Saturday 31 October 2015

Royal Mail Honours Kiwis' Rugby World Cup 2015 Win

Royal Mail is celebrating the end of Rugby World Cup 2015 with a special postmark congratulating the winners, New Zealand.

The postmark will be applied to millions of items of UK stamped mail nationwide from Saturday 31 October to Wednesday 4 November. It will read

Congratulations to New Zealand Rugby World Cup 2015 winners

Rugby World Cup 2015 was hosted by England for the second time – the first occasion being 24 years ago. Today’s Final at Twickenham was the culmination of 48 matches held up and down the country, over the past 44 days, from St James’ Park in Newcastle to Brighton Community Stadium.

The winning of the Rugby World Cup is considered the greatest prize in Rugby and is one of the world’s most admired competitions. 20 teams from around the world competed to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, named in honour of the sport’s folkloric founder, English schoolboy William Webb Ellis.

Andrew Hammond from Royal Mail, said: “Postmarks are used to commemorate significant moments in the country’s history. England being chosen as the hosts for Rugby World Cup 2015 is certainly something to remember.

"The Tournament has been fantastic and we are really pleased that we can celebrate it in a unique way.”

No picture was available with the press release email. 

UPDATE 6 November: But I have been sent these, the first from the myroyalmail website (the press release still isn't on the Royal Mail Group Media webpage where all(?) press releases are supposed to be):

And Mike sent the alternative layout used at Edinburgh.  Mike pointed out that the wording at Edinburgh was different - but in fact the wording advised in the original email was wrong: (see below) the word 'to' is not included on the specimen shown above, either!

Further update...  Thanks to GW I can now show the other format (from Bristol Mail Centre) which does indeed include the word 'to', per the original email.

Friday 30 October 2015

Royal Mail to end Smartstamp facilty?

According to TravelMole, a website devoted to the Travel and Tourism industries, Royal Mail is stopping its Smartstamp system.  [Royal Mail have confirmed the closure from 31 December2015 - but see comments from January 2016.]

UPDATE 11 JANUARY:  New Facebook page for users may convince Royal Mail to provide a better replacement than so far offered

Smartstamp was launched on 15 January 2004, and we wrote about it at the time
For a fee of £4.99 per month or £49.99 per year, subscribers can use a personal
computer to print postage on their own envelopes or labels from the comfort of their own home or office.
The software also provides complete details of postage rates and those for supplementary services, so that the correct values are printed, for any destination and weight selected.
Test prints can be produced at any time but users need to be online to use the system, as prepayment accounts are debited as each impression or batch of impressions is printed. The system prints the value and a service indicator, a code number, and the date by which the item must be posted.
Remember when 1st class postage was 28p and 2nd class only 21p?!  I don't know how much take-up there was for the system, especially when the software was restricted to Internet Explorer, and initially could not be used on Apple's Safari or Mozilla's Firefox browsers.  In September 2006 a new facility was launched which had no subscription, and would run on other operating systems and browsers, but still take-up was quite low.  It's not clear whether the Royal Mail Online Postage system will also be ending.

Aside from the small businesses which used the system, it was used quite extensively for a short
period by people producing 'scarce', 'rare', 'one-day only' thematic/topical postage slogans for sale on eBay.  In fact, they were nothing of the sort: they could print them on demand, but they covered many animal, bird, sporting topics.  On the other hand there were some genuine thematic slogans produced by organisations such as the Society of Olympic Collectors.

TravelMole says that it was widely used by Travel Agents:

"Despite most correspondence being via email, travel agencies are still posting tickets to customers."

According to TravelMole:
Royal Mail is replacing the system with various web applications when it closes Smartstamp on December 31.  It claims the new systems could lead to savings but agents argue that the replacement system prints large labels where the address has to be added which can be very time consuming. 

