the paragraph above. I have therefore refused to indelibly identify these items for this reason and because I am not aware of any other articles or collectibles, which, after having been restored or repaired, are marked to identify them as such. For the purpose of declaration of repairs performed, we issue our Certificates of Restoration.