Friday 27 January 2012

Birds 1 Faststamps v2 - validly issued in Cambridge

Just when we thought there could be nothing else to report on the birds, a report from Cambridge that Birds 1 was in use in machine 2 this week.  They were probably loaded in the machine on 23rd/24th, and were probably exhausted late on 25th or during 26th.

This is a set produced on 25 January.

Our reporter writes:  "Normal usage is 95-100 transactions per day (and is remarkably constant) and there were 193 transactions in a day and a half. So someone may have bought a number of strips with individual receipts."

Despite our best endeavours (thanks John and Richard) we didn't manage to get any of these for our customers - yet.  Apparently the person who loaded these into the machine "wasn't aware that it was old stock, or that the stamps were different from the current birds stamps."  So if Cambridge can have some old birds hidden in a back-office, so could other Birds 1 offices!

Happy New Year - 2012 security code found

The first Machins with a 2012 year code have been found - the retail book of 12 x 2nd class, with code M12L MTIL.

When we get stocks we will keep these for regular customers and add them to our online shop.
(sorry, we still don't have any! 10 Feb 2012)

Thanks to RP for passing on this from JB.

Thanks also to Kevin who reports that the booklets have a packing date of 03/01/12 - and they've managed to get them into Post Offices already.  This is Swindon-delivered stock, not something sent out from Royal Mail Direct to a corner shop or supermarket!  That doesn't mean, of course, that Swindon might not have 2011 stock under the 2012. It does make me wonder how big the print run was for the 2011 12 x 2nd with FSC advert issued only at the end of last October. 

Let us know if you find any of the 2012 stamps!  Booklets from non-post office outlets seem to be the most likely finds, but 12 x 1st are unlikely as the uncoded Jubilee stamps are in use.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Faststamps Font error in full

Early in December we mentioned the incorrect font on the Worldwide 40g stamps being dispensed from Kiosk 3 at St Vincent Street, Glasgow.

We've now been sent  a Collectors Set from the same machine.  Our set shows the Machins but sets were also printed on Birds 4 stock.   As has been observed before the 10g Worldwide stamp is missing the weight, and thus has no indication of its value.

The 40g stamp has the weight in the correct font.  The other 4 stamps have the weight in the original font.

It has been suggested that this happens when the machines are returned to a default setting.  However in the original setting it was not possible to select 40g, and the Worldwide 10g stamp was not produced on the 'stamps for later' menu, but on the 'post now' menu (which otherwise used the wider non-pictorial label stock).

It remains to be seen how catalogue editors deal with the Faststamp variations.  We know that some so-called errors have been produced, especially on Hytech machines, when the customer has pulled the free end of the strip, causing misprinting and sometimes blank labels in a strip of 7.  Birds 2 & 3 have been legitimately used by post offices instead of Birds 4.

In the Stanley Gibbons Concise catalogue 2011 edition a separate catalogue number has been allocated to each of the 5 service indicators so clearly an additional number or sub-number will need to be used for the Machin, Birds 2 & 3 sets. (Birds 4 is not included in the 2011 edition and a 40g value was available on the first day, so its inclusion in the catalogue should not be a problem).  There are also rumours that a part-roll of Birds 1 was used up in a machine after the upgrade and 40g stamps and/or collectors sets produced.  Doubts have been cast upon the legitimacy of these if they exist.  In the same way, until the truth about the circumstances of the production is known,  one might question the use of Birds 2 at offices not originally supplied with that set.
Update: Birds 1 now confirmed legitimately issued from Cambridge - see here

But maybe Messrs Gibbons will revise the catalogue to a more logical 'by design' listing, with sub-numbers for the different values.

Finally here's an example of the 10g stamp with the missing value taken as a 40g stamp to make up the total for this 40g International Signed For item to Australia

Monday 23 January 2012

Thank you for your posts to test comments accessibility

It seems that for the majority of people the problems are now resolved.  Details in this comment which was left last week may explain the problems:

Google do not support the following browsers in their apps, which may well include blogger:

- Microsoft Internet Explorer 7
- Mozilla Firefox 3.5
- Apple Safari 3″

And I would assume any lesser versions are implied as also unsupported.

