Saturday 31 March 2012

Unforeseen Circumstances

Hello Readers,

Billings Junior here - Due to unforeseen circumstances Ian will not be at his computer for a few days.

All should be well by the middle of the week - I will update you further then otherwise.

- John

Friday 30 March 2012

One man's take on the new postage rates

(The image has been reduced in size to make it suitable for the blog; to see a larger version, just click anywhere on the image.)

First published in the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich, England 29 March 2012.
Reproduced by kind permission of the EDP and of the artist Tony Hall to whom Copyright belongs.
Further reproduction strictly forbidden without permission of the artist.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Post Office Ltd instruct withdrawal of all Large Letter Jubilee stamps on the day after 'issue'

Further to our encouraging message on Monday regarding the release of the Large Letter Diamond Jubilee Machin Definitive Stamps we understand that Post Office branches were instructed today to remove from sale all Large Letter Diamond Jubilee stamps!

However given that many branches have no 1st gold Large Letter stamps - and I'm told that some at least had a similar message last week(!) - it seems unlikely that they will comply as to do so would mean that they were unable to sell those stamps to customers.  If stocks of the gold stamps are available at the stores in Swindon, it shows an alarming ineptitude in stock control.

Despite the clear authorisation by Post Office Ltd two days ago, Royal Mail are suggesting that the current sales are unauthorised.   If this is the degree of co-operation when both are part of one business, what level of co-operation will there be when Royal Mail is privatised?

PS: At the time of writing, Royal Mail say that the 1st class Large Jubilee stamps will be on the same first day cover as the new airmail tariff stamps (87p, £1.28 and £1.90) dated 25 April 2012.

Update 16:46 28 March on twitter: "Hi Ian, we are still selling the Large Letter Diamond Jubilee stamps."

Tuesday 27 March 2012

British Stamp collecting just got very expensive.....

... and the costs of mail order, including eBay auctions, will also hit small buyers.

Royal Mail have announced their 2012 price rises, to take effect from 30 April 2012.

Headline changes:

1st class letters rise from 46p to 60p
2nd class letters rise from 36p to 50p

1st class Large Letters up to 100g rise from 75p to 90p, while 2nd class rise from 58p to 69p;
the next step 101-250g rises from £1.09 to £1.20 1st and 92p to £1.10 2nd.

But a fundamental change comes in the restructuring of packet rates.  Currently as low as £1.58 and £1.33 for 1st & 2nd class under 100g (which would include very light electronic items in crush-proof boxes) the 100g, 250g & 500g steps have now been merged into a 750g minimum rate of £2.70 1st and £2.20 2nd.  The current 501-750g rate is thus reduced from £3.05 and £2.61, but all the other rates rise.

The recorded signed for premium rises from 77p to 95p.  Thus a 1st class RSF letter becomes £1.55 (from £1.23) and 2nd class £1.45 (from £1.13).

Special Delivery 1pm next day rises from £5.45 to £5.90 including postage.

Standard Parcels up to 2kg rise from £4.41 to £5.30.

Post Office Box users suffer a massive increase for the third year running, up this year from £170 to £185, now plus VAT at 20% making £222.

International rates: Airmail
The worldwide postcard, and European 20g letter rates rise from 68p to 87p. The Worldwide 10g letter (previously 76p) also becomes 87p.

The Worldwide Letter 20g rate rises from £1.10 to £1.28.

Small packets up to 100g rise from £1.49 to £2.70 Europe, and from £2.07 to £3.30 Worldwide.  This huge hike must be passed on to customers around the world who will see the costs of collecting rise.

Small Packets and Printer Papers over 100g change from 20g steps (to 300g, 100g steps thereafter) to steps for 101-150g, 151-200g and then 100g steps to 2kg.  As an example of the new prices 300g is up from £2.61 (E) and £4.26 (W) to £3.62 (E) and either £5.54 or £5.70 for World rates which are now resplit into two Zones.  Europe still includes all of the former USSR, right through to the Pacific, Zone 2 is Australasia, and Zone 1 is the rest of the world.

Surface Mail basic changes are 20g letters up from 66p to 77p,  100g small packets up from £1.12 to £2.20 (still cheaper than the airmail rates, but in future more expensive than current airmail rates.

