The number of 'philatelic outlets' in British post offices has halved in 12 years, whilst what they stock has also been reduced. Where once you could expect them to match the Philatelic Bureau, providing stamps for 12 months from the date of issue, the situation is now much different and we were even told about one designated philatelic office which returned on the day of issue all the 2011 Country definitives. And we're not alone in the UK.
According to Linn's Stamp News in 2003 the USPS had 336 cities where formal philatelic centres were located. Now it is estimated that no more than 25 are still operating, and two offices which previously supplied a specialist mail order service (including plate number blocks or coil strips, and different formats not specifically identified by the USPS's 'Stamp Fulfilment Services' have) been closed leaving specialist dealers and collectors no source for their needs.
Some collectors in the UK complain that their post offices do not receive every stamp issue, something denied by Royal Mail. In the US this is definitely true. The recently issued 'Forever' Purple Heart stamp was designed to avoid the perennial stamp being reprinted every year with a new value. Yet some offices were sent 44c stamps instead in order to use up existing stocks before the NVI stamp was distributed!
And this follows weeks after the USPS's Stamp Services Division issued a document which included the statement entitled "Stamp Availability is Critical to Customer Satisfaction". This included the direction that "postmasters must have all commemoratives on sale for 90 days from the date of issue" - no matter that some postmasters don't even receive stocks until a couple of weeks after the date of issue if then!
Is it any wonder that people are stopping their collections when adding to them is made more difficult and more costly? Philatelic Bureaux are more efficient, but only in supplying what they want to supply. We hear that Royal Mail (ie the Bureau) is being "plagued with numerous enquiries from collectors wanting particular source code numbers and letters" on Machin definitives. Well, there's a surprise! No word on the official (or unofficial) response of the Bureau's Customer Service Operatives.
Table of Philatelic Counters according to the January 1999 and June 2011 British Philatelic Bulletins.
|Jan 1999||June 2011|
|London, Lombard St||London, Eastcheap|
|London, Trafalgar Sq||London, Trafalgar Sq|
|Newcastle upon Tyne||-|
|Southampton||Newport, Isle of Wight|