Microsoft itself stopped supporting IE6 early last year - and has a website dedicated to killing it off.. anyone still using this browser should certainly upgrade to a newer version or IE for their own safety.

Differences reported with IE9 working for some and not for others could be accounted for by IE9 tripping into 'compatibility mode' which is supposed to mirror IE8 but in reality creates a sort of halfway house between 8 and 9, and isn't guaranteed to act like either.

Original message included
Some readers are having problems seeing existing comments and seeing comments on other blog entries.

Thank you for your help in identifying op systems and browsers which experienced problems.

Postage rates to rise - when, by how much, and why?

We all know that postage rates rise every year, and that this inevitably has an effect on the cost - and indeed the very continuance of - of our collections.  There has been much written in the mainstream press in recent days about the fact that "second class post will rise to 55p", but the speculation inevitably masks the full story.
(Royal Mail) said it is hoping to increase second class stamps by 53 per cent from 36p to 55p, and insisted that the increase was still “affordable” for “vulnerable groups”.
The price of second class stamps would then rise further by inflation every year for seven years. There would be no limit on the price of a first class stamp, which currently costs 46p. 

Ofcom, the new postal regulator, published proposals in October 2011 "designed to ensure that UK consumers continue to benefit from a universally-priced, affordable postal service, six days a week. 
"The central aim of the proposals is to make what is known as the Universal Service Obligation (USO) placed on Royal Mail financially sustainable. Without regulatory changes there is a risk that Royal Mail may not be able to continue to deliver the USO to the same standard.
"Ofcom therefore proposes to give Royal Mail freedom to set its own prices for the majority of its products including:
  • First Class deliveries – letters, large letters (A4 in size and up to 750g in weight) and parcels;
  • Second Class deliveries – for large letters and parcels up to 1Kg in weight;
  • standard parcels;
  • business mail – metered or franked mail and pre-printed envelopes; and
  • bulk mail – mainly large businesses sending a large volume of post in a single mailing for example, bank statements.
"Ofcom proposes to put a price cap of between 45p and 55p on Second Class stamps for standard letters to protect vulnerable customers from significant price rises. The cap would be indexed in line with inflation."

But why is there a risk that Royal Mail may not be able to continue to deliver the USO to the same standard" ?   The answer lies in the meat of the Consultation Paper

"1.21 There is widespread recognition that the approach to regulation adopted in the past, has failed in the face of the particular circumstances affecting this sector. 
1.22 To date, the approach adopted has been based on price controls - similar to those used in most other utility sectors. In normal circumstances this approach is an effective means of preventing private operators from earning excessive profits, thereby providing incentives for firms to reduce costs, while at the same time protecting consumers from excessive prices. It is an approach that is widely used by regulators, including Ofcom, to regulate private operators with significant market power. 
1.23 The recent experience of postal regulation, however, has demonstrated all the weaknesses of price controls with none of the benefits. In a highly uncertain market, price controls have removed the flexibility that would allow Royal Mail to adjust to changes in demand, while at the same time Royal Mail has been unable to improve efficiency, either at the rate expected by the regulator when the price control was set, or at the rate set by its own internal targets at the time. 
1.24 Furthermore, price controls on Royal Mail have served less and less to protect customers from price rises. Since 2006 Royal Mail's financial position has led it to apply to the regulator for price rises over and above those consistent with the regulatory formula. In November 2010 Royal Mail applied to Postcomm for additional flexibility to increase prices, resulting in price rises averaging 12% for 2011-12. In the light of its primary duty towards the universal service, Postcomm granted these applications. 
1.25 We therefore consider that price controls in this sector have failed in recent years. The reasons for this are clear. First, in a highly uncertain market environment, where the level and pattern of demand is so unclear, it is not feasible to expect to predict accurately whether a given price trajectory is sufficient to allow the universal service to be financed. If the price control that is set turns out to be to be too tight, it will not allow for the universal service to be financed. If, on the other hand, it is set too loosely, it will provide little protection and inadequate efficiency incentives."

