Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Gibbons reworking U-Machins for next Concise catalogue.

Tucked away in the Catalogue Supplement in the April edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly is news to bring a groan from all who collect or deal in modern definitives.

"Game of Thrones premium booklet.
The Machin pane and booklet will be listed in a later
Catalogue Supplement, because the machin (sic) set
is to be re-numbered for Great Britain Concise 2018
The next edition of the catalogue is expected in April/May.

Two reminders for customers

Confusion with security backing paper.

A reminder to customers and other collectors that security backing paper (type 2) on counter sheets varies widely as to its depth and appearance.  On some single stamps the SBP2 is very difficult to see leading to the belief that this is plain paper.  Here are examples of the 2p and 10p which show possibly the greatest contrast.

And these are both 2914a.7, the 1st class counter sheet M17L on SBP2.  Yes, they are from two different printings, both by De La Rue.  As it happens they are also the two different types of SBP2 but we must remind customers that we do not stock these variations, nor list them in our checklist.

Customer reminder
If you believe that we have sent the wrong stamp, please contact us first, just as you would if you were buying on eBay (this is in our T&Cs).   If we are wrong, and it is a low value stamp, we will probably send you the right stamp (if available) with your next order, without you having the expense of returning the one you didn't want.

On the other hand, as with the 10p shown above, we may explain that we have actually sent the right stamp, you just can't see very easily that it is the right one!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Royal Mail Unadopted Christmas Stamp found used

Every week we get questions asking about details of stamps or for assistance in identifying stamps which may or may not be real stamps.  Long-term readers will recall the postal use of Olympic Gold Medal trial printings, and the parrots back in 2012/13.

Once upon a time I could remember the date of issue of most GB special stamps - at least up to the 1980s.  Nowadays I'm lucky if I can remember which year some issues were, let alone what time of the year, but I recognise most of them as being genuine - after all, I have written about them here and on the website, and stocked most of them.

Today I was sent a real stumper.  Obviously a Christmas 2nd class stamp, and obviously postally used, this one didn't ring any bells, and the writer hadn't been able to find it by searching the description on Google.


But Google also has a 'reverse image search'.  Most web browsers now allow you to type your search terms in the 'web address bar' at the top, rather than going to your favourite search engine, but if you go to you get this search box:

and if you click on the black camera icon you can either enter the URL of an image, or upload one from your computer.  Doing this I found the website of the designer, Gaia Bordicchia.  They were produced for the 2014 issue but not used.   

I don't yet have permission to show all four designs, but you can see them here.  This is the Christmas pudding one shown as on the website:

So the question is, who produced the stamp?  My deduction is that it is certainly not a print from the website, because the perforations on the used one are torn, not die-cut, and if you were cutting out a picture printed from the web, it would be straight-edged either including or excluding the printed perforations.  So it must have been taken from a perforated sheet (or miniature sheet?).  Did Royal Mail produce some as trials - gummed trials are cheaper than self-adhesive?  How many of the four were printed, how many different designs, and how many were used? 

If anybody else has seen these, I would be interested to hear about them.  Meanwhile the investigation continues!

The comments below refer to Philatelic Bulletin giveaways, but these were not commissioned for potential use as actual stamps.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Campaign against pen-cancels - if you care, join now!

Readers of Britain's Stamp Magazine and Stamp and Coin Mart will see in the April issues the start of a campaign by John Gray to persuade Royal Mail to find an alternative to cancellation by pen and marker with which we have all become so familiar.

I've written about it before (recently, identifying a reason why stamps are not cancelled at the Post Office, and previously when Royal Mail introduced neat little devices (which seem to have got lost in the mail centres and delivery offices).   We are often served with - in some cases unnecessary or wanton - destruction of our property.

I deliberately used the terms unnecessary and wanton here after receiving this perfectly cancelled but subsequently ruined piece of mail which would have joined my postal history collection. The 2017 £1.57, pair of 2016 20p, 1p and 10p definitives have been correctly and well cancelled at the Post Office counter.  Somebody in Royal Mail has then decided that these postmarks were insufficient, and has taken a thick black marker pen to them.

