Thursday, 27 August 2015

New Horizon Labels being trialled around the country

The new format Horizon labels first used at Europhilex in May have been reported in trial use from several parts of the country.

This example used from Edinburgh on 20 July has been provided to me.  I'd be interested in having pictures of other examples - and if they are in use in your area, please email me!

Autumn Stampex Post and Go stamps - no news yet!

With the holiday season more or less over you will be aware that Autumn Stampex is fast
approaching, with the Sea Travel Post and Go stamps being issued on 16 September.

Unfortunately we are still awaiting news from Royal Mail as to exactly what will be available from the machines at the exhibition, other than the Sea Travel stamps.

My guess is that, with HM The Queen passing Queen Victoria's 'longest reign' milestone on 9 September, the additional inscription on either Machin or Flag (or both) will be

Long to Reign
Over Us

More news here just as soon as we get it from Royal Mail.

UPDATE 31 August.  I'm reminded that the Heraldic Lion stamp has been produced on a solo roll, to be used at the BPMA from September.  It may be that this will also be available (with a special inscription) at Stampex:this early blog entry.

Monday, 24 August 2015

First special stamp for 2016 anounced - Sir Nicholas Winton

Sir Nicholas George Winton MBE was a British humanitarian was born in Hampstead in 1909, his parents having fled from Germany in 1907 changing their name from Wertheim to aid integration in British society.

He organized the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War, in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport (German for "children transportation"). He found homes for the children and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. The world found out about his work over 40 years later, in 1988. The British press dubbed him the "British Schindler".  He died on 1 July 2015.

Soon after his death a campaign was started, mainly from the Jewish population in the UK, to have his life commemorated on a special stamp.   On 24 August Royal Mail responded to the petition:

"Now we have consulted with his family, we are delighted to confirm our intention to feature Sir Nicholas on a stamp as part of a commemorative set, subject to the appropriate approvals, in 2016. The details will be confirmed in due course.

"One of the purposes of Royal Mail stamps is to honour those who have made important contributions to the UK, and every year we consider hundreds of subjects for inclusion. It is clear that Sir Nicholas Winton is a worthy candidate."

I expect this to be one stamp in a set of 10 x 1st class, on the same lines as Eminent Britons, Great Britons, Remarkable Lives, etc.

Sunday, 23 August 2015


This year on September 9th Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest serving monarch of this country. Many territories have already announced stamps to mark the event, including Ascension Island, Bahamas, British Antarctic Territory, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha, Antigua, Barbados, Isle of Man, Papua New Guinea, Jersey etc, and Alderney which is issuing a single stamp with the extraordinarily avaricious face value of £10!

No commemoration is included in Royal Mail's announced programme, although many people have suggested that the gap in the programme in October is for just such a commemoration - albeit a month late.  In fact as far as the palace is concerned, this is a bit of a non-event, as the Daily Telegraph suggested in March:
Don’t expect a commemorative stamp. Forget gilded carriages, rows of painted faces along the Mall, cardboard periscopes in red, white and blue. There will be no Red Arrows fly-past, nor any salute of guns in Hyde Park or at the Tower of London; no concert or picnic or fireworks display to disturb the peace of Buckingham Palace gardens. Instead, according to royal aides, Wednesday September 9 2015 will be 'business as usual’. As far as the Palace is concerned, this is not a day for celebration.

However, in mid-July regular customers of Royal Mail were advised of future payments to be taken from their accounts - including one entitled "Long to Reign Over Us".

