Friday 19 June 2015

Are modern British commemorative stamps 'generally available' ?

From time to time collectors complain that they cannot find modern commemoratives at post offices in their area.  This may be because of the Branch Closure programme 6-8 years ago, or of the current Network Transformation programme.   This sees salaried sub-postmasters being paid off and their branch relocated into a nearby general store where commission only is paid, and which are not supplied with special stamps because there is simply no room near the counter to store them.

Because of what they see as the restricted availability of collectables these collectors think that they should not be listed in the (Stanley Gibbons) catalogues.  I must admit I have some sympathy with these views, but of course there are many factors which make their inclusion mandatory.

1. Because the stamps exist and are distributed by Royal Mail's philatelic bureau, then a significant group of collectors, especially those outside the UK, expect them to be included in the catalogue.

2. Many collectors use pre-printed albums, of which there are several brands, each with its own scope.  It's to be expected that if stamps were not in their catalogue they would not be in SG's pre-printed albums.  If not, then collectors who had these stamps would probably buy a different pre-printed album.

3. But the most important factor is the Catalogue Editor's criterion for listing:
"They must be issued by a legitimate postal authority, recognised by the government concerned, and valid for postal use...  Stamps must be available to the general public, in reasonable quantities without any artificial restrictions being imposed on their distribution."
And therein lies the rub.

With the separation of the service provider and stamp issuer (Royal Mail) from the retail network (Post Office) the stamps are generally available, with no restrictions imposed by Royal Mail.

That the branch network has been transformed so that receiving letters and parcels is a very minor part of the activities of even the Post Office part of many branches (just look at and see the full range), and because Royal Mail do not pay sufficient commission to Post Office Ltd branches to sell their collectables, special stamp products get a very low profile at retail level despite all the efforts of Royal Mail marketing, including social media, which is really aimed at attracting new customers to the Stamps and Collectables business at Edinburgh.


  1. In my point of view item 3 should read as following:

    "They must be issued by a legitimate postal authority, recognised by the government concerned, and valid for postal use... Stamps must be available to the general public, in reasonable quantities without any artificial restrictions being imposed on their distribution."

    Otherwise it makes no sense!

  2. I am fortunate that my local Post Office always orders in the commemorative issues. But they don't do the extras, like mini-sheets and PSBs, even if I ask them in advance to order them for me. It often means that I have a mad dash to central London if I want to get any of those for FDC purposes. A shame really, as I would love to support my local Post Office on this.

  3. We should stop buying special issues as they are only produced for philatelic purpose - or in other words that we "idiots" buy them and put them in our albums without any effort for Royal Mail!

  4. I went to the main post office in Edinburgh (Princes St Mall, Waverley Bridge) just after midday yesterday to get that day's Waterloo issue -- sorry, only have some of the 1st Class, no other denominations. So I was unable get the usual loose sets or to send my planned FDCs. And this is the main post office in Scotland. They no longer have a bag to send covers off for first day stamping, so on two other recent occasions my "FDCs" have come through the usual local mail (ie illegible, undated general postmarks). If this is the service they wish to offer to customers trying to pay several hundred pound each year for the inflated special issues (to stick them in albums and expect no work from the Post Office in return), then I am unsurprised that collectors are leaving in droves. I am pretty much at quitting point myself.

  5. And let us not all forget that when you come to sell your collection of new issues you will be lucky to get 60p in the £ regardless of what the S.G. catalogue might tell you! Too many collectors are slaves to the catalogue price and year in and year out get the latest edition to work out how much their collections have increased by, heaven help them if we should ever join the euro as the market will be flooded with decimal commem stamps, just remember what happened to the pre-decimal issues.

