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.



  1. Thanks for the review of the 2015 stamp issues from Royal Mail.
    Wishing you also a very Happy Christmas and look forward to more new on the blog in 2016.

  2. Indeed, all the best for the next few days. We all appreciate the work you put in to make this blog as strong as it is. Long may it and we all continue to enjoy our chosen (if sometimes frustrating) pursuit.

  3. An excellent year's reporting Ian, and an interesting summary (although if you are going to prod at RM for errors, you might want to have it proof read!). Best wishes for your seasonal break and I look forward to another philatelic steeplechase in 2016.

  4. Thanks so much for your blog Ian. I follow it all the time - even reading on Christmas eve like the others above! That was a great round-up for the year - and now a good time to focus on what to collect next year. Generic smilers, prestige books and pictorial post and go's for me all of which I love. But will leave the other new issues from now on (maybe just a year pack at the end of the year if I can't help myself!) All the best and Happy New Year!


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