Thursday, 14 December 2017

New version of Machin Security Checklist now available; website update problem

We are pleased to announce that the long-awaited updated version of our Checklist is now available from the usual source: click here.

This version 1.7.2 includes the Star Wars prestige book stamps issued today, although we are not entirely sure how the 1st class will be treated by Gibbons due to the colour.

New for this edition is a table showing which values have been issued with which year codes.  This is not quite the same as saying which have been issued in which year as some are not issued until the following year, but it will help to make sure that year-code collections are complete.

No updates to website
Unfortunately, the webpage where you ask for the list to be sent to you hasn't been updated due to an error in the latest version of the web-design software that we use.  It simply won't load because there is an error in the coding, so we can't edit or add any new pages on the website at present.  We'll get this sorted as soon as the developer fixes the software.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Stamp all you like, there won't be one for us leaving the EU!

On the latest Commonwealth Stamps Opinion my fellow-blogger White Knight reports the
furore among some politicians and UK newspapers (also reported in Germany by Deutsche Welle) about the lack of a stamp issue from Royal Mail, to mark the historic moment when the UK leaves the EU.

I don't comment on political matters, but find the whole thought process behind this campaign to be misguided.  Back in 1973 the General Post Office, still under government influence, did issue stamps when the UK joined the European Communities.

In 1979 four stamps were issued, again by the General Post Office, to mark the first direct electons to the European Assembly.  They served as a further reminder, were any necessary, to encourage citizens to vote in these important elections.  Finally* in 1992 a single stamp was issued by Royal Mail to mark the creation of the Single European Market for goods, services, and labour. 

Things have changed since then.  Royal Mail is privatised, something seemingly lost on the spokespeople interviewed by BBC television.  A member of the London Assembly was 'outraged' that this important historic event was not being marked, while the spokeswoman for 'Best for Britain', a 9-month old political organisation, disagreed and said that taxpayers money should not be spent on this!

This shows how out of touch they both are with reality.  One politician who thinks that he or the government can have any influence over (the private company) Royal Mail's stamp issuing policy, and a another who somehow thinks that taxpayers (ie the British Government) money would be spent on a new stamp!

Well the news is that the taxpayers who post letters (and all who collect stamps) would spend money on these not the British Government.  And although Royal Mail can produce stamps quickly when they want to, they haven't issued any stamps for overtly political current events since that one in 1992.  Stamps which have had a political connection have all been marking people and historical events associated with them - Prime Ministers (2014), and Women of Distinction (2008) and a few individuals in similar issues.

Rest assured, this isn't going to feature in the 2019 stamp issue programme - although that won't stop somebody producing expensive special covers to mark the event!

* I've missed at least one - a gold star to anybody who can identify it!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

New Machin Printings wrapping things up for Christmas.

As we expected they might, some low value Machin reprints have now appeared, rounding off most of the sheet stamps on Security Printed Backing Paper (SBP) - we never really believed the 50p and £1 would be reprinted.

The 2p and 10p counter sheets first appeared in June and April respectively with plain backing paper. Now we have the reprints on version 2 of the security printed backing paper.  The 2p seen has SuLi-SiLu arrangement and the 10p has SuLu-SiLi, for the record.  The backing paper for the 10p is also much paler, almost impossible to scan. These were scanned on the same settings.

The 2p was printed on 24/10/17 and the 10p was printed on 26/09/17.

Both are printed from colour cylinder D2, and iridescent and phosphor cylinders D1.

There have been reprints of four other stamps as well, again showing marked differences in the backing paper.  I'm recording the lettering arrangement for information only: I'm not recording all of them in our Checklist - for which a new version will be released very soon.

The 5p printed 03/10/17 has dark backing printing; the £1.57 printed 27/09/17 has pale; the 1st class printed 09/10/17 has pale, and the 2nd class printed 24/10/17 has dark.

The 2nd class is SiLuSuLi.  The 1st class is SuLuSiLi.
The 5p is SiLuSuLi, and the £1.57 is SuLuSiLi.