International Signed For is up top from £4.95 to £5.15. Airsure rates are complicated by VAT so I'll look at them later.

A leaflet can be downloaded from Royal Mail's website.

Update: New Machin definitive stamps with values of 87p, £1.28 and £1.90 will be issued on 25 April 2012.   According to Doug Mayall the colours will be "87p Orange; £1.28 Emerald green; £1.90 Rhododendron (Amethyst)"  
I wonder if that 87p will be the same colour as the 9p that I am currently using with a 27p to make up the 2nd class rate?

We are awaiting any news of the previously announced and then cancelled 50p rust with one phosphor band, but have been told that instructions have been sent to branches to stop selling the current 50p grey (which has two phosphor bands of course).

Monday 26 March 2012

Diamond Jubilee Large Letter Machin officially on sale 27 March 2012

Post Office Ltd have officially confirmed that the Large Letter Diamond Jubilee Machin definitive stamp will be on sale at all branches from tomorrow, 27 March.

We believe that, aside from those branches that are already selling them, the Business Sheet and Retail Booklets will not be on sale automatically tomorrow as branches will only receive these when the order them to replenish stocks.  But you should, from tomorrow, find the counter sheet stamps are available even if the branch still has stocks of gold 1st class Large.

We still have no information about the official position regarding Royal Mail first day covers for this stamp.

See also:

Regarding the FDCs we understand that the official FDC will bear 87p, 1st Large, £1.28 and £1.90 in that order, reflecting the 1st Large new value of 90p even though when issued it's face value will be only 75p!

Update: here is our FDC with the three different Large Letter Jubilee stamps.


Saturday 24 March 2012

All Large Diamond Jubilee Machin Stamps now on sale at post offices.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the counter sheet stamps were available in early March.  The Business Sheet version was seen on eBay a week later.  The last piece of the jigsaw, the retail booklet of 4 was on sale in Post Offices last week. 

This has the lettering [JUBI]LFE to the right of the Queen's head, with the usual 'F' for (book of) four.

For the record, the counter sheet (LEE) and the Business Sheet (LBE) are shown below.

We understand that stock of gold 1st Large stamps in all three formats are exhausted at PO Supplies Department, Swindon, which is why these have been distributed early. From the point of view of Post Office Ltd the issue date of these is still 27 March (so initial stocks of at least the counter sheets must have been sent to all branches for issue on Tuesday).

However, as far as Royal Mail Tallents House is concerned, these stamps will be included in the presentation pack with airmail and make-up stamps for the (as yet unannounced) new tariff, and the jubilee stamps will not be issued/distributed until the new tariff stamps are distributed.

This almost certainly means that Royal Mail standing order customers will receive first day covers dated at least 2 weeks after the last of the three Large Jubilee stamps has been issued by Post Office Ltd, and probably 4 weeks after the (unrecorded) first day of sale of the counter sheet.

We understand that the official first day covers will bear all of the new stamps, which is something of a pity.  The new airmail and any make-up stamps probably won't be sold early at Post Office branches, but the official FDCs will bear all of the stamps, new and somewhat 'old'.

It would seem like a good time to prepare your own FDCs for the actual new stamps, and return the 'very-post-dated' standing order FDCs to Edinburgh for a refund!

What do you think?  Is there any point in having a FDC for either 27 March or mid-April for these Large Jubilee stamps?  Leave your comments, please!

Thursday 22 March 2012

Machin business sheet stamps, how to identify printers

For some years now Royal Mail have been moving towards eliminating other corporate identities from their products, with the printer's logo disappearing from sheet stamps, and the printers' names being eliminated from business sheets, booklets and even FDCs!

News that both De La Rue and Walsall Security Printers have printed the 1st Jubilee, 1st Large Jubilee, and 2nd class business sheets has had collectors reaching for their magnifiers to examine the gaps in the security cuts, although these are only an approximate guide.

Now an eagle-eye has noticed that the Forest Stewardship Council certification identifies the certificate owner (or printer) meaning that identification of the printer will be as easy on the booklets and business sheets as it is on the counter sheets (identified by plate/cylinder number prefix).

