Friday, 19 January 2018

We were powerless.....

Yes, during and after what the UK Met Office eventually referred to as 'Storm David', the name assigned by the French Met Office, we lost power from around 0620 on Thursday until 1500 Friday.  But we in our road were just a few of the 58,000 in Norfolk and Suffolk to lose power.  

Unfortunately due to the large number of incidents engineers only came to our incident this morning, but before they arrived a chuck wagon arrived on behalf of UK Power Network, providing hot drinks, soup, porridge, phone/tablet recharging facilities, and even I even saw one of our neighbours with her laptop using their wifi in the van!  So thanks to UKPN, and Haste Ltd.

So, there are a number of domestic issues to address before we're fully back up and running.  Emails will be answered according to their priority, but all within a couple of days.

Any orders received in the last couple of days should be despatched on Tuesday next, and the work-in-progress job of stock-taking Post and Go stamps will continue with some more stock being added where it was missed out before.  We should have all our Game of Thrones stock online by the date of issue.

This incident has been a reminder to always keep candles and matches close at hand, together with camping gas burners and lights, and keep mobile phones etc as fully charged as you can.  And if you are like us, using 'walkabout' landline phones - which rely on electricity - remember to have an ordinary plug-in phone available.  If, like others, you sent them all to charity shops or recycling when you got your posh 'answer it anywhere' phones, head back to the charity shop, and get another one.  That's the only way you can ring for help, and communicate with your power provider when your mobile devices have died, and are essential if you need the emergency services. 

Oh, and batteries for the radio are a good idea; stops all those dreadful silences when you can't think of anything else to talk about and you've done all the newspaper 'crosswords-by-candlelight'!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Game of Thrones Update

In case readers miss its addition to the original post, this is just for the record with no comments possible here.

UPDATE 9 January: we have seen the stamps and can confirm that the Machin definitives are coded M17L MPIL. The iridescent printing is difficult to see especially on the £1.17 but this will be the only instance of this value on ordinary gum. 
The Northern Ireland 2nd class is a very good match to the last sheet printing we have although the phosphor is less evident to the naked eye.  

Collector Sheet - 10 x 1st class stamps with "labels that highlight key quotes from the series".  
UPDATE 9 January: this sheet is self-adhesive, the only way the stamps appear on this paper.  

Monday, 8 January 2018

Royal Mail Slogan Postmarks January 2018.

Thanks to everybody who sent in examples of slogans received during 2017.  I expect to see several related to new stamp issues this year including the RAF Centenary and Women's Suffrage.  Doubtless there will also be various saint's days, Mother's Day, Booker Prize winner, Prince of Wales birthday, Royal Wedding (and baby), and Christmas.  Time will tell.

Nothing new to report yet, so I'm starting with one just received from Cornwall Mail Centre showing the default 'mental health awareness slogan, in the transposed position.

Actually this is new but I included it in the end of the December reports with the other examples of Universal slogan usage.   Lancashire & South Lakes unit 1 Remember to use the Post Code slogan on 2 Jan 2018 with 7 PM time. Times are unusual on Universals now, and cancellation of 2nd class mail didn't usual include the time, but funny things happen.

UPDATE 15 January:  So we are half-way through January with only one new slogan postmark so far - and no news from Royal Mail as to why they have marked this one now.

My thanks to JG for sending this example about the award of the Dickin Medal to Mali of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, ‘For tireless bravery and devotion to duty during an operation in Afghanistan with the British Military in 2012’.  However the medal was awarded on 17 November 2017, the exact anniversary of the founding of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in 1917.

It can't be, as previously asserted, that Royal Mail have no special slogans in use during their Christmas 'campaign' because they broke that policy with the Nobel Prize slogan!

The slightly garbled text of this example from Peterborough MC on 11 January is

Congratulations to
Military Working Dog Mali
Centenary PDSA
Dickin Medal recipient.

UPDATE 16 January.  Thanks to MB we have a good copy of the alternative layout from the other machines, this one from North West Midlands Mail Centre on 15 January.

T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize.  MB also sent two copies of the slogan which has replaced the PDSA one.  Neither of these is a good example and both are from Edinburgh MC on 16 January.  
Ocean Vuong has won the 2017 TS Eliot Prize, for his debut collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds.  The Vietnamese-born poet, who now lives in Massachusetts, has won a host of awards for the collection, including Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

The postmark text reads

Ocean Vuong -
Winner of the 2017
T.S.Eliot Prize for
Best New Poetry Collection

And thanks to DW for the other version of this one from Southampton Portsmouth & IOW Mail Centre.

Centenary of Women's Suffrage - Votes for Women

Royal Mail have released the designs for the Women's Suffrage Centenary issue in the January Philatelic Bulletin.