  6. Not in my town's main post office. As a sender of mail, a lot overseas, I want to use the nice stamps. One of the counter staff suggested a little rural post office a few miles out of town because the sub-postmaster liked stamps. I went there, and lo and behold, I was able to buy stamps to my heart's content. He used to work for Stanley Gibbons and other stampy people in London in the 1970s. However, his health is not brilliant and he has been trying to retire for years (I think he is in his 70s). He finally retired in April. That then meant I had to find somewhere else (the post office moved into a convenience store). There is a small post office in a corner shop in a housing estate in my town I knew had special issue stamps but my previous visits there, they had a post office bloke in to try and sort them out, sending unsold sheets back. I managed then to get hold of stamps (the lifeboat issue was one). I wasn't sure they'd still do that many stamps but they did, and they still had "old" stock left, from 2011. In April, I bought crown jewels and the red tank engine... On the 18th June, I was able to buy a sheet each of the 2 £1 designs (36 stamps in total), taking half their stock of that postage value for the issue!
    They had not been sent any of the Penny black/blue miniature sheets. My mother was able to get 2 sheets, plus presentation pack, from a small town post office in south Lincolnshire, about a week or so after the issue date. I, in the meantime, had ordered online from RM. I bumped into my lovely retired sub-postmaster and had a good chat. He tried all the post offices in the area for the Penny Black issue. He said the next town had received less than half a dozen, and of course, they had sold out. I was actually pleased to have bumped into him. I had decided to give him the miniature sheet as I had ordered more than 1. Somehow then, the conversation turned to posters advertising special issues - I couldn't remember the last one I saw put up in a post office - Classic Album Covers? I don't see posters up about stamps, except perhaps for the popular / commercial stuff (Dr Who, perhaps?). Can you remember the last poster you saw advertising special stamps in a post office?

    1. > Can you remember the last poster you saw advertising special stamps in a post office?

      Do you remember receiving a letter or parcel where commemorative stamps were used? The last one I do was 4 years ago and it was the only one in decade for me. Apparently nowadays there is no point to produce & distribute commemorative stamps en masse for general public. Only collectors are buying them anyway and they can always order via post order or on-line order.

      Soon our hobby will be like collecting matchboxes (phillumeny) while almost no one is selling matches or using them to start fire.

    2. > Do you remember receiving a letter or parcel where commemorative stamps were used?

      Yes! My mother had sent a small parcel to my son beginning of the month. Bridge stamps were used.

      As well as sending, I receive mail, mainly from overseas and see a wealth of stamps used for postage (as well as some printed labels). For nice post from within the UK, I do see some commemoratives, but it is mainly definitives, and the occasional country definitive (are these widely available?), but I don't think I've had a letter with a Faststamp.

      My interest in stamps has come through the sending/receiving of nice post (I was a prolific Postcrosser, and I have many penpals). So, when was the last time you sent a letter / postcard? I need to wrap up a couple of letters for posting today - one to the USA, and another to South Korea.

  7. As most PO branches have very limited space for Point of Sale material there is little point in using that space to promote low margin products like commemorative stamps - a single "half decent" foreign currency sale is 6 months worth of special stamp sales income for many branches.

    Guess which product I would rather promote......

    With the increased number of PO branches on the "PO Local" contract there will be fewer and fewer opportunities to buy special stamps in branch (except at Christmas).....not necessarily a bad thing as it costs the PO a fortune to distribute the damned things that are really a total nuisance for branch staff

    1. Would you prefer those who want the nice stamps to order online/mail order direct from Royal Mail? Is there a higher margin on the booklets of 1st class stamps? Many now buy those at the supermarket.

  8. Personally yes, I find the special stamps to be a total pain.

    Yes, there is a higher income for a Postmaster on the sale of books of stamps rather than selling stamps "loose".

    Special stamps have been withdrawn from sale at branches that operate on the PO local contract (except for the Christmas issue) which results in savings for POL on distribution costs and makes the branch easier to operate.

    Retailers buy their stamp books directly from RM at a discounted price and sell them at whatever price they wish up to face value.

  9. The Crown office closure program continues

    020008 Stockwell (London) ‘merged’ (or closed as some may say) with Ferndale Road (Brixton) closed 4 July 2015

    010907 Western Road, Hove ‘merger’ with Melville road Hove from January 2016

    006008 Earls Court Road ‘merger’ with Kensington from January 2016

    002001 Balham Crown Office to close, and reopen on the same site as a franchised office, date to be announced.

    And a re-location:

    008008 Ferndale Road (Brixton) to move to 242 Ferndale Road in early 2016 and will gain a third NCR, office to be Known as Brixton Crown Office.


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