DLR products show the contract no. C020244 whereas Walsall products show the contract no. C023216. Just for completeness Cartor printings show the contract no. C100572.

Both the Diamond Jubilee Business sheets (1st-class and Large 1st-class) printed by Walsall replace the 'MIX Paper' (on DLR printings) with ' MIX Paper from responsible sources' on two lines.  

As another guide, Business sheets printed by DLR have the date and sheet no printed horizontally and those printed by Walsall have these details vertically.

Thanks to Keith W for this information.

Further technical details from the FSC website:

FSC-C100572  Cartor Security Printing SAS  FRANCE  valid from 16 Aug 2010 to 15 Aug 2015

FSC-C020244  De La Rue Security Print  UNITED KINGDOM valid from 4 Nov 2009 to  4 Nov 2014

FSC-C023216   Walsall Security Printers Limited   UNITED KINGDOM valid from 6 Aug 2009 to 5 Aug 2014

New London Home for BPMA

News Release>
22 March 2012>

Plans for a new home for The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) were announced today by the BPMA, Royal Mail Group and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA's unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history, including photographs, posters, vehicles, pillar boxes, employment records of millions of people and a world-class stamp collection.

Under a plan endorsed by the Government, the new centre will be established at Calthorpe House, on London's Mount Pleasant site, where the country's oldest mail centre is located. It is close to the existing home of the BPMA at Freeling House, which has very limited space for exhibitions and displays.
Royal Mail Group will grant a lease of 999 years for Calthorpe House, a property which will provide a secure foundation for the BPMA once redeveloped and extended. Agreements have been signed with Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd (POL) for a £6m long term, low interest loan to fund the conversion of Calthorpe House to meet the basic needs of the organisation. In addition, Royal Mail and POL are providing other support, including a £500,000 grant.

A fundraising campaign by the BPMA will be launched shortly to raise the remaining funds required to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility. The BPMA is an independent charity set up in 2004 to care for two significant collections: The Royal Mail Archive and the collections of the former National Postal Museum. It is the BPMA's mission to increase public access to these collections, making the story they tell of communication, industry and innovation accessible to everyone.
The new centre will allow the BPMA to exhibit objects from its fascinating museum collection, which is currently held in storage. It will also include educational facilities for visiting schools.

More details on the BPMA website >

This is very good news!

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Machin PSB Singles? Fill stamp album supplement spaces

It's about this time of year that the annual supplements for pre-printed albums start appearing, and you realise which stamps have been accorded individual status - and which ones you haven't got!

Just lately the changes of printers, and the inability of any of them to match shades properly have led to a lot of new Stanley Gibbons numbers, such as for these 5p stamps:


The Darwin - which was darker than anything before it - is SG Y1743s (chocolate) - the lighter shade is not separately mentioned in the Concise catalogue.
The Classic Album Covers stamp has the wrong font - SG Y743t.
The Britain Alone stamp is Y1743sb (red-brown), and the WWF version is Y1743sc (lake-brown).
The newest 5p stamp, from the Aerial Post Centenary PSB - new SG Concise number awaited.

And a similar situation applies to other values such as the 10p


All these and more are now available in our online shop - but some of them are in very short supply!

And if there is anything that you need and can't see, please send us a site email with details and we will tell you whether or not we can help.

Monday 19 March 2012

Monday round-up: Large Jubilee Business Sheet, and more coils on eBay

Large Jubilee definitive business sheets have been seen on the eBay auction site this week, meaning that we are now only waiting for the retail booklets of 4 to make an appearance and there will be little point in going through the pretence of having an official first day of issue in April !

The sheets currently listed are described as:

Printed by Walsall Security Printers
These stamps have the Diamond Jubilee overlay 
Date = 26/01/12
SSN = 0156293 - Printed Vertically
Type 1 Security Cut  =  NO INTERUPTED CUT on 'Paper Clip' Top and Bottom

And we have had more reports of the counter-sheet stamps being sold or received on letters.