Royal Mail said the SmartStamp system was now running on outdated technology which was not compatible with Windows 10, Mac OSX and other operating systems in use.
A spokesman said: "We are supporting customer migration to one of our range of web applications such as Online Business Account, Online Postage or Click and Drop, which are more accessible and have better functionality across a range of platforms and devices.

"Customers will see no increase in the cost of postage as a result of the change and may see savings, depending on their usage.

"Over the next three months we will be working with all our customers that currently use SmartStamp to find a new solution which best meets their postage needs."
It sounds to me like a classic case of Hutber's Law. Whilst many organisations will have upgraded to Windows 10 (especially if they tried using Windows 8) the main users of the system are reckoned to be small businesses, many of which tend to upgrade when they get new hardware, rather than just because a new buggy system is available, delaying their upgrade until the bugs have been eliminated.
Of course Royal Mail also have an eBay/PayPal integrated postage-printing option, so this may have to change as well.  There is nothing obvious on their website about the changes.

Do you use Smartstamp or Online Postage ? Have you heard from Royal Mail about the changes?
Let us know!

UPDATE 6 November
Bob M received an email from Royal Mail on 4 November (I suspect my own Smartstamp account expired some years ago, which is why I didn't get one!)

It's long and graphic, but the key points are:

Dear Customer,
We need to let you know that SmartStamp will be closing down permanently on 31 December 2015. SmartStamp has been in existence since 2003 and has become outdated. The application is running on very old systems which cannot easily be upgraded to new platforms.
The good news is that we have a number of alternative options, with improved accessibility, to keep you posting.
It’s important you consider and choose the right option for you before SmartStamp becomes unavailable at the end of December. Please take some time to consider the overviews below and then visit our website for more detailed information.
Click and Drop
Our new one-stop postage and labels solution ..................
Why not visit and join the thousands of customers already using this system today?
Online Postage
By switching to Online Postage, you can use your existing prepay account (and any of your credit currently in it). There’s also an address book function. Here’s why we think you should consider this option:
  • Print on 3 different envelope sizes, 2 Avery label sizes or paper
  • You can use it on newer operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS
  • No need to download the application to your computer, or worry about yearly patches – everything you need is online
  • Free access on multiple computers.
Please visit to see our full guide and work through 6 easy steps to post.
Sheets or rolls of stamps from our online shop
Online Business Account (OBA)
If you spend an average of £20 a day, £100 a week, £400 a month or £5,000 a year, you could qualify for - and save money using - an Online Business Account. Find out more, including how to contact us, at
Franking machine
Please visit to learn more about the benefits of a Franking machine - and contact details if you need more help.
UPDATE 9 December So although Smartstamp is ending, Online Postage - which is "much the same but better" - continues. The Travel Agents ought to find that just as useful!  But they don't, as you can see from the comments appended below.

I've now received a c6 (board-backed) envelope with a new OnlinePostage label.  Because this incorporates the address, weight and payment details, and Royal Mail's required new 2D barcode, it is of course much larger than the old Smartstamp.  It also covers the pre-printed 'Please do not bend' so requiring another endorsement.

Collectable?  As postal history I suppose it must be, but postal history collecting is taking more and more space!

4 January 2016 UPDATE
Activity on twitter from disgruntled users and the consumer watchdog 'Citizens Advice' is asking for comments.  That may be why - according to reports - Smartstamp is still working today.

I've never been known as an apologist for Royal Mail, but OnlinePostage has always been the non-subscription alternative to Smartstamp and produced an impression very similar.  The service does not require you to print onto labels as the FAQ shows (unless the website is wrong):

What can I print my postage onto?
You can print your postage on to standard label sheets, DL, C6, C5, envelopes or A4 paper. To see all label sizes click on the ‘Easy Start ‘section on the homepage or ‘Edit print options’ on the create postage page.

The Plug was finally pulled on 31 January 2016.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

You thought it was all over, but it isn't - Another 2012 Gold Medal Surprise !

