Wednesday, 12 August 2020

August slogan postmarks

Almost half-way through August and no new slogan postmarks have been reported.

The last one for July, the Jack Charlton commemoration, was supposed to run until 9 August so if anybody has an August version I will gladly add it here.  Meanwhile, thanks to snail-mail correspondent RM in Swindon who sent this example from Swindon Mail Centre on 23 July 2020.


Along with any other mail centre slogans, or other interesting machine or hand-struck postmarks.

This is your space!

Monday, 10 August 2020

Another week, another new stamp

Before I have had time to finalise our catalogue, word reaches me today of yet another new Machin definitive stamp.

The latest addition to the stable is the 1st class business sheet which apepared on eBay this morning.  The seller is swanseajax and you can see the listing here.

The sheets were printed on 04/05/20.   The Norvic number is 2914aB.20.

My thanks to several people who reported this.

Oddball sheet from Israel

I'm always wary when I write about a novelty from another country's postal administration in case Royal Mail think it's a good idea and decide to do something similar.  Nonetheless I thought I would share this with you in case your interests range beyond just British stamps and you ever come across this.

A customer in Israel sent news of a novelty sheet of four stamps and 12 labels that was issued by the Israel Post Office in the spring of 2020.

My correspondent writes:
The nominal value of the stamp (16 shekels*) is the highest-valued stamp ever issued in Israel. The reasoning behind the choice of this value is unfathomable. It doesn't match any postal tariff and, if at all, will only be used in making up the postage on heavy parcels to the United States.  [* £3.53 - not a very high value in global terms.]

As explained on the information sheet supplied (click on them for larger images), the sheet
"contains four stamps on the bottom row and three rows of labels (which are not postage stamps), represents the products of each of the printing plates and the intermediate products obtained as each colour is added on top of the last. 
The top row shows the product of each plate separately inorder to demonstrate the process, but in reality only the black label exists first.  Each of the following rows shows the result after adding the second and third colours (cyan and magenta) and the row of stamps shows the result after the last colour (yellow) is added."


As a demonstration of the effects of the lithography printing process, this is interesting but nothing many of us haven't already seen with 'progressive proofs' being produced by Format International in the 1980s.  Although not expensive relative to the output of Royal Mail, Jersey, Guernsey, Gibraltar, Australia etc, it isn't exactly a necessary stamp issue.

Retail booklets - a study of the paper thickness

I remarked when describing the Queen Retail Booklet, that the whole thing seemed to be not as
thick as previous booklets.  Later there was confirmation that other booklets were also on thinner paper.

Stuart Leigh, who produces the catalogue of Post and Go stamps, confirmed that there were variants, and set to work with his micrometer.  Stuart kindly shared his findings which are reproduced below: but I would not be surprised if other people come up with different findings for some of the booklets, especially those other than the mixed-content (MCIL) booklets which have reprints.

Thickness of Backing Paper Thickness of Backing Paper + stamp

(ins.) (ins.)

RAF 100 0.0045 0.0085
Red Arrows 0.0045 0.0085
Dad's Army 0.0045 0.009
Hampton Court Palace 0.0045 0.0085
Poppies 0.0045 0.0085
Harry Potter 0.0045 0.009
Harry Potter SBP1 inverted 0.0045 0.0085
MARVEL Super Heroes 0.0045 0.009
Birds of Prey 0.0045 0.0085
D-Day Landings 0.0045 0.0085
Elton John 0.0045 0.0085
Royal Navy Ships 0.0045 0.0085
Star Wars 0.0045 0.0085
Tomb Raider 0.0045 0.009
James Bond 0.0045 0.009
Coronation Street 0.0045 0.009
Queen 0.004 0.008

MFIL M18L - 2nd Class 0.0045 0.0085
MFIL M19L - 2nd Class 0.0045 0.009

MFIL M18L - 1st Class 0.0045 0.0085
MFIL M19L - 1st Class 0.0045 0.009

MTIL M18L - 2nd Class 0.0045 0.0085
MTIL M19L - 2nd Class 0.004 0.008

MTIL M18L - 1st Class 0.0045 0.0085
MTIL M19L - 1st Class

While concentrating on the printing on the backing paper (for instance on the Harry Potter booklet) I didn't notice any change in thickness, but then it wasn't immediately obvious.  The combination of thinner stamp paper and thinner backing paper is what made it more obvious (to me) for the Queen booklet.