Royal Mail correctly say that they are permitted - for revenue protection reasons - to render stamps unusable by marking them in any way that they wish.  Obviously machine postmarks and packet postmarks are the most obvious but should the mail not get properly processed, then the pen is the last resort.  The last resort, not an extra embellishment!

Sometimes, as shown in these pictures John supplied, the markings are offensive, sometimes humorous.  The item on the right could be included in a 'cats on stamps' collection if you felt that way, but the drawing of a Hitler moustache on PM Churchill could hardly be less offensive.


Aiming High
John writes that rather than simply writing to the philatelic press (where we are clearly preaching to the converted) we should target Moya Greene, the Chief Executive of Royal Mail.  After months of correspondence with her Executive Office team, John has decided that the best way forward is for all those affected to send pictures of the offensive mail to the Chief Executive on every occasion.  Colour scans or photographs should be sent direct to

John suggests that each email should contain just a single image and a polite request.  Multiple examples should be the subject of separate emails.  To see the whole article, go to this page.

I suspect when we do this, we will all get standard replies, but I'm happy to publish here anything different and further examples of, especially unnecessary, pen cancels.

Alternatives - what else can be done to avoid this scourge?

1. The first alternative is that - tiresome and time consuming as it may be - we should all post our mail over a PO counter or RM Enquiry Point, and ask that the stamps be cancelled.  For many of us obtaining a certificate of posting is mandatory, so that's not really a problem.  More of a problem is persuading the counter staff that it is not against the rules, or that it is positively required by Royal Mail instructions.

As I know how concerned collectors and dealers alike are with this problem, especially as the device introduced earlier appears to be so little used, I have been discussing the problem with Royal Mail managers.  I have two suggestions that could help at least on mail to and from collectors and dealers.  Both would need to be properly communicated to employees, but job-training is a continuous process and that should be no problem.

2. The first is a brightly coloured official label to be placed near the stamps, indicating that the mail is philatelic and should not be pen-cancelled (see right). Some people will highlight a potential drawback to this, in that it reveals the contents as potentially 'attractive' in the financial sense.
     But we must remember that the vast majority of British postal workers are honest and not assume that marking in this way would encourage theft.  [I accept that this may not be the case in some other countries; the label would have to be used with discretion.]

Any postman finding uncanclled stamps on mail bearing this label should be required to find an acceptable means of cancelling the stamps.  If the person who finds it is the last in the chain, ie the one who delivers it to the addressee, it should not be delivered, but returned to the delivery office so that the stamps can be acceptably cancelled, and delivery should be effected on the next working day.  Such a delay is a small price to pay.

3. The United States Postal System has for decades allowed any senders to cancel their own mail, which is then segregated in the mailstream so that it should receive no further cancellation.  These are are known as Mailer's Postmarks and the devices are marked with the Mailer's Postmark Permit number.  They are widely used by collectors and dealers, and much appreciated by people who receive mail from these people.   It would not be difficult to introduce such a system here.

As you can see from the examples* here, designs are not limited to circles or wavy lines.

The key point appears to be that the date and place of posting, and the permit number, should be visible.  The great thing about this service in the US is that no payment is required, apart from the manufacture of the device itself.  USPS makes no charge for this.

The difficult thing would be segregation in the mailstream, but this is achieved with franked/meter and PPI mail, which is still sorted at mail centres (receiving the red bar codes after address interpretation), so obviously it is workable.  The mail would have to be handed over the counter (not a problem if a certificate of postage is wanted anyway), and enclosed in a returnable pouch, as meter mail is.

It's early days yet, and any moves to introduce anything new have been held up while Royal Mail has had more pressing matters to discuss with its staff and unions.  And let's face it, the benefits of pleasing us in any of these ways do not add much to their bottom line financially.  But I did receive encouraging responses when I first mentioned these suggestions last autumn, and I am hopeful that John's campaign may encourage Royal Mail to consider suggestions on how the problem can be solved.  All it needs is a little goodwill on their part towards the people who provide them with profit,
however small, at virtually no cost to them.

