Thursday 24 December 2015

Philatelic Review of the Year 2015

As we reach the end of the year, it's time to reflect and to look ahead. 

This has been a year of development and disaster for Post and Go output.  Although Royal Mail reduced their attendance at local stamp exhibitions in the UK, the extension of their activities in Germany, France, Singapore and finally Hong Kong made life more difficult for collectors with only the Singapore and Hong Kong variants also being made available from Tallents House and the introduction of two different 'short' strips from the European events.

Permanent machines were also installed in more Delivery Offices and Museums, with the latter producing a welter of changes in the autumn as the change of inscription and addition of a logo coincided with the short-term introduction of the Remembrance Poppy and commemorative inscriptions.

We finally saw the demise of the Wincor-Nixdorf machines in Post Office branches, which at least reduced the number of printing variants, though not the number of errors. The Tudor Street machine dispensed 5 stamps but charged for 6, and significant misalignment of the value was reported from several offices. At the Scottish Congress in Perth some stamps were printed with no year in the additional caption, while for a short time receipts recorded this as the 85th Congress when it was actually the 86th. As last year the Christmas 2nd class stamps were loaded into the area producing 1st class stamps. Finally despite the in-house production, Royal Mail managed to produce the Hong Kong exhibition stamps with values appropriate to Gibraltar Post!

The Post and Go system continued to be extended in Jersey and Guernsey, and Gibraltar which has produced so many variants as to be utterly baffling - and few of them available from their philatelic arm, except original first day covers some weeks after the actual first day! Post and Go machines from Royal Mail were also installed by Qatar Post Office: these and others, including our own Hong Kong solo-design reel were digitally printed rather than gravure.

The traditional postage stamp situation has been quite by comparison although Royal Mail did their best to maintain interest by keeping us guessing over the subjects of two major stamp issues. Sadly all their precautions came to naught with the Long To Reign Over Us miniature sheet (with stamps printed for the first time by FNMT Spain) as the associated counter sheet was sold in many post office branches well before the official date of issue. They know how to place embargoes on the press and dealers, but not their own retail partner.

The bumper Star Wars issue was treated with scorn by many traditional collectors, and most thought that even if it attracted non-collectors they would probably not be tempted to buy any other stamp issues. Others decided that this was another final straw providing them with a good reason to stop buying any new stamps on their standing orders. Although these were widely available in PO branches and well-advertised, the lack of availability of special stamps across the PO network – especially from branches converted to or moved to the 'Local' model – meant that other collectors decided to give up on new issues simply because they could not be bought! We were lucky to have contributions to the blog (in the form of comments) from insiders who explained how unprofitable special stamp sales were to sub-postmasters.

The expected versions of Machin Security Definitives all appeared, many of the by mid-summer, although unexpectedly many of the varieties which appeared early in the year were not available for long periods after that and only reappeared very recently. In all there were 47 new definitives, although the earliest had M14L codes. In November a new 2nd class coil was found on a charity mailing leading people to look more closely again at their junk mail. Very few of these have been found so far.

Royal Mail made life difficult and expensive for Machin collectors at the start of the year with the Inventive Britain prestige book containing only one set of definitive stamps, and one new stamp printed in the wrong colour, and over £1-worth of postage left over. Fortunately the Great War and Waterloo PSBs had better contents, and when we got to the end of the year the Star Wars book had NVIs for the first time in years, and a new gummed Union Flag stamp! The tariff changes in March saw the introduction of Large Letters for international mail and a batch of six new stamps totalling £14. Sadly this is likely to continue, despite PO branches using Horizon Labels as much as they can, so we can expect the March 2016 changes to produce a set costing nearer £15. Fortunately there are still only four country definitives for each country, even if some of those are difficult to find locally – English ones seem particularly difficult.

Printing developments have and may continue to give us cause to look more closely at our stamps. Walsall Security Printers (ISP) have new premises with a new, larger, press which meant that new booklet cylinders were required. The M14L version of the 1st x 12 book appeared from both presses.

Two Smilers Sheets and the Penny Black retail booklet sold out very quickly and were not reprinted. It is difficult to know whether this is dealer speculation or just demand being poorly judged when the print quantity was set. And of course the Penny Black miniature sheet had a limited edition variant sold only at the Europhilex exhibition in London. The distribution arrangements were ill-though-out and badly implemented, despite advice from the trade. Sadly this may not be the last time something designed to 'attract collectors to the event' results in bad-will among long standing customers, and unexpected profits being made by those who are able to attend.

Postmark collectors were treated to nearly 50 new slogans this year, some more relevant than others, although finding them on your own mail when so few stamps are used was a challenge! And Royal Mail have at last made their Postmark Bulletin available free online, to the benefit of collectors worldwide. 

