Thursday 30 July 2015

News update: slogan postmarks, Post and Go stamps, and a new machine.

Slogan Postmarks

Royal Mail's press release on the risks of identity theft and fraud did not include any mention of a nationwide slogan postmark about National Scam Awareness Month.

Thanks to Mike and Adrian for providing these examples of the slogan, from Bristol and Warrington Mail Centres, both on 20 July 2015.

Post and Go - Faststamps and Open Values

Thanks to Dominic who wrote:

I ordered a Machin Post and Go collectors pack from Tallents House last week, I was surprised to find that the Airmail stamp was printed on MA13 stock, the other two 1st class ones were undated.

Strange that the stamps should be printed from different stock, but I suppose each stamp is printed multiple times on a roll and then cut for inclusion in the pack. So each stamp could be printed on a differently-dated roll!
UPDATE 26 August:  Mike reports (19 August) a later purchase from Tallents House contained only undated stock!

Thanks to Chris for providing images of the Union Flag and Machin stamps and receipts from the Royal Naval Submarine Museum (HMS Dolphin if I recall correctly) in Gosport.  The flags are undated, and the Machins are coded MA13.


Thanks also to Vince who reports a fascinating software error at the BPM which sees the Airmail logo included on stamps with the Penny Black inscription!

For a short while the PandG  machine at BPMA developed a default problem, resulting in  the 'airmail' logo appearing with the Penny Black text. The fault was caused when a major software upgrade took place on the evening of Tuesday 10th July.  The error was available only on the Wednesday and Thursday morning until it was switched off.  The corrected strips with the Maltese Cross reported to be in a different position to the previous versions. Approx 30 Collector's Strips of both 1st and 2nd class were  bought.

The Penny Black imprint will cease at close of business on 7 August, according to the IAR website.


New machine
Once again news appears on the IAR Website ahead of being confirmed authoritatively by Royal Mail.

A new (non military museum) static site has been located for a new Post and Go Kiosk A010. The site has been surveyed and will be installed towards the end of August 2015. Full details will be provided on the Royal Mail website when an installation date is confirmed.   See August update.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Post Offices under threat - and why stamps are missing from branches.

As many UK readers know, the Post Office network has changed enormously over the last 20 years.  Once the local Post Office was regarded as the retail arm and visible face of the General Post Office and then Royal Mail.  Somewhere where we could get stamps, and where the postmaster willingly kept back new stamp issues for his happy band of collectors, and took in first day covers to send to the nearest Head Postmaster (First Day Cover Duty) for cancellation with a special postmark and redelivery the next day.

I started drafting an article about the changes to the network some months ago: there always seemed to be something happening which affected the draft and the notes I had made.  Now sub-postmasters are being forced to give up their livelihood in favour of a new model with lower operating costs for the organisation.  

Tonight on BBC2 television is the first of three programmes entitled "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Inside the Post Office".  Billed as

"An eye-opening look inside the Post Office - an iconic national institution undergoing the biggest shake-up in its nearly 400-year history as it battles to reinvent itself for the modern world."

I suggest you tune in at 9pm, set it up on series-record, or watch on the iPlayer.  I'm sorry that my recent absence prevented me from alerting you earlier.  This will only be available to viewers in the UK or those overseas who have access to UK television.

Post Office branches, along with the Royal Mail delivery service, were formerly part of the General Post Office. Post Office Counters Ltd was created as a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Mail in 1986, becoming Post Office Ltd in 2001.

Most of us grew up with the concept of Head Post Offices, where there was a Head Postmaster in charge and the managers and admin and counter staff were all employees of the GPO.  The other type of Post Office was the sub-Post Office, managed by a self-employed Sub-Postmaster (SPM) sometimes employing other people or members of the family.  In the original arrangements the SPM received a fixed core tier payment. On top of the fixed core payment, SPMs were paid per transaction.

In May 2007, the Government embarked on the Network Change, or Post Office Closure Programme, which resulted in Post Office Ltd (POL) closing nearly 2,500 post offices, including 500 branches, which were replaced with Outreach services.   The Closure Programme was necessary to help get the Post Office network on a more stable footing as it was making heavy losses.

Many of the offices which closed were not far from others, and the closure programme was designed to ensure that essential services were still available within an area.  Many part-time offices were closed.   And when the programme was completed we thought that was the end of it.  But it was only the start.