Both Ofcom papers are very interesting reads.  They demonstrate that the competition faced by Royal Mail is not, as is common in some European countries, end-to-end competition.  Competition in the UK is based on access by other operators to Royal Mail's delivery network.  Ofcom therefore proposes
  • imposing an access condition on Royal Mail to oblige it to grant access at inward mail centres;
  • not to regulate the price of access, to enable Royal Mail to set prices in a way that covers the costs of the network; and
  • ensuring, by means of a 'margin squeeze test', that the difference between the access price and retail price is kept at a level that allows efficient access competitors to compete effectively.
Royal Mail has repeatedly indicated that downstream access costs money because of controls on the price they can charge.  Removal of this control should help restore the letters and packets postal service to profitability.

We'll be interested to see how things develop and at what level the new prices will be set.  As the Ofcom report will not be published until early February it is quite likely that this year's price rise will not take place at the end of March as usual, and early May seems more likely.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Diamond Jubilee Miniature Sheet and Business Sheet

I can now show the actual miniature sheet and business sheet for this issue.


Printing date for the Business Sheet is 02/12/11.  The security source codes are MMND for the miniature sheet and MBND for the business sheet.  

Images of source codes:

The stamps are printed in four colour process (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) rather than the original colours, and registration is not perfect in some cases. See this example:


Diamond Jubilee booklet

The covers of the new Diamond Jubilee booklet match the colour of the stamps inside, so it's goodbye to gold and hello to the wishy-washy-grey-blue.  Calling it 'diamond blue' doesn't really make it any better.  Word is that at the end of the jubilee year we will see 'flame' or orange again instead of gold.
Here are some pictures:

The cylinder numbers are W1 blue, W2 phosphor, W1 transparent/silver overlay.

Pack details are:
SB12F JUB, 25/10/11, 
barcode 5 014721 112329

Wednesday 18 January 2012

50th Ann of James Bond - Commemorative Sheet 1 May 2012

Royal Mail are marking the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series with a very special limited edition commemorative sheet, featuring ten iconic Bond movie poster labels alongside ten, first class, Union Flag stamps.

With 22 movies to choose from however, the task of deciding exactly which of the iconic Bond images will make it into the pack is fiendishly difficult. Which is where you come in because the final ten posters will be chosen not by Royal Mail, but by you, Bond’s most loyal fans. Every Bond movie poster from the last 50 years is available here to view, allowing you the once in a lifetime opportunity to decide which of your favourite ten will be immortalised in this special edition.

The individually numbered, limited edition Commemorative Sheet celebrating 50 years of James Bond will be launched by Royal Mail on 1st May 2012.

The sheet will be similar to this one for Halley's Comet.

Even if you don't want to buy it you can influence which posters are included and say that you had a say in the design of one of Royal Mail's expensive collector's products.

Royal Mail rejected a proposal by a customer to create a sheet showing bawdy cartoon picture postcards such as were/are sent in their millions every year on the grounds of possible offence due to near-nudity etc. Now look at the James Bond selection. I wonder if they will include the top ten voted for if they include, for example, For Your Eyes Only, which was topping the poll when I made my selection?

Updated April 2012 - See comments: RM rejects another Bamforth postcard Business Sheet.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Diamond Blue 1st class Machin - Security Codes

We're reliably informed that security codes are present on the Diamond Jubilee Machin definitives from booklets - and probably business sheets and possibly the miniature sheet.

The booklet code is the letter T as usual (for Twelve).  The changed text is behind the hair 'bun' on the Queen's head where MOND reads MTND.  We do not expect any year codes as this colour will only be issued in 2012.  

The code for the Miniature sheet is MMND in the same place, and I think we can safely assume that the code for business sheets is  MBND.

Pictures as soon as we have them.

Friday 13 January 2012

Friday 13th - lucky for some!

We've had a report that a sheet of Diamond Jubilee definitives was bought from an office in Scotland this morning - over 3 weeks early!  Surely they can't have sold all their Olympic/Paralympic definitives already?

We can now show the actual Diamond Jubilee definitive - thanks to James for sending this:


The Glasgow postmark uses roman numerals for the month, so this reads 13 I 2012

Thanks to James also for this image which better shows the security overlay:


If you find any in post offices, or receive any early-release covers we would be pleased to picture them here - with your address blurred, of course.

Thursday 12 January 2012

A-Z of the United Kingdom, Part 2

We are now able to reveal the subjects of the A-Z part 2 (or M-Z) set to be issued on 10 April 2012.