In reporting these I have been assisted by a large number of collectors at home and abroad, and their reports have helped especially the British Postmark Society to keep a more complete record of the slogans actually in use, when and where, especially for late and exceptional use. (It's what philately is all about!)

Which brings me to you the reader, and contributor.  Without the comments, and contributions by email, this blog could not be as successful as it is. As you will see from the statistics alongside, we are only inches away from 2 million page views, a phenomenal number which could not be achieved without you all. Many thanks and

to all readers, contributors, and customers, we wish you a very Happy Christmas and a successful (if impecunious!) New Year.


Monday 21 December 2015

January stamp issues: Shackleton's Polar Exploration and Duke of Edinburgh's Award Commemorative Sheet

As usual Royal Mail start the stamp programme early in 2016 with a set of stamps marking the exploration of the South Pole by Ernest Shackleton in the Endurance.   This set of 8 monochrome stamps will be issued on 7 January, details on our website.

The issue of the premium-priced Commemorative Sheet to mark the Diamond Anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme has been brought forward from the end of the month to 12 January.   Two special postmarks have been announced (so far) for the DOE Scheme, which was last marked by a set of 4 stamps issued on 12 August 1981.

Postmarks 13700 and 13701 can be obtained from the London Special Handstamp Centre and their use is not restricted to being used on (stamps from) the sheet.  No first day of issue postmarks will be available as the Union Flag stamp was issued earlier.

The subjects depicted on the labels and described alongside are:  HRH with the First Directors, First Gold Awards, Programme Launched for Women, HRH Meets Young People, Prince Edward Gets Gold, Volunteering, Physical, Skills, Expedition, and Residential.  The sheet costs £14.95 and the Royal Mail product code is AV041.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Machin Definitive 40th Anniversary first day covers

There was a time when we produced and sold first day covers for every new issue, back before the number of issues was just too much and FDC production and processing was taking all of my time.  It was fun, research designs, photographing, and photoshopping to get a unique product.  I have to say that some were better than others!  

Nowadays there are too many stamp issues and too many copyright issues to worry the cover producer, which is why many UK producers are using cover designs that are not specific to the stamp subject (eg Star Wars). It's a way of avoiding sometimes huge royalty payments to (eg Disney) which would increase the retail price far above what regular collectors would be willing to pay.

When the 40th anniversary of the Machin definitive was marked - with a miniature sheet, a prestige book, and a generic Smilers sheet - I felt that appropriate covers could only be produced with the permission of Royal Mail, and I was very pleased when they allowed the use of the Machin image, stamps, and postmarks.  So we were able to produce three different covers.  I've just found some of these unsold, and have added them to our shop.

For the miniature sheet, I copied the original 1967 FDC with Windsor first day postmark.  Because FDCs were smaller in those days it wasn't possible to create a 'double-dated' cover, by adding the MS to one that was 40 years old, but the design was expanded onto a modern FDC-sized envelope.

For the generic Smilers sheet we used covers with the Machin portrait made up of a mosaic of Machin stamps.   Four covers are used for the set, two are pictured below, with 10 stamps and 20 labels.

Prestige Book panes don't leave much room for a cover design, but a special postmark had been used in 2001 with the Arnold Machin signature. (The postmark was not associated with a stamp issue: the original inscription was 'Royal Academy Schools' so I think it must have been for an exhibition.)  I had obtained copies of this on the 'Profile in Print' Letterpress stamp, so adapted it as the design for more covers.  The actual panes are cancelled with four different postmarks.

A limited number of these, along with some of the stamps and panes on Royal Mail fdcs are available in our shop, so if you are new to Machins and want a different addition to your collection, take a look.  We'll be adding more older covers soon.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Royal Mail's Postmark Bulletin now available free online

With immediate effect Royal Mail have made their Postmark Bulletin available as a free pdf download.

Published every 2 weeks, the Bulletin can be found at

We will continue to include some special handstamps here on our blog, and on our website on individual stamp issue pages, but if our pages are not updated then collectors and dealers should refer to the online resource.

The Bulletin also includes addresses of Royal Mail's regional philatelic Special Handstamp Centres in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham, and South Shields.  In our webpages the handstamp number is preceded by code

E and L for London
M for Birmingham [Midlands]
N for South Shields [North of England]
W for Cardiff [Wales & West]
S for Edinburgh [Scotland & Northern Ireland]
F for British Forces
FD - see details within the Bulletin

Note that postmarks for any individual stamp issue may appear in several successive Bulletins and may even be published after the issue date of the stamps.  Operational slogan postmarks are not normally mentioned in the Bulletin.