Since Great Britain hotsed the 2012 Olympics and overnight produced stamps for each British Gold Medal Winner, there have been a number of surprising 'errors' and possible misprints, reported here.

As regular readers will remember, the stamps were issued in miniature sheets of 6, printed on an A4 sheet of 4x MS, (and these were printed in press sheets of 4x A4).

So this came as a bit of a surprise today:

(To show the perforations as they did not show well)

On eBay from seller 4chonts this is a roll of 1000 miniature sheets, each of 6 stamps, which are listed at £3,200 or 53p each compared with the 60p original price and current 63p value.

The stamp shown was the 10th in the series and one of the 6 issued on 5 August 2012.

I suspect this is a roll that would have been printed for machine application to Royal Mail first day covers. Such coils are common, for self-adhesive definitives (which are printed in one multi-value coil, with sideways printing rather than N-S), and commemoratives including post and go issues.

Royal Mail do not publicise this sort of printing and the stamps are not available to collectors or dealers (with one exception) but the system is well known.

However, there was never any evidence that the Gold Medal stamps were produced in this way as well as by the 6 regional printers contracted to achieve rush-digitally-printed overnight delivery to Post Offices for sale the next day.

So many questions !

Was this done for each medal, and for the paralympics?

Were these coils supplied to Handstamp Centres, which normally carry small stocks of stamps in order to replace damaged or wrongly cancelled FDCs/cards?

How many printers were involved? Was it any of the 6, or a different printer entirely?

Where has this one been for the last three years?

Are there any other gold medal coils ? !

Monday 26 October 2015

Post and Go Exhibition and Museum Updates.

Thanks to readers who have sent reports and pictures in the last couple of weeks. I now have time to provide an update report on some of the recent Post and Go happenings.

But first, a trip to Singapore's exhibition.   We reported in August that the Faststamps produced in the UK and at the exhibition were once again different, although this time the difference was confined to the year code on the stamps.  Unlike in Australia, the additional inscription was the same from both sources, although it seems that both were in error, referring to the event as Singpex 2015 World Stamp Expo when the official name - which appeared on the exhibition logo - was Singapore 2015.

I understand that there were considerable problems producing Smilers sheets at the Exhibition, and in fact they were not supplied until some weeks afterwards.  (This may be why we saw no Smilers at Stampex?)   Thanks to Rushstamps we can show both designs which have the correct show name because the label is illustrated with the show logo.  I understand that these are usually only available in half-sheets of 10 but that they have some sheets of 20 as shown. (Click on the pictures to see enlargements.)

Fleet Air Arm Museum

Thanks to RW I can show a 'before and after' picture of the Union Flag stamps.  The old one was bought on Thursday 15 October in session 2314, and the one with the expanded caption on Monday 19 October (the first day) from session 2321, so not much activity in between.

Also the new MA15 Poppy with the expanded caption on the first day (19th October), and the pair used on cover.   Mail from Yeovilton is handled by the Bristol Mail Centre.

Museum of the Royal Navy

MC sends these examples from the National Museum of the Royal Navy.  It hadn't occurred to me before that, by not including the word 'Museum', these have the appearance of overprints for official use by the Royal Navy on HM Ships etc!   As publicised, the Union Flag also marks Trafalgar Day, and the Poppy stamps are MA15.   As you can see, the receipt has both the abbreviation and the full title.

It appears that even the Museums that were reported to be closed on Mondays would have at least the shop area open, so that collectors could obtain all their requirements on one day.  Reports from the Marines and Submarine Museum are awaited.

Thanks for the continued support - though I suspect there will be less to report in 2016 as many of you are saying that your Post and Go collections will be seriously curtailed by then!

UPDATE 6 November.
I suppose it's a measure of how much/little interest there is in these from collectors in the UK that examples from the other museums have not been supplied until now?

