Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Special Handstamp for Hong Kong Exhibition Sea Travel Post and Go Stamps.

As usual Royal Mail's presence at the Hong Kong Philatelic Exhibition was confined to the Post
and Go machines and there were no special handstamps or cachets in use at the Exhibition for these stamps. 

However, the Hong Kong Maxima Philigroup, a group of collectors and producers of maximum cards has sponsored a special handstamp, not announced until today.  It shows the Hong Kong skyline, with the wording

'31st International Asian Stamp Exhibition Hong Kong, Seaview'

Royal Mail's reference number is 13685 and this can be obtained from the London Special Handstamp Centre at Mount Pleasant.  As usual for late announcements the SHC allows a period for submission of covers and cards.

I wonder what would happen if covers stamped with the Gibraltar-valued stamps was sent for postmarking?

I've now had time to examine the new stamps (mine from Tallents House had correct - UK - values not the Gibraltar ones), and they are of course significantly different due to the new printing process.

The first thing to note is that the surface is highly reflective, compared with the gravure-printed stamps, and the phosphor bands do not show.  In fact it looks very much as if there are no phosphor bands, but I have only looked in dim light, not in darkness.

These are two high-resolution scans showing the gravure stamps on the left, and the digital printing on the right.

Friday, 27 November 2015

New arrangements and charges for underpaid and unpaid mail

Until 1983 mail on which the postage was not paid, or was underpaid, was subject to a surcharge equal to double the normal postage, and postage due stamps were applied.  From 5 April 1983, the shortage was charged, plus a fee representing a penalty which was supposed to reflect the cost to Royal Mail of collecting the underpayment.   This fee started at 10p and gradually rose to £1 by May 2003.  The use of postage due stamps to collect the sums due stopped in 1994, not long after new 'To Pay' stamps were issued.

A new system started on 5 October 2015. The Royal Mail press release explained that:
Royal Mail is introducing a simpler flat-rate charging structure for letters and parcels where insufficient postage or no stamps have been attached. The changes are designed to reduce delays in processing underpaid mail and minimise inconvenience for customers. Even with these changes, surcharge fees will not fully meet the cost to Royal Mail of handling mail where the appropriate postage has not been attached.
From Monday 5 October 2015, Royal Mail will introduce a flat-fee of only £1.50 to be paid by the recipient of a letter or a large letter where insufficient postage has been paid. This fee will be £2 when no stamp has been attached. A £3 fee will apply to a Small Parcel with insufficient postage or no stamp attached.
For Medium Parcels and Special Delivery Guaranteed items with incorrect or no postage, a fee of £1.50 plus the postage due, rounded to the nearest 10 pence, will apply.
Under the new process, items which incur a surcharge will spend less time in our system whilst the surcharge is calculated, meaning customers will receive these items more quickly.
Recipients can still pay a surcharge by debit or credit card online via the Royal Mail website. Alternatively, they can pay in cash at the delivery office or by affixing the fee in stamps or a franking machine impression on the “fee to pay” card Royal Mail leaves with the customer.  Royal Mail is also looking at other payment options to make it even easier to receive underpaid letters and parcels.
Also this year, a new system of handling and identifying surcharged items has been introduced in delivery offices.  This did not occur at the same time, as an example has been reported as early as April 2015, but that may have been a limited area trial.

The system involves a numbered white label being attached to the surcharged mailpiece (see right), with a similar label attached to the grey 'Fee to Pay' card (P4605) which is delivered.

The label is 99 x 49mm.  I assume SU = Surcharge, and that a similar label with a different identifier is used for payment of Customs Duty and VAT.  (CD?)

Apparently when the addressee takes the card to the delivery office, the number allows for the easy retrieval of the item that has been held.  On Royal Mail's 'Pay a fee' webpage, after entering details of the address, amount to pay, etc, this box appears:

After Postage Due stamps were abandoned in 1994, various means were used to identify surcharges, including continuing with the multiple-reason tick-box rubber stamp, to yellow Revenue Protection labels which indicated the underpayment and the fee.  Obviously once the label system started they had to be reprinted every time the fee was changes, and while there were pre-printed labels for the most used values (total non-payment of 27p, 30p, 32p, 36p for example - the 2nd class rate was always assumed for standard letters) there were labels which had to be completed in manuscript.