DF tells me of a recent exchange with Customer Services at Tallents House:

 "In the letter from Royal Mail it advises how much my debit card will be charged for the issue.  I telephoned to see if I could get a breakdown of costs and what would I be receiving.  They told me they don’t know much about it and not really sure – except information was still embargoed!! They suggested that as I had miniature sheets and Retail books on my standing order then I could assume I would be receiving these. I also mentioned that I had definitive stamps on standing order.  The reply was that this issue ‘maybe crosses over between commemorative and definitive’  So I asked whether there are any definitive stamps involved.  They didn't really know!!"  [Well think back to the Diamond Jubilee issue: the counter sheet definitives were not on automatic distribution to standing order customers, the Diamond Blue definitive replaced the gold, there was a miniature sheet and a press sheet. ]

Royal Mail's Postmark Bulletin last Friday (21 August) includes a number of special handstamps for 9 September.  This is not surprising - indeed it would be a surprise if the major cover producers did not mark the event with special covers.  But at the back of the Bulletin are three sets of official First Day postmarks, two being for the upcoming Stampex issues: Rugby World Cup and the Sea Travel faststamps.  Page 8 is captioned "The following first day of issue postmarks will be available for the Long To Reign Over Us stamps to be issued on 9 September 2015."  Page 11 includes the stamp programme for the year - but nothing is listed for 9 September !

In early August pictures appeared on the web of the Rugby World Cup retail booklet which included not the usual 1st class Machin definitive but a lavender-coloured version.

In mid-August PO branches received supplies of the new stamp in counter sheets and booklets.   You might have expected that these 'secret' stamps would be enclosed in opaque packaging with a clearly stated date for opening, but this was not the case as I have found in two branches, one in Wales and one in north Shropshire.

Not only were the stamps delivered to POs not properly 'protected' from sale, but they were actually placed on sale and were used before August 20th as these pictures, sent by regular contributors to this blog JF and RP, show.  I'm told that the counter sheet was offered because the PO branch had run out of red 1st class stamps.  UPDATE 26 Aug.  Richard reports (see comments) that there was "no special packaging and no indication of the date they were to be issued."

Although dealers have known about this for some months, Royal Mail intend that the issue will not receive mass-media publicity until the stamps are actually issued on 9 September.  That the Queen will break Queen Victoria's record will be the major news story in that morning's newspapers, radio and television and Royal Mail's aim is that they will get maximum publicity for their new stamps and other products at the same time.

Unfortunately because the news embargo is still in place I cannot provide full details of the products which will be used to mark this important event.  Poor distribution arrangements have meant that - as with many other special stamp issues - the stamps have been sold earlier than they should have been. For all the secrecy imposed on a few dealers it is the main retail distribution network and Royal Mail's own Postmark Bulletin that has leaked not just their existence but the stamps themselves at least three weeks before they are due.

We know that a degree of secrecy is necessary when a proposed stamp issue is the subject of intellectual property rights (such as for Dr Who).

But 'Long To Reign Over Us', begs the question, as the event was almost certain to be marked by the issue of stamps in this country, whether such secrecy was really necessary - and whether there will ever be an occasion for such a farce in the future.

UPDATE 28 August.  An important point for collectors of FDCs and maximum cards.  Mike asked:
As RM won't allow customers to place an order for items from this issue if you do not have them on regular order. Will they at least give collectors a prolonged window in which to send items for handstamps after the 9th when I assume one will be able to order stamps etc.?

    Yes - the usual conditions will apply as for 'fast-track' issues like the Olympics and earlier Rugby World Cup and Ashes Winners MS. I think collectors and dealers will have 28 days, but handstamp centres will be flexible especially if there are more handstamps announced after the stamps are issued.

August News Update - Post and Go Stamps and Slogan Postmarks

Thanks to a loyal band of reporters who have keep their eyes peeled while I have been away, I can report several pieces of Post and Go Faststamp, and special Slogan Postmark news.

Post and Go from Singpex - 14-19 August 2015.

Thanks to Chris for a picture of the 'GB' Singpex Faststamps sent out (early on 13 August) from Royal Mail Tallents House.  These have MA13 year code.   Mike reports that his GB supplies from Tallents House have undated Machins!  What a pity Tallents House can't be consistent: if you wanted one of each you would have to keep buying and take pot-luck that you got what you wanted.

UPDATE 26 August 2015: Thanks to Michael at cddstamps who went to Singapore and has allowed me to use his pictures of the stamps and machines at the exhibition.  (Click on the images to see larger versions.)