As we expected, this is a bit like those philatelic society evenings where you show "Anything beginning with ...." and use any device possible to fit your favourite stamps or postal history items into the letter concerned.

The subjects are:
• Manchester Town Hall.
• Narrow Water Castle, Northern Ireland.
• Old Bailey.
• Portmeirion, Wales.
• The Queens College Oxford.
• Roman Baths.
• Stirling Castle, Scotland.
• Tyne Bridge.
• Urquart Castle, Scotland.
• Victoria and Albert Museum - with the EUROPA logo
• White Cliffs of Dover.
• Station X Bletchley Park.
• York Minister.
• ZSL (Zoological Society of London) London Zoo.


The stamps will, as far as we know, be printed in strips of 7 in two sheets.  They will thus vie with the Battle of Hastings se-tenant strip of 4d values to be the most difficult to mount in an album!  More details will be on our website in due course.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Business Sheets - Type 1 & Type 2 slits

Security stamps were first issued way back in 2009, with the counter sheet stamps being issued in February and the Business sheets having a philatelic release on 31 March. 

Specialists soon found that the security slits existed in various types - each U-shaped slit could be coninuous, or divided; and the size of the division also varied, and some basic stamps existed in both types, especially those from business sheets.   I highlighted some of these differences at the time as did Roy on MachinMania.  

I said at the time that the Type 2 slits were more difficult to see on the 1st class stamps than on the 2nd.
In the few instances where we have had sufficient to sell in our online shop, I include the following warning in the description of the Type 2 (divided) slits:

NOTE: the breaks in the U-shaped slits are not consistent in the sheets, and some are very difficult to see. Royal Mail advised that, at least for some printings, the 'breaks' were made individually to the existing die-cutter.

The differences are so difficult to see on some sheets that when filling orders I carefully examine the stamp through a magnifying glass, holding it up with the light behind it to be sure which one I have.  Recently I found some Business sheet tops that I had put aside. Having determined from the date (27/05/09) that they are the 2009 (ie undated) issue, I checked whether they had type 1 or 2 slits, and that's where the fun begins.

One 1st class sheet top has a mix of stamps.  
The first two stamps in the row definitely have 4 divided slits - type 2.  
Stamp 4 has 4 undivided slits, type 1 - absolutely no indication that the die-cut has has extra breaks added.  
Stamp 3 has a fairly obvious break at the foot of the left slit, and a barely discernable break at the top of the right slit.  The top left and lower right U-shapes are complete, ie Type 1!

Now maybe others found all this out - and published it - at the time, but I don't recall reading it then.  It does make one wonder how these should be identified, distinguished and even collected.  But it does mean that I have added some more Type 1 2nd class and Type 2 1st class from 2009 to our shop. So if you've tried to buy and found we've been out of stock, come back - they're here!

Friday 6 January 2012

Olympic / Paralympic definitives updated, again - and again!

Not for the first time distribution of the first stamps of the year has left collectors frustrated, and it seems that many collectors will not get their home-made FDCs for some weeks.
As already reported, the automatic distribution of stamps in sheets has been achieved but it seems that there just wasn't an automatic distribution of booklets.  OK, so the stamps in booklets are the same as those in counter sheets (to all but the specialist), but many collectors like to collect FDCs of booklets which include the advertisement panel on the inside front cover.

Readers will recall that there are two different 6 x 1st class booklets for this issue. 
The cover of booklet A shows the left of the Union flag, whilst the inside cover has a list of Key Dates for London 2012.  Booklet B has the right part of the Union flag with a quote from Seb Coe.  Two quite different booklets which are identifiable from the cover.  Many smaller post offices and some Crown offices have none at all, while Bristol's main post office has 20 packs but all of type B and none of type A.  

Several people have written about their experiences in trying to find these stamps, first day covers, stamp cards etc.  Two Midlands Crown Offices have told collectors that there are no Stamp Cards.  Bristol is reported to have had only 10 first day covers.  Anybody trying to find these on the Royal Mail website will find that the shop site is much improved, though the search facility is still underperforming.  Search for 'olympic' and the two booklets appear.  Browse through the 'stamp products' to 'stamp cards' and the Stamp Cards for this issue are there, so the Advice Line that told one of the Crown Offices that there were no stamp cards is wrong - or the website is wrong!