I have found a copy of a Horizon instruction that was issued 10 years ago (pictured right - click for a larger view), principally regarding packet segregation.  The key for our purposes is the lower part.  Feel free to copy this for your own purposes and to send with any images of badly-cancelled covers.

When you've had time to digest this, and study the Stamp Magazine/Stamp & Coin Mart articles write to the editors in support, and send your examples to Moya Greene.  Let us know what happens.  If you have any other suggestions to solve the problem, I'll be happy to add them here - send them to me by email.   I'll add them here to get other reactions, and forward them to Royal Mail for consideration.

Update: Added new page of images that readers have sent to Royal Mail:

(*Note, I have taken these images from and shall be sending Timothy some postmark examples, and details of how to get British postmarks soon.)

Website and checklist update - at last

After much delay due to problems with previously perfectly behaved software, we have now been able to update the website with new pages for this year's issues (at least until the RAF Centenary and tariff issues.

More importantly the updated Security Checklist is now available, version 1.7.10.  This includes stamps officially issued up to 20 March - including the new tariff and those included in the RAF retail and prestige books.  Of course it is quite possible that something else will be discovered in the next week, so watch this space!

Friday, 9 March 2018

New Postage Rate stamps 20 March 2018.

The first stocks of these are now starting to arrive after Royal Mail's snow-enforced shut-down last week.   

The Machin pictures below are from the FDC, except for the £2.25.  This may mean, for people who worry about such things, that the direction of print is different on the £2.25.  All these are all actual stamps so you can see that the year code is M18L as expected.  

£1.25 - holly green, same colour as 81p of 2014
£1.45 - dove grey, same colour as £1.47 of 2014
£1.55 - marine turquoise, same colour as £2.15 of 2014
£2.65 - purple heather, same colour as 97p of 2014
£2.25 - plum purple, unchanged

As you can see from the sheet, the £2.25 at least is printed in 8 positions on the cylinder.  I suspect that the others will be the same.  The sheets are of 25 stamps, not 50 as suggested by Royal Mail's trade information channel.  The full range of stamps will be in our shop to order before the issue date.

Machin Printing Dates known so far: those in red are ones that we have, others have been reported from POs.

£1.25    10/01/18
£1.45    10/01/81
£1.55    15/01/18
£2.25    15/01/18
£2.65    15/01/18

Of the country stamps....
So far I have only the Northern Ireland stamps (on a FDC for a customer), but these show the font used for the 2nd & 1st NVI stamps.  Shown for comparison are earlier examples.  As expected the stamps are gummed, not self-adhesive.

Country stamp printing dates.
England both values     27/12/17

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Slogan Postmarks for March 2018

The first one is strictly a February slogan, and I have included it in that post, but as it refers to a March event, it seems sensible to include it here as well.

Just creeping into February is the slogan for World Book Day which is on 1 March.  This slogan was used at North West Midlands on 28 February, and I assume nationwide and only on the one day.  Royal Mail's media department is silent on the subject as usual.  Thanks to MB and our friends in Shropshire who both sent examples.
Book Day
1 Mar 2018

The second slogan for March was certainly in use on 2 March and may be in use for the whole of National Apprenticeship Week.  Again, despite having a press release about apprenticeships, Royal Mail's media team are silent on the slogan postmark.  Examples both dated 2nd March from North West Midlands (MB), and Peterborough (BE), thank you both.

