Tuesday 31 December 2013

Second Football Heroes Retail Stamp Book will be issued at Stampex

The original Football Heroes issue included a retail booklet containing the stamps of Bobby Moore (England) and George Best (Northern Ireland) and four 1st class Machin definitives.

The second retail booklet will be issued on 20 February 2014 containing the stamps of John Charles (Wales) and Dave Mackay (Scotland).

At one time Royal Mail said that this booklet would be issued in Autumn 2013 so it is likely that the Machin definitives have the same M13L code as the first booklet. (Contrary to what is reported in the February Philatelic Bulletin p 166.)

UPDATE 27 January:
These special postmarks are available for the booklet, which is issued on the same day as the Classic Locomotives of Wales miniature sheet.  Stampex postmarks will also be available.

Ref 13040 - Swansea - available from Wales & West SHC
Ref 13035 - Edinburgh - available from Scotland and N Ireland SHC, Tallents House
Ref 13033 - Birmingham - available from Midland SHC

Which 10 stamps would you rescue to take to a desert island ?

In March 2014 Royal Mail celebrates another selection of remarkable individuals from the realms of sport, design, economics, heroism and the arts. The set commemorates individuals who were born in 1914.

Royal Mail's Christmas-period press release showed only the Sir Alec Guiness stamp, but also from the stage and films the set includes Kenneth More and Joan Littlewood, and from broadcasting Roy Plomley, famous for creating the still-running radio programme Desert Island Discs. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and football player and manager Joe Mercer are also included. 

Less well known are economist and broadcaster Barbara Ward, molecular biologist and Nobel laureate Max Perutz, Special Operations Executive agent Noorunissa Inayat Khan executed by the Gestapo at the age of 30, and graphic designer Abram Games who designed the Festival of Britain emblem, amongst many other posters.

The 10 black and white stamps will be 35mm square and printed in litho by International Security Printers and issued on 25 March.  The set will be printed in two sheets of 25 stamps enabling collectors and users to buy multiples of a single design.

Monday 23 December 2013

Happy Christmas to all our readers!

Thank you for any or all of
  • being a customer;
  • being a blog reader and commenter;
  • supplying information for new blog posts or additions to existing ones;
If you read the blog you are one of over 1400 a day!

We hope you all have a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year

Ian, Val and John Billings

Changes to Royal Mail's international services proposed for 2014

It seems that the people who use Royal Mail international services are confused - that's if you believe the latest consultation paper on changes to their international services.

It doesn't really matter to me whether the basic service is Airmail or Surface, or whether the name is changed to International Standard and International Economy - people will still go into their Post Office branch and ask for Airmail or Surface, just as they still ask for Registered, even though that terminology was dropped in 1993!

I suppose the reason for the other changes is as much to satisfy eBay/PayPal requirements as anything else.  Currently we have International Signed For (ISF) (which satisfies the UPU requirement to have a Registered service) and Airsure (for the Express service).  The latter is tracked all the way and scanned on arrival, but a signature is not needed: you may have noticed similar standards applying to some incoming mail.

ISF is signed for on delivery (or should be), but tracking is hit or miss.  It is certainly tracked within the UK, but for the rest of its journey it may not may not be tracked and you may or may not be able to find it on the website of the foreign postal administration.  It is this uncertainty, I think, that these changes are designed to address.  The proposal is that ISF will be replaced by Signed or Signed and Tracked, while Airsure will be replaced by Tracked.

So what does this mean for us as collectors and dealers?  Probably not a lot if you send mint stamps internationally because there is no compensation for the loss of mint stamps anyway.  Sellers shouldn't be fooled into thinking that compensation will be theirs if they follow eBay/PayPal rules. And if Royal Mail do pay compensation it is only for what the item cost you, not what you sold it for.  Even part-time dealers should carry separate insurance - which is actually not expensive. (Contact me for details.)

But pricing will probably be affected.
Currently the prices for these services are about the same - ISF is £5.30 and Airsure £5.40 (or £6 to EU countries as VAT is added to a price of only £5 - a distinction I've never understood).   I think we can assume that in addition to any other price rises next year, this could see a premium price for the service that combines both signature and tracking - even though we can currently get that for some countries anyway!

Two other changes - the first of which isn't likely to affect senders of small items - is that there will be no 'registered' service (ie International Signed For) available for surface mail following agreement at the 2012 UPU Congress.

The other is the reduction in size limit for international letters from 245 mm to 240 mm in line with the domestic letters limit.  If the same pattern as this year is followed for 2014, we may see Royal Mail say again, "The new dimensions-driven definition of formats will not be applied immediately. Customers will be given time in which to adapt to the change and will be informed before the new pricing methodology comes into force.".  The sizing of 245 mm was mentioned in the 2013 consultation, but I don't think it was ever implemented.