What's also interesting is that the findings show that stamp paper thickness has changed, but not in any consistent way.  One might have expected thinner paper for economy purposes, but the M19L Large stamp booklets are actually thicker than the previous one, while the 2nd class booklet of 12 has both backing and stamp paper are thinner.

The backing paper on business sheets and counter sheets is thinner than that used for booklets, but given that Walsall now print all of them, it seems possible that the stamp paper used for these could also vary and may already have done so.

I'll happily report your findings, although I do not have the equipment to check stocks, and cannot supply variants.

Friday, 7 August 2020

List of Machin definitives issued, released, or discovered so far in 2020

Circumstances have prevented my producing as many pictures of new definitives as I normally do.  My thanks, therefore, to RP and NS who have provided pictures of some recent reprints.

5p and 10p counter sheets


1st class booklet of 12

Post and Go
For the record we can report that the R20YAL printing of the Machin head Post and Go stamp is now in circulation. This blank was noted on eBay.

2020 New Machins
I believe this is a complete list of the Machin definitives so far this year.  I have not had to to record, and so have not distinguished between upright and inverted backing paper.  As far as I know the list of printing dates for counter sheets is complete so far.

M19L coded stamps, with Norvic numbers.

1p      MPIL    Visions of the Universe PSB    4001P.9
2p      MPIL    Visions of the Universe PSB    4002P.9
                                            - not as dark as Queen Victoria PSB (4002Pa.9)
2p      MPIL    James Bond PSB                       4002P.9
                                            - same as Visions
5p      MPIL    Visions of the Universe PSB     4005P.9a
                                            - shade, lighter head than Star Wars PSB

10p    MPIL    Visions of the Universe PSB     4010P.9
£1.35 MPIL    Visions of the Universe PSB     4135P

2nd    MPIL    James Bond PSB                       2901P.9

M20L coded stamps

Counter Sheets (MAIL), with printing dates

2nd class     05/05/20           2911.20
1st class      04/05/20           2914a.20
2nd Large   12/05/20           2913.20
1st Large     07/05/20          2916a.20

1st Large Signed For    03/02/20       2992.20
Special Delivery 500g  04/02/20       2986.20

2p       06/05/20                    3002.20
5p       13/05/20                    3005.20
10p     14/05/20                    3010.20
20p     14/05/20                    3020.20

£1.42   08/01/20                   3142           Also 09/03/20, 11/05/20
£1.63   08/01/20                   3163           Also 09/03/20, 12/05/20
£1.68   08/01/20                   3168           Also 09/03/20
£2.42   09/01/20                   3242           Also 09/03/20
£2.97   09/01/20                   3297
£3.66   09/01/20                   3366           Also 10/03/20
£3.82   09/01/20                   3385           Also 10/03/20

2nd class MTIL        2931.20
1st class MTIL         2914a.20
1st class MCIL         29361aC.20   Video Games, James Bond, Coronation Street, Queen, Sherlock

Business Sheets 
2nd class 22/01/20       2911B.20

Prestige Stamp Books

1p  Music Giants IV: Queen      4001P.20
5p  End of World War II            4005P.20
50p End of World War II           4050P.20
£1.63 End of World War II        4163P

An updated version of the Norvic Machin Security Stamp Checklist will be produced for download as soon as possible.  [It's a bit too hot to sit in the office for long today.]

As always, thanks to anybody who points out errors and omissions, particularly Stuart this time who reminded me that I had omitted the whole PSB category!

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Closure of Post Office (not Royal Mail!) online shop on 31 August 2020

Post Office Ltd announces the closure of the website shop.

For many years the UK Post Office website has had an arrangement with a third party to sell a variety of packing materials and stationery, and Royal Mail stamps and collectables sometimes long after they have gone off sale with Royal Mail.

Most recently the shop was run by Vow Ltd ,specialists in office supplies. Their catalogue includes Post Office Ltd PostPak (TM) products, but not stamps.