This is the full list of products as shown in Royal Mail's 'first' brochure:

Mint stamps - set of 4 - remember two designs for each of 2 values: DS958  £3.12 *
Stamp cards - set of 4 - DQ022 (£1.80)
Stamp Booklet type B (dates) - UB339 (£2.76)
Stamp Booklet type A (Coe quote) - UB338 (£2.76)

Presentation pack - DP058 (£3.65)
Coin Cover - AN082 (£17.50)
Silver Proof coin cover - AN083 (£99.50)

(Update) If you collect cylinder blocks note that Royal Mail have been sending blocks of 4 (columns) x 3 (rows) to standing order customers, rather than 2 x 3.  If you are ordering individual blocks, the two different 20g sheets have the same bar-code and the same short name (WW20G) printed in the margin.  
For the block with the last line starting with an Olympic stamp, you need grid rows 1 or 3.
For the block with the last line starting with a Paralympic stamp, you need grid rows 2 or 4.

Post Offices have also been reporting that these will initially be on sale for a only month.  This is correct.  As we have already reported:

They are available from 05 January 2012 through to 30 January 2012
when they will be replaced by the Jubilee Definitive. The Olympic
Definitive will be re-introduced at PO Counters on the 27 June 2012 when
they will also be issuing a Generic Sheet.

Further update from Brian (remember packs of booklets supplied to us and to POs have contained 50 of one type or the other):
Retail packs of booklets have been found with 50 books alternating between the two covers. Type A, Type B, Type A and so on. I found the first pack in my local Sainsbury’s on the Friday after the first day of issue. The packs were produced by Walsall about 8 days after the initial stock in separate packs. Pack dates that I have seen are 15/11/11.
Extra update from Kevin - apparently these mixed packs are also being distributed to some post offices - but in 6 packs not a single cylnder number was found. 

I hope this clarifies the scope of this new issue.  Remember that if you do want to make FDCs of the booklets they can be handed over most PO counters for the special handstamp.  Or they can be sent to the Special Handstamp Centres after the date of issue, if you include a note explaining why they are late there will not normally be a problem in getting them cancelled.

How did Birds 2 Faststamps get to Yeovil Post Office ?

As reported here, the upgrade to version 2 of the Post and Go machines has produced 40g versions of the Birds 4, Birds 3 and even Birds 2 Faststamps.

Now we've evidence that Birds 2 was being sold at Yeovil just after before* and after Christmas - and that office wasn't even on the Birds 2 original list.  So how did this arise?  Are there still stocks at Swindon awaiting distribution?
* We've been told of Yeovil sales on 23 December.

 Thanks to Roy for this report!

Thursday 5 January 2012

Shortage of stamps at POs reported

Just when you thought there were too many stamps being issued and too few being used, some areas are reporting severe shortages.  

Before Christmas there were many reports in the press of branch POs running out of stamps, a situation not helped by the failure of Royal Mail's website upgrade to proceed as planned and the non-availability of the Smartstamp and PayPal/eBay 'print postage' facilities.

Although extra stamps were ordered in many cases they arrived too late for the peak demand, and we understand that the shortages have continued into the new year.  At least one office was using all the Roald Dahl values on Tuesday 3rd January (a week early) simply because they had too few other stamps. Shortages of the 68p stamp are reported to be particularly acute.  I wonder if they broke up the prestige books - which are now sold above face value - look out for this stamp dated before 10 January!

UPDATE from Bristol:
Only 10 Olympic Definitive FDC blanks available
No stampcards
Only one of the two retail booklets: 20 packs in stock all the same :-(

Well, TJ, my sub-office hasn't got ANY Olympic booklets on the day of issue, though I will concede that our village doesn't rank as high as the city of Bristol when it comes to demand!

UPDATE: Thanks to David R I can now show a picture of the 68p Roald Dahl postmarked at the Jubilee Mail Centre on 4 January 2012 (this was supplied on 7 January but I didn't have time to show it right away).

My postmaster told me this week (14 Feb) that he ordered 68p stamps in December and has still not had any provided !!
On twitter, Post Office Ltd said: recently there has been a high demand for these stamps, due to this; it's taking more time to fulfil branch orders. Sorry for any inconvenience.