All these could have been collected as part of a Postage Due 'Stamp' collection, but as Martin (who provided the pictures*) suggested, these fixed-value labels are closer to traditional Postage Due Stamps.

* Our customers, of course, never underpay their letters to us, so we haven't yet received any of these!

Also reported, but not formally announced, there appears to be a new policy regarding underpaid greetings cards.   Despite the  Pricing in Proportion system being introduced in August 2006, Royal Mail receives a lot of bad press at key times of the year - Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, and Father's Day - because many customers post Large Letter-sized cards with only basic letter stamps.  The popular press persists in supporting the errant customers - even though many card manufacturers print a size-indicator on the back of cards - with headlines such as  
"Royal Mail wouldn't deliver my mother's card and charged her £1.10 for delaying it!"
Now it seems that these people have won, and Royal Mail will no longer surcharge underpaid cards - but unpaid cards will still be surcharged. Again, we don't have any evidence of this yet, and the only Christmas cards we have received so far (well, it is still November!) had the correct postage.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Major Hong Kong Post and Go Stamp Error from Royal Mail

As we reported earlier, Royal Mail's Post and Go machines made another trip to the far east at the 31st Asian International Stamp Exhibition in Hong Kong.  It was the perfect opportunity to produce a new roll with the Hong Kong Sea Travel stamp solo, which Royal Mail duly did, utilizing the new digital printing process for this short run. The (gravure printed) Union Flag stamps would also be available, on the first occasion that the national code HK would be used.

Digital printing of Post and Go stamps has previously been confined to stamps produced for Qatar and Gibraltar, but this is the first for Royal Mail: it won't be the last.   Royal Mail initially announced that 'GB' versions would be available from Tallents House Edinburgh.  When dealers tried to order they were told that no GB versions would be available, and then a couple of days later were sent an order form, and the stamps also appeared on Royal Mail's shop website.

Only 12 rolls of the new stamps were taken to Hong Kong, and there were long queues at both machines (A008 and A009) with the familiar faces appearing to buy quantities of collectors sets and 1st class strips.  These have duly appeared online at various prices.

Understandably there was less interest in the home-produced GB versions, despite the Hong Kong stamp being a new printing.  However, those who did order early were in for a surprise.  Whilst the Union Flag strip was normal, with a receipt for £7.68, the Hong Kong strip had different 'values' or Service Indicators, and a receipt for only £6.12 (although £7.68 was charged by Royal Mail's shop).

The Service Indicators of Local Standard, UK Letter 20g and 30g, EU and Worldwide 20g were odd but the final stamp is the clincher - 'Registered Fee' shows this to be almost the same set as appeared at Europhilex from the Royal Gibraltar Post machine, the difference being that the Europhilex strips had a UK 40g Letter stamp, whilst this has a UK 30g stamp!

So yet another in the long series of errors on Post and Go stamps. 

According to the Post and Go News page on Royal Mail's website
Royal Mail has recently moved Post and Go product and pre-order printing to Tallents House.
In other words, they are no longer relying on a contractor to print the stamps for sale.

After a series of errors of inscription at live machines, notably at Stampex on several occasions, the idea that the stamps produced from the back-office machine B001 would be produced in house was welcomed.  After all, Royal Mail would be in control, and - presumably - have more control, or at least check what was being produced in house.

Whichever stamps were produced first, Union Flag or Hong Kong, one would expect that they would be inspected for quality of printing, both in intensity and registration.  Perhaps it was just a case of looking at the wood without noticing that the trees were different?

In carpentry the saying is 'measure twice, cut once': I'm sure there could be a similar maxim applied here: look at how good they are, and whether they are of saleable/ collectable quality, and then look again harder to make sure they are exactly what you expected to produce. And have more than one pair of eyes looking!  
Where is the quality control?

Inevitably some customers contacted Tallents House to complain that they had been charged £7.68 but had a receipt for only £6.12 - without realising that they actually had a collectable error.  Royal Mail thus alerted, I understand that the remaining stock was immediately removed from sale, leaving those of us who ordered later likely to get a new printing of the stamps with the correct UK Service Indicators.

My thanks to the several collectors who sent pictures and reported what they had received.