Post Office Ltd was still losing money, with some branches not generating enough profit (not income) to cover the costs of the SPM salary and associated PO Ltd overheads.

The next step was Network Transformation, a programme designed to "address the economics and lack of flexibility of the traditional sub post office operating model".   Back in 2012, the Government stressed that any conversion to the 'Locals' model would be voluntary - in evidence to parliament's Business, Innovation and Skills Committee*, Post Office Ltd said that "any move to the new Post Office Local model is entirely voluntary on the part of the subpostmaster. They will only move to the new operating model if the economics stack up for them and we will only introduce the new model where there is a robust business plan and where we are sure it can be successful and sustainable.   Any subpostmaster who wants to stay on their current contract terms—if that works best for them—can do so."   [* full link now added - plenty of good reading there!]

However, times change.  PO Ltd still needed to save money, but the Government of the day committed £1.34bn for the Post Office network to make sure there was no programme of Post Office closures and to update branches; in November 2013 the Government announced a further £640m investment in the Post Office network, from 2015 to 2018.

At the end of March 2014, there were 350 Crown Post Office branches that are run by Post Office Limited employees (now only 322). The remainder of the network was made up of 11,346 branches that are run on an agency contract basis.   The Crown Offices were where the Philatelic Counters were located: with many of the Crown Office closed and their functions transferred to a branch of a national retail chain (eg Lloyds Chemists, WHSmith) philatelic counters were closed and philatelic awareness, experience and knowledge was lost.

Central to the modernisation funded by the Government was the introduction of two new-style Post Offices.

1.     Main style Post Office branches which offer a modern environment and in many cases extended opening hours. These branches have a dedicated Post Office counter offering customers a full range of products and services, during standard hours. In most cases there will also Post Office service provision at the retail position, providing access to a wide range of services including Post Office Card Account withdrawals and everyday banking services during extended shop hours.

2.     Local style Post Office branches provide a wide range of services from the retail till and are open for all the hours that the shop housing it is open.

According to the Post Office "September 2014 saw the 3,000th branch transformed and more than 82,000 extra opening hours for customers.  This is not a closure programme and we are committed to maintaining our current network at around 11,500."

Most SPMs are members of the National Federation of SubPostmasters which says it is "committed to protecting and promoting the interests of subpostmasters".  The NFSP is the only organisation recognised by Post Office Ltd to represent subpostmasters on matters surrounding pay and contracts.  However, many SPMs are now saying that the NFSP has acquiesced to the changes now being forced on postmasters without consulting the members.  Their 'Protect our Post Office' campaign has not reversed the Network Transformation.

On the other hand, the Communications Workers Union (the Trade Union representing Post Office, Royal Mail, Parcelforce, BT and other workers in the communications industries) is becoming increasingly vocal and agitated over the changes to the Post Office network.  Back in 2011, they expressed concerns such as:

- passport, DVLA, currency on demand and Post Office financial services being excluded from Locals entirely, means reduced services.  Locals would also lack a dedicated service area and it is difficult to see how financial or government services could be expanded at Locals branches - two key areas being targeted for increased revenues.
(Also excluded from sale under the Locals model are special stamp issues, even where customers exist. And this is not just presentation packs, FDCs, etc, but the basic stamps in sheets.  Where is Royal Mail's retail network now?)
 - It reduces quality of service, with variable levels of staff training and knowledge, leading for instance to customers with parcels being turned away at a number of Locals outlets.

- it is likely to push postmasters out because it removes the 'core tier payment' which they rely on while placing greater costs onto their business by mandating extended opening hours.

Self-employed Sub-Postmasters can cope with many types of transactions, including the sale of foreign currency, processing of road tax payments, payment of pensions and benefits.  But the government would like to see more financial services and insurance products processed through the network, and single-person branches do not have the flexibility for this, nor the ability to undertake personal financial transactions and investments in a private situation.   Despite PO Ltd having money to contribute to the physical changes to a retail shop to accommodate the new PO Local set-up, some branches have no space to expand: they operate within the physical constraints of the building they are in.

In these circumstances POLtd is seeking alternative retail premises in the immediate area (eg the same village), giving notice to the SPM that his contract will be terminated when a suitable alternative location for the PO is found and agreement reached with a new operator.  In a village near here apart from the PO there are three other shops and a pub.  None of the shops could easily accommodate the PO and its associated delivery office with two rural van rounds, two being very restricted in size (one is a butchers, the other a newsagent carrying a few other lines).  The pub has only recently reopened after a long period of closure, and as we all know, rural pubs are also under threat.   On top of that the current SPM also operates a Post Office Outreach service at 5 other villages - in village halls and churches - where existing branches have closed!  Any new operator ought to be expected to continue this service.