Post Office have now announced that their online shop will close on 31 August.

It's a standard phrase to 'apologise for the inconvenience'.  Crown Post Offices and some located inside the main franchises (like WHSmith) will of course sell office supplies and packing materials, but most small local village shops don't sell as large a range, if any.

To avoid any confusion among readers, especially overseas, who have forgotten about the separation of Royal Mail and Post Office, this does NOT refer to the Royal Mail Philatelic Bureau which continues as normal.

Further update: as some people still haven't understood the significance of this change the Royal Mail online shop continues as normal at

Strange Machin counter sheet shifts

Minor mis-registration of colour, phosphor or iridescent printing are not uncommon, although few of the phosphor shifts have warranted much attention unless they are totally clear of the perforation hole.  Then they are described as 'short-band' foot, top, left, right as appropriate.

The same attention has not been given to shifts of the iridescent printing on security stamps although it is easier to see, especially if the iridescent ink is tinted and shiny, and shows up on the white margin of the stamps.

Melvyn D has sent some pictures taken with a USB microscope showing some quite spectactular shifts on recent stamps.  My USB 'scope doesn't have UV light, and it doesn't have Mac-compatible software although it can still be used.  But maybe I shall have to investigate some better equipment.

There are two examples of phosphor shifts on the 5p. On the first the phosphor is shifted dramatically up to the foot of the elliptical perforation, giving a 'short-band foot':

With the second, the movement is even greater, which gives only one 'short band foot' on the sheet, with all the others having interrupted phosphor - which is also shifted to the right, meaning that it is inset at left. 

The 10p has phosphor inset at the right, and the 20p at the left. 

What does all this suggest?  All these are ISP/Walsall printings, suggesting that quality control - for the sheets at least - is less stringent?  But similar insets have not been seen on recent Christmas stamps which are also printed by Walsall.  It's clear that Royal Mail are not too concerned about the iridescent printing - after all if these valued stamps are self-adhesive then they are from counter sheet printings, the only others being gummed from prestige stamp books.

But the important thing for phosphor is that there should be two clear bands of decent size.  After the pandemic is over they may get back to separating 1st and 2nd class mail and using the phosphor for segregation.

The other thing that these pictures demonstrate is that with the right equipment you can collect stamp variants that are not immediately obvious to the naked eye, and show them in your collections, exhibits, or in club displays (when they return) with suitable illustrations like these.  

New Great Britain stamps: Sherlock - 18 August 2020

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stamp issued in 2009
Royal Mail's third 'entertainment' issue this year will be issued on 18 August, and celebrates the modern television drama serials Sherlock.  The issue includes a set of six stamps, a miniature sheet, presentation pack, retail booklet and collectors sheet as well as framed products.

Their 'Reason and Inspiration' (or Justification):

Perhaps the most well-known fictional detective of all, Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 and continued in novels and many short stories until 1927. Screen adaptations occurred almost as soon as movies were invented. In total there have been over 25,000 stage adaptations, films, television productions and publications featuring the detective and the Guinness World Records lists him as the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history.

On the 10th anniversary of the popular BBC TV series ‘Sherlock’ we celebrate both the unique heritage and contemporary adaptations of this most famous of the “consulting detectives”.

In this modernised version of the Conan Doyle characters, using his detective plots, Sherlock Holmes lives in early 21st century London but maintains various elements of the original stories such Dr Watson (who now writes a blog rather than a diary) the Baker Street address and Holmes' adversary Moriarty, whilst still working for private clients as well as Scotland Yard, the London Metropolitan Police service.

Set of Stamps.
As with some previous issues, these have hidden messages revealed by Ultra Violet light.  These occupy more of the stamp than previous issues making them more difficult to photograph.
Set of six stamps issued 18 August 2020 depicting scenes from the TV series Sherlock, picture provided by Royal Mail.
Royal Mail publicity picture showing printing in fluorescent ink

1st class - The Reichenbach Fall depicting Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) - fluorescent ink reads GET SHERLOCK in graffiti style; A Study in Pink depicting Doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman) - fluorescent ink shows one of Holmes' text messages.  (Baker Street come at once if convenient SH.  If not convenient come anyway SH. Could be dangerous SH.)


