Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Season's Greetings - another year over,

Soon it will be Christmas;
our pockets are bruised.
A lot of stamps issued,
but few have been used §
(§ with apologies to fans of John Lennon.)

Looking at these Victorian/Edwardian Christmas and New Year greetings cards makes you realise that even if cards are now sent in envelopes instead of as postcards, today's card manufacturers - with their fluffy bears, dogs, cats, Minions, etc - are not so different to those of days gone by.  The Christmas card above has a gnome - ok, maybe an elf - surrounded by lucky four-leaf clovers, flowers, fungi and a ladybird and an acorn!  No Santa, and not a hint of the religious element!  And neither card has any snow, or any suggestion that this is winter!   Just a thought.

Anyway, the year-end is upon us almost before we realise it, and we can look back on another year of surprises and frustrations, innovations and disappointments, and look forward to changes of direction. 

Machin definitives
As usual, the first (Windsor Castle) prestige stamp book of the year contained stamps coded for the previous year, but the accompanying retail booklet had a 2017 code.   Royal Mail kept the £5 Accession stamp secret for far too long, and when they did give it maximum publicity in the mainstream media, collectors found that only a few Post Office branches were selling it.

Apart from that the year progressed much as expected, with the counter sheet stamps at last appearing on backing paper with security printing - but not until the new tariff values had also been printed on plain paper.  Although a big fuss had been made over rebranding and the new darker corporate red for the 1st class stamps in booklets and business sheets, Royal Mail overlooked the opportunity to make the similar counter sheet stamps a 'visible change' and so there was no first day of issue for those as there had been for the other sources.   The 1st class red with M17L code appeared in April, but the same stamp with M16L code didn't appear until October, and supplies are very difficult to find.

The Machin 50th Anniversary was commemorated with an unprecedented number of Machin stamps - a few or many depending on your degree of specialisation.  Royal Mail had a problem with one PSB pane, and we will never know whether they sent the wrong artwork to the printer or to the publicity department.  The year ended with another Star Wars PSB which has the 1st class stamp in the original colour instead of the darker one!

This year's Country Definitives have the values for all countries in the same font, which makes some sense even if you still can't read them easily, especially those for Northern Ireland.

The big surprise on Machins was the appearance of the unvalued trial printings by Courvoisier which, after much debate by the owner, were eventually placed on sale.

As usual there was a packed programme of special stamps which we largely steered clear of.   As usual, most collectors and the general public saw few of the special stamps on their letters and parcels, although we did report early use of one of one David Bowie and one Christmas stamp.

The 1st and 2nd class (and Large) Christmas stamps were issued in two designs which were printed in one sheet for each value, although a special single-design printing of the 1st class was produced for the stamps given to Royal Mail staff.

A new initiative by Royal Mail's marketing department for 'local' handstamps for new issues (starting with Ancient Britain), announced only to the local press in each area, was roundly condemned by first day cover collectors.  Special arrangements were made for the Mills issue in June, but FDCs were not returned to collectors until October, and the announced handstamps for the Landmark Buildings were quietly abandoned.

Post and Go
For collectors with big bank balances it was another bumper year, although those who wanted examples of every possible design/inscription/stamp/date combination would have found it very expensive, and probably quite difficult to track down.  The Isle of Man PO joined the club (albeit using Irish PO machines rather than Royal Mail Post and Go) at Spring Stampex.  A limited access Post and Go machine was installed at the Ministry of Defence offices in Bristol, and a further one at Royal Mail HQ.

The Mail by Rail digital version was the subject of an unannounced launch at the Postal Museum (only), and unprecedented errors concerning the Scottish Congress at Perth meant that two different inscriptions were used, while those sold not at the event but by Tallents House included a pre-release of the Machin Anniversary stamps.

The last new location for a machine (other than at a Post Office or Royal Mail facility) was at the East Anglian Railway Museum which had machine A005 transferred from the Royal Marines Museum where it was sited for just over two years.   In the autumn a 2017 printing of the Poppy made a widespread appearance, followed by a reprint of the Winter Greenery 1st and 2nd class stamps with a 17 year code.