Thanks to Chris for these from the Royal Marines, and the Royal Navy Submarines Museums:

And the full strips (click on image to see them larger):

Winter's Coming: Royal Mail Supports NHS 'Stay Well' Campaign With New Slogan

News Release 25 October 2015

Royal Mail has announced it will be issuing a special postmark in support of the ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign by NHS England and Public Health England. 

"The Stay Well This Winter is a major drive to help people stay well. Winter can be a challenging time particularly for older people and those with long-term health conditions. The campaign focusses on helping people take the right actions to keep themselves well and avoid serious illness during colder months.
"Royal Mail’s postmark will be applied to millions of items of UK stamped mail nationwide from Monday 26 to Friday 30 October. It will read ‘Stay Well This Winter’."

As usual, the dates are delivery dates and the first example reported to me is dated Saturday 24th October.

UPDATE 30 October.
I've been told that, as is so often the case, the information provided to (and therefore by) Royal Mail's publicity department is incorrect.

The Stay Well campaign is organised by NHS England and Public Health England.  Therefore the sloagn will only be used on mail to addresses in England.  Because the Intelligent Letter Sorting Machines (iLSMs) can't distinguish between destinations for postmarking, the Stay Well slogan will only be used at mail centres with Integrates Mail Processors (IMPs).  The default 'Stroke Association' slogan will be used at iLSMs and on IMP mail to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and internationally.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Machin Stamp Booklet Variations Leave Collectors Puzzled

I've been asked to write again on the peculiar situation regarding 1st class booklets of 12 stamps that have been produced in recent years.  Most of the questions are answered in the Comments on the earlier post, but this ought to explain things more clearly.

The red 1st class stamps were first issued in January 2013 with a M12L year code, using cylinder W5 which had previously been used for gold stamps before the Diamond Jubilee issue in 2012.

Red cylinder W5 continued in use through 2013 to 2014, the long life of the cylinder being ascribed to relatively lower volumes and the better quality of modern cylinders.

So there were plentiful supplies of M14L booklets, not only last year but through to the
spring of 2015.  Searching for the M15L version even after Easter all I could find were M14L, and only a few M15L appeared on eBay by the end of June.

Early in October 2015 the M15L printing was suddenly available all round the country, as reported here.  Because of the relocation of Walsall's printing to a new factory and new press, these were printed from a new cylinder W7, with the number positioned closer to the stamps, and thus hidden by the front cover of the booklet.

What wasn't expected was that the same red W7 cylinder would have been used in conjuction with W14L iridescent, or that these would not appear until after the M15L had been discovered.

These booklets are distributed in wrapped packs of 50 with a barcode and packing date printed on, and it is quite possible that we have - naturally - passed by the packets with no cylinder booklets in.   However, the M15L seen so far have a packing date of 30/03/2015 while the M14L W7 version have packing dates in April!

So the 2014 version of 12 x 1st booklets exists in three forms: Cylinder W5 with two different telephone numbers on the covers, and Cylinder W7 not released until October 2015. 

At present we do not have any stock of M14L W7 booklets.

Curioser and Curioser - for those who like a bit more detail.
The 1st class booklet printings.  The order of cylinder numbers changed on the new press.

Printed on original press:  W14L - Red W5 - Phosphor W2 - Iridescent W1

Printed on new press:
W14L - Red W7 - Iridescent W2
- Phosphor W2 (unchanged but should be W3)
A new iridescent cylinder W2 for the new press;

W15L - Red W7 (unchanged) - Iridescent W1 - Phosphor W2
A new iridescent cylinder W1 for 15.  Phosphor should have been changed to W3 for the new M14L printing.

The 2nd class booklet printings.

Printed on original press: W12L, W13L and W14L - Blue W4 - Phosphor W2 - Iridescent W1

Printed on new press:       W15L - Blue W6 - Iridescent W1 - Phosphor W3
The iridescent number is new because it is a new year, and the phosphor has, correctly, been increased by one because it is a new version of the single-band phosphor cylinder.