UPDATE 4 March 2016
Royal Mail have announced that with immediate effect the Postmark Bulletin is free of charge.  Existing subscribers will not be charged for renewal when their subscription expires.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Last slogan postmark for 2015!

I was surprised that Royal Mail didn't choose to mark the out-of-world experience of Tim Peake in reaching the International Space Station with a slogan postmark.  More worthy than the non-British winners of a book prize, I would have thought, but they obviously had more pressing things in mind.

Having exhorted everybody to 'Post Early' last month (and weren't there a lot of people making their annual visit to the Post Offices to post their 'maybe large' cards?) they are now reminding us of the last posting dates for 1st and 2nd class mail, as in this example from Norwich Mail Centre dated 14 December.

Actually, thinking back to previous years, this is probably not the last slogan as we will probably have one from Monday 21st suggesting the use of Special Delivery for those last-minute must-get-there-by-Thursday gifts.

Why it's cheaper to buy from China – the problem with UPU terminal dues

Taken from the Report of an Investigation by the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector-General.

Note: The report by the USPSOIG necessarily focuses on the US perspective but clearly the issues highlighted affect mail between all postal administrations and it is therefore relevant at least in part to the UK and other developed countries. Note that reference to 'shipping companies' is not exclusively maritime, it also refers to courier companies. We do not know Royal Mail's views on terminal dues.

Terminal dues is the system that postal authorities (posts) use to pay one another for international deliveries of letters and small packages. The global terminal dues system, updated every four years by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), does not fully reflect actual domestic processing and delivery costs.

As a result the U.S. Postal Service and other operators have lost money on international postal letters and small packages received from abroad, especially from emerging countries like China. The explosive growth in cross-border ecommerce traffic has greatly elevated concerns about the economic distortions created by the system.

Posts pay terminal dues to compensate one another for international deliveries. When someone mails a letter or small package to another country, the postal administration in the sender’s country receives the postage and pays terminal dues to the destination post for its share of processing and delivery. Terminal dues rates are painstakingly negotiated at the Universal Postal Union (UPU) among its 192 member countries every 4 years and implemented about 18 months after that — using the principle of one country, one vote. Because of the complexity and length of the UPU decision-making process, significant changes to the terminal dues system may take many years to unfold.

Until 1969, terminal dues did not exist; the receiving post bore the entire cost of sorting, processing, and delivering the foreign customer’s item. The terminal dues system’s goals were to provide posts with some compensation for their delivery of inbound international mail and to support a single worldwide postal network. As a result, it funded improvements to the postal infrastructure in developing countries. Terminal dues, therefore, by design, were based upon setting rates by majority agreement rather than reflecting true economic costs.

The explosive growth in ecommerce traffic, especially from China, has greatly elevated concerns about the system’s unfairness. As international ecommerce packages experience rapid growth, destination posts with higher postal rates are protesting that terminal dues do not cover their costs. U.S. online retailers have argued that competitors in China can send packages to the United States through China Post at lower rates than American businesses are required to pay in their own country. In segments other than lightweight packets, such as heavier, higher-value packages requiring additional services, the rate advantage of low terminal dues posts like China Post decreases. Additionally, private sector shipping companies maintain that terminal dues are only available to postal operators, providing an unfair competitive advantage.

Governments and some posts started to discuss UPU remuneration reform to improve the cost coverage for inbound delivery of international mail. In 1999, aligning terminal dues with delivery costs officially became the UPU’s long-term goal. To allow a smooth transition, a two-tier structure consisting of developing and industrialized countries (now called “transition” and “target” countries, respectively) emerged. Posts located in lower-income countries such as India or Morocco generally would pay lower terminal dues than posts in industrialized countries such as the United States or France. In other words, industrialized countries would continue to subsidize developing countries. Although the goal was to improve fairness, the unintended outcome was distortions caused by an artificial compensation system

As of 2015, the lower terminal dues transition country category, established to help developing economies, still includes 140 countries, including the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). In this way, the Postal Service will have subsidized posts for many years that, in some cases, have not necessarily needed such support. Forty of these countries, including all of the BRICS except for India, will join the target tier next year. However, moving these countries to the target category may not immediately lead to significant terminal dues payment increases. The UPU Congress will approve new rates, for the period from 2018 to 2021, next year — meaning implementation is 2 to 6 years after a decision. The new target countries may continue to have an advantage during this period.

In the long term, the terminal dues system should reflect the true cost of inbound delivery. In the interim, the United States should continue to work with the UPU to support the separation of competitive small packages containing merchandise from documents and letters. While letters would continue to fall under terminal dues, small packages would be subject to self-declared rates that reflect cost and are available to all — posts, competitors, and shippers alike.