New stamps will be added to our shop shortly, and to the checklist.  Note that shop orders - especially international ones - may not be posted before the Christmas holidays, which means they will wait until the first week of January.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Royal Mail 'Employee Gift' stamps from a totally different printing!

Every year, Royal Mail employees receive a Christmas Card from the management, and a gift of 50 x 1st class Christmas stamps.  I had expected that they would get the equivalent of a whole sheet, ie 25 religious and 25 competition as shown in our earlier post, but the reality is a big surprise!

In fact, according to sales lists on eBay, the card shows the design of the 1st class competition winner stamps, and contains 50 of those stamps.  All of the sheets have either the left or right margin cut back so that the sheet fits in the card, but far from showing just the cylinder number and traffic lights as expected, some sheets also have a sale-by date and printing date and sheet number!

This means that they have been cut from sheets containing 50  x competition stamps, that is, a different printing to the ones sold to collectors and Post Office customers.

This is the sheet we showed earlier:

As you can see, the printing date and sheet number is in the top right selvedge.  The Sale Date is in the top left margin of these sheets, both being alongside the religious stamps.

This is what has been found on eBay, images cropped to show just one half-sheet.  First the lower parts:

And now the unexpected upper parts:

Monday, 4 December 2017

December 2017 Slogan Postmarks - and others

We don't expect much in the way of variety from slogans at this time of year apart from the exhortations to 'Post Early', followed nearer the date by the last day for 1st class, and maybe a 'special delivery - next day' option.

But as mail centres get busy and older machinery is pressed into use, I do expect to see more of the older Universal machines in use.  I've already been told that Chelmsford MC is offloading work to Greenford/Windsor!

Lerwick uses a Universal machine for most of the year, but Inverness and Ipswich will be almost certain to appear this month, so let's keep our eyes open on the Christmas mail - after all it's that time of year when you get more stamped mail than any other! 

Anyway, here is the first Post Early inkjet slogan for 2017, from Exeter MC.


UPDATE 11 December
Here are some variations to the above, with the other format from South East Anglia, and the transposed version from SE Wales, both on 4 Decmber.

Last Posting Dates.
These normally appear after the 'Post Early' slogan, the wording changing as time passes.  But Nottingham had this on 1 December (same date as Exeter's Post Early, above)

Merry Christmas!
Last posting dates
1st class:
22 December
2nd class:
21st December

UPDATE 11 December.
I have a number of Christmas contributions from readers which I shall add soon.  In the meantime, Royal Mail have also marked the award of the 2017 Nobel Literature prize to Kazuo Ishiguro the Japanese-born British novelist.  This news broke in October so unless this is an accidental repeat of a slogan that nobody noticed earlier, it's difficult to see why Royal Mail chose to use it now.   Used in Exeter on Saturday 9 December, the slogan reads

Kazuo Ishiguro - 
Awarded the
Nobel Prize in
Literature 2017

A good addition to a Nobel thematic collection.

Update later the same day:  Thanks to JR for this other format from Preston, albeit they seem to have an inking problem!  This is the other format, and is dated 8 December; the wording is in the same format as above, but without the dash at the end of line 2.

UPDATE 13th: Our Christmas mail brought a better example from Birmingham Mail Centre, dated 12/12/17 (and we have one from Norwich dated 11-12-2017) which suggests that this is a week-long campaign.  (Readers may recall that last autumn Royal Mail had said that there could be no non-Christmas slogans during their Christmas campaign - and then went on to use slogans for the NHS Blood service and the Centenary of the Cub Scout movement!)

UPDATE 15 December:  Glitch at Belfast!
Thanks to GF for this anomaly from Northern Ireland Mail Centre in Belfast, which - after Post Early and Kazu Ishiguro - slipped back a month and used Lest We Forget on 13th December.

UPDATE 17 December 2017
And so we are into the final week before Christmas, and the Last Posting Dates slogans are now in use.  Here's one used on Friday 15th at Norwich MC.  We had another but couldn't read the MC ID.

Merry Christmas!
Last posting dates:
1st class: 21 December
2nd class: 20 December

Friday, 1 December 2017

Winter Cheer: the end of Business Customised Sheets

First there were Smilers, then there were Business Cusomised Sheets (BCS) aimed at company advertising.   Sadly that isn't how it stayed, and now BCS are coming to an end.