Meanwhile also on eBay after the report of a 2nd class Sunday Times coil piece being sold for £113, a second example has been chased up to £129.66 in ten bids in a listing where bidders' identities were kept private for some reason.  Given that eBay hides the bidders' user-IDs through a a*****d code all this move by the seller does is hide how many unique bidders there were.  More people are finding these and I suspect the number now known about is around 30, although one dealer was reported to have 40 in stock. This has not been verified and I suspect there may have been some confusion with the gummed coil version.

Miscut Sheep Faststamp Packs are becoming more common - or at least they are being advertised for what they are by the sellers rather than being 'discovered' by knowing buyers. Royal Mail Tallents House must be surprised at the additional orders they are receiving, from people trying to get a different version to the one they were originally sent!

And over the weekend this blog passed 300,000 visits - thank you all for your interest, and keep sending the reports! 

Monday 12 March 2012

Post Offices sell Large Diamond Jubilee Machin stamps early.

As mentioned earlier in the blog, and on our website, the Diamond Jubilee

"1st class Large versions will be issued in March or April when the new tariff stamps are issued."

However, intent and actuality are not always the same thing, and as PO Supplies Department at Swindon have sent these to some Post Office branches already, some of those are selling them already.  This one came from a post office branch:

With the official first day of issue some weeks away, we will be interested to hear of any reports of these appearing on your mail!  Leave a comment !  (Thanks as usual to RP for the picture.)

Buyers pay dear for Sheep Faststamp Miscuts on eBay

The Sheep Faststamp packs have also been attracting attention on eBay.  As reported here, there are several versions of these. 

The correct version has the Welsh Mountain Badgerface as the top stamp, matching the write-up inside the pack.  Two other versions have been delivered to collectors as part of their bureau standing orders, with either the Soay or Suffolk stamp at the top of the strip.

These have been selling for upwards of £12 on eBay compared with the face value of £2.76.  If you buy, make sure that you get what is advertised: it is not unknown for sellers to use stock photos instead of scanning their items, and all the official pre-issue publicity images had the Soay at the top of the strip.  It is also possible, with great care, to resposition the stamps on the backing paper.  As all of the stamps on the strip have the same code numbers (ending 05) rearrangement will not be evident other than if the stamps are not properly lined up.

High prices on eBay for scarce Machin 2nd class coil stamp

The (in)famous Sunday Times Wine Club stamp, the 2nd class self-adhesive coil from the 2010 printing, has recently made a couple of appearances on online auction site eBay.

The first sale, which was for the whole mailshot, complete envelope and contents, sold for what many thought at the time was a too-low price of £56.  Now a single example from kiloware has been chased up to £113 by 6 bidders, and another has just started.  This doesn't have quite the same spray-on postmark as the STWC one so may be from another mailer.  I've been sent a picture of some other examples from kiloware, and while it isn't possible to confirm from the picture that they are all MA10/MRIL I have no reason to believe they are not:

Remember if you see one offered for sale, or find one yourself, that if there are no security slits, this is from the gummed coil, not the self-adhesive.  The perforations on vertical sides will be cut, and probably short; those at the top and bottom may be guillotined or torn.

Thursday 8 March 2012

New printer for Machin Stamp Business Sheets

Although Royal Mail provide plenty of publicity for their special and commemorative stamps, and other collectables, details of Machin definitives are often only provided if we ask - and not always then.

We have already reported that the new M12L printing of the 2nd class Machin stamp is printed by Walsall Security Print, rather than De La Rue (who have probably been busy printing new airmail rate stamps).  Now we have a suggestion that the Diamond Jubilee 1st class stamp in Business Sheets - issued only on 6 February this year printed by De La Rue - has now been printed by Walsall!

The gap in the security cuts is clearly different.  We don't yet know the printing date on the Walsall printing.

This is the Walsall-printed retail booklet of 12, with code MTND referred to by Anonymous in the comments. 

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Alignment error on Wincor Post and Go machines

A report from Durham showing significant variation on the printing alignment on their Wincor-Nixdorf Post and Go machine #1.

This is not uncommon, but there is clearly an additional blank line inserted between the 3rd & 4th label.

Thanks Brian for the image.

Monday 5 March 2012

Update on the 2012 Machin Security Stamps

We now have an image of the Machin 76p counter sheet from the M12L printing, so it seems appropriate to show it alongside the other 2012 printings.