So the numbers on 1st class have been W5, W7 and 2nd class are W4, W6 - but historically cylinder numbers have been allocated in sequence for each design.  There is no known reason why International Security Printers should not allocate numbers consecutively for each type of book - 1st x 12, 2nd x 12, 1st x 6, 2nd L x 4, 1st L x 4, as they have done for some of the phosphor cylinders, and should have done in all cases.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

The Force Awakens Even More With Ultra Violet Light

If you have the Star Wars stamps and don't have an ultra-violet lamp, then you won't be seeing the features on the stamps issued yesterday that are invisible in ordinary light.  As far as I know The Drum is the first to reveal this, which isn't in the publicity information that was sent out by Royal Mail to dealers.

The stamps showing the new characters have a fluorsecent representation of the new Film's logo in yellow:

The earlier characters have different emblems in fluorescent white, some have the Alliance Starbird and others the Imperial Crest, as used on the first day of issue postmarks.  Some of these are quite difficult to see against the very dark colours of the stamp, suggesting that the fluorescent ink may be below some of the colours.

Thus although there are only 4 obvious cylinder numbers, there are actually 7!  Reading upwards:

Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Phosphor, White Fluor, Yellow Fluor - all C1

There are no fluorescent marks on the miniature sheet, but the same marks are included on the Generic Sheet, and PSB panes.

My thanks to reader Jarvis, and also to Davis and Alex at Royal Mail Philatelic Enquiries who provided him with this line-drawing of the fluorescent emblems added to the stamps.  The arrangement shows the 12 stamps in the normal sheets.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Star Wars - a bit of a let-down, but also a relief!

Readers will recall that among the many Star Wars products (see our website) Royal Mail included 'Character Stamp Sets'. 

Without precise technical details we were not sure whether these would be strips of 5 or blocks of 10 - in which case they would have to be from different sheet printings, or whether they would be torn from the vertical strips of 5 that make up the counter sheets of 60.  Although it looked like separate stamps, we can never be sure how accurate Royal Mail publicity pictures are.

I'm pleased to say that the actual sets do not appear to contain stamps from a separate printing - although I'm willing to be corrected by somebody with better eyes or reliable information!

Monday 19 October 2015

Royal Mail supports 'Get Safe Online' with another slogan postmark.

Royal Mail has announced that it is supporting this week’s ‘Get Safe Online Week’, from Monday 19 to Saturday 24 October, with a special slogan postmark. The postmark follows the publication of Royal Mail research around the risk of ID fraud when home moving. 

The research, involving 12,000 home movers, found that more than 1 in 10 (15%) had received in excess of 20 items of mail addressed to a former resident during the first month in their new home. Worryingly more than half (52%) had received sensitive financial mail. The findings are even more shocking given the recent announcement from the Office of National Statistics that application fraud – which is linked to ID fraud - has increased by 14% in the last financial year.

Get Safe Online, which is in its tenth year, is a joint partnership between the Government, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Ofcom. This year’s week centres on the theme of ‘It’s Always Personal’. The campaign aims to educate, inform and raise awareness of internet security issues in order to encourage confident, safe use of the internet.
Royal Mail’s postmark will be applied to millions of UK stamped mail nationwide from Monday 19 to Saturday 24 October. It reads “Get Safe Online Week“.

UPDATE 20 October
Here's an example from Greenford/Windsor Mail Centre on 17 October.  As expected the dates given by Royal Mail are expected delivery dates :

UPDATE 22 October
Thanks to Richard for an example of the other format, from Jubillee Mail Centre on 19 October

Lunar New Year - Year of the Monkey Generic Sheet

The fifth in the series, following on from the 2015 Year of the Sheep last year , Year of the Horse sheet in 2013, Year of the Snake sheet in 2013 and Year of the Dragon sheet in 2012. The sheet features 20 Firework stamps from the Smilers range alongside the five elemental Sheep types Water, Wood, Fire, Earth & Metal, celebrations of Chinese communities from around the UK and imagery associated with the celebrations.