Writing in Graham Howard writes:
As predicted in this column (Q1-2017) Royal Mail have decided to end the Business Customised Stamp sheet service and have today released the following announcement in their Key News bulletin aimed at the Philatelic Market.
"Another recent review has looked at the use and popularity of the BCS service and having considered the number of BCS orders received over the past two years Royal Mail has taken the decision to end the BCS service in 2018. Last orders for Business Customised Sheets will be accepted on 31st March 2018 for delivery in May 2018. Following which the BCS service will cease, The Smilers service, used for smaller volumes, will remain."
Graham goes on to say:
In January of this year we reviewed the product, and proposed changes which, in our view, would have generated more interest and help make the product more commercially viable.
Maybe, maybe not, but Royal Mail ignored the suggestions and in my view that can only be good for the hobby, and the trade.

The writing was on the wall long ago and the only surprise to me is that the plug wasn't pulled earlier.  Over a year ago I wrote (Smilers Bubble Bursts - Stamps Not Posters!) about the history of the product:
Interest in all Smilers was already in decline [in 2011] and Royal Mail had started (in 2008) to produce its own version of the BCS, the Commemorative Sheet
Originally aimed as a business alternative to the personalised Smilers, Business Customised Sheets were launched in late 2001 and a few were used by companies for publicity or as gifts.  But some stamp dealers soon realised that there was an opportunity to diversify from first day and commemorative covers, and make some money instead from people interested in particular themes (football, Concorde, Dr Who, railways).  But by 2011 the decline had started (see Who's Smiling Now? Business Smilers take a dive). 
The stamp dealers, in conjunction with Royal Mail, were producing - in effect - glossy colourful posters, which happened to have 10 x 1st class stamps in them.  Purely money-making, not even philatelic.  Then Royal Mail took to selling some of these private productions through their Philatelic Bureau adding some sort of legitimacy to them, with the inevitable next step being that Royal Mail produced similar sheets under their own name at a much lower selling price but still over 3x face.
What was potentially a good idea for business advertising is probably the worst thing that has happened to British stamps in recent years.

When these expensive sheets - some of them initially sold for upwards of £50 each and most over £30 - are offered to dealers either as part of an estate or if the collector is seeking to diminish his holdings while still alive, they are with few exceptions treated as just so much postage.  Bearing in mind any of you can buy postage now at 80% of face (or even better for the right quantity) you must realise that dealers are paying between 35% and 60% of current face, not the original price.  So the most you can get for a sheet that cost you £30-£50 is £3.90.  The same applies to Royal Mail Commemorative Sheets some of which are still available on their website: others were sold at a discount before being withdrawn.

Graham and I will disagree on this, but I still maintain that they were a bad thing to be marketed at stamp collectors.  I have bought some BCS at fairs for face value - Manchester United, Norwich City, etc.  They make good stocking-filler Christmas presents for relatives who are fans. (No I don't actually roll them up!). 

And if you are buying postage they will certainly be different.  Look out for them in the 'at face' or 'discount postage' boxes on your next fair visit.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Stanley Gibbons Guaranteed Investmenet Scheme Collapses: Guernsey arm in Administration

I'm sure some readers of this blog in the UK and outside will have read that Stanley Gibbons (Guernsey) is "in Administration".  This means:
-The purpose of administration is to enable the company to be rescued as a going concern. Through being in administration an insolvent company is protected from its creditors and given time to restructure itself in a way that will allow it to survive.
- The company directors might choose to go into administration, or it could be forced on them by creditors or their bank.
- The process of going into administration involves the appointment of an insolvency practitioner, often an accountancy firm, to run the business. They have a statutory duty to work on behalf of all the creditors and they will investigate what actions are available to save the business.
- At the same time they will do what they can to keep the business operating as normal, although sections that are clearly losing money will be shut down very quickly. They will do what they can to cut operating costs, which is why a round of redundancies often occurs shortly after their appointment.
In the case of Stanley Gibbons, an official statement says that administrators have been appointed for the Investment arm - Stanley Gibbons Guernsey [SGG] - and the group stressed that other parts of its business are not affected by the move "and are ring-fenced from the buy-back guarantees of this division".  According to International Investment,
"The scheme is said to have more than £70m in liabilities, though only £6.5m of that is owed to the parent company.   The subsidiary holds about £12.6m in “philatelic stock”, said the parent company in a statement issued today.
The subsidiary’s “potential liabilities”, said the company, primarily consist of around £54m contingent liabilities relating to the buy-back guarantees, and a further approximate £11m in liabilities included on its balance sheet.
The £6.5m owed to the parent company would, it said, “rank alongside other unsecured creditors, mainly consisting of bank debt and payments due to holders of
investment products”."