The bigger issue is the increasing irrelevancy of the international terminal dues channel in an age of ecommerce because it fails to meet customer demands for speed and reliability. Efforts to ensure this channel’s responsiveness should not only include fixes to terminal dues remuneration but also, in parallel, measures to improve the service quality of cross-border packages. The Postal Service should champion reform to an increasingly anachronistic terminal dues system. Otherwise, it risks becoming an international ecommerce provider of last resort for a residual product that does not reflect associated costs or provide the speed and quality consumers demand.

The full report of the USPSOIG can be read here:

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Not only Great Britain stamps: some of my other philatelic interests.

If you only read my blogs, you won't know that I have other philatelic interests apart from modern Great Britain - security Machin definitives and Post and Go.  The journey of Tim Peake from Baikonur to the International Space Station (ISS) gives me the opportunity to introduce you to two other areas of collecting.

Tim Peake isn't the first British Astronaut, although he is the first to go to the ISS as part of the European Space Agency's venture with the Russian space programme.  The first was Helen Sharman who went to the Russian Mir space station in 1991.   The Sheffield Scouts Charity Christmas Post chose Helen as the subject of their Christmas stamps that year.


You can read more about the Sheffield Scout Posts from 1991 here.

In the mid-1990s I took an interest in the modern postal history of the countries which 'appeared' from the collapse of the USSR.   This turbulent period included provisional stamps, high inflation, and a large number of totally bogus 'stamps' and covers, from 15 countries some of them totally new to the philatelic atlas.  This was totally by chance as I happened upon some interesting covers at one of the London Stampex events.

I started studying some areas in detail, and even learned a little Russian to help!  Sadly I still have a huge amount of material to study and write up, but the first fruits of my labours are here. This was in the days of dial-up modems and pay-per-minute internet access, so the images are necessarily small.  When I get back to it, there will be much more detail and much bigger images.

I don't have any stamps showing the ISS to which Tim Peake will blast off in just over an hour, but one of the earliest of Kazakhstan's stamps shows the Mir Space Station.

Monday 14 December 2015

New printing dates for Machin definitives

Some late 2015 printings have already made an appearance, meaning less probability of M16L versions of these values appearing early in the new year.

These dates won't be added to our webshop but if any customers want date blocks, please contact us by email using the link at the top right of this page, and we will try to oblige.

1p  -  05/11/15

5p  -  06/11/15

£1  -  12/11/15

1st Signed For -  13/11/15

2nd class - 03/11/15

Friday 11 December 2015

Full list of 2015 Machin Security Stamps

I am now able to show the full list of 2015 issues - 47 new stamps, which are all MA15 or M15L apart from some early M14L-coded stamps.   The Norvic catalogue numbers link to our web shop, where we have stocks of most of these (or will be getting more soon).  The descriptions link either to the blog or website, depending on whether they were part of regular stamp issues or simply 2105 reprints.

The final Machin Security Stamps have been added to our Checklist/Catalogue, If you don't already have a copy of this, you can find the latest version on Dropbox.

Machins FDC List, which is a list of security issues in chronological order
Machins Cross-ref, being the reverse cross-reference of SG Concise numbers to our own.

These are now available for you to download at

2911.5        2nd counter sheet
2911B.5     2nd business sheet
2931.5        2nd from retail booklet
2931R.5     2nd coil (probably of 10,000) Very few examples reported so far
2936S.5     1st from retail booklet of 6
2936C.5     1st from mixed retail booklet (Alice in Wonderland or Comedy Greats)

3747           1st amethyst purple miniature sheet  (REIGM) (ordinary gum)
3744           1st amethyst purple counter sheet  (REIGN)
3745           1st amethyst purple retail booklet of 6 (REIGS)
3010.5        10p counter sheet
3020.5        20p counter sheet
3101.5        £1 counter sheet

New Tariff- 24 March
3133           £1.33 counter sheet
3152           £1.52 counter sheet
3225           £2.25 counter sheet
3245           £2.45 counter sheet
3315           £3.15 counter sheet
3330           £3.30 counter sheet

Ordinary Gum
3700P.5      2nd MPIL M15L from Star Wars Prestige Book
3702P.5      1st MPIL M15L from Star Wars Prestige Book
4001P.4      1p M14L from Inventive Britain Prestige Book
4001P.5      1p M15L from Great War 2015 Prestige Book
4002P.4      2p M14L from Inventive Britain Prestige Book
4005P.5      5p M15L from Great War 2015 Prestige Book
4005P.5a    ditto, from Battle of Waterloo Prestige Book (shade)
4010P.5      10p M15L from Battle of Waterloo Prestige Book
4050P.5      50p M15L from Battle of Waterloo Prestige Book
4081P.4      81p M14L from Inventive Britain Prestige Book
4097P.4      97p M14L from Inventive Britain Prestige Book
4100P.5      £1 M15L from Battle of Waterloo Prestige Book
4133P.5      £1.33 M15L from Great War 2015 Prestige Book

