Thursday, 14 December 2017

New version of Machin Security Checklist now available; website update problem

We are pleased to announce that the long-awaited updated version of our Checklist is now available from the usual source: click here.

This version 1.7.2 includes the Star Wars prestige book stamps issued today, although we are not entirely sure how the 1st class will be treated by Gibbons due to the colour.

New for this edition is a table showing which values have been issued with which year codes.  This is not quite the same as saying which have been issued in which year as some are not issued until the following year, but it will help to make sure that year-code collections are complete.

No updates to website
Unfortunately, the webpage where you ask for the list to be sent to you hasn't been updated due to an error in the latest version of the web-design software that we use.  It simply won't load because there is an error in the coding, so we can't edit or add any new pages on the website at present.  We'll get this sorted as soon as the developer fixes the software.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Stamp all you like, there won't be one for us leaving the EU!

On the latest Commonwealth Stamps Opinion my fellow-blogger White Knight reports the
furore among some politicians and UK newspapers (also reported in Germany by Deutsche Welle) about the lack of a stamp issue from Royal Mail, to mark the historic moment when the UK leaves the EU.

I don't comment on political matters, but find the whole thought process behind this campaign to be misguided.  Back in 1973 the General Post Office, still under government influence, did issue stamps when the UK joined the European Communities.

In 1979 four stamps were issued, again by the General Post Office, to mark the first direct electons to the European Assembly.  They served as a further reminder, were any necessary, to encourage citizens to vote in these important elections.  Finally* in 1992 a single stamp was issued by Royal Mail to mark the creation of the Single European Market for goods, services, and labour. 

Things have changed since then.  Royal Mail is privatised, something seemingly lost on the spokespeople interviewed by BBC television.  A member of the London Assembly was 'outraged' that this important historic event was not being marked, while the spokeswoman for 'Best for Britain', a 9-month old political organisation, disagreed and said that taxpayers money should not be spent on this!

This shows how out of touch they both are with reality.  One politician who thinks that he or the government can have any influence over (the private company) Royal Mail's stamp issuing policy, and a another who somehow thinks that taxpayers (ie the British Government) money would be spent on a new stamp!

Well the news is that the taxpayers who post letters (and all who collect stamps) would spend money on these not the British Government.  And although Royal Mail can produce stamps quickly when they want to, they haven't issued any stamps for overtly political current events since that one in 1992.  Stamps which have had a political connection have all been marking people and historical events associated with them - Prime Ministers (2014), and Women of Distinction (2008) and a few individuals in similar issues.

Rest assured, this isn't going to feature in the 2019 stamp issue programme - although that won't stop somebody producing expensive special covers to mark the event!

* I've missed at least one - a gold star to anybody who can identify it!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

New Machin Printings wrapping things up for Christmas.

As we expected they might, some low value Machin reprints have now appeared, rounding off most of the sheet stamps on Security Printed Backing Paper (SBP) - we never really believed the 50p and £1 would be reprinted.

The 2p and 10p counter sheets first appeared in June and April respectively with plain backing paper. Now we have the reprints on version 2 of the security printed backing paper.  The 2p seen has SuLi-SiLu arrangement and the 10p has SuLu-SiLi, for the record.  The backing paper for the 10p is also much paler, almost impossible to scan. These were scanned on the same settings.

The 2p was printed on 24/10/17 and the 10p was printed on 26/09/17.

Both are printed from colour cylinder D2, and iridescent and phosphor cylinders D1.

There have been reprints of four other stamps as well, again showing marked differences in the backing paper.  I'm recording the lettering arrangement for information only: I'm not recording all of them in our Checklist - for which a new version will be released very soon.

The 5p printed 03/10/17 has dark backing printing; the £1.57 printed 27/09/17 has pale; the 1st class printed 09/10/17 has pale, and the 2nd class printed 24/10/17 has dark.

The 2nd class is SiLuSuLi.  The 1st class is SuLuSiLi.
The 5p is SiLuSuLi, and the £1.57 is SuLuSiLi.

New stamps will be added to our shop shortly, and to the checklist.  Note that shop orders - especially international ones - may not be posted before the Christmas holidays, which means they will wait until the first week of January.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Royal Mail 'Employee Gift' stamps from a totally different printing!

Every year, Royal Mail employees receive a Christmas Card from the management, and a gift of 50 x 1st class Christmas stamps.  I had expected that they would get the equivalent of a whole sheet, ie 25 religious and 25 competition as shown in our earlier post, but the reality is a big surprise!

In fact, according to sales lists on eBay, the card shows the design of the 1st class competition winner stamps, and contains 50 of those stamps.  All of the sheets have either the left or right margin cut back so that the sheet fits in the card, but far from showing just the cylinder number and traffic lights as expected, some sheets also have a sale-by date and printing date and sheet number!

This means that they have been cut from sheets containing 50  x competition stamps, that is, a different printing to the ones sold to collectors and Post Office customers.

This is the sheet we showed earlier:

As you can see, the printing date and sheet number is in the top right selvedge.  The Sale Date is in the top left margin of these sheets, both being alongside the religious stamps.

This is what has been found on eBay, images cropped to show just one half-sheet.  First the lower parts:

And now the unexpected upper parts:

Monday, 4 December 2017

December 2017 Slogan Postmarks - and others

We don't expect much in the way of variety from slogans at this time of year apart from the exhortations to 'Post Early', followed nearer the date by the last day for 1st class, and maybe a 'special delivery - next day' option.

But as mail centres get busy and older machinery is pressed into use, I do expect to see more of the older Universal machines in use.  I've already been told that Chelmsford MC is offloading work to Greenford/Windsor!