Amazingly the Gibbons Investment page is still available to read on the web, albeit with a new header about the appointment of PWC as administrators, and the investment guide is still available to download!
So how is Stanley Gibbons overall?
Not so good.  Some of us have been following the misfortunes of the company for a few years.  These misfortunes have been largely hidden from ordinary collectors, and have involved Gibbons 'diversifying' into new areas and taking on new managers, and - in the view of many - throwing too much money at those ventures.

Gibbons became a public company after a launch on the London Stock Exchange in 1968, and was bought in 1979 by dry-lettering company Letraset which was attempting to diversify.  The integration failed and weakened Letraset (their chairman was quoted as saying "we significantly overpaid for what we got". - remember these words!).  Letraset was bought in turn by Esselte, which soon dumped Gibbons as it was not a logical addition to their business.

This led in 1982 to a management buyout by Clive Feigenbaum who owned 50% of the shares and attempted to join the Unlisted Securities Market, but the shares were suspended before trading began following exposures by a newspaper concerning earlier stamp ventures by Feigenbaum.

Between 1989-95 all the shares in SG were acquired by Paul Fraser, who sold the company in 1998 to Flying Flowers, but this was not a success and the companies were demerged in 2000, with the value of Fraser's stake falling from £13.5m to £4m. (The chairman of Flying Flowers said the deal "was at the wrong price and at the wrong time" - those words again).  Fraser sold his remaining shares in April 2008.

After this SG engaged in a vigorous acquisition plan to diversify, a process which included non-philatelic businesses.  In September 2010 they bought Benham first day covers (etc) from Flying Brands Ltd (owners of Flying Flowers).  The attraction was "synergies between the two databases of collectors... and potential to develop the Benham website".

In an attempt to improve its online presence Gibbons acquired US stamp auction/sale site bidStart in November 2012 for US$1 million. BidStart owner Mark Rosenberg was appointed Chief Digital Officer.  The online Marketplace was eventually launched in May 2015.

In November 2013 SG acquired Noble Investments which included Apex Philatelics, Baldwin's, Drewatts, and Bloomsbury Auctions - a significant diversification.  In 2014 the company acquired George VI specialist dealer and publisher Murray Payne, and Mallett Antiques which had premises in London's Mayfair and New York's Madison Avenue.  BidforWine was acquired in July 2015.

By December 2015 SG had resold Benham to former Managing Director Tony Grodecki and suffered a big write-off of the value in its accounts.

Effect on results

In the 15 months to 31 March 2014 SG had trading profits of £6.9m (on sales of £51.8m) compared with £6.3m (on sales of £35.6m) for the 12 months ended 31 December 2012.  The big hit of about £1.8m was suffered due to their investment in 'online developments', including the US-owned Bidstart, which seems to have been badly mishandled. 

Bidstart enabled dealers and collectors alike to - as with eBay - list stamps for sale without regard to condition or accuracy of description, and - because the membership base was mostly in North America - mostly using Scott catalogue numbers instead of Gibbons.  SG listed some of their own stock (with SG numbers) alongside and although the stamps were probably superior examples the (mainly US) membership would find them more expensive, if they found them at all, because they were drowned out by cheaper examples using the other catalogue.  