2nd class retail book of 12 (MTIL) and Walsall printed business sheet (MBIL)

68p and 76p counter sheet stamps

New printer for Horizon labels - any differences??

According to Stamp Magazine for April, the contract for printing Horizon labels as moved from De La Rue to Walsall Security Print.

Royal Mail aims to have them looking the same, but as we know there is also a serial number on the back of the backing paper, and if that isn't different I will be very surprised.  These are expected to appear in the summer, and I look forward to receiving your reports and observations!

Friday 2 March 2012

Coming soon to a post office near you - rising prices.

Much has been written in the popular press about the possibility of the price of second class mail rising to 55p, and I outlined the arguments for this, and the public consultation here.

Over the last week a committee of members of parliament (the Commons Business Committee) has been considering the Royal Mail and OfCom proposals.  

On 21 February, the BBC reported that 
MPs have challenged a regulator about plans to remove price caps on first-class stamps and raise the price limit on second class to as much as 55 pence.

On 28 February....
Moya Greene told the Commons' Business Committee that the cost of stamps would have to rise.
Plans to increase the prices of stamps will not lead to an "affordability issue", the Royal Mail chief executive has told MPs.

Most of the British press - but not apparently the BBC - also reported on plans to allow benefits claimants to buy stamps for Christmas at current prices.  This from the Telegraph online:

"For the first time, stamp prices will be frozen for some pensioners and benefit claimants to help them with the cost of sending Christmas cards this year.  The deal will be limited to a few weeks in December and Royal Mail said customers would be rationed to prevent abuse of the scheme. It is preparing for a public backlash when it announces large rises in the cost of first and second-class stamps. 

Moya Greene, the chief executive of Royal Mail, told MPs on the business, innovation and skills committee that first and second-class Christmas stamps sold over the festive period would be pegged to 2011 prices for “vulnerable families”. She said that more than half of all consumer mail was sent over the Christmas period. "

This was under the headline: 
Millions to be offered cheap Christmas stamps as Royal Mail fears price rise anger 

The Daily Mail headline, however, told a different story:

Outrage over Royal Mail plan to offer cheaper stamps to five million claiming benefits

So how would that work, and how would it be controlled?  And why is it that if - according to Royal Mail - the average individual posts only one letter per week, that the extra 15-19 pence would be so much of a hardship?  Although prepared for a public backlash over the price rise, Royal Mail appears unconcerned by a backlash from hard-pressed taxpayers and businesses subsidising others - because surely the cost of these cheap stamps must be factored in to calculating the new tariffs that everybody else will be paying?

Maybe the clue is in the last sentence - "more than half of all consumer mail was sent over the Christmas period".  Of course Christmas is a very expensive time for everybody who buys cards and presents.  So why give a discount on both 1st and 2nd class stamps?  If those on benefit plan their Christmas posting they can send everything 2nd class, so they won't need discounts on 1st class stamps.  (Anyway, at Christmas there's little point in using 1st class stamps as most of the post travels together!)  

How many people would benefit?  The Mail figures show some 4.5 million on one or another state benefit.  Assuming they post half of their average 1 letter per week at Christmas, that's 26 each making 117 million stamps.  And at, say, 16p each (assuming a rise from 36p to 52p) that's £18,720,000 that has been factored in to the new prices to ensure that Royal Mail doesn't lose any more, because the rest of us will pay the full price.

Today the BBC reports that:

Stamps price rise is backed by MPs

A committee of MPs has given its backing to a planned rise in the price of stamps, despite raising concerns about the cost to vulnerable people.
The Commons Business Committee said it was "appropriate" for the price of first class stamps to increase above the current 46 pence.  It also accepted that second-class stamps should go beyond the current price of 36p.

I'm sure that will give all of you a nice warm feeling that you are helping the needy.

Another new Machin Security Stamp for 2012

Following yesterday's announcement - which news was about a week old - today I've been sent these pictures of the 2nd class business sheet with M12L year code.