Royal Mail communication
Following the retirement of Royal Mail's Martyn Fry, official Post and Go information has been intermittent and often wrong, so much so that Royal Mail's official Post and Go webpage has now been abandoned.   On the positive side the Postmark Bulletin is not only free it is now online, with special handstamps being added to another webpage between editions.  However this doesn't give us any more information than before about slogan postmarks of which there have been a wide and interesting variety, especially for thematic collectors, that were usually 'discovered' rather than announced.
      The Philatelic Bulletin likewise has continued to provide late, misleading or even incorrect information whilst providing a lot of information about the background to stamp issues which is not the prime interest of collectors.  We have urged Royal Mail to concentrate on getting right the technical information that they provide to collectors and to the trade: after all, we can get it to you from the actual stamps (when we are allowed to).

As for the year to come, the big news about the first issue will be announced before January, and we will report it here with images when we can.  The rest of the 2018 programme contains some quite good topics, even if some of the designs we have seen so far leave something to be desired.

We know that there will be no more Business Customised wallpaper after the spring, though doubtless some customers will ramp up the orders for events taking place later in the year and in subsequent years.  We expect major changes to Post and Go next year which will reduce the number of variants digging into collectors' pockets.  For a start, there will be no Post and Go machines at Spring Stampex or the Scottish Congress in Perth, and in the absence of a miniature sheet associated with the Votes for Women (Stampex) issue, there will be no numbered limited edition collectable at Stampex either.

I'm hoping for more policy changes, one of which may reduce the amount of mail cancelled by biro or bingo-marker, enabling more collectors to actually find stamps which are at least used, and maybe even fine used.

We close the year - having added two pieces of new information to the blog while this summary was in its draft stages - by bringing out the picture we prepared a couple of years ago.  We've already had reasonable frost and some snow this year, and other parts of the country have had a lot more than we had, some of which prevented us going on a weekend excursion to the Welsh borders a couple of weeks ago.  We'll be back in the office on January 3rd.

So once again thank you to all our readers and contributors without whom the blog would be smaller and far less useful to collectors around the world.   

We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.


PS: I forgot to write a thank you to all of you who have sent Christmas cards.  These decorate our lounge wall along with the diminishing number from friends and family.  Quite a preponderance of postboxes this year!   Many thanks.


  1. Ian. A huge thank you for all your hard work (and patience) in keeping us all meticulously informed again throughout the year. I know from my own experience in over 55 years of collecting GB how difficult it is to try and keep ahead of the game to be well placed to collect all I need. Your information has smoothed that process to the point that I cancelled my subscription to the Bulletin a couple of years ago on the basis that 1) the information therein was late, missing, inaccurate or irrelevant and 2) this blog was free and more than a sufficient replacement. Many thanks again and best wishes for the holiday and 2018 at Planet Norfolk.

  2. Merry Christmas Ian and thank you very much for your informative blog. I hope you have a great 2018 and I look forward to all the stamp news to come.

  3. Will Royal Mail really want to miss the opportunity to coin it in with the Game of Thrones post and Go labels at stampex plus the new Mail by Sea, as for the Stampex miniature sheet, there is always scope for the GoT miniature sheet to carry an additional inscription.

    1. I can only report what Royal Mail told us at Stampex: reduced presence at Stampex, no Post and Go machines and no miniature sheet issued then, so no overprint.

    2. Following up on this, although there are income benefits from the Post and Go machines there are considerable costs of the space they take (paid to the PTS), costs of moving the machines around and installing them, and contractor presence, set-up, phone links to credit card processor, etc etc. As many have reported in past years, collector purchases from the machines at Stampex has declined, as it has everywhere. In a nutshell I don't think the investment returns sufficient to make it worthwhile.

  4. Interesting discussion with both valid arguments. Ignoring the various static sites at museums.

    Royal mail have in my opinion totally misjudges the market for the exhibition Post and Go labels. They have failed to recognise that collector would want the inscriptions advertised on all the variant stock available. For example the various versions of the Machins and Union Flag used. Ignoring the Stampex’s error, which the various machine which didn’t have the spring blooms had to buy double what was expected. The same applied to Salisbury, York, Perth and the Australia exhibition and the Christmas vagabond event where it was pot luck as to what stock was used.