£1.42 The Great Game depicting James Moriarty (Andrew Scott), with fluorescent ink also revealing a text message: Found. The Bruce-Partington plans.  Please collect.  The Pool. Midnight; The Empty Hearse depicting Mary Morston who later married John Watson (Amanda Abbington). Fluorescent ink repeats the words Cat Lover, Clever, Liar, Disillusioned.

(This image is made from two photos)
£1.68 A Scandal in Belgravia depicting Lara Pulver (Irene Adler) Molly Hooper (Louise Brearly).
(my error) with fluorescent ink reading I AM SHER LOCKED; The Final Problem depicting Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss)  with fluorescent ink reading Seek my room.

Technical Details:
Designed by So Design Consultants the stamps are printed in litho by International Security Printers/ The 60 x 30 mm stamps are in se-tenant pairs. The size of the sheet is not specified but as it is possible to buy individual stamps in multiples of six, it is probably 6 x 6. (Until we hear otherwise!)

‘Sherlock’ television series © Hartswood Films Limited. All rights reserved.
With thanks to the family of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Conan Doyle Estate Limited.
The characters and names created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other associated materials are used under licence.
With thanks to Arthur Conan Doyle Characters Limited.

Miniature Sheet
The “Mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle Minisheet” features four of the author’s favourite mysteries in a style reminiscent of the inter-war years.

Sherlock Holmes miniature sheet - picture supplied by Royal Mail.

1st class - The Adventure of the Speckled Band
1st class - The Red-Hand League (from RM publicity)
                      I'm told that the stamp caption is correct: The Red-Headed League
£1.68 - The Adventure of the Second Stain
£1.68 - The Adventure of the Dancing Men
There is no fluorescent printing on these stamps.

Technical Details
The sheet was designed by NB Studio using illustrations by Lithuanian Karolis Strautniekas.  The 115 x 89 mm sheet containing 27 x 37 mm stamps was printed in litho by International Security Printers.

With thanks to the family of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Conan Doyle Estate Limited and Arthur Conan Doyle Characters Limited.
The characters and names created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other associated materials are used under licence.

Collector Sheet
The problem with having six stamp sets is trying to fit them into a 10-stamp sheet.  Royal Mail have solved this by having one of each of the higher value stamps, 2 x 1st class Dr Watson, and 4 x 1st class Sherlock.

As these are printed on self-adhesive paper they are collectably different.  With a selling price of £11.95 against the face value of £10.76 it is likely that the sheet - but not the individual stamps - will be listed in the Stanley Gibbons GB Concise Catalogue. In other catalogues, however,  the self-adhesive stamps are likely to be individually listed and there may be space in preprinted albums.

Royal Mail have not said whether these also have the fluorescent printing, but it seems likely.  UPDATE: MC has advised that Royal Mail's 'First' leaflet confirms 'each stamp reveals hidden secrets when placed under UV light'.   The ten labels "feature shots from the series".

Picture provided by Royal Mail
Retail booklet
The Sherlock retail booklet contains the two 1st class stamps from the miniature sheet together with 4 x 1st class Machin definitives coded MCIL M20L.  The W1 cylinder numbers are cyan, magenta, yellow, black, (definitive) red, irridescent and phosphor.

The booklet includes ‘The Red-Headed League’ and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band', two
stories that Conan Doyle said were his favourites when asked by The Strand Magazine in 1927. 
As with all Retail Books it is printed in gravure and the stamps are self-adhesive unlike the
individual stamps from the set. The printer is International Security Printers.
Sherlock retail booklet showing cylinder numbers (Norvic picture)

Other products
Presentation Pack, two first day covers, set of 11 stamp cards.
Framed sets (or mounted only if you don't like the black frames)
Coin covers for both the set and the miniature sheet.  Although these are produced by the Royal Mint and are described as coins they do not have the royal head on. I'm seeking clarification on this, just for the record.

As I am only now able to write about these due to other distractions, I can report that there has been a positive reaction in the press and on social media, though how many of those vowing that they 'must have them' will actually use any on letters remains to be seen.  I suspect very few.

