Friday 30 December 2016

Royal Mail 2017 stamp programme announced - plenty of Machins

As promised, Royal Mail have now released their 2017 programme and many lucky people have already received the January Philatelic Bulletin.  On the back page is a list of 2017 issues (see left), and a selection of pictures which may or may not be used for stamps - no promises given that one of them shows a 2015 post and go stamp!

The programme (updates highlighted in yellow,):

17 January
Ancient Britain
6 February
65th Anniversary of the Accession - £5 Machin definitive
We're told that Tallents House customers with regular orders will NOT get this stamp unless they have high value definitives as part of their regular order.
15 February
Windsor Castle set and miniature sheet PSB* and retail booklet
15 February
Post and Go Postal Heritage: Mail by Rail
14 March
Music Giants - David Bowie
end March
New Tariff Machin and Country Definitives
6 April
Racehorse Legends
4 May
24 May
Exhibition Generic Stamp Sheet Finlandia
5 June
Machin Anniversary including PSB
5 June
New Style Machin Anniversary Post and Go 1967-2017
20 June
Windmills and Watermills
13 July
Landmark Buildings
31 July
World War I including PSB
22 August
Classic Toys
13 September
Post and Go Royal Mail Heritage: Air Mail
13 September
Postal Museum Opening stamp sheet (Generic/Commem?)
14 September
Ladybird books
20 October
To be advised
7 November
16 November
Lunar New Year of the Dog
20 November
To be advised

* The four panes in the Windsor Castle PSB contain
a. 2x 1st (external) and 2x £1.52 (internal) views
b. single 1st (external) and single £1.52 (internal) views
c. Eight Machin definitives: 2 x 2p, 2 x 10p, 3 x 1st class, 1 x £1.05, so only one set - again!
c. Eight Machin definitives coded MCIL M16L: 2 x 2p (new), 3 x 1st class deep scarlet (new), and 2 x 10p and a single £1.05 as already issued in Beatrix Potter PSB.  So TWO sets of the new stamps. 
d. 4 stamps from miniature sheet in different positions
The retail booklet contains 1st class deep scarlet Machins coded M17L MCIL

Post and Go News for 2017 from the January Philatelic Bulletin
a. More Enquiry Office machines countrywide from April
b. More static sites
c. Exhibition programme
Spring Stampex 15-18 February
Scottish Congress Perth 21-22 April
MIDPEX Warwickshire Exhib Centre 8 July
Autumn Stampex 13-16 September
Confirmation of 2016 developments which impact on 2017: Pictorial stamps used in Enquiry Offices in parallel with those at Post Office SSKs, new labels introduced at PO SSK machines for parcel/packet barcoding, 'Post a Parcel' tested at the party political conferences - although it is unclear how much of a test this was given the limited access: one can imagine only those who actually wanted to post a parcel from the conference would actually do so whereas collectors with access would have tested it anyway!

Thursday 22 December 2016

Another year passes - the end of 2016

Lack of time prevents this from being the usual comprehensive Review of the Philatelic Year - you probably all have your own high points and low points.  I suppose one of my low points was discovering that if I wanted to send postcards from New Zeland with other than the $2.20 definitive stamp, I could use 2 single $1 stamps and a 20c definitive, but without exception all the $1 special stamps available were larger than the British special stamps we are used to at about 38/40mm square, which left little room for a message!

On the definitive front, there was just one new stamp value on the tariff change in the spring, producing one Machin and four country definitives.  A welcome change from the £14-worth of Machins in 2015.  Royal Mail seem to have been at sixes and sevens over booklets and stamp colours with the last of the Long To Reign purple stamps (in the Beatrix Potter booklet) being issued on the same day as the first red booklet stamp (in the padlock booklet), with both types being replaced by a new darker colour three months later.  The use of the new colour in all booklets and business sheets went part way to making up Royal Mail's financial shortfall from the spring.

Post and Go output continued apace with more museum locations and Enquiry Offices added, although the output of Open Values from Post Office self-service kiosks has abated - only to be replaced with a larger horizon-type label with 2-D barcode.  That this carries the Machin head and has a year date, suggests that Royal Mail are hoping that collector interest in these will continue.  Certainly they are an important element of the evolution of postage payment, and should be included in a postal history collection - has anybody received one suitable for keeping yet?

The special stamp output continued unabated with the highlight for me being the Agatha Christie issue, a marvel of design and intricacy and so much better than photographs of whatever this week's subject was.  Many new issue distributions suffered because of problems with Royal Mail's computer accounting system, with delivery of customer orders very erratic and sometimes very late.  Dealers suffered less than ordinary customers but were affected by the accounting failures.  The fall out from this may not be over, but at least we can draw a line under the delays and customer service shortcomings that occurred.   I understand that there are still problems with customers not being told when their deposits are exhausted, or when credit cards have passed their end date.