I've quoted what seem to be the key points below, but for full details download both the documents against the Overseas Letter Post Scheme consultation here.

Oh, and while I think of it, this was published on 9 December 2013, and responses are required by 5pm on Monday 6 January 2014.
Overseas Letter Post Scheme – minor changes to structure, naming and compensation available for international services

Royal Mail is undertaking this consultation exercise in relation to proposed schemes in accordance with the requirements set by our regulator, Ofcom.

7. We are proposing to restructure and rename our International services to make them clearer to customers. We have conducted research with 1700 customers (including eBayers and SMEs) to understand their needs and preferences to naming conventions. In summary, the results of the research indicate that:

• The international Universal Service Obligation portfolio is not clearly understood by customers;
• The current names of the international Universal Service Obligation products do not accurately describe the service customers are purchasing; and
• Customers may not always be clear whether certain features (e.g. tracking) are included in a particular product.

8. As a result of the customer feedback obtained, we are proposing to make the following changes to the Scheme:

• We propose to rename Airmail and Surface Mail, to International Standard and International Economy respectively. These were the preferred names for these services identified during the research;

• We propose to restructure our UPU Registered product, International Signed For into two variants so that customers are clearer about what the service provides. International Signed includes a signature on delivery, whilst International Tracked and Signed will provide full tracking and obtain a signature on delivery. For both products compensation of £50 will be included in the event of loss or damage.

• Our UPU Express product Airsure will be renamed International Tracked to more clearly explain that the product offers end to end tracking.

13. Within the current Overseas Letters Scheme, the maximum letter dimensions are 245 x 165mm with a maximum thickness of 5mm. The maximum dimensions for a domestic letter are 240 x 165mm with a maximum thickness of 5mm. To increase the simplicity of the portfolio, we therefore propose to align the international letter dimensions to 240 x 165mm with a maximum thickness of 5mm to ensure consistency with the domestic portfolio. The maximum weight of 100g will still apply in line with domestic letters.

14. Within the current Overseas Letters Scheme the term ‘packets’ is used to describe items that are not letters or Printed Papers. In recent years Royal Mail has adjusted its terminology and now refers to such items as ‘parcels’ both on our website and in our literature. This change more closely reflects terminology referred to in the market place and used by our customers. Therefore the new Overseas Letters Scheme will follow this convention and replace the term ‘packets’ with ‘parcels’.

Friday 20 December 2013

Postage Due Faststamps from BPMA in 2014.

Press Release, reported on Stamp Magazine Forum:


"The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) has announced that it will be introducing a new commemorative stamp issue to its Post & Go machine at Freeling House on Wednesday 19 February 2014 to mark the Centenary of the introduction of Postage Due labels. These will be available until 5 April.

"Both the existing Machin and the Union Flag designs will bear the underprint * The B.P.M.A./ Postage Due 1914” and a limited number of BPMA specific first day covers will be available for purchase both at Freeling House and through the online shop – details to be announced.

"Introduced in 1914, Postage Due labels helped to combat the problem of uncollected revenue that had been a source of concern for some time to the Post Office. GB Postage Due labels were designed by George Eve, with the design remaining the same for over 50 years.

"The Centenary will also be marked through a small two panel display in the BPMA’s Search Room Foyer at Freeling House, Phoenix Place, WC1X ODL over the same period the commemorative stamp issue will be available. The opening of the display coincides with Spring Stampex 2014, held locally at Islington’s Business Design Centre and will be available for free hire for groups and societies following display at BPMA."

The alert among you will notice that the date of introduction of this is the first day of Stampex, which is the same day that the first Flowers Faststamps are available.

* Why BPMA use the term underprint is totally beyond comprehension.  I suppose they are trying to find an alternative to the term 'overprint' which we know it isn't.  As described this appears to be a normal caption added to the service indicator and technical detail printed on to the base stamp stock.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Special Slogan Postmarks for 'Christmas Carol', First Christmas Card, and Last Posting Dates

From a Royal Mail Press Release 16 December 2013


In the run up to festive period, Royal Mail will be printing special postmarks on letters and parcels (sic) to commemorate the 170th anniversaries of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens and the first Christmas card ever sent.   The first postmark will read

1843 – 2013 Celebrating 170 years of A Christmas Carol’.

‘A Christmas Carol’ was first published on Tuesday 17th December 1843. Set in Victorian London during the 19th Century and telling the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the book initially sold six thousand copies when it was first released.

This slogan will be used on mail delivered from 17 December, ie postmarked 16 December onwards.  Examples are now to hand:

1. The test print shown by Royal Mail via twitter

2. Chester + N Wales 16 December, and Bath Bristol Taunton 17 December

3. SE Wales 16 December, North + West Yorkshire 17 December (they've stopped using the Christmas competition finalist at last!)