And the airmail postage rates will rise on 1 September, so the £1.42 and £1.68 stamps will have to be supplemented by make-up values after that.

Friday, 31 July 2020

UK Basic International Postage Rates to rise 1 September 2020 due to Covid-19.

Another announcement from Royal Mail

Royal Mail has had to make changes to some of its International rates having experienced significant rising air freight costs due to passenger planes being grounded to limit the movement of people between countries to contain COVID19. 

The new 1st September tariff is necessary in order to meet the costs we have absorbed to date. 

There are no new Definitive or Country Definitive stamps issued at the new values. Post Office branches will make up the value of the postage with a range of stamp values. 

Tariff wef 01/09/2020
Up to 10g
£1.45 (1.42)
£1.45 (1.42)
£1.45 (1.42)
Up to 20g
£1.45 (1.42)
£1.70 (1.63)
£1.70 (1.63)
21g to 100g
£1.70 (1.68)
£2.50 (2.42)
£2.55 (2.42)

Note that this means that the Worldwide up to 20g rate is now the same as the Europe 100g rate, and that the rate to Singapore, Australia and the Pacific Islands now has a higher rate than the rest of the world.

UPDATE later same day:
I'm repeating John H's comment here
All the details of the new prices (including PDFS of the various price regimes) can be found on the page at Regarding the table above, Worldwide3 (USA) has the same prices as Worldwide1 (this isn't true for Large Letters or Printed Packets, where all 3 zones have different prices).

Zone 3 was introduced on 1 July with almost no notice, so at least this is an improvement. The increases have a knock-on effect on all premium services with differentials now on Large Letters as well as Small Parcels.  (Click on image to see larger versions)

New airmail postage rates from 1 July (left) and 1 September (right)

Effect on current stocks

For 2019 we know of printings for the basic make-up stamps as follows:
1p x 3
2p x 2
5p x 4
10p x3

So far this year we have single printings for the 2p and 10p - with these new rates requiring the addition of many make-up stamps, I think we can expect more printings soon, especially for the 1p & 5p.

£1.45 needs 1p + 2p
£1.70 needs 5p + 2p, or just 2p
£2.50 needs 5p + 2p + 1p
£2.55 needs 10p + 2p + 1p

The Rupert Bear stamp issue will be the first to include any of the new rates.

UPDATE 7 August.
I overlooked the Large Letter rate stamps which were issued in March.   

As well as the basic letter rates mentioned above, the following stamps will also need supplementary stamps to make the new rates:

£2.97  +1p+2p  = £3.00*
£3.66  + 2p+2p+5p = £3.75
£3.82  + 1p+2p+20p+20p = £4.25

* There is, of course, a £3 stamp though not generally available at Post Office Branches.  This may be brought back into general use.  It has been printed only in 2009 and 2019, but if large users buy these or Post Offices want to use them instead of multiple stamps, we may see a reprint in 2020. 

Special Postmarking Service to revert to normal timetables

Special Announcement from Royal Mail:

As a result of Covid-19 and the restrictions that were placed on individuals’ movements, Royal Mail took the decision at the end of March to extend its postmarking facilities for all Special Stamp issues until further notice. 

We promised that we would announce at the appropriate time when this extension would end and give customers sufficient notice of the cut-off period for accepting covers retrospectively. With these restrictions now being gradually eased throughout the UK we will revert to the normal postmarking rules from Thursday, 1st October. 

This means that Royal Mail First Day Covers for the following Special Stamp Issues will come off sale at midnight on that day and any covers submitted for postmarking bearing stamps from these issues must be received by Special Handstamp Centres by this date.

The Romantic Poets
End of the Second World War
Coronation Street
Roman Britain
The Palace of Westminster
Rupert Bear

The normal postmarking rules will apply to the Brilliant Bugs stamp issue which means that the Royal Mail First Day Covers will be available up until midnight on the First Day of Issue, 1st October.

So the useful flexibility will end at the end of September.  That's been useful and the service from the Handstamp Centres has been good as usual.  I had some (18 June) Roman Britain maximum cards back today which I sent on 9 July.  Still waiting for some, and for (8 May) WW2 which I sent after the Roman ones.