    Then you have the back office issues which can only be considered as yet another expense, collectors wanting complete Stampex, Perth and the Melbourne stamps exhibitions had to pay what dealer were asking. The prices askes all seemed to be consistent giving the appearance that a cartel was operating, a controversial view, but as collectors only looking on line and seeing the similarities would be justified in this view. A few non online market place sites, such as Norvic wanted less than the prices on ebay and Delcampe.

    Then you have the discrepancies between what was advertised and appeared on the machines at the exhibitions and what Tallents House produced, Australia, the Hong Kong with the Gibraltar Post Offices rates, and the use of the Anniversary Machins at Perth. Not forgetting the 1st class Large error. The lack of opportunity for collector to get hold of issues for their European tour in 2015, leaving the usual suspects on ebay to offer them. If you bothered to search European dealer the price was less and sometimes a lot less.

    Is it any wonder that collectors have left the fold.

    Royal Mail have an opportunity to redeem themselves this year with two machines offering the Game of throne and one offering the mail by sea labels on both reals with no back office examples produced.

    Miniature sheets with exhibition logos have been a feature of the philatelic scene for many years, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, An Post, Kiribati, Christmas Island, Norfolk Island and Singapore often produce an additional sheet showing the exhibition logo, these being freely available. Unfortunately Royal Mail opted to copy An Post ‘Stampa’ model. Something many collectors if Irish stamps simply ignore.

    Any non-government run business seek to maximise their revenue streams, Royal Mail seem to the casual observer are obsessed with market share and fail to recognise the revenue potential from collector and probably dealers as well. There could also be an argument that Royal Mail failed in their contract with the Post office , for the latter to sell the full range of philatelic material, rather than what appears to be here is what to be (Royal Mail) here is what have to sell, so sell what you want (Post Office).

    1. Gosh, where do we start? Whilst you present some valid and cogent arguments, you have (I think) missed some points, and may even be arguing against yourself!

      "Royal mail have in my opinion totally misjudged the market for the exhibition Post and Go labels."

      On the contrary, Royal Mail have reacted to falling collector demand, and comment from [UK] dealers and collectors alike that the number of variants is far too great for collectors who like to have an example of everything.

      Only the Post and Go stamps which are sold in PO branches, at BFPO & MoD office locations, and at RM Enquiry Offices are primarily used for postage (and some of those enquiry office machines are seriously underused).

      All the others - Stampex, Postal Museum, a dozen other museums - are primarily artificial contrivances for collectors and tourists. Now if tourists still bought postcards and the Post and Go stamps were sold adjacent to the postcard sales area, AND there was a special local postmark (or at least a cachet), sales might be higher. But my belief is that the majority of sales for these are to dealers and collectors, and only get used when the dealer finds that he has overstocked and uses them for postage (as buyers of P&G from me are finding). If you want a Stampex souvenir, send yourself an envelope with a stamp on it and a Stampex postmark: you don't need to spend money on 'event' stamps and souvenirs.

      Yet these same collectors (and some dealers) complain about Royal Mail's increasing philatelic output exploiting collectors by producing more and more stamp issues with higher face values. Many UK-based GB dealers have stopped stocking new special issues, buying just enough for regular customers. The same applies to Post and Go. We've rarely had museum examples, and after 2018 will have no new Post and Go issues.


  5. I’m a bit late commenting on this post so apologies for that. Regarding the M16L counter sheet printing on SBP and in the Scarlet shade, I think this is going to be one of the most difficult recent Machins to find in anything other than singles. I’ve scoured dealers stocks and eBay and control blocks are like hens teeth. I was fortunate enough to grab myself a cylinder block of 6 and a sheet of 25 with the printing date and cylinder soon after they were first discovered, but now they are very difficult to source. My advice to anyone who sees a cylinder block for sale is to buy it ASAP, you may not get another chance!