Here’s a surprisingly good way of removing staples – stamp tongs!
I recommend German-made “Solingen” stamp tongs with a spade tip. Stamp tongs are a kind of tweezer with smooth, polished tips. The spade tips are fine enough to slide under the arms of a staple, but thick enough to bend a normal (not heavy-duty) staple. You can often put both tips under the staple arm and wedge the staple open.
These tongs come in a couple of lengths, 4″ and 6″ (go for the longer ones), and can be angled or straight (straight is better). They are made made in Solingen, Germany, from nickel-coated steel, and the quality is very good. The finish is perfect, and the tips meet precisely. They seem to be sold under a number of brand names – Prinz, Uni-Safe, Showgard – but, examining pictures on the web, I suspect they are all basically the same product. Despite the high quality, they’re not expensive – you can find a pair for under $10.
I bought mine in Canada, as Uni-Safe stamp tongs. I thought the staples would damage the surface of the tongs, but so far they’ve held up pretty well. Removing a staple is a three-step process – slide the tongs under each arm of the staple and bend it back, then flip the paper over, slide tongs under the staple head, and lift it out. Again, these tongs are not suitable for prying apart a 300-sheet document fastened with heavy-duty staples, but for smaller items they work very nicely – separating stapled receipts, for example. The polished metal is very gentle on paper, and if you’re careful, you can remove the staple without damaging or creasing the paper around it.