Just for the record this (above right) is what the stamps from the exhibition looked like, with UK Service Indicators from machine A008 (click on the image to see it larger).

UPDATE 30 November
By chance I am also able to show the box label for these Hong Kong Coils - ignore the datestamp as this relates to when something else was despatched to me from Tallents House using the P&G box.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Star Wars Prestige Stamp Book contains 9 new catalogued stamps (not 8)

In the beginning (1998!) my website pages for new stamps were written based on information provided to all collectors. Then when I became a registered dealer I was able to provide some information well ahead of the date of issue, information which was sometimes provisional, and subject to change.  We accepted that as the price to pay for having the information early.

More recently, as regular readers will know, there have been occasions on which we are prevented from providing details (on in some cases even recognising the issue of a stamp) as early as we would have liked for reasons which are often justifiable but occasionally bemusing.  But still, when we do get details from our supplier, Royal Mail, in response to specific requests we reckon it's fair to assume it is correct.  So the Star Wars page on the website was updated in mid-October with these details for the prestige stamp book:
A Prestige Stamp Book will be issued on 17 December 2015.  It will be "a 26 page booklet that explores the unique British contribution throughout the Star Wars phenomena. The book contains all 12 Mint Stamps and the 6 Miniature Sheet Stamps across 5 panes." 
Panes 1 and 5 show the Star Wars characters.  These pane have ordinary gum.
Panes 2 and 3 show the vehicles on the miniature sheet - these are self-adhesive and we expect that they will face each other. 
Pane 4 is the definitive pane.
This is also self-adhesive and contains
2 x 1st class security Machins
2 x 2nd class security Machins
4 x 1st class Union Flags.
The Machins are expected to have security features - slits and code MPIL M15L. 
The Union Flag stamps are not expected to have security features. 
All panes are printed in litho by International Security Printers.
But this is not accurate either.  In fact the definitive pane is NOT self-adhesive, it is gummed and thus the stamps are properly se-tenant.  Not only that, but in addition to the expected Machin definitives being new (coded MPIL M15L), the small Union Flag stamp has not previously been issued on gummed paper.  Previously the larger version had gummed paper, and the small version was self-adhesive from booklets and Smilers sheets.

My thanks to Chris for providing these images; I ordered later and I am still waiting for mine.

UPDATE 1 December 2015
My stock of PSB panes has now arrived, so I can show enlargements of the iridescent coding, M15L at the left and MPIL at the right:

The phosphor bands on the Machins are normal for definitives, and those on the Union Flag are normal for those - ie they are wider and 'gradated'.

Incidentally, Chris also mentions that the 'character' stamps on panes 1 and 5 have the same fluorescent logos as appear on the sheet stamps. That's a relief as it does mean on 12 to collect, not 24!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Post and Go News - Museums, Fur & Feathers

I suppose it is inevitable that as most of this year's Machin definitives have been issued or discovered, that Post and Go and postmark slogans will predominate in the news arena.  So,just as it is with the magazines, so it is here and we have some more Post and Go news.

On Monday the new 4-design Fur and Feathers stamps were issued.  As an innovation the 2nd class stamps have '2nd class' incorporated into the background inscription to ensure that Post Office branch staff put them in the correct part of the machine.

Well, that only works if the branches get both 1st and 2nd rolls supplied.  Apparently at least one branch was supplied with only 2nd class rolls, so they put them in both slots, and produced the 'first' range on 2nd class stock.  Examples have also been seen from another branch but I don't know whether this was due to no 1st class stock or branch error.

I understand that quite a few collectors/dealers were aware of this and there are several listings on the eBay auction site.

UPDATE 19 November
Responding to the comment about white lines on these stamps, Doug has helped by sending this picture - and there was I, looking for a white line in the background printing, which would have been unusual, on both sets of stamps.  This is not uncommon on Post and Go Stamps from the public machines, but it is unusual to see what amounts to poor quality on the packs produced at the Bureau.

Meanwhile it was all change again at the Naval Museums, with the Machin stamps again being on sale, and so now showing their logos as well as the text identity. Thanks to Chris for these pictures examples of the three Portsmouth Museums.  I must admit these are quite distinctive and they will look good in collections.

Thanks to Robert for the FAAM image which completes the set.