The first prestige stamp book in 2016 will not be issued until February, but we understand that that will not contain Machin definitives, so when will the earliest M16L stamps appear?  I hope that the early part of next year will also see an increase in supplies of some of the M15L stamps, as many PO branches are still using stocks from earlier years, back to 2012 in some cases!

But do look out for new printings of counter sheet stamps: especially the higher values.  The £2 must be due for another reprint soon!

Friday 4 December 2015

Gateshead printer De La Rue loses postage stamp deal

The problem with headlines in the provincial press is that they focus so very much on the local area, hence the headline above from the Northern Echo

So my first thought was that we had new Machin definitive stamps coming next year, printed by Cartor or Walsall, under the ISP umbrella, maybe Enschede, or a newcomer, like the Bundesdruckerei in Germany, FNMT in Spain (who printed the Long to Reign Over Us miniature sheet, we're told), or any one of the other state printing works in Europe.

However, looking beyond the headlines we find that De La Rue are reorganising their production.  According to the company's press release:
By leveraging its strong market position as the largest commercial supplier of passports, the Group is seeking to accelerate its growth in the Identity and Security Products markets by improving capabilities and investing in new technologies. A significant portion of the overall £30m of capital investment will be invested in equipment and skills to create a centre for excellence for Identity and Security Print at De La Rue’s current site in Malta. This will enhance further the Group’s Identity and Security Print capability and give the Group a competitive edge to capture the high growth opportunities in these markets. The current Security Print capability in Gateshead, U.K. will be relocated to Malta.
In other words, there will be no more bank-note printing in Malta: that will switch to Gateshead and the identity, security and postage stamp operation will switch to Malta.

So what are the implications for Royal Mail, and hence for us as collectors and dealers? When DLR moved stamp production from the south of England to Gateshead in 2013, they were unable to produce the new tariff stamps (78p, 88p, £1.88) to meet Royal Mail's timescale, and interim printings were produced by Walsall - and they had different security codes.

So we shall have to be vigilant this spring when rates will increase again: which company will print the stamps - and where?

UPDATE 7 December
See the comments: the current stamp-printing contracts (and those for other philatelic material) may be up for renewal in the latter part of 2016.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Special Handstamp for Hong Kong Exhibition Sea Travel Post and Go Stamps.

As usual Royal Mail's presence at the Hong Kong Philatelic Exhibition was confined to the Post
and Go machines and there were no special handstamps or cachets in use at the Exhibition for these stamps. 

However, the Hong Kong Maxima Philigroup, a group of collectors and producers of maximum cards has sponsored a special handstamp, not announced until today.  It shows the Hong Kong skyline, with the wording

'31st International Asian Stamp Exhibition Hong Kong, Seaview'

Royal Mail's reference number is 13685 and this can be obtained from the London Special Handstamp Centre at Mount Pleasant.  As usual for late announcements the SHC allows a period for submission of covers and cards.

I wonder what would happen if covers stamped with the Gibraltar-valued stamps was sent for postmarking?

I've now had time to examine the new stamps (mine from Tallents House had correct - UK - values not the Gibraltar ones), and they are of course significantly different due to the new printing process.

The first thing to note is that the surface is highly reflective, compared with the gravure-printed stamps, and the phosphor bands do not show.  In fact it looks very much as if there are no phosphor bands, but I have only looked in dim light, not in darkness.

These are two high-resolution scans showing the gravure stamps on the left, and the digital printing on the right.

Friday 27 November 2015

New arrangements and charges for underpaid and unpaid mail

Until 1983 mail on which the postage was not paid, or was underpaid, was subject to a surcharge equal to double the normal postage, and postage due stamps were applied.  From 5 April 1983, the shortage was charged, plus a fee representing a penalty which was supposed to reflect the cost to Royal Mail of collecting the underpayment.   This fee started at 10p and gradually rose to £1 by May 2003.  The use of postage due stamps to collect the sums due stopped in 1994, not long after new 'To Pay' stamps were issued.

