Monday 6 February 2012

Major developments in British philately over the last 20 years.

At the start of the year the American weekly, Linn's Stamp News, ran an article by respected philatelist and writer on British stamps David Alderfer about what he regarded as the major developments in British philately over the last 20 years (January 9, 2012, edition).

His five key factors/events are shown, with a summary of his reasoning:
1. The introduction of elliptical perforations to Machin definitives. Initially album pages had an odd look as some stamps had traditional and others the new perforations, but now we all expect them as a matter of course.

2. Unsoakable gum - a development also adopted by the US postal service. Many collectors collect the new security-featured stamps on paper, neatly cut out.

3. Computer-generated labels, specifically the Horizon label - are they stamps?  Collectors had to decide whether to include these in their collections.

4. Discontinuation of postage due stamps in January 2000 - the end of a chapter and facet of British stamp collecting.

5. The introduction - and abandonment - of the £10 Britannia, the British stamp with the highest face value ever.  Comparison with the £5 Queen Victoria and its present value.
Such an article is always a personal opinion, and should encourage discussion among collectors. Whilst I agreed with some of the writer's suggestions I thought there were other events and changes which collectors of GB might think more important.  The editors of Linn's didn't have room for another article of the same size but were kind enough to publish some of my suggestions as a letter.

The three points which Linn's had room for (February 13 edition) were these:
a. The introduction of pictorial country definitives in 2001.  Machin collectors in particular had to decide whether to include these stamps in their Machin collections now that the main feature was not the Queens' head.

b. The introduction of Post & Go vending machines, producing not only the 'post it now' labels (which reduce the number of postage stamps used), but also the Machin Faststamps.  Again, Machin collectors were faced with a dilemma - is it a stamp, how many different ones to include in a collection. And then when the pictorial Faststamps were issued, up a whole new area of collecting opened up.

c.  Also of major significance in recent years has been Royal Mail's concentration on new markets, attracting 'niche' collectors. The 'Action for Species' started in 2007 and the Kings and Queens series started in 2008. All the stamps in these series have been kept on sale for a number of years, instead of being taken off sale 12 months after issue as previously. Royal Mail acknowledged that they no longer cater for 'completist' collectors but, with new thematic subjects, are targetting new collectors who may go on to buy more than they were originally attracted to. This has made acquisition of a complete collection – with all issued varieties – ever more expensive.
Two other points:
a. It was the security overprint rather than the introduction of water-soluble gum on the security stamps which was not the key factor, and which put the hunt back into collecting as most variations are not available from Royal Mail's philatelic service.  As we know, for one variation only 5 used copies are known.

b. The Horizon labels introduced in 2002 were not of interest to most collectors, apart from the fact that it reduced the number of stamps used.  Rather it was the later change to the Machin-head label which was of interest, particularly Machin collectors.
So what do you think?  Look back over the last 20 years, leave a comment, on what you think has been significant in the collection of British stamps between 1991 and 2011 !


  1. If I may, I think what David was referring to regarding the unsoakable self-adhesive stamps was that collectors can no longer use the time-honored method of soaking stamps in water. Either they have to leave the stamps on paper or use a more complex and costly method to free the stamps.

    Other changes in the last 20 years that I think are worth mentioning are:

    1. Self-adhesive stamps (soakable or not)

    2. Stamps with a design indicating that they are for overseas/airmail service.

    3. The change of high value stamps to small size (ending a tradition that started in the 1860s), and then the removal of the stamps from sale in most areas.

    --Larry, a close friend and sometime co-author with respected philatelist and writer, David Alderfer.

    1. Larry, thanks for your comment.

      I'm sure you're right on several counts. I had forgotten that the first self-adhesives (1993) were within the period as well.

      I think what David's article, my response, and yours demonstrate is that there have been significant developments affecting British philately as well as stamp collecting if one wants to make a distinction.

      I'll add, below, some comments made on another forum.

  2. Comments made on the forum include:

    1. The apparent cessation of cancelling any stamps unless they have to?

    2. I just cannot believe that they do not sell cylinder blocks, papers etc.
    It is good that the 'hunt' is back [but only because the RM would not realise it was on - who did let the fox out?]

    3. Country pictorial definitives started in 1999 not 2001. (My error, I forgot that England, first in the catalogue, joined the party later than the other three.)

    4. the introduction of the self-adhesive stamp (1993);
    the introduction of definitives & commemoratives in one booklets (2001);
    the introduction of the smilers sheets (2000);
    the newly-discovered importance of miniature sheets (1999).

    Thanks to everybody for those comments.


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