With the Marketplace launched, Rosenberg and Gibbons parted company in July 2015, and a year later Gibbons sold bidStart back to Rosenberg for "an undisclosed sum" - reported to be much lower than its purchase price.  (Sounds familiar.)  In October SG reported a hefty pretax loss of £28.9m, from a profit of £1.8m for the previous year.  A year later the group posted a loss before tax of £30.2m.  A 48% fall in net asset value resulted from a combination of one-off restructuring costs, continued difficult trading conditions and the ongoing legacy of the group's investment contracts, the company said.

Share Price
The other investors in Stanley Gibbons are the shareholders, with directors often holding considerable shares.  The value of the shares has been diluted by further shares being issued to raise additional funds, but the price has fallen catastrophically and the company is now ripe for takeover if only anybody had the vision to properly turn it round and concentrate on core areas.

When they bought bidStart in 2012 the share price was 288p per share, and it rose to over 300p on the acquisition of Noble Investments.  But by September 2015 the price had more than halved to 152p, and following a profits warning in October dropped a further 41p (28%).

Shares opened January 2016 at 86p.  In February with the share price down to 45p following market analysists' reports, their auditors resigned and by mid-March - when they were looking to raise £13m additional capital - the share price was down below 12p.  It rose, but by June was back down to 12p.  At this level the price is affected by any sales or purchases, or even by general volatility in the stock market, but a few days ago it was at 4.4p.

The future
In March this year the trading results showed a loss of £8.8m (compared with £3.9m) on a turnover of £42.5m.  The results reported that the lease on the Strand premises (no, they don't own 399 any more) expires in spring 2018 and the landlord wants the premises back. 

"A full review of Group E-Commerce strategy led to the closure of The Marketplace, based in the USA, ‎on 7 September 2016 bringing to an end a project which had consumed some £10m cash over the last few years.

"The Board believes there remains an opportunity to grow online revenues substantially. This will ultimately be best achieved via a cohesive strategy linking online sales of the Group's own, high quality collectibles assets, with our world renowned publications business.

If they can do that without spending too much, they may be successful, but "the Group is currently in default on its bank facilities and the Company remains dependent upon the bank's ongoing support. There can be no guarantee that the bank will provide facilities beyond 31 May 2018 and the Company is likely to require access to further liquidity in the intervening period."

As we know, there is strength in the catalogue and publishing business (although the demand for monthly paper magazines will be declining) and it seems likely that this part of the business will continue for many years.  Aside from any bought (at deep discounts) by public libraries, many of the catalogues are bought by dealers who require access to the latest information and suggested prices to conduct their own businesses.  

Collectors tend not to buy catalogues as often, but they need to recognise that the continuation of the business will require continued catalogue sales.  Order through your dealer to provide him with some business and a small margin of profit - he may even share the margin and give you a discount from the cover price.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Post and Go News - there isn't any!

When we reported on the re-introduction of Poppy stamps and other Post and Go changes last month, a number of readers pointed out that the information provided by Royal Mail was incorrect, as some machines were no longer at the locations mentioned and some stamps were introduced early - or late.

We've now been told that machine M011 at Ministry of Defence Abbey Wood does not have the Poppy stamps in this week, although the original announcement indicated an end date of 23 November.  The Poppies have been replaced by the Union Flag.

This means that we will not be able to obtain more Poppy stocks from Abbey Wood - sorry!

In the original announcement Poppies were to be removed from machines at museums (except the postal museum) on 19 November, while those in the machines at Postal Museum, BFPO, MoD and Enquiry Offices would be removed on 23 November.  So if anybody can check on the situation at any Enquiry Offices I'll be happy to record it.   As far as I know Norwich EO didn't load the Poppies at all: they are still using Hibernating Animals - but not very many.
See Update2 at foot of post.

For some time Royal Mail had a webpage of Post and Go News :
... but this now diverts to the Post and Go sales page at
... and even this page does not show the Winter Greenery stamps.

It seems that Royal Mail is doing its best to keep us in the dark about Post and Go changes.  IAR told me earlier in the year that they would not be putting Royal Mail news on their website until Royal Mail had made the announcement (on theirs), so don't look for anything from either soon!

IAR still provide information on Jersey and Guernsey changes and events, though.

I've been told that Postal Museum and Mount Pleasant EO machines had Winter Greenery from 13 November.