New Museum Location for Post and Go machine......

Royal Mail is pleased to announce that machine A010 will go live at the Steam GWR Museum in Swindon from 25 August 2015. Union Flag and Machin designs will be available with a ‘STEAM GWR’ identifier.   (Thanks to DF for this.)

UPDATE 24August:  The kiosk will be in the entrance to the museum and there is no charge for access. A series of events are planned with this kiosk throughout 2016 when the Museum celebrates Swindon175.

UPDATE 26 August 2015: Thanks to Bob and Chris for these pictures from Swindon (again, click on them for larger versions).  The Machins are MA13 and the flags undated.


.... and a new location in Guernsey

Machine GG02 will go live from 2 September at Envoy House in Guernsey and will carry the Guernsey Flag as well as the Union Flag. The identifier will be ‘ Envoy House’.  (Also from DF.)

Slogan Postmarks

Three better versions of the Edinburgh Fringe postmark first reported here.

Dorset and SW Hants basic version 10-08-2015

Nottingham Mail Centre 07.08.15 (Delivered by Royal Mail)

Plymouth and Cornwall 10.08.15 reverse format to an address in Wales, so with the bilingual 'Delivered by..' portion.

Coinciding with the issue of the Bees stamps, two versions of a slogan to promote their sale. Thanks to BM for these two.

BUZZ BUZZ / New Stamps / Explore British Bees / 

From Swindon Mail Centre 17-08-2015

and Bristol (BA,BS,GL,TA) Mail Centre 17.08.15.

The use of this would allow for first day covers to be produced with this slogan - did anybody manage to get a good clean example?

Friday, 7 August 2015

Post and Go Stamps Singpex 2015

I received the news today, not yet on Royal Mail's website nor the IAR site, that (unlike for Essen) Royal Mail Tallents House will be selling 'GB' versions of the Post and Go stamps with the Exhibition inscription, but only in collectors strips.

The additional inscription will be

Singpex 2015
World Stamp Expo

As usual for exhibition issues, we won't be stocking these, or the ones from Singapore.  Tallents House stock codes are ZS036 for Machins and ZS037 for Union Flag.

Pictures of the labels will be added after the show.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Great Britain Stamp and postmark news update.

Before we go for our main summer break, a quick round up of news items that have been reported recently.

1.  BE reports that the Dog Awareness slogan postmark has been used at Chester Mail Centre in the last few days.  I'll add a picture when I have it.  Not the first time that Chester has been out of step - they were still celebrating the Royal Princess on 16 June!

1a. BE also provides a picture of this Edinburgh Fringe Festival slogan received today (7 August) from Peterborough Mail Centre -apparently used on 5 August.  According to Royal Mail's press release:
"The postmark will be applied to stamped UK mail from Friday 7 to Monday 31 August", ie delivered in that period, and thus used before.

2.  RW sent this picture of part of a Battle of Britain first day cover with the BoB slogan postmark: not easy to get, well done!

3.  The 1st class Machin from retail books of 12 has been found but we have no stocks (or pictures) yet.

4. Our website has been updated with two new pages for the September Stampex issues.

The Sea Travel Post and Go stamps will be issued on Wednesday 16 September (the first day) at Stampex from Royal Mail Series II machines and in Bureau packs, and at Post Office NCR self-service kiosks in branches around the country.  These will be available for all Inland and International Services except for 2nd class mail.  Something of a surprise, the stamps do not show the luxury liners that were expected, but the views from those vessels.

The other Stampex issue is usually on Thursday, but this time the Rugby World Cup special issue will be issued on Friday 18th, as that is the day when the opening match in the tournament is played.

On the Thursday, the Animals of World War I Commemorative Sheet will be available, and is shown below.

5.  We'll be back on 25th August, part of the time away searching for those elusive 12 x 1st Machin booklets, one of the last of this year's coded red stamps to find.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Royal Mail marches out another Commemorative Sheet for World War 1

As reported earlier a Commemorative sheet marking 200 years of Service by the Gurkhas will be issued on 20 August.  A month later, a further World War 1 commemorative sheet will be issued to coincide with Autumn Stampex, featuring Animals of the First World War.