The special postmark is available for use on the day of issue from the London Special Handstamp Centre at Mount Pleasant..

Saturday 17 October 2015

Royal Mail Stamp Publicity Returns to Post Office Branches

It's been some years since Royal Mail abandoned all attempts to get Post Office Ltd to advertise new stamp issues in branches.  There simply isn't enough space for an A4 poster among all the adverts for Holiday Money, Car Insurance, Current Accounts and other financial products.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find a change of tack in our village branch this morning.  I suppose I should not have been surprised given that Royal Mail want to maximise their income from this issue, but it was still a pleasant surprise.

Our branch had one A4-size (approx) single-sided stand-up card:

and one double-sided A5 (approx):

As you can see, the A4 shows the Rey stamp, and the A5 shows Rey on one side and Finn on the other.

Are these the only designs, or would it be possible to collect a set of 12!?

UPDATE: two reports of other similar material.  Larger offices have free-standing 2m-high advertising material, probably similar to that used for the Andy Murray miniature sheet.  There is also a double-side window sticker, which has adhesive on one side. This was reported from a Scottish island.

UPDATE 27 October:
I understand that some similar material has been listed on the eBay auction site, and that the sellers have been contacted by another eBay user (with zero feedback) claiming to represent Royal Mail's lawyers, and demanding that the listings be terminated.   These are apparently genuine, although eBay has a well-established procedure (VeRO) for dealing with intellectual property infringement.  It seems that the only reason for this demand is that the posters were not supposed to be sold or given to members of the public, rather than any actual copyright infringement.

Perhaps somebody should have told employees of Post Office Ltd that these should have been destroyed if not used.  Perhaps Royal Mail would have more credibility on this if they had taken similar action over the thousands of posters for stamp issues over the past 30 years or more that are in collections, listed on eBay, and the subject of a catalogue by a well known dealer in Presentation Packs and PHQ Cards. 

Thursday 15 October 2015

New Horizon Labels explained

Several people have sent examples of the New Horizon labels and their treatment, and I've been watching eBay to see what variants have been offered.  Now a press release from Royal Mail explains the situation so far.

Press Release 15 October 2015:

Following the successful initial trial to add more 2D barcodes to parcels going through the Post Office network, additional branches have now been added to the trial.

210 Post Office branches, predominantly in the South West, will now put 2D barcodes on Large Letters and Parcels. 

Additionally, all post office branches will now produce 2D barcoded posting labels for Royal Mail Signed For, Royal Mail Special Delivery Guaranteed and International Tracked, International Signed and International Tracked and Signed products.

Over the past few months, we have been asking many of our parcels customers to change the way they label their parcels. We want them to use a 2D barcode (pictured), rather than 1D, or no barcode at all.

We’re asking them to do this as part of our plans to track significantly more parcels by the end of the year.


However, the evidence is slightly different to the stated position in paragraph 3.  A correspondent in Glasgow reports that a Special Delivery 500g packet required a label with the 2D bar code, but a Special Delivery 100g letter had a traditional label with no bar-code.

IF what Royal Mail is aiming for is that all mailpieces which are not basic letters will have a barcode, while basic letters will not, then the Glasgow situation is logical.  (There is no distinction with Special Delivery 100g between ordinary and Large Letters: SD is only by weight, and of course over 100g must be at least a Large Letter and maybe a Small Packet.)

I will be asking outside the UK for examples of the International mail with new barcodes, to find out what the top-line text is, and what is entered for the addressee details.   I'll add more pictures here to this post when I get them.  For now, though, I think we can say that the short IDs that we have been used to - IS, ITS, SD9 , are on their way out!

UPDATE 25 October
Courtesy of a customer in Australia I can show this IT International Tracked label, also with S in the lower corner for a (small) letter.