Although the pictures are monochrome, the stamp captions are highlighted in purple and green, colours used by the Women's Suffrage Movement.  These will be issued on 15 February at Spring Stampex and nationwide at 7,500 Post Office branches.

More details later on our website.

Postal Heritage Mail by Sea Post and Go stamps issued at Stampex

As shown in the 2018 schedule, Royal Mail will issue the fourth in their Postal Heritage series of Post and Go stamps on 14 February, during Spring Stampex, but we have been told that there will be no Post and Go machines AT Stampex.

The nearest Post and Go machines, as far as I know, will be at Mount Pleasant Enquiry Office, at the Islington Post Office branch at 160-161 Upper Street, and at the Postal Museum where the stamps will have the Museum inscription.

The stamps depict a series of ships which have carried the mails for a period of 230 years from HM Packet Antelope in 1780, the SS Great Western, the SS Britannia, the RMS Olympic (sister ship to the Titanic), to the first of the Queen's, the RMS Queen Mary, closing with the RMS St Helena which is due to end its service soon.

Bureau pack
FDC Insert (click on image to see larger, readable, version)

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Snow Joke - it's Game of Thrones Boxed Set 1 for Royal Mail

The Stark truth is that many did not Cersei this coming.  However, there's no point in putting the Bolton the stable after the dragon has flown.....

Royal Mail have now announced in their Philatelic Bulletin details of the badly-embargoed stamp issue for 23 January 2018.   This will 'celebrate' the HBO cable-television series, Game of Thrones (GoT).

Those who are interested in this series probably know all there is to know, and I know very little.  Those who don't know anything about it may already have cancelled their standing order with Royal Mail because they regard this as one step too far, and 2017 is as good a cut-off point as any to stop buying new Great Britain stamps, or at least some of them.

So for the record, these are the philatelic collectables on offer.  Anybody who wants to see the products designed specifically for GoT fans will find them on Royal Mail's website soon.  Click on any of these images to see larger versions.

A set of 10 stamps depicting characters from the series (10 x 65p, £6.50 - product code AS3257)

A miniature sheet depicting some non-human characters from the series and the Iron Throne (5 x 65p, £3.25 - product code MZ129)

A retail booklet of 6 x 1st class Iron Throne stamps (£3.90, product code UB412)

Collector Sheet - 10 x 1st class stamps with "labels that highlight key quotes from the series".   (Price £7.50, product code AT102).
UPDATE 9 January: this sheet is self-adhesive, the only way the stamps appear on this paper.  With a premium of £1 it is possible that this sheet will be included in SG Concise catalogue.

Prestige Stamp Book (Price £13.95 - product code YB074).  Contains all the 10 'Human' stamps in the set, and a page of definitives - thankfully all Machin definitives rather than all Iron Throne stamps, so at least something for Machin collectors to be interested in.

 The definitive pane contains two 1st class Iron Throne stamps (gummed rather than self-adhesive), two Northern Ireland 2nd class country definitives, and Machin definitives of 20p, £1.17 and 2 x 5p which will presumably be coded M17L MPIL, although they may have M18L codes.

UPDATE 9 January: we have seen the stamps and can confirm that the Machin definitives are coded M17L MPIL. The iridescent printing is difficult to see especially on the £1.17 but this will be the only instance of this value on ordinary gum. The 5p, as often before, reacts under ultra-violet light and shows quite orange.

The Northern Ireland 2nd class is a very good match to the last sheet printing we have although the phosphor is less evident to the naked eye. 

For the first time Royal Mail have combined a normal stamp issue with Post and Go stamps.  This is something that I suggested almost two years ago.  Now that many Post Office branch customers are directed to Self-Service Kiosks they rarely get the chance to see any of Royal Mail's special issues.  This may encourage them to ask questions and see the point of sale material in branches.  The basic pack has one 1st class and one 2nd class stamp, price £1.21 - product code ZS050.

There is a single first day cover for all the products, and a presentation pack containing both set and miniature sheet.  There are also Medal covers for the set and the miniature sheet, and framed products.

We shall be stocking the Machin definitives, and Post and Go, including a limited number of first day covers.  More details later.

UPDATE 5 January
Thanks to an alert reader who spotted these in his Post Office I can confirm that PO Branches do indeed have instructions about when (not) to use the Post and Go stamps. The 2nd class is coded 2nd CL18S and the 1st class is R18YAL .

UPDATE 8 January
A number of special postmarks have been announced for this issue, a few are shown below.  Those not sponsored by Royal Mail for FDCs and medal covers can be seen here.  More may be added.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Don’t Panic - Royal Mail WILL tell us what the Jan 23rd issue is soon!

My apologies.....

... to anybody I misled about when Royal Mail would break the news about 2018's stamp issues.  They led us to believe that the news release this week would include all this year's issues including the Centenary of Women's Suffrage (Votes for Women) in February, and the really secret one that includes Post and Go on 23 January.