This is a further sheet in Royal Mails series to commemorate the Centenary of WWI. It will be on sale from 17 September and is priced at £14.95.

Since ancient times, animals have proved themselves indispensable to the human race in times of war. In particular, horses – clad in armour bearing kings and emperors, military leaders and soldiers – have become the embodiment and symbol of warfare, able to adapt to changing conditions and be trained to out-manoeuvre new weapons and combat techniques.

Similarly, many other animals, such as dogs, mules, donkeys, carrier pigeons, camels, elephants, goats and birds, have played an essential role in transportation, communications, surveillance and gas detection, as well as in the boosting of morale. And never was this more true than during the First World War.

The self-adhesive sheet has 10 x 1st class Union Flag stamps each with a black and white label attached.

Column 1
Carrier pigeons played a key role in the war effort.  With a message cylinder strapped to its leg, a pigeon is about to be released from lofts in Sorrus, France, in June 1918.

Still wet from a swim across a canal, a dog delivers a message to a dog handler of the Royal Engineers Signal Service based near Nieppe Wood, France, in May 1918.

Pictured carrying injured soldiers to safety in India in 1917, camels also conveyed supplies, as well as being employed in a combat role by the Imperial Camel Corps.

Billy the dog was hospital pet at the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital at Étaples, France. He is pictured with nurses awaiting a visit from Queen Mary in July 1917.

Animal mascots came in a variety of different species. The fox-cub mascot of No. 32 Squadron keeps a pilot company at Humières airfield, France, in 1918.

Column 2
Early in the war, cavalry was often used to protect the infantry from attack. The column of horsemen of the British Expeditionary Force arrives in Belgium before the Battle of Mons in August 1914.

Animal mascots helped to boost morale during wartime. A Lewis gunner plays with his regiment’s cat mascot in a trench near Cambrin, France, in February 1918.

To help protect their horses against the effects of poison gas, Royal Field Artillery gunners train them in gasmask drill near Mont-Saint Éloi, France, in May 1918.

On the home front, Jim was an Airedale terrier trained for coastguard duties. He gave warning of the approach of the first Zeppelin to raid the Kent coast in 1915.

Mules had to endure difficult conditions in the First World War. At the Battle of Pilckem Ridge in August 1917, the hardy animals transported shells through the mud.

UPDATE 26 August 2015.
Two special postmarks have been announced to coincide with the issue of this sheet.  
Ref 13564 can be obtained from the London Special Handstamp Centre.
Ref 13575 can be obtained from the Wales & West Special Handstamp Centre, Cardiff.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

News update: slogan postmarks, Post and Go stamps, and a new machine.

Slogan Postmarks

Royal Mail's press release on the risks of identity theft and fraud did not include any mention of a nationwide slogan postmark about National Scam Awareness Month.

Thanks to Mike and Adrian for providing these examples of the slogan, from Bristol and Warrington Mail Centres, both on 20 July 2015.

Post and Go - Faststamps and Open Values

Thanks to Dominic who wrote:

I ordered a Machin Post and Go collectors pack from Tallents House last week, I was surprised to find that the Airmail stamp was printed on MA13 stock, the other two 1st class ones were undated.

Strange that the stamps should be printed from different stock, but I suppose each stamp is printed multiple times on a roll and then cut for inclusion in the pack. So each stamp could be printed on a differently-dated roll!
UPDATE 26 August:  Mike reports (19 August) a later purchase from Tallents House contained only undated stock!

Thanks to Chris for providing images of the Union Flag and Machin stamps and receipts from the Royal Naval Submarine Museum (HMS Dolphin if I recall correctly) in Gosport.  The flags are undated, and the Machins are coded MA13.


Thanks also to Vince who reports a fascinating software error at the BPM which sees the Airmail logo included on stamps with the Penny Black inscription!