A new system started on 5 October 2015. The Royal Mail press release explained that:
Royal Mail is introducing a simpler flat-rate charging structure for letters and parcels where insufficient postage or no stamps have been attached. The changes are designed to reduce delays in processing underpaid mail and minimise inconvenience for customers. Even with these changes, surcharge fees will not fully meet the cost to Royal Mail of handling mail where the appropriate postage has not been attached.
From Monday 5 October 2015, Royal Mail will introduce a flat-fee of only £1.50 to be paid by the recipient of a letter or a large letter where insufficient postage has been paid. This fee will be £2 when no stamp has been attached. A £3 fee will apply to a Small Parcel with insufficient postage or no stamp attached.
For Medium Parcels and Special Delivery Guaranteed items with incorrect or no postage, a fee of £1.50 plus the postage due, rounded to the nearest 10 pence, will apply.
Under the new process, items which incur a surcharge will spend less time in our system whilst the surcharge is calculated, meaning customers will receive these items more quickly.
Recipients can still pay a surcharge by debit or credit card online via the Royal Mail website. Alternatively, they can pay in cash at the delivery office or by affixing the fee in stamps or a franking machine impression on the “fee to pay” card Royal Mail leaves with the customer.  Royal Mail is also looking at other payment options to make it even easier to receive underpaid letters and parcels.
Also this year, a new system of handling and identifying surcharged items has been introduced in delivery offices.  This did not occur at the same time, as an example has been reported as early as April 2015, but that may have been a limited area trial.

The system involves a numbered white label being attached to the surcharged mailpiece (see right), with a similar label attached to the grey 'Fee to Pay' card (P4605) which is delivered.

The label is 99 x 49mm.  I assume SU = Surcharge, and that a similar label with a different identifier is used for payment of Customs Duty and VAT.  (CD?)

Apparently when the addressee takes the card to the delivery office, the number allows for the easy retrieval of the item that has been held.  On Royal Mail's 'Pay a fee' webpage, after entering details of the address, amount to pay, etc, this box appears:

After Postage Due stamps were abandoned in 1994, various means were used to identify surcharges, including continuing with the multiple-reason tick-box rubber stamp, to yellow Revenue Protection labels which indicated the underpayment and the fee.  Obviously once the label system started they had to be reprinted every time the fee was changes, and while there were pre-printed labels for the most used values (total non-payment of 27p, 30p, 32p, 36p for example - the 2nd class rate was always assumed for standard letters) there were labels which had to be completed in manuscript.

All these could have been collected as part of a Postage Due 'Stamp' collection, but as Martin (who provided the pictures*) suggested, these fixed-value labels are closer to traditional Postage Due Stamps.

* Our customers, of course, never underpay their letters to us, so we haven't yet received any of these!

Also reported, but not formally announced, there appears to be a new policy regarding underpaid greetings cards.   Despite the  Pricing in Proportion system being introduced in August 2006, Royal Mail receives a lot of bad press at key times of the year - Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, and Father's Day - because many customers post Large Letter-sized cards with only basic letter stamps.  The popular press persists in supporting the errant customers - even though many card manufacturers print a size-indicator on the back of cards - with headlines such as  
"Royal Mail wouldn't deliver my mother's card and charged her £1.10 for delaying it!"
Now it seems that these people have won, and Royal Mail will no longer surcharge underpaid cards - but unpaid cards will still be surcharged. Again, we don't have any evidence of this yet, and the only Christmas cards we have received so far (well, it is still November!) had the correct postage.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Major Hong Kong Post and Go Stamp Error from Royal Mail

As we reported earlier, Royal Mail's Post and Go machines made another trip to the far east at the 31st Asian International Stamp Exhibition in Hong Kong.  It was the perfect opportunity to produce a new roll with the Hong Kong Sea Travel stamp solo, which Royal Mail duly did, utilizing the new digital printing process for this short run. The (gravure printed) Union Flag stamps would also be available, on the first occasion that the national code HK would be used.

Digital printing of Post and Go stamps has previously been confined to stamps produced for Qatar and Gibraltar, but this is the first for Royal Mail: it won't be the last.   Royal Mail initially announced that 'GB' versions would be available from Tallents House Edinburgh.  When dealers tried to order they were told that no GB versions would be available, and then a couple of days later were sent an order form, and the stamps also appeared on Royal Mail's shop website.

Only 12 rolls of the new stamps were taken to Hong Kong, and there were long queues at both machines (A008 and A009) with the familiar faces appearing to buy quantities of collectors sets and 1st class strips.  These have duly appeared online at various prices.

Understandably there was less interest in the home-produced GB versions, despite the Hong Kong stamp being a new printing.  However, those who did order early were in for a surprise.  Whilst the Union Flag strip was normal, with a receipt for £7.68, the Hong Kong strip had different 'values' or Service Indicators, and a receipt for only £6.12 (although £7.68 was charged by Royal Mail's shop).