But they didn't.  As UK readers may have seen in some daily newspapers, the press release (as last year's) was selective:
Royal Mail’s 2018 Special Stamp programme will again showcase the “Best of British” in a range of subjects from the 50th anniversary of one of TV’s most popular comedies to the successful reintroduction of species that were once extinct on these shores.
The RAF Centenary celebrates the oldest independent air force in the world – the Royal Air Force – with 10 stamps issued in March. The stamps will depict six iconic aircraft from the service over the past 100 years, and an additional four stamps will pay tribute to the brilliance of the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team.
Reintroduced Species in April celebrates the work of scientists and conservationists who have reintroduced once extinct species back into the country, from the Large Blue Butterfly to the Osprey. Six species are featured, each the subject of specially commissioned artwork.
One of a handful of TV comedies that fully deserves its classic status, Dad’s Army celebrates its 50th birthday in 2018. In June, eight stamps will be issued depicting the leading and much loved characters from the series.
September will see the culmination of a five year landmark series marking centenaries of the First World War. The set will feature a new interpretation of the poppy image, war poetry and art, and a commemoration of the sacrifice of the armed services.
Only one picture is shown on their media website, but the press had three:

The full programme, or as much of it as we can reveal, was shown in our 13 November post:

Date Issue Comment
23 January Game of Thrones: set, MS, PSB, RB, Sheet etc etc
23 January Post and Go - Game of Thrones
January (provisional) 150th Ann of Trades Union Congress [Com Sheet]
14 February Postal Heritage: Mail by Sea
15 February Votes for Women
20 March Royal Air Force Centenary
Spring (probable) Royal Wedding - probably miniature sheet
17 April Reintroduced Species
11 May The Old Vic
5 June Royal Academy
26 June Dad's Army
31 July Hampton Court Palace
16 August Captain Cook's Voyage
30 August Owls
12 September Postal Heritage: Mail by Bike
13 September First World War 1918
16 October TBA
1 November Christmas
14 November Prince of Wales 70th Birthday
November Lunar New Year of the Pig

More news will be provided as soon as we can.

No more comments on this this post, so that all the future comments of Game of Thrones will be on the new post.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Season's Greetings - another year over,

Soon it will be Christmas;
our pockets are bruised.
A lot of stamps issued,
but few have been used §
(§ with apologies to fans of John Lennon.)

Looking at these Victorian/Edwardian Christmas and New Year greetings cards makes you realise that even if cards are now sent in envelopes instead of as postcards, today's card manufacturers - with their fluffy bears, dogs, cats, Minions, etc - are not so different to those of days gone by.  The Christmas card above has a gnome - ok, maybe an elf - surrounded by lucky four-leaf clovers, flowers, fungi and a ladybird and an acorn!  No Santa, and not a hint of the religious element!  And neither card has any snow, or any suggestion that this is winter!   Just a thought.

Anyway, the year-end is upon us almost before we realise it, and we can look back on another year of surprises and frustrations, innovations and disappointments, and look forward to changes of direction. 

Machin definitives
As usual, the first (Windsor Castle) prestige stamp book of the year contained stamps coded for the previous year, but the accompanying retail booklet had a 2017 code.   Royal Mail kept the £5 Accession stamp secret for far too long, and when they did give it maximum publicity in the mainstream media, collectors found that only a few Post Office branches were selling it.

Apart from that the year progressed much as expected, with the counter sheet stamps at last appearing on backing paper with security printing - but not until the new tariff values had also been printed on plain paper.  Although a big fuss had been made over rebranding and the new darker corporate red for the 1st class stamps in booklets and business sheets, Royal Mail overlooked the opportunity to make the similar counter sheet stamps a 'visible change' and so there was no first day of issue for those as there had been for the other sources.   The 1st class red with M17L code appeared in April, but the same stamp with M16L code didn't appear until October, and supplies are very difficult to find.

The Machin 50th Anniversary was commemorated with an unprecedented number of Machin stamps - a few or many depending on your degree of specialisation.  Royal Mail had a problem with one PSB pane, and we will never know whether they sent the wrong artwork to the printer or to the publicity department.  The year ended with another Star Wars PSB which has the 1st class stamp in the original colour instead of the darker one!

This year's Country Definitives have the values for all countries in the same font, which makes some sense even if you still can't read them easily, especially those for Northern Ireland.

The big surprise on Machins was the appearance of the unvalued trial printings by Courvoisier which, after much debate by the owner, were eventually placed on sale.

As usual there was a packed programme of special stamps which we largely steered clear of.   As usual, most collectors and the general public saw few of the special stamps on their letters and parcels, although we did report early use of one of one David Bowie and one Christmas stamp.

The 1st and 2nd class (and Large) Christmas stamps were issued in two designs which were printed in one sheet for each value, although a special single-design printing of the 1st class was produced for the stamps given to Royal Mail staff.