WEEK 2018

UPDATE 9 March 2018
There were two reasons why the Apprentice slogan wouldn't run all week.  The first is International Women's Day, with these two different formats, from Northern Ireland MC and Edinburgh MC on 07/03/2018 to arrive on 8th, thanks to GF & MB.
Women's Day
8 March 2018

The second new slogan this week was Royal Mail's reminder to send cards for Mothering Sunday, celebrated here at a date which is linked to Easter, rather than later in the year as in some other countries.  This example from MB is from North West Midlands dated 8 March.
Don't forget
Mother's Day!
Sunday 11 March

More to come, for certain, probably for the RAF Centenary but probably not (as used to be the case) for increases in postage rates!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Back to normal, news update

Royal Mail Tallents House affected by weather

Royal Mail's bureau operations were affected by the code red weather warning last week and the office was closed from Wednesday 28th February for the rest of the week.  Things are getting back to normal this week and I had a delivery today posted yesterday.

Last chance to buy
As per Royal Mail’s new variable sales period policy announced last year, all stamps and philatelic products associated with the Windmills and Watermills stamp issue will come off sale on 31st March 2018.

The Racehorse Legends stamp issue was confirmed last year as one of those that would follow the original 12 month sales period as such all Racehorse Legends stamps and philatelic products will come off sale on 5th April 2018.

Slogan Postmarks
Recent slogans have appeared for World Book Day and National Apprenticeship Week.  Details and pictures will be added in a separate post later this week.  Thanks to those who have sent in details.

Offers in our webshop
With another batch of orders posted yesterday, the next batch will be posted Thursday or Friday of this week.  The next products to be added will be the RAF Centenary stamps and those for the new postage rates, which will be sold from 20 March, and some more Machin postal forgeries.

Machin news
We have been told of stamp booklets now appearing in outlets with 2018 packing dates - 6x1st Padlock cover books in a supermarket with 08/01/18 date - but sadly the stamps have M17L codes.  But it may not be long after the rates rise before we see M18L codes on booklets.

Post and Go
Visitors to the IAR website will notice that the Perth Congress is listed as a future even. I believe the offshore islands have been persuaded to attend, but can confirm that Royal Mail will not. The presence of Jersey, Guernsey, and Gibraltar may mean that British stamps will be available with show inscriptions, something which Royal Mail is trying to reduce.

Similarly the Postal Museum is adding an additional inscription to the Mail by Sea stamps for its latest exhibition.  More details soon.

Our website and RM's 2018 programme
I spent some of the snowed-in period adding pages to our website for this year's stamp issues. Unfortunately another software update is preventing these being loaded to the server, but I'll be making efforts to get the pages loaded.  However, a major change in the programme is that the Owls and Old Vic issues have exchanged dates, so FDC producers are now advertising Owls covers on 11 May.

Lastly, the blog.  While I wasn't looking the number of visitors (well, page views) has crept over the 3,000,000 mark - yes, THREE MILLION!  

I meet people at exhibitions and fairs, and others who aren't customers phone from time to time.  Many say that they read the blog every day looking for the latest news.  So, very many thanks to all our contributors without whom there would be far less to read. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

Overwhelmed - and not just by the weather

Dear Customers,

Since the previous post and the addition of the Special Delivery stamp (and so many nice forgeries) you have filled your baskets over and over - the SD stamp, of course, helping easily to reach our minimum order value.  And some orders have included stamps that were previously set aside.

I'm hoping that we can get these out tomorrow afternoon - or at least those ordered up to today.  But that does depend slightly on the amount of snow we get: it has been coming and going all day, with the temperature not reaching 1ºC, but the sun shining brightly!

Rest assured we will get orders off as soon as we can, and thank you for your continued custom. 

Update Tuesday afternoon: bright sunny freezing afternoon, so 34 orders despatched from Dereham this afternoon, mostly cancelled at the counter, though I fear he may have missed some.  And anybody collecting fingerprints will probably find some on backs of covers as he had recently reinked the datestamp!  
Wednesday: Orders to and including 4035 have been posted. Orders 4036 onwards will be posted Friday if the weather permits.  Not going anywhere today!