Used on a square card at South East Anglia, in reverse format:

A second slogan postmark will mark the 170th anniversary of the first Christmas Card.

The postmark, which will be printed on postmarked mail delivered from December 21st to December 24th, will read

1843-2013 Celebrating 170th anniversary of the first Christmas card sent’.

(Image from British Postal Museum and Archive ©)

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, a lifelong civil servant, commissioned the first Christmas card. Three years earlier, he played a key role in helping introducing Royal Mail’s Penny Post service.

Only 1,000 of these cards were printed and sold for a shilling each – this meant that they were a luxury item and were not within the means of the working class.

Royal Mail will also be helping customers to post in time for Christmas with postmarks featuring this year’s last recommended posting dates. They are:

Second Class – Wednesday 18th December
First Class - Friday 20th December
Special Delivery - Monday 23rd December

Update 20 December: This one used at South East Anglia Mail Centre (12.12.13) shows 1st and 2nd class dates - 

Later ones showed only 1st class date (Romford Mail Centre 18 December) -

But they were busy at SE Anglia as they also pressed this old machine and slogan into service:     A card makes everyones Christmas (3 XII 2013)

Monday 16 December 2013

Spring Stampex Wednesday Wonder - Flowers Faststamps

As already announced the designs for 2014 Faststamps will be flowers and foliage.  As announced in some places, but not everywhere, the issue date will be the Wednesday, ie the first day, of both Stampex events.  This break from tradition means that those attending Spring Stampex for the Welsh Railways issue on Thursday, will find the flowers already in the Post and Go machines.

The three sets of Fastamps will be Spring Blooms (19 February), Symbolic Flowers (17 September) and Winter Greenery (13 November).  There will be no pictorial issue in the summer. 

The Spring designs are shown below:

From the top: Primrose, Snowdrop, Lesser Celandine, Wild Daffodil, Dog Violet, and Blackthorn.

As usual they will be available with 6 service indicators added.  Printed as usual by International Security Printers in gravure the stamps are designed by Kate Stephens using illustrations by Julia Trickey.

UPDATE 1 February
This is a pair from the Bureau pack which shows that there is a year code of MA14 just above the 'g' of 100g.  The datastring is A2GB14 C2-051840-14

Friday 13 December 2013

Welsh Railways stamp issue in 2014 will be expensive

The last of the Classic Locomotives miniature sheets will be issued on 20 February 2014 at Spring Stampex, but there will be no self-adhesive retail booklet at this time.  Instead a Prestige Stamp Book will be available, which will include stamps from all four miniature sheet issues.

The final set includes some classics of the Welsh railways in their prime, including narrow gauge locomotives.

Locomotives depicted are (according to information received from Royal Mail):

1st/af class LMS No. 7720 – FR Hebron © Rail Archive Stephenson ***
78p Hunslet No. 589 Blanche © Geoff Plumb (Ffestiniog Railway)
88p Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway No. 822 The Earl – PM Alexander © Michael Whitehouse
£1.28 British Railways 5600 No. 5652 – TB Owen © Colour-Rail;
Background image BR 5101 2-6-2T No. 4126 – AED Collection © Prorail UK

*** UPDATE 6 February.
An eagle-eyed reader has noticed that on these images the 1st class Welsh loco has a different caption on the miniature sheet (LMS 2F No. 7720) to that on the PSB pane.  Having examined the actual stamps I can confirm that in both cases the caption is LMS No. 7720.  Some of the earlier stamps included the locomotive class, (7720 is a class 2F) but the Wales stamps do NOT include the class. 

The Prestige Book contains 4 panes of locomotives, one for each country containing the 1st class and next value from the original miniature sheets, and one definitive pane containing 4 country definitives and four Machin definitives - 2 at 2p and 2 at 5p.  Once again Royal Mail have failed to appreciate that Machin collectors who want only these on first day covers must add an additional 53p of postage to meet the 1st class postage rate normally needed. The panes are shown here with the cover.  Click on the image to see larger versions.  Retail price £13.97

Front cover and Definitive pane

England and Scotland

Northern Ireland and Wales

Technical details as provided by Royal Mail  (subject to change):
Miniature sheet - printed in litho by International Security Printers
Prestige Book - printed by Joh Enschede in litho.

We now have the PSB panes and can show the definitives, which are coded M13L MPIL.  This is much more difficult to see than on earlier panes by other printers, and not even as easy to see as on the Enschede-printed Merchant Navy pane.

The reproduction of the Country definitives is very similar to that in the Football Heroes PSB, but the phosphor is more visible on those with a yellowish tinge. In the pictures below, the Football Heroes stamps are on the left and the UK Locomotives on the right.

(Stray marks are not flaws, but some extraneous fibres in the scans, from the carrier card. )

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Canada Post drops a bombshell with huge stamp price rise.