A new initiative by Royal Mail's marketing department for 'local' handstamps for new issues (starting with Ancient Britain), announced only to the local press in each area, was roundly condemned by first day cover collectors.  Special arrangements were made for the Mills issue in June, but FDCs were not returned to collectors until October, and the announced handstamps for the Landmark Buildings were quietly abandoned.

Post and Go
For collectors with big bank balances it was another bumper year, although those who wanted examples of every possible design/inscription/stamp/date combination would have found it very expensive, and probably quite difficult to track down.  The Isle of Man PO joined the club (albeit using Irish PO machines rather than Royal Mail Post and Go) at Spring Stampex.  A limited access Post and Go machine was installed at the Ministry of Defence offices in Bristol, and a further one at Royal Mail HQ.

The Mail by Rail digital version was the subject of an unannounced launch at the Postal Museum (only), and unprecedented errors concerning the Scottish Congress at Perth meant that two different inscriptions were used, while those sold not at the event but by Tallents House included a pre-release of the Machin Anniversary stamps.

The last new location for a machine (other than at a Post Office or Royal Mail facility) was at the East Anglian Railway Museum which had machine A005 transferred from the Royal Marines Museum where it was sited for just over two years.   In the autumn a 2017 printing of the Poppy made a widespread appearance, followed by a reprint of the Winter Greenery 1st and 2nd class stamps with a 17 year code.

Royal Mail communication
Following the retirement of Royal Mail's Martyn Fry, official Post and Go information has been intermittent and often wrong, so much so that Royal Mail's official Post and Go webpage has now been abandoned.   On the positive side the Postmark Bulletin is not only free it is now online, with special handstamps being added to another webpage between editions.  However this doesn't give us any more information than before about slogan postmarks of which there have been a wide and interesting variety, especially for thematic collectors, that were usually 'discovered' rather than announced.
      The Philatelic Bulletin likewise has continued to provide late, misleading or even incorrect information whilst providing a lot of information about the background to stamp issues which is not the prime interest of collectors.  We have urged Royal Mail to concentrate on getting right the technical information that they provide to collectors and to the trade: after all, we can get it to you from the actual stamps (when we are allowed to).

As for the year to come, the big news about the first issue will be announced before January, and we will report it here with images when we can.  The rest of the 2018 programme contains some quite good topics, even if some of the designs we have seen so far leave something to be desired.

We know that there will be no more Business Customised wallpaper after the spring, though doubtless some customers will ramp up the orders for events taking place later in the year and in subsequent years.  We expect major changes to Post and Go next year which will reduce the number of variants digging into collectors' pockets.  For a start, there will be no Post and Go machines at Spring Stampex or the Scottish Congress in Perth, and in the absence of a miniature sheet associated with the Votes for Women (Stampex) issue, there will be no numbered limited edition collectable at Stampex either.

I'm hoping for more policy changes, one of which may reduce the amount of mail cancelled by biro or bingo-marker, enabling more collectors to actually find stamps which are at least used, and maybe even fine used.

We close the year - having added two pieces of new information to the blog while this summary was in its draft stages - by bringing out the picture we prepared a couple of years ago.  We've already had reasonable frost and some snow this year, and other parts of the country have had a lot more than we had, some of which prevented us going on a weekend excursion to the Welsh borders a couple of weeks ago.  We'll be back in the office on January 3rd.

So once again thank you to all our readers and contributors without whom the blog would be smaller and far less useful to collectors around the world.   

We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.


PS: I forgot to write a thank you to all of you who have sent Christmas cards.  These decorate our lounge wall along with the diminishing number from friends and family.  Quite a preponderance of postboxes this year!   Many thanks.

Christmas 2017 2nd class Postage Paid Impression

Whatever you do and wherever you go it always pays to keep your eyes open for new material!  Needing two new tyres today I booked into my local independent garage knowing that I would get good service and a friendly crew, without anybody telling me I also needed a new exhaust and should have the brakes checked.

While chatting to the office lady, I spied some mail on the desk and thought one item looked 'different' - and it was.  For 18 months now Royal Mail have allowed direct mailing houses to use printed impressions of stamps on their mailings. Most prolific is the 2nd class Machin, but the 2nd Large and 2nd class Alice in Wonderland have also been used.

Now this year's Christmas stamp joins the club.

This is one that householders are unlikely to see as it is aimed at the motor trade but it could be used by the mailing house for other clients, or by other companies.

Apart from all being predominantly blue colour, one thing that all the stamps have in common is that the copyright in the image is owned by Royal Mail.  Thus the company is able to use them in any way that they wish to.

Look out for this on Christmas charity mailings.  I don't know when RM made it available, but this was used within the last week.

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 1.7.3 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.
V1.7.3 corrects a few errors in SG numbers on pp15/16.

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.