For a short while the PandG  machine at BPMA developed a default problem, resulting in  the 'airmail' logo appearing with the Penny Black text. The fault was caused when a major software upgrade took place on the evening of Tuesday 10th July.  The error was available only on the Wednesday and Thursday morning until it was switched off.  The corrected strips with the Maltese Cross reported to be in a different position to the previous versions. Approx 30 Collector's Strips of both 1st and 2nd class were  bought.

The Penny Black imprint will cease at close of business on 7 August, according to the IAR website.


New machine
Once again news appears on the IAR Website ahead of being confirmed authoritatively by Royal Mail.

A new (non military museum) static site has been located for a new Post and Go Kiosk A010. The site has been surveyed and will be installed towards the end of August 2015. Full details will be provided on the Royal Mail website when an installation date is confirmed.   See August update.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Post Offices under threat - and why stamps are missing from branches.

As many UK readers know, the Post Office network has changed enormously over the last 20 years.  Once the local Post Office was regarded as the retail arm and visible face of the General Post Office and then Royal Mail.  Somewhere where we could get stamps, and where the postmaster willingly kept back new stamp issues for his happy band of collectors, and took in first day covers to send to the nearest Head Postmaster (First Day Cover Duty) for cancellation with a special postmark and redelivery the next day.

I started drafting an article about the changes to the network some months ago: there always seemed to be something happening which affected the draft and the notes I had made.  Now sub-postmasters are being forced to give up their livelihood in favour of a new model with lower operating costs for the organisation.  

Tonight on BBC2 television is the first of three programmes entitled "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Inside the Post Office".  Billed as

"An eye-opening look inside the Post Office - an iconic national institution undergoing the biggest shake-up in its nearly 400-year history as it battles to reinvent itself for the modern world."

I suggest you tune in at 9pm, set it up on series-record, or watch on the iPlayer.  I'm sorry that my recent absence prevented me from alerting you earlier.  This will only be available to viewers in the UK or those overseas who have access to UK television.

Post Office branches, along with the Royal Mail delivery service, were formerly part of the General Post Office. Post Office Counters Ltd was created as a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Mail in 1986, becoming Post Office Ltd in 2001.

Most of us grew up with the concept of Head Post Offices, where there was a Head Postmaster in charge and the managers and admin and counter staff were all employees of the GPO.  The other type of Post Office was the sub-Post Office, managed by a self-employed Sub-Postmaster (SPM) sometimes employing other people or members of the family.  In the original arrangements the SPM received a fixed core tier payment. On top of the fixed core payment, SPMs were paid per transaction.

In May 2007, the Government embarked on the Network Change, or Post Office Closure Programme, which resulted in Post Office Ltd (POL) closing nearly 2,500 post offices, including 500 branches, which were replaced with Outreach services.   The Closure Programme was necessary to help get the Post Office network on a more stable footing as it was making heavy losses.

Many of the offices which closed were not far from others, and the closure programme was designed to ensure that essential services were still available within an area.  Many part-time offices were closed.   And when the programme was completed we thought that was the end of it.  But it was only the start.

Post Office Ltd was still losing money, with some branches not generating enough profit (not income) to cover the costs of the SPM salary and associated PO Ltd overheads.

The next step was Network Transformation, a programme designed to "address the economics and lack of flexibility of the traditional sub post office operating model".   Back in 2012, the Government stressed that any conversion to the 'Locals' model would be voluntary - in evidence to parliament's Business, Innovation and Skills Committee*, Post Office Ltd said that "any move to the new Post Office Local model is entirely voluntary on the part of the subpostmaster. They will only move to the new operating model if the economics stack up for them and we will only introduce the new model where there is a robust business plan and where we are sure it can be successful and sustainable.   Any subpostmaster who wants to stay on their current contract terms—if that works best for them—can do so."   [* full link now added - plenty of good reading there!]

However, times change.  PO Ltd still needed to save money, but the Government of the day committed £1.34bn for the Post Office network to make sure there was no programme of Post Office closures and to update branches; in November 2013 the Government announced a further £640m investment in the Post Office network, from 2015 to 2018.