I've managed to track previous versions of the Royal Mail web-page and found this statement on the 23 October version:
To mark Remembrance Day, Royal Mail Enquiry Office machines and Post Office Limited machines will carry the Post and Go Poppy stamp, from 24th September until 13 November.
Three days later the 'news' page redirects to the shop page.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Post and Go: Poppies and Winter Greenery 2017 printings, and some others

We now have supplies of the recent Post and Go stamps issued for the period of Remembrance and for Winter/Christmas mailings.

As previously announced, the Poppy Post and Go stamp was reintroduced at Post Office branches, the Postal Museum, and Enquiry Offices from 24 October, and at Museums from 20 October.  The stamps at Museums were the residual 2015 stock coded MA15.  Those in PO branches and enquiry offices are a reprint with code R17YAL - this last one interesting because the twin digits have replaced a single letter.  (Click on any image for larger versions.)

PO SSK R17YAL collectors set
Machine M011 Ministry of Defence Abbey Wood - MA15
The default version has the Ministry of Defence de&s logo, but buyers can choose the 'posting to Northern Ireland' option, whereby the obvious origin is hidden and the stamps are printed without the logo.

On the other reel, the Machin Post and Go stamp has the same two options.  We already have the original MA13 version on our webshop but obtained some more with the poppies, only to find that they are undated.  The only other M-series machines which have produced undated Machins with the current range of 6 values were those at Mount Pleasant (from 3 June 2015, and BFPO Northolt (from 27 June 2016) until M011 had undated stamps added earlier this year.  Stuart Leigh's Catalogue only shows this with the logo, but the no-log version may have appeared before now.

UPDATE 18 November
Some of the latest Abbey Wood stamps are already sold out, at least in collectors's strips, though we have 1st class singles.  We are attempting to restock with the sets and will notify customers as soon as we have definite information.
Update: No Poppies were available, but more Machins have been obtained, a mix of undated and MA13.

A new printing of these stamps was introduced at Post Office branches from 13 November 2017.

The 1st class stamps have the year code R17YAL and 2nd class have CL17S.

UPDATE 9 December
A correspondent writes that "Sheffield are dispensing the 2017 Poppies, but not Winter Greenery so far."  A chance for local collectors to get the December datastring on Poppies.

Machin Definitives from Star Wars Prestige Stamp Book

As we mentioned in September, the Star Wars Prestige Stamp Book will be issued on 14 December to coincide with the cinema release of the latest film in the series.

I mistakenly wrote then:
the PSB will contain 4 x 1st class, 2 x 2nd class and 2 x £1.40 Machin definitives which should be coded M17L MPIL.  This will give us three new stamps in the pane of 8.
I had overlooked, of course, that the Machin PSB also contained a gummed 1st class stamp coded MPIL M17L, so maybe there would only be two new stamps in the Star Wars pane.

Like the 1st class stamp in this year's Windsor Catle PSB we would expect all these to be the new darker red, also known as deep scarlet.  But the stamp in the Machin pane was lighter - presumably the original red colour as shown on the miniature sheet in the same issue, although some people thought that it was dark enough to qualify as the new colour.  Who knows what the ink mix was that time?

So what colour is the one in the Star Wars book? - Answer: Lighter than both the others!!

The picture shows: left, Windsor Castle M16L; upper right, the Star Wars M17L; lower right, the Machin Anniversary M17L.

In my view, the latest stamp cannot possibly be described as deep scarlet, it certainly isn't the same colour as the Windsor Castle one - arguably there's even less black in the mix than in the 2015 Star Wars stamp or even the 2013 Football PSB!

The lack of colour consistency extends to the new £1.40 stamp in the new book as well, the self-adhesive counter sheet stamp shown below on the left.  Maybe it doesn't matter because they are not supposed to be used for postage, but colour matching seems to have gone by the board.

For the record, here are pictures of the whole pane, and close-up of the three new stamps which we shall offer in our shop at the appropriate time.

The Norvic Security Stamp Checklist will be updated when I have finished dealing with the latest Post and Go stamps, and can get my head round these in the PSB.  Your thoughts, as always, are welcome!