The Service Indicators of Local Standard, UK Letter 20g and 30g, EU and Worldwide 20g were odd but the final stamp is the clincher - 'Registered Fee' shows this to be almost the same set as appeared at Europhilex from the Royal Gibraltar Post machine, the difference being that the Europhilex strips had a UK 40g Letter stamp, whilst this has a UK 30g stamp!

So yet another in the long series of errors on Post and Go stamps. 

According to the Post and Go News page on Royal Mail's website
Royal Mail has recently moved Post and Go product and pre-order printing to Tallents House.
In other words, they are no longer relying on a contractor to print the stamps for sale.

After a series of errors of inscription at live machines, notably at Stampex on several occasions, the idea that the stamps produced from the back-office machine B001 would be produced in house was welcomed.  After all, Royal Mail would be in control, and - presumably - have more control, or at least check what was being produced in house.

Whichever stamps were produced first, Union Flag or Hong Kong, one would expect that they would be inspected for quality of printing, both in intensity and registration.  Perhaps it was just a case of looking at the wood without noticing that the trees were different?

In carpentry the saying is 'measure twice, cut once': I'm sure there could be a similar maxim applied here: look at how good they are, and whether they are of saleable/ collectable quality, and then look again harder to make sure they are exactly what you expected to produce. And have more than one pair of eyes looking!  
Where is the quality control?

Inevitably some customers contacted Tallents House to complain that they had been charged £7.68 but had a receipt for only £6.12 - without realising that they actually had a collectable error.  Royal Mail thus alerted, I understand that the remaining stock was immediately removed from sale, leaving those of us who ordered later likely to get a new printing of the stamps with the correct UK Service Indicators.

My thanks to the several collectors who sent pictures and reported what they had received.

Just for the record this (above right) is what the stamps from the exhibition looked like, with UK Service Indicators from machine A008 (click on the image to see it larger).

UPDATE 4 December
The only one of the error strips I have seen on the eBay auction site, item 381478639269 sold yesterday for £220.

UPDATE 30 November
By chance I am also able to show the box label for these Hong Kong Coils - ignore the datestamp as this relates to when something else was despatched to me from Tallents House using the P&G box.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Post and Go News - Museums, Fur & Feathers

I suppose it is inevitable that as most of this year's Machin definitives have been issued or discovered, that Post and Go and postmark slogans will predominate in the news arena.  So,just as it is with the magazines, so it is here and we have some more Post and Go news.

On Monday the new 4-design Fur and Feathers stamps were issued.  As an innovation the 2nd class stamps have '2nd class' incorporated into the background inscription to ensure that Post Office branch staff put them in the correct part of the machine.

Well, that only works if the branches get both 1st and 2nd rolls supplied.  Apparently at least one branch was supplied with only 2nd class rolls, so they put them in both slots, and produced the 'first' range on 2nd class stock.  Examples have also been seen from another branch but I don't know whether this was due to no 1st class stock or branch error.

I understand that quite a few collectors/dealers were aware of this and there are several listings on the eBay auction site.

UPDATE 19 November
Responding to the comment about white lines on these stamps, Doug has helped by sending this picture - and there was I, looking for a white line in the background printing, which would have been unusual, on both sets of stamps.  This is not uncommon on Post and Go Stamps from the public machines, but it is unusual to see what amounts to poor quality on the packs produced at the Bureau.

Meanwhile it was all change again at the Naval Museums, with the Machin stamps again being on sale, and so now showing their logos as well as the text identity. Thanks to Chris for these pictures examples of the three Portsmouth Museums.  I must admit these are quite distinctive and they will look good in collections.

Thanks to Robert for the FAAM image which completes the set.

Monday 16 November 2015

More slogan and other postmark news

Royal Mail reminds people to post early for Christmas with slogan postmark.

Royal Mail is reminding people to post their Christmas cards early this year with a special postmark. The launch of the postmark marks just 39 days until the last posting date for First Class mail.

"Royal Mail has been planning its festive operations since April and is preparing to handle millions of items a day in the run up to the big day.

"With Christmas fast approaching, consumers are being reminded to keep an eye out on the last posting dates to ensure that presents and cards arrive in time.

"The postmark will be applied to UK stamped mail nationwide delivered from Monday 16 November. It will say ‘Remember to post early for Christmas!’." (First use reported was on Friday 13th at Peterborough Mail Centre).  I think this would have been the first date of use nationwide.)

"Andrew Hammond from Royal Mail, said: 'We are all busy so it is easy to leave posting cards and presents to the last minute. We don’t want anyone to be disappointed if they are waiting for Christmas mail so we are urging customers to post early as Royal Mail builds up to its busiest time of year'."