The printing date is 19/01/12 and the style of the date and the side of the gaps in the security slits suggests that this might be a printing from Walsall Security Printers rather than De La Rue.  This may well be the case if DLR are busy printing different values for the tariff changes, which have yet to be approved.

Update 6 March: Royal Mail have confirmed that this business sheet is printed by Walsall

Thursday 1 March 2012

Sheep Faststamp Packs with mis-cut strips

The Farm Animals Faststamps (Post and Go stamps) available from Royal Mail and some Post Offices were not printed wholly by Walsall in gravure as the Birds were, but had the service indicator etc overprinted using the Hytech dispensing machines used previously at Stampex, on basic Walsall stock as supplied to Post Offices for their Wincor Nixdorf machines.

The publicity image of the strip and the pack had the Soay breed at the top:

However the stamps dispensed at Stampex, and the packs we received, have the Welsh Mountain Badgerface at the top.  This is because the description printed in the pack has that breed at the top. Nonetheless, some packs have been produced with strips miscut with the Soay at the top!  Despite assertions by some that all registered dealers received the miscut packs, this is not the case and I know of at least one* collector who received his as part of his standing order.  So check yours!

* OK, it seems like everybody who writes now has got the miscut pack, so maybe all standing order customers got them?  Anybody needing one of the correct ones and wanting to do a straight swap, please email ian AT 

Is there no end to this??   At least three Royal Mail customers have received their orders from Tallents House with yet another variation of the miscut, with the Suffolk stamp at the top of the strip!
Thanks to Kevin for this image.  
 Once again anybody needing one of the correct ones and wanting to do a straight swap, please email ian AT

And another:  MikeE has reported that his pack has the Dalesbred stamp at the top of the strip! 

2012 Machin Security stamps in circulation

A week after Stampex, and all Faststamp FDCs are done and off to the handstamp centres, almost all emailing up to date, so it's time for a blog update, and there's a lot of news.

The new postage rates have not yet been announced, and Royal Mail have said that the new Large Letter Diamond Jubilee stamps (sheet, business sheet and booklet) will be issued on the same (as yet unannounced) day as the new tariff stamps - Machins and Country definitives.  As already reported and corrected, there will not be a new 50p definitive.  The Large Letter Jubilee stamp will look something like this:

2012 Security stamps

The 2nd class retail book of 12 (MTIL/M12L) stamp has already been reported, and now there are some surprise 2012 versions of last year's new tariff stamps.  The 68p is shown with a better picture of the 2nd class - with irridescent layer shifted slightly right. (Thanks to Chris H for the 68p report.)

We have a small quantity of both of these which are being allocated to existing customers first and will be added to our online shop when we have more supplies, together with the other values as they are available.   The 68p M12L stamp was reprinted on 25/01/12 and as its life is short (only until the rates change) you should look out for it and the others at post offices.
Thanks to Richard P for the images!

Date watchers have been mightily confused by Royal Mail's policy on Year Codes!

Recently discovered reprints are the £1 dated 12/01/12 and the 76p dated 10/01/12.  Both these are  M11L, despite being printed in 2012.  The 76p has also been founded dated (like the 68p) 25/01/12 with a M12L code.  (Note the £1.10 and £1.65 will also exist M11L from  10/01/12 and M12L 25/01/12 if previous printing layout is followed.)  It's odd that the £1 is reprinted again so soon as the last known printing was only 30/08/11.

Other new dates; the 1st class 2011 is reported with 20/10/11 and the 2p, 5p and 20p self-adhesive (which still haven't made it to all post offices) exist with:

Back in January we reported a shortage of stamps at post offices and the early use of Roald Dahl commemoratives instead.  With the postage rate change not yet announced, and an heavy programme of stamp issues in the summer, the three printers on Royal Mail's books are going to be busy in the next few weeks!

April: Tariff change, Machin and country definitives (DLR & Cartor)
31 May: Diamond Jubilee set and PSB (retail book by Walsall unaffected as all 1st class)
19 June: Charles Dickens set and MS
27 July: Olympic Games welcome
27 August: Paralympic Games welcome
27 Sept: Olympic and Paralympic Memories
16 Oct: World of Dinosaurs
30 Oct: Space Science
8 Nov: Christmas set and MS