Lerwick uses a Universal machine for most of the year, but Inverness and Ipswich will be almost certain to appear this month, so let's keep our eyes open on the Christmas mail - after all it's that time of year when you get more stamped mail than any other! 

Anyway, here is the first Post Early inkjet slogan for 2017, from Exeter MC.


UPDATE 11 December
Here are some variations to the above, with the other format from South East Anglia, and the transposed version from SE Wales, both on 4 Decmber.

Last Posting Dates.
These normally appear after the 'Post Early' slogan, the wording changing as time passes.  But Nottingham had this on 1 December (same date as Exeter's Post Early, above)

Merry Christmas!
Last posting dates
1st class:
22 December
2nd class:
21st December

UPDATE 11 December.
I have a number of Christmas contributions from readers which I shall add soon.  In the meantime, Royal Mail have also marked the award of the 2017 Nobel Literature prize to Kazuo Ishiguro the Japanese-born British novelist.  This news broke in October so unless this is an accidental repeat of a slogan that nobody noticed earlier, it's difficult to see why Royal Mail chose to use it now.   Used in Exeter on Saturday 9 December, the slogan reads

Kazuo Ishiguro - 
Awarded the
Nobel Prize in
Literature 2017

A good addition to a Nobel thematic collection.

Update later the same day:  Thanks to JR for this other format from Preston, albeit they seem to have an inking problem!  This is the other format, and is dated 8 December; the wording is in the same format as above, but without the dash at the end of line 2.

UPDATE 13th: Our Christmas mail brought a better example from Birmingham Mail Centre, dated 12/12/17 (and we have one from Norwich dated 11-12-2017) which suggests that this is a week-long campaign.  (Readers may recall that last autumn Royal Mail had said that there could be no non-Christmas slogans during their Christmas campaign - and then went on to use slogans for the NHS Blood service and the Centenary of the Cub Scout movement!)

UPDATE 15 December:  Glitch at Belfast!
Thanks to GF for this anomaly from Northern Ireland Mail Centre in Belfast, which - after Post Early and Kazu Ishiguro - slipped back a month and used Lest We Forget on 13th December.

UPDATE 17 December 2017
And so we are into the final week before Christmas, and the Last Posting Dates slogans are now in use.  Here's one used on Friday 15th at Norwich MC.  We had another but couldn't read the MC ID.

Merry Christmas!
Last posting dates:
1st class: 21 December
2nd class: 20 December

Friday, 1 December 2017

Winter Cheer: the end of Business Customised Sheets

First there were Smilers, then there were Business Cusomised Sheets (BCS) aimed at company advertising.   Sadly that isn't how it stayed, and now BCS are coming to an end.

Writing in Graham Howard writes:
As predicted in this column (Q1-2017) Royal Mail have decided to end the Business Customised Stamp sheet service and have today released the following announcement in their Key News bulletin aimed at the Philatelic Market.
"Another recent review has looked at the use and popularity of the BCS service and having considered the number of BCS orders received over the past two years Royal Mail has taken the decision to end the BCS service in 2018. Last orders for Business Customised Sheets will be accepted on 31st March 2018 for delivery in May 2018. Following which the BCS service will cease, The Smilers service, used for smaller volumes, will remain."
Graham goes on to say:
In January of this year we reviewed the product, and proposed changes which, in our view, would have generated more interest and help make the product more commercially viable.
Maybe, maybe not, but Royal Mail ignored the suggestions and in my view that can only be good for the hobby, and the trade.

The writing was on the wall long ago and the only surprise to me is that the plug wasn't pulled earlier.  Over a year ago I wrote (Smilers Bubble Bursts - Stamps Not Posters!) about the history of the product:
Interest in all Smilers was already in decline [in 2011] and Royal Mail had started (in 2008) to produce its own version of the BCS, the Commemorative Sheet
Originally aimed as a business alternative to the personalised Smilers, Business Customised Sheets were launched in late 2001 and a few were used by companies for publicity or as gifts.  But some stamp dealers soon realised that there was an opportunity to diversify from first day and commemorative covers, and make some money instead from people interested in particular themes (football, Concorde, Dr Who, railways).  But by 2011 the decline had started (see Who's Smiling Now? Business Smilers take a dive). 
The stamp dealers, in conjunction with Royal Mail, were producing - in effect - glossy colourful posters, which happened to have 10 x 1st class stamps in them.  Purely money-making, not even philatelic.  Then Royal Mail took to selling some of these private productions through their Philatelic Bureau adding some sort of legitimacy to them, with the inevitable next step being that Royal Mail produced similar sheets under their own name at a much lower selling price but still over 3x face.
What was potentially a good idea for business advertising is probably the worst thing that has happened to British stamps in recent years.

When these expensive sheets - some of them initially sold for upwards of £50 each and most over £30 - are offered to dealers either as part of an estate or if the collector is seeking to diminish his holdings while still alive, they are with few exceptions treated as just so much postage.  Bearing in mind any of you can buy postage now at 80% of face (or even better for the right quantity) you must realise that dealers are paying between 35% and 60% of current face, not the original price.  So the most you can get for a sheet that cost you £30-£50 is £3.90.  The same applies to Royal Mail Commemorative Sheets some of which are still available on their website: others were sold at a discount before being withdrawn.

Graham and I will disagree on this, but I still maintain that they were a bad thing to be marketed at stamp collectors.  I have bought some BCS at fairs for face value - Manchester United, Norwich City, etc.  They make good stocking-filler Christmas presents for relatives who are fans. (No I don't actually roll them up!). 

And if you are buying postage they will certainly be different.  Look out for them in the 'at face' or 'discount postage' boxes on your next fair visit.