Monday, 16 November 2015

More slogan and other postmark news

Royal Mail reminds people to post early for Christmas with slogan postmark.

Royal Mail is reminding people to post their Christmas cards early this year with a special postmark. The launch of the postmark marks just 39 days until the last posting date for First Class mail.

"Royal Mail has been planning its festive operations since April and is preparing to handle millions of items a day in the run up to the big day.

"With Christmas fast approaching, consumers are being reminded to keep an eye out on the last posting dates to ensure that presents and cards arrive in time.

"The postmark will be applied to UK stamped mail nationwide delivered from Monday 16 November. It will say ‘Remember to post early for Christmas! royalmail.com/greetings’." (First use reported was on Friday 13th at Peterborough Mail Centre).  I think this would have been the first date of use nationwide.)

"Andrew Hammond from Royal Mail, said: 'We are all busy so it is easy to leave posting cards and presents to the last minute. We don’t want anyone to be disappointed if they are waiting for Christmas mail so we are urging customers to post early as Royal Mail builds up to its busiest time of year'."

Unfortunately,  the image in the Royal Mail press release had only a very small image which is enlarged here. More will be added when I get them.


Lest We Forget Children In Need
Meanwhile I haven't seen a Children In Need postmark from Swindon - they were still using the Lest We Forget slogan on 13 November (ironic, as Royal Mail Swindon is the hub of all the software changes for slogan postmarks!)

Good News from Counters
On the Good News front, I understand that Post Office branches have been told that all 1st Large and 2nd Large stamped mail should now have the stamps cancelled at the counter.  Watch this space for more details.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Pudsey's Back! Royal Mail reminds us of Childen in Need today with slogan postmark.

As readers in the UK cannot fail to have noticed, today is the day for the annual telethon held by the BBC to raise funds for Children in Need.

Royal Mail have also reminded customers with these special slogan postmarks,my thanks to Bob M for the pictures, from the Bristol and Jubilee Mail Centres on 12 November.

This is the (enlarged) specimen from Royal Mail's press release.

"Since 1980, BBC Children in Need has raised over £790 million, and currently supports over 2,500 projects across the UK. BBC Children in Need funded projects support disadvantaged children and young people facing disadvantages including poverty and deprivation, disability and issues surrounding distress, abuse and neglect.

Royal Mail’s postmark will be applied to millions of items of UK stamped mail nationwide on Friday 13 November. It will feature Pudsey bear alongside the words ‘BBC Children in Need 13 Nov 2015’

Andrew Hammond from Royal Mail, said: “Over the last 36 years, BBC Children in Need has become a highlight in the UK fundraising calendar. We are really pleased to be supporting the campaign in this way.”

Carrie Green, Head of Commercial at BBC Children in Need, said:  It is great to have the support of Royal Mail this campaign.  Thanks to Royal Mail, Pudsey will be travelling further around the UK on the 13 November than ever before.” 

You can donate to Pudsey's bucket at the link on line 2.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Why you should think twice about this year's Christmas Generic sheets.

Remember the start of the century?  The big event in UK philately was the Stamp Show 2000 in London, held at Earls Court. Among other things the show included the first personalized stamps from the British Post Office, now generally known as Smilers sheets.  

First introduced to the world by Australia Post in 1999, personalised stamps have spread to postal authorities around the world.  In many cases the personalisation is on a label attached to the stamp, but in others the stamp has a blank area for the customer's photograph.   In the former case, the associated stamp is often available in other forms, so collectors can add them to their albums.  So it was with the first Smilers product, also available at Stamp Show 2000 (see right).

Such was the attraction of Smilers Stamps that the Post Office and then Royal Mail have continued the Smilers programme which is still popular today, with the latest addition being four stamps from the Star Wars set.  As usual, Royal Mail produced a sheet for collectors, known for some time now as a Generic Sheet.  For only a small premium over the face value of the stamps, collectors can avoid paying the much higher costs of personalisation.

New stamps are added to the Smilers range regularly, starting with the Christmas stamps in 2000, and various sets of Greetings stamps, and including some commemoratives, such as one issued for the 2002 World Cup, the Union Flag (Rule Britannia sheet), Fun Fruit and Veg, and various regional definitives.  In all cases, the stamps in the Generic Sheet are also available for personalisation - until now.

