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. 

14 comments:

  1. But the Generic Smilers Sheet is the only source for Christmas 2015 stamps with elliptical perforations, so that's the reason I bought one.
    ...ianp...

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  2. Won't GB collectors need the six different stamps from the Generic Xmas 2015 sheet, as they will be catalogued as Litho variations of the regular Gravure issues by SG and others?
    Or am I missing something here?

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    1. No, Stanly Gibbons do not catalogue individual stamps from Smilers Generic Sheet, although they do record, as footnotes to the stamp listings, the existence of the Generic Sheets.

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    2. True, but I believe some albums (Lighthouse?) have spaces for the individual generic sheet stamps.

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  3. For the record, Royal Mail do include these stamps as separate issues in their annual De Luxe Album page supplements.

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    1. Thank you, that's marketing for you! The fact remains that there is no justification for these sheets.

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    2. Justification aside, I recall a time I the early 90's when Machins were allotted whole scale new catalogue numbers amongst a flurry of excitement. This was purely due to the elliptical perforations. It may be a question of where to draw the line. However I don't see why the Christmas stamps should be any different. The argument is even more reinforced by the different printing process.

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  4. Ian, you are of course quite right. The only justification for this item is that it is a potential source of, no matter how small, additional income to Royal Mail. It's a business - it needs to make a profit - so if the things sell then Royal Mail might as well produce them. They have long gone past the point where everything they sell is necessary or justified.

    Prestige booklets, commemorative stamps rarely ever seen to be used on actual mail, sets of 10 stamps all of the same value, first day covers with postmarks of places that don't have a post office - you can't really justify any of them. But collectors collect them (and many dealers sell most if not all of them). There's no practical point in moaning about them because if there are enough people to buy them then they'll keep producing them. There's a chance that one day collectors will stop buying these things and only then, when there's no reasonable profit in them, will RM stop producing them.

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  5. Just received the latest book of prices from Royal Mail (cant really call it a list these days) and noticed the Star Wars Prestige Booklet is coming out in a limited edition of 1977, in a foil wrap and what looks like a different front page, price from memory only £120. Cant check that price before writing this as the book went in the bin.! Fools money and parted time again and just think how much the Royal Mail will make if they sell them all, just over 2.3 million£. I know lets get the Royal Mail to get mega busy next year and make enough to sort out the deficit in the U.K. Just thought how would any of the buyers really know that they have the special cover version, as they would have to cut the foil seal to check the contents and kill the re-sale potential which surely is the main reason collectors buy the item in the first place..

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    1. This is mentioned in our Star Wars post. You can see the £120 item here http://tinyurl.com/ojs4en9
      It's not a foil seal, it's a metal box

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    2. Actually 1,977 Star Wars Prestige Stamp Books at £120 a pop works-out at £237,240 and not the £2.3 million you stated.
      And yes, I do think Royal Mail will sell them all.

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  6. Well spotted, back on the subs bench for me and this time I won't bother with the calculator and use the trusted pen and paper! but joking apart, what will the £120 give the collector that is so different from the normal version, are the contents the same and if that is the case then is it just a case of the fancy packing, and yes I have to agree that the Royal mail will shift that quantity with no problem, in fact I would not be surprised if they are sold out and off sale before the day of issue if they differ from the normal version.

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  7. The differences between the £16.99 and £120.00 versions are that the Limited Edition has a holographic front cover, comes packaged in a metal box and includes a UV light, presumably to detect the special phosphor features incorporated on the stamps.

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  8. The RM website is showing the Christmas (generic) Stamp Sheet as 'not available'. Sold out already?

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