At the end of March 2014, there were 350 Crown Post Office branches that are run by Post Office Limited employees (now only 322). The remainder of the network was made up of 11,346 branches that are run on an agency contract basis.   The Crown Offices were where the Philatelic Counters were located: with many of the Crown Office closed and their functions transferred to a branch of a national retail chain (eg Lloyds Chemists, WHSmith) philatelic counters were closed and philatelic awareness, experience and knowledge was lost.

Central to the modernisation funded by the Government was the introduction of two new-style Post Offices.

1.     Main style Post Office branches which offer a modern environment and in many cases extended opening hours. These branches have a dedicated Post Office counter offering customers a full range of products and services, during standard hours. In most cases there will also Post Office service provision at the retail position, providing access to a wide range of services including Post Office Card Account withdrawals and everyday banking services during extended shop hours.

2.     Local style Post Office branches provide a wide range of services from the retail till and are open for all the hours that the shop housing it is open.

According to the Post Office "September 2014 saw the 3,000th branch transformed and more than 82,000 extra opening hours for customers.  This is not a closure programme and we are committed to maintaining our current network at around 11,500."

Most SPMs are members of the National Federation of SubPostmasters which says it is "committed to protecting and promoting the interests of subpostmasters".  The NFSP is the only organisation recognised by Post Office Ltd to represent subpostmasters on matters surrounding pay and contracts.  However, many SPMs are now saying that the NFSP has acquiesced to the changes now being forced on postmasters without consulting the members.  Their 'Protect our Post Office' campaign has not reversed the Network Transformation.

On the other hand, the Communications Workers Union (the Trade Union representing Post Office, Royal Mail, Parcelforce, BT and other workers in the communications industries) is becoming increasingly vocal and agitated over the changes to the Post Office network.  Back in 2011, they expressed concerns such as:

- passport, DVLA, currency on demand and Post Office financial services being excluded from Locals entirely, means reduced services.  Locals would also lack a dedicated service area and it is difficult to see how financial or government services could be expanded at Locals branches - two key areas being targeted for increased revenues.
(Also excluded from sale under the Locals model are special stamp issues, even where customers exist. And this is not just presentation packs, FDCs, etc, but the basic stamps in sheets.  Where is Royal Mail's retail network now?)
 - It reduces quality of service, with variable levels of staff training and knowledge, leading for instance to customers with parcels being turned away at a number of Locals outlets.

- it is likely to push postmasters out because it removes the 'core tier payment' which they rely on while placing greater costs onto their business by mandating extended opening hours.

Self-employed Sub-Postmasters can cope with many types of transactions, including the sale of foreign currency, processing of road tax payments, payment of pensions and benefits.  But the government would like to see more financial services and insurance products processed through the network, and single-person branches do not have the flexibility for this, nor the ability to undertake personal financial transactions and investments in a private situation.   Despite PO Ltd having money to contribute to the physical changes to a retail shop to accommodate the new PO Local set-up, some branches have no space to expand: they operate within the physical constraints of the building they are in.

In these circumstances POLtd is seeking alternative retail premises in the immediate area (eg the same village), giving notice to the SPM that his contract will be terminated when a suitable alternative location for the PO is found and agreement reached with a new operator.  In a village near here apart from the PO there are three other shops and a pub.  None of the shops could easily accommodate the PO and its associated delivery office with two rural van rounds, two being very restricted in size (one is a butchers, the other a newsagent carrying a few other lines).  The pub has only recently reopened after a long period of closure, and as we all know, rural pubs are also under threat.   On top of that the current SPM also operates a Post Office Outreach service at 5 other villages - in village halls and churches - where existing branches have closed!  Any new operator ought to be expected to continue this service.

The SPM has been careful since he arrived not to expand his operation to take on lines which would compete with the operation of the other shops (he sells a few sweets, some postal stationery and greetings cards).  It is to be hoped that the other shopkeepers take note of this arrangement and decline to take on the Post Office, otherwise POLtd will dump the present postmaster out of a job.