The SPM has been careful since he arrived not to expand his operation to take on lines which would compete with the operation of the other shops (he sells a few sweets, some postal stationery and greetings cards).  It is to be hoped that the other shopkeepers take note of this arrangement and decline to take on the Post Office, otherwise POLtd will dump the present postmaster out of a job.

Friday 10 July 2015

Gurkhas Commemorative Sheet - 200 years of service.

Royal Mail's next premium-priced commemorative sheet celebrates 200 years of service by the Gurkhas.  The sheet will be issued on 20 August 2015.

The first Gurkha regiment was formed in 1815.  Originally part of the British Indian Army, they fought Pathans on the frontiers, dacoits in Burma and mutineers in India. With six battalions on the Western Front, four in Gallipoli and others in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, Persia and Salonika, Gurkhas were prominent in the First World War, and similarly so in the Second World War, where they served in North Africa, Italy, Malaya and Burma.

After 1947, Gurkha regiments were divided between the armies of independent India and Britain, with British Gurkhas in the forefront of operations in Malaya and Borneo, and subsequently taking part in the Falklands campaign, and more recently in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.

This Commemorative Sheet in a numbered limited edition of 7500.

Two special postmarks have been announced coincident with the issue of this sheet.

Both are available from the London Special Handstamp Centre.

More new slogan postmarks from Royal Mail

The June slogans post has been updated today with some different examples of slogans that were reported earlier.

The first new one for July marks the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. According to the Royal Mail press release:

"[In addition to the new stamps] The anniversary will also be marked with a special postmark on all stamped UK mail between 16 and 18 July.  It will read; ‘75th anniversary Battle of Britain’". 

As the dates they quote usually refer to when the mail is delivered, it suggests that this will be used from 14/15-17 July.   However,  DP has sent this example from Manchester used on 9 July 2015!

I look forward to seeing more examples used in the coming week!

UPDATE 17 JULY 2015.

The first example of the Battle of Britain slogan used in the correct period - and on the first day of issue of the stamps.  Thanks to Geoff (GBCC) on Stampboards

Two more examples showing the two different layouts:

Peterborough on 14 July

and Sheffield, remarkably on 9 July!

Leaving aside the 'Postcode' and 'Stroke Association' postmarks which are used between these specials, this is (by my count) the 30th different slogan postmark this year already!   That's counting the two uses each of the Penny Black and the Princess Charlotte slogans as one each only.

I'm sure there will be more to come!

Thursday 9 July 2015

New Machin pictures

As previously mentioned, the 10p sheet stamp and the 1st class book of 6 were found last month.

I can now show pictures of both:

10p counter sheet - MAIL - M15L - printing date 13/05/15

1st class retail book of 6.  As with the 1st Large book, the cylinder numbers - W7 (red) W1 (iridescent) W3 (phosphor) - are hidden by the front cover.  Now on sale here.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Post and Go News

Latest News from Royal Mail

"Following the success of the Post and Go machines at the Royal Navy Museums, we are pleased to announce that a machine will be installed at the final site in the group, The Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport.

"Machine A004 will go live on Tuesday 28th July. The machine will vend Union Flag and Machin stamps with ‘The RNSM’ as the location identifier. "

I don't think I updated the blog regarding the move of M002 from Crewe to Mount Pleasant.
"M002 was installed at the Mount Pleasant Enquiry Office on the 3rd June 2015."

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) 

BPMA will be introducing on 16 September a new Heraldic Lion Post and Go reprint to be issued by its on-site Post and Go machine. 

The Heraldic Lion design was first issued on 13 May 2015 in a strip with five other Heraldic Beasts.  This new product will be the Lion stamp alone on the roll and will first be used on Wednesday 16th September until 18 October inclusive. The Lion design will be temporarily replaced with the Poppy from 19 October to 15 November 2015.

The stamp will carry the usual BPMA inscription and will be issued alongside the 1st and 2nd class Machin and Union Flag designs.

As yet Royal Mail have not provided information about the Post and Go Set Up at Autumn Stampex - save that the Sea Travel set will be on sale for the first time.