Unfortunately,  the image in the Royal Mail press release had only a very small image which is enlarged here. More will be added when I get them.

Lest We Forget Children In Need
Meanwhile I haven't seen a Children In Need postmark from Swindon - they were still using the Lest We Forget slogan on 13 November (ironic, as Royal Mail Swindon is the hub of all the software changes for slogan postmarks!)

Good News from Counters
On the Good News front, I understand that Post Office branches have been told that all 1st Large and 2nd Large stamped mail should now have the stamps cancelled at the counter.  Watch this space for more details.

Friday 13 November 2015

Pudsey's Back! Royal Mail reminds us of Childen in Need today with slogan postmark.

As readers in the UK cannot fail to have noticed, today is the day for the annual telethon held by the BBC to raise funds for Children in Need.

Royal Mail have also reminded customers with these special slogan postmarks,my thanks to Bob M for the pictures, from the Bristol and Jubilee Mail Centres on 12 November.

This is the (enlarged) specimen from Royal Mail's press release.

"Since 1980, BBC Children in Need has raised over £790 million, and currently supports over 2,500 projects across the UK. BBC Children in Need funded projects support disadvantaged children and young people facing disadvantages including poverty and deprivation, disability and issues surrounding distress, abuse and neglect.

Royal Mail’s postmark will be applied to millions of items of UK stamped mail nationwide on Friday 13 November. It will feature Pudsey bear alongside the words ‘BBC Children in Need 13 Nov 2015’
Andrew Hammond from Royal Mail, said: “Over the last 36 years, BBC Children in Need has become a highlight in the UK fundraising calendar. We are really pleased to be supporting the campaign in this way.”

Carrie Green, Head of Commercial at BBC Children in Need, said:  It is great to have the support of Royal Mail this campaign.  Thanks to Royal Mail, Pudsey will be travelling further around the UK on the 13 November than ever before.” 

You can donate to Pudsey's bucket at the link on line 2.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Why you should think twice about this year's Christmas Generic sheets.

Remember the start of the century?  The big event in UK philately was the Stamp Show 2000 in London, held at Earls Court. Among other things the show included the first personalized stamps from the British Post Office, now generally known as Smilers sheets.  

First introduced to the world by Australia Post in 1999, personalised stamps have spread to postal authorities around the world.  In many cases the personalisation is on a label attached to the stamp, but in others the stamp has a blank area for the customer's photograph.   In the former case, the associated stamp is often available in other forms, so collectors can add them to their albums.  So it was with the first Smilers product, also available at Stamp Show 2000 (see right).

Such was the attraction of Smilers Stamps that the Post Office and then Royal Mail have continued the Smilers programme which is still popular today, with the latest addition being four stamps from the Star Wars set.  As usual, Royal Mail produced a sheet for collectors, known for some time now as a Generic Sheet.  For only a small premium over the face value of the stamps, collectors can avoid paying the much higher costs of personalisation.

New stamps are added to the Smilers range regularly, starting with the Christmas stamps in 2000, and various sets of Greetings stamps, and including some commemoratives, such as one issued for the 2002 World Cup, the Union Flag (Rule Britannia sheet), Fun Fruit and Veg, and various regional definitives.  In all cases, the stamps in the Generic Sheet are also available for personalisation - until now.

For Christmas, Royal Mail have adopted a strategy of alternating their stamp designs between secular and non-secular themes and this year it is the turn of the non-secular designs featuring religious images consistent with the Christmas story. However, this year Royal Mail has decided that the Christmas stamps will not be added to the Smilers service.  According to Graham Howard's Smilers-Info website,
"... some Christian zealots (not literally you understand) have been making Royal Mail's life uncomfortable by requesting Christmas personalised stamp sheets featuring label designs with strong religious messages inconsistent with Royal Mail's non-partisan liberal policies. "
This seems quite sensible, although it could easily have been avoided by having only personal photographs and no slogans.  It would just need a change to the terms of use, and probably a tighter control over the applications.

However, if the 2015 Christmas stamps are not included in the Smilers service, collectors don't need a cheaper substitute - so is there any need for the Generic sheet at all?

The stamps and sheets will undoubtedly be included in some catalogues* and some pre-printed albums. They are legally issued stamps valid for postage.  And the sheet is not unattractive, but is it something even 'completist' collectors need?

UPDATE to clarify
* Despite the fact that the stamps from the sheet are litho and not gravure (like the sheet and booklet stamps), and have elliptical (US=syncopated) perforations (unlike the ohers) they will not get separate listing in Stanley Gibbons catalogues: none of the previous 15 years' of Smilers Sheet stamps has.