After 50 years, the first catalogue devoted solely to packs has now been published, with a wealth of information on the history and development of the packs, and it reveals that there is far more to the subject than many people realise.
As well as the more obvious Commemorative and Definitive packs, and those for Greetings Stamps, Postage Dues, and Post and Go (Faststamps), the catalogue also covers Year Packs (and Books), privately produced packs and forerunners. The earliest forerunners were simple window envelopes containing Castles High Values. Sold in 1960 at either £1.18s.0d or US$6.50, these are now catalogued at £1,750 or £3,000.
The stamps in these packs were also available, of course, separately from other sources - post offices and later the Philatelic Bureau. But the book also includes some products which exist only in that form, for instance packs produced in recent years by Royal Mail containing Facsimiles of classic stamps, the 1d black, 1d red, PUC £1 etc.
Whilst the catalogue is comprehensive, the editors make no claim that it is complete. Some printing varieties are included but there may be more. 'Format packs' are included - these are retail display packs containing (for example, cylinder blocks or gutter pairs of special issues), but I understand that some also exist for definitives. The production of any catalogue or handbook is usually the impetus for collectors and dealers to identify errors and omissions which often results in an improved second edition.
Produced by the Packs and Cards company, and priced at £24.95 the catalogue is available from all good stamp dealers, bookshops and direct from www.PacksAndCards.com [ISBN 978-099286750-8].
I think it is regrettable that Royal Mail have never produced a pack, or similar document, that would be much more practical. As the catalogue advises:
To keep packs safe, it is advisable to store them in strong boxes or in specifically designed presentation pack albums.And therein lies a problem, as far as I am concerned. In a stamp album, the stamps are displayed and written up (to a greater or lesser extent) and everything can be seen.
There is a great deal of well illustrated information included in presentation packs, but it is all hidden if stored as advised! In 1982 Royal Mail changed the format to fold out vertically, rather than horizontally, in a format that used approximately an A4 sheet of card, with stamps on a separate carrier.
In 2004 there was a further change, when the plastic carrier was incorporated on one panel of the pack, often with important information printed behind the space for each stamp (something which was continued with the smaller packs produced for Faststamps).
But to get the real benefit of the packs they must be unfolded, and to see the information behind the stamps, they must be removed!
Some packs are now designed to be viewed in the opposite orientation, such as the motorcycles and stamp locomotives. But how much better they would be if they were A4 sheet designed to be kept as A4 sheets, unfolded, with space for the stamps, and with all the text visible and oriented the same direction. Then they would be collectable, in an album that could be opened, the stamps admired and the stories read.
As they are, they are simply bought as collectables (or, sad to say, investments) and put away, and I suspect that a good number of the buyers never read the words or learn about their stamps.
UPDATE: Reinforcing one of the comments about Royal Mail quality control, I've been sent this picture of stamps included in the latest (Fish) pack sent to a loyal standing order subscriber:
Correcting errors when people complain is not good enough; they should correct the processes which lead to the errors as well. But customers who don't even open them, they just put them in an album or box will never know whether they have collectable or damaged stamps!