For Christmas, Royal Mail have adopted a strategy of alternating their stamp designs between secular and non-secular themes and this year it is the turn of the non-secular designs featuring religious images consistent with the Christmas story. However, this year Royal Mail has decided that the Christmas stamps will not be added to the Smilers service.  According to Graham Howard's Smilers-Info website,
"... some Christian zealots (not literally you understand) have been making Royal Mail's life uncomfortable by requesting Christmas personalised stamp sheets featuring label designs with strong religious messages inconsistent with Royal Mail's non-partisan liberal policies. "
This seems quite sensible, although it could easily have been avoided by having only personal photographs and no slogans.  It would just need a change to the terms of use, and probably a tighter control over the applications.

However, if the 2015 Christmas stamps are not included in the Smilers service, collectors don't need a cheaper substitute - so is there any need for the Generic sheet at all?

The stamps and sheets will undoubtedly be included in some catalogues* and some pre-printed albums. They are legally issued stamps valid for postage.  And the sheet is not unattractive, but is it something even 'completist' collectors need?

UPDATE to clarify
* Despite the fact that the stamps from the sheet are litho and not gravure (like the sheet and booklet stamps), and have elliptical (US=syncopated) perforations (unlike the ohers) they will not get separate listing in Stanley Gibbons catalogues: none of the previous 15 years' of Smilers Sheet stamps has. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance 2015

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Royal Mail's 2016 Stamp Programme Announced At Last

Some six weeks later than usual, Royal Mail have today announced their stamp issue programme for 2016. It includes a Major Royal event is the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and a Royal Mail Anniversary which will have some collectors puzzled - but all will be revealed in due course!

You may notice some changes from what was originally listed here.  That is because we were incorrectly told that all the information, including working titles for two issues, was for public release when in fact those two working titles were not for release.  I have agreed, therefore, to remove the references from the list, and from the comments.  This means that some comments by other people have been edited: this can only be with a new timestamp when the change is made, so some of those comments may now appear out of sequence, or not at all.  I apologise to the readers effected, and assure you that these are the only circumstances in which I would change something that somebody else has left as a comment.

Now edited according to the actual printed programme that has been distributed to customers and dealers.  Royal Mail have apologised for giving us incorrect information originally. The 2016 Royal Mail Calendar does not include Generic or Commemorative Sheets.

2016 Programme

7 January
Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition

28 January
Duke of Ediinburgh Awards 60th Ann
Commemorative Sheet
17 February
Royal Mail 500

Post+Go Royal Mail Heritage
18 February
Penny Red Generic Sheet and
Royal Mail Heritage PSB

15 March
British Humanitarians
Likely to be all 1st class at this time of year.
New definitives for tariff change

5 April
William Shakespeare (400th Ann of Death)
Likely to be all 1st class at this time of year.
21 April
HM The Queen's 90th Birthday

25 April
ANZAC - World War I
Commemorative Sheet
17 May
(not a typo, actual title)
28 May
New York 2016 FIP Exhibition
Exhibition sheet
21 June
First World War - 1916
Including PSB
7 July
Music Giants

28 July
Beatrix Potter

16 August
Landscape Gardens

2 September
Great Fire of London

14 September
Post+Go Ladybirds
(again, not a typo - 2 words)
15 September
Agatha Christie
Probably including PSB
14 October
Battle of Hastings 950 years
Commemorative Sheet
20 October

8 November

14 November
Post+Go Hibernating Animals
Likely to be 4 designs only
15 November
Lunar New Year of the Rooster
Generic Sheet

Yes there are some familiar faces there, with all the literary notables - Shakespeare, Potter and Christie - having been the subject of previous stamp issues or prestige books. 

Royal Mail 500 marks the creation of the original Royal Mail.  The 'The King’s Posts' - the first national postal service - was set up by King Henry VIII in 1516.   Readers will recall that 1985 marked the 350th anniversary of the Royal Mail Public Postal Service (SG 1290-3), and before that one of the earliest commemoratives of the present reign in 1960 marked the Tercentenary of the General Letter Office.  So in the space of 56 years we have marked the 300th, 350th, and 500th anniversaries!