It may be that one or more of the Royal Mail Stampex machines will also carry the single-stamp Heraldic Lion, maybe instead of the Union Flag.  It would be unfortunate if the only outlet for this reprinted Lion is at the BPMA and so only available with the BPMA inscription.  That's not how things worked when the Poppy stamp went solo!

UPDATE: I've had confirmation that the BPMA will not be the only source of this reprint, but no decision has yet been made on its distribution. 

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Penny Black anniversary covers

A number of readers have sent pictures of covers - some of them unique - that they produced to mark the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black in May this year.

Of course with the Penny Black having previously been commemorated there was the opportunity for double-dated covers.  I didn't get the opportunity to produce one myself, but Robert sent this which has the 2015 Penny Black doubled on Venezuela's 1980 stamp marking the centenary of the death of Rowland Hill.

A dedicated group of FDC collectors like to have their covers cancelled with the counter datestamp (CDS) of an associated town or village.   I must admit the connection with Etchingham was not known to me, but these are nice covers of the miniature sheet and the booklet stamps.

And the connection, courtesy of PS, the producer of these covers:

Henry Corbould FSA, the designer of the first postage stamp, the Penny Black, died at Hurst Green, having been taken ill there while travelling back to London from the coast, and was buried in Etchingham parish church. There is a memorial tablet on the wall of the church, which for many years was believed to be the only known likeness of Corbould.

In 1990, as part of the 150th anniversary of the postage stamp, the village produced two First Day Covers to mark the Corbould connection, and held the Etchingham Stamp Festival to raise funds for church repairs.

As previously mentioned, the Penny Black slogan postmark was available and announced for the day of issue.   Thanks to JE for these pictures of ordinary covers prepared at Preston to get the slogan on the two stamps from the miniature sheet. Also shown one from Norwich which uses the other configuration.

Finally, this excellent combination cover from AB has the two stamps from the miniature sheet alongside the 1st class and 2nd class Post and Go stamps from the BPMA with their additional BPMA commemorative inscription, just tied with the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre Penny Black 1840-2015 slogan.

Thank you to everybody who sent in material, and I am sorry that I didn't manage to publish it earlier.

I have been reminded of a couple of covers of the Europhilex Special Edition miniature sheet.

Firstly from AB, using the same cover as above, but the special stamps cancelled with the Europhilex Stamp Show Post Office on the first day of the show, and the Machin definitive cancelled with the Event Office Branch 3 self-inking datestamp.

The only Official First Day Cover (§) produced specifically for this sheet was from Sheridan Covers in a limited edition, and of course because of the difficulty in obtaining the sheets this cover is totally sold out.  (Thanks Mike.)

This one is also regarded as official because the cover was produced by the handstamp sponsor (AB), but the Berkhamsted handstamp was not specific to this sheet, actually running for 6 months.

§ - Association of GB FDC Collectors definition: a first day cover, bearing a set or miniature sheet, produced by the sponsor of the special posttmark.  The special postmark on the Sheridan Cover has the same design as the cover.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Fighter Planes and Bees on the next two stamp issues.

Two more new issues added to our website

On 16 July 2015 Royal Mail will issue a 6-stamp miniature sheet to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.   I think a set of stamps would have been better as they would have been more likely to see general use.  A retail booklet would also have been good, but we have what we have.

The 18 August 2015 issue does include a retail booklet and a set of 6 attractive stamps showing Bees of Britain, but also a less attractive miniature sheet, devoted to the habits of the Honeybee.

Full details of both issues - including some special postmarks for the Battle of Britain - are now on our website.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Shaky start for New Revenue Protection Handstamp

Royal Mail's new 'Revenue Protection' cancellation device (reported here) has got off to an inauspicious start.

In an attempt to stop uncancelled stamps being delivered on packets, and as an alternative to this:

Royal Mail introduced this device, producing this type of cancellation:

Sadly the initial results are not promising. Whilst this is fine


the stamps on this special delivery letter had already been postmarked with the Great Glen Post Office counter datestamp - so there was no need for either Glasgow or Southampton Mail Centre to vandalise them with the new device:

And the some of the stamps are tied to the envelope, so the postmark is quite clear for all to see!

Machin Security Checklist updated to July 2015

As most of the 2015 reprints of Machin definitives have now been found, the Checklist has been updated and is available for download. 

Existing users have been contacted by email.

New readers, please visit Dropbox.