Update Friday.  Very strong winds (up to 40mph) have blown much of the snow off some roofs, and there's only about half as much on the cars now.  But a road in the village is blocked, and other roads in the area have been blocked by snow drifting off the fields in the strong winds.  So no orders will be posted today.  Forecast for the weekend is better with winds down to 15 mph and temperatures up to +2C on Saturday and 6C on Sunday, so flooding will be the next problem!
On Monday it should be sunny and warmer still with wind moving to SW, so I'll probably get some posting done then.  Haven't seen a postman since Tuesday, and as that will be the same for most of our UK customers in affected areas, it's best that your stamps stay here for now.

UK readers will know about this: this is for the benefit of overseas readers and customers!  
Next up, the RAF PSB and Retail Booklet definitives (etc), and the new tariff stamps.

As so many customers get new definitive stamps direct from Royal Mail or their post offices we don't order many, so would all customers please let us by email as soon as possible know if you want cylinder blocks, date blocks, or singles of any of the new postage stamps including the country definitives.  Bear in mind that if you service your own FDCs you may not get the new printing of the £2.25 stamp from your PO as stores are sending out the 2016 printing currently.  We can supply the single quickly so that you can add it to your FDCs.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Latest additions to our shop - new Machins and old fakes!

We now have supplies of the new 50p M17L printing - and a new 100g Special Delivery printing on SBP2!

The 50p stamp is Norvic 3051.7 and the Special Delivery 100g stamp is Norvic 2985.7a. and these are in our webshop now on these links.

It would be helpful and speed customer orders if those who have asked us to hold these and others for us would order them through the shop and pay for them in their usual way. together with any older stamps.  [If the order cannot be completed, please order what you can, choose 'pay by cheque', and then we will add anything reserved and bill you for the total of your order for payment by any of the usual methods.]  - Thank you!

The new stamps:

(Yes, the corner of the 50p sheet is bent, and will be sent back to Tallents House, but we have some date blocks which are not folded.)

The first batch of 2018 printings will be issued on 20 March 2018 - that's assuming there won't be any discoveries between now and then!

The RAF Centenary retail booklet contains 4 new 1st class Machins in the darker red colour, coded M18L MCIL.  These are printed in gravure by Walsall.

New tariff definitives.

Information received from sources outside Royal Mail (who won't reveal anything!) are that the following stamps are part of the new tariff range:

£1.25 Holly Green - printing date 10/01/18
£1.45 Dove Grey - printing date 10/01/18
£1.55 Marine Turquoise - printing date 15/01/18
£2.65 Purple Heather - printing date 15/01/18

The above are all printed by Walsall's branch of ISP, and from those dates two values may be on the same primary cylinder.  Colour cylinder number is W1 - the iridescent and phosphor cylinders should also be W1.  As we have seen in comments on the tariff change post, ISP are also printing the £2.25.  I presume for the time being that these are printed in gravure, being long-run definitives but we won't know for sure until Royal Mail tell us.

The first supplies of £2.25 distributed to branches are from De La Rue stock from the only M16L printing, 21/11/16.

The England country definitives were printed on 27/12/17 in litho by Cartor, in 4-colour process, with plate numbers C1 x4.

Pictures of all the actual tariff change stamps when we get them.  This is taken from the March Philatelic Bulletin which arrived on 23 February.

Machin Forgeries

As we have posted before, there have been a great number of different forgeries of Machin stamps. The first was the 24p brown, which was very, very, crude.  But it seems that production of self-adhesive stamps and labels is much easier in the 21st century.  There were some fairly crude copies of the early gold 1st class stamps, including the PIP version.

Royal Mail introduced security features in 2009, partly to prevent forgery, and partly to prevent reuse of uncancelled stamps.  But it didn't, as we have noted.  The early gold, then the Diamond Jubilee, and Long to Reign stamps, and finally the forgers produced the red (both versions) including some with the security backing paper!

We've put a selection of these on our webshop.  Some are better than others and some are more plentiful than others: some we have only 1 of.

All used examples are pictured individually, so customers can choose which one to buy.  Not all are postmarked, but all have been through the post.  We don't have any 2nd class, or 1st class Large - although we know these exist.  We still have some stock of the £1 brown MTIL.