Ever since the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, there has been speculation concerning the continued validity of stamps with values expressed as a service, rather than a monetary value - 1st, 2nd, Special Delivery, etc.

In January TNT Dutch Post announced that all Guilder-valued stamps would be invalidated from 1 November, with no option of exchanging them for Euro-valued stamps which have been in use since 2002.  A court case ensued brought by the Dutch Stamp Dealers Association, during which the TNT lawyer casually mentioned that Euro-valued stamps would cease to be valid also - that means all stamps issued from mid 2001 to mid 2010!

Since mid 2010 the stamps have a rate indicator instead of a value, like '1' for inland mail up to 20 gr.

Now Canada Post has stunned collectors and dealers alike by announcing a new basis of stamp sales.  Their current inland letter rate - served by stamps denominated 'P' for permanent (what a joke!) - is 63c.

"A new approach to pricing Lettermail to take effect March 31, 2014
Canada Post will introduce a new tiered pricing structure for Letter mail mailed within Canada, which will better reflect the cost of serving various customer segments. Under these changes, the majority of Canadians, because they buy stamps in booklets or coils, will pay $0.85 per stamp, with discounts for customers that use the mail most. 

The minority of consumers who purchase stamps one at a time, which represents an estimated 2 per cent of stamp purchases, will pay $1 per stamp. The average Canadian household purchases fewer than 2 stamps per month. These stamp price changes will take effect March 31, 2014."

But not only will the price increase by 35% (59% if you buy just one stamp), but all 'P' rate stamps have been summarily removed from sale at Post Offices and the Philatelic Bureau, including those in quarterly packs which collectors often don't buy as soon as they are issued.

All the POs  were told by e-mail to remove all the "P" stamps from sale. If they sell any "P" stamps and Canada Post finds out, they will face repercussions. The only stamps that are now sold at POs are stamps with the 63¢ value on them.  This explains why the Christmas stamps are denominated at 63c instead of 'P'.

The rate increase still requires Parliament's approval, as Canada Post is only approved to raise the rate 2 cents per year until 2015, but with a new business plan presented there may be little option.  According to Canada Post:

5,094,694 people get door to door delivery in Canada.
Average cost per address is $269.
3,804, 574 get mail through group mail boxes.
Average cost per box is $117.

So they are also proposing to end door to door delivery to urban addresses.

Note though, that just as Royal Mail said that the average UK household only spent 50p a week on stamps (before the 2012 rise), Canada Post reckons their citizens buy fewer than 2 stamps a month on average.

Monday 9 December 2013

Tudor Street's three MA13 stamps

I'm now able to show the three Faststamps dispensed from machines at Tudor Street in mid-November. 

 (Click on image for larger version)

The Robin had, of course, already appeared from Wincor-Nixdorf machines at Trafalgar Square (12th) and Norwich (13th) but this was the first Post Office appearance of the Machin Head and Union Flag stamps with MA13 year codes.

It will be interesting to see when they appear in other locations, given the reporting of everything from Birds 4 to latest issues at Post Offices around the country!

Frank tells us that the current situation at Tudor Street was:

Tudor Street - Machins, MA13 in machines 1 & 3. Union Flags, no date in machine 2.
A complete waste of time, and in testing each machine with a single stamp purchase - machine 1 did not give a stamp, and machine 3 did not give a receipt and there was nobody there to complain to.

Monday 2 December 2013

Newcastle 2nd class MA13 Faststamp first day cover

We can now show the First Day Cover for the pair of 2nd class Faststamps sold at the Newcastle Pop-up shop on 20 November.

A very limited number now available at our shop.

Why there were no MA10 or later 2009 50p Security Stamps

Collectors will recall that the security stamps were originally issued in 2009 with no specific year code - the word MAIL appearing where later there was a numeric code.  Whilst most of the NVI stamps - 2nd, 1st, 2nd Large, 1st Large - were subsequently reprinted every year with relevant year codes, the Signed For pair only occurred with MA10 codes, and the £1 ruby didn't appear until 2011 (M11L).  The £2 arrived in 2013 (MA13) - but for the others we will only know if they were even printed when actual examples are found.

But a recent discovery suggests that the 50p light grey (replaced this year with the slate-grey version) won't be included - because a printing of 07/08/09 has now made an appearance.  If it has taken that long to use the original printings of 08/12/08 and 18/03/09, it seems unlikely that there were more printings in 2010 and subsequent years.

In certain light there appear to be slight differences in the shade between the 18/03/09 and 07/08/09 printings:

The only difference I can see is that the bottom margin is deeper on the later printing, but this may not be a constant variation.

As seen on the cylinder blocks, there are 6 grid positions on the new printing, as there were on the earlier ones.

Jim has sent this comparative picture of the 18/03/09 printing with the earlier 08/12/08 printing.  As you can see the later one is much darker.