That Royal Mail find it unnecessary to publicise the multitude of slogan postmarks that are being used, often for very short periods, continues to frustrate collectors and reporters alike.  On the other hand the Postmark Bulletin (which shows special handstamps) is now available free and also online.  Sadly the number of sponsored postmarks continues at a low level.  The non-availability to collectors at special handstamp centres of some 'postmarks' applied to Royal Mail (expensive) special souvenir covers is annoying and seems to go against all post office principals.  If it cancels a stamp on a special cover, it is a postmark.  If it is a postmark it should be available to everybody. 

And so we come to the end of another year.  Once again I am unable to use the photograph that I prepared last year and which was inappropriate due to the mildness of Christmas here.  (You'll see why when it does eventually get used).   My thanks to all our customers, to the readers of this blog and especially to the many contributors - many of whom remain anonymous meaning that I don't know just how many there are.  Despite our 10 week holiday, you have remained loyal to this source of information, and I am very grateful for that - as are all the readers.

Once again we wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Most people will realise that this is not a picture of winter in Dereham, this year or any other.  It was taken in the Mount Aspiring National Park in New Zealand's South Island.  I don't know which mountain it was, they were all snow-capped in mid-October, but the sky was blue and the sun was warm!

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Museum pieces pressed back into service for holiday season

It's not unusual at the busy Christmas period for some of the old postmarking machines to be pressed back into service - surprising really as the mail still needs to go through one of the bar-coding machines, and there is ample evidence from our incoming mail that postmarking can be by-passed on those.

Norwich Mail Centre and 'Lancashire' - probably Preston Mail Centre - have both resorted to using their Universal machines this year, the latter bringing the Snowman slogan out of retirement.  Most likely it was still in the machine from last time it was used!

Lancashire -43- 14 DEC 2016 Happy Christmas PLEASE POST EARLY

Norwich Norfolk CFC 2, 9 - XII 2016

For some reason Norwich adopted the Roman numeral designation for months as used in Wales on this machine when it was first installed.   This one has been seen used on 5, 9 and 12 December.

UPDATE 22 December
Thanks to JG for providing these additional examples.

Aberdeen Mail Centre -C- 16 December

 Lerwick Shetland, 8 XII 2016

Peterborough: two machines, with -A- die showing only the year, and (? )M3 with more of the date but sadly off the envelope!

Once again, Ipswich is using at least two Universal machine dies (one with inverted place/time unit), even though the mail is also processed at South East Anglia Mail Centre.  Whereas the modern machines adapt the ink-jet to cope with square envelopes which are presented with the stamp in the top-left corner (and address sideways), Ipswich run the same letter through the Universal 6 times (3 front, 3 back) until they hit the stamp!

If you have any other examples, please send details and pictures.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Slogan postmarks September-December 2016

A number of slogan postmarks were in use while we were away, and I've now found time to list and illustrate most of them here.  There have been two non-Christmas slogans used during the Christmas campaign period which is most unusual and hides another story - more later.

Organ Donation Week this was apparently used 3-6 September, both examples I have being used on 5th.   The two versions differed in layout which is often the case.  The Intelligent Letter Sorting Machine (iLSM) reads

Royal Mail supports
Organ Donation Week 

The Integrated Mail Processor (IMP) machine layout is:

Royal Mail
supports Organ
Donation Week

Reserves Day Was used on 7 September for delivery on 8 September.

Peterborough has the iLSM machine with layout on two lines.

The IMP machines had the slogan in 4 lines, with the date shown as '08 Septermber'.

Thinking of You Week As this website shows this 'event' promoted by the Greetings Card Association is now in it's 3rd year, and we can look forward to it again in 2017.  The layout on both types of machine was the same:
It's Thinking of 
You Week!
Send a card to
raise a smile

There is a difference, however.  The iLSM has the exclamation mark (!) after 'Week', and the IMP have it after 'smile' !  The week ran from 26 September - 3 October but I don't know yet what period the postmark was in use.

Although the Stroke Association slogan was the normal default on 18 August, at least, Gatwick Mail Centre had a Postcode slogan:
Please remember
to write the
postcode clearly

The 70th anniversary of Mensa was marked in September.  Again I have only one example used on 30 September, from the Norwich iLSM, the slogan reading:

The High IQ Society
70th Anniversary 1946-2016

UPDATE:  National Poetry Day (Thursday 6 October 2016) was marked with a slogan used on 5 October.  Thanks to MG for supplying this image from Dorset & SW Hants.  Website.


A continuing theme of Health Service slogans continued with the Stay Well slogan coinciding with the launch of the 2016/17 campaign (see website).  This slogan was simple and to the point but with no website, unlike others.  This is from the South East Anglia IMP:


Royal Mail plugged the Man Booker organisation's literary prize winner as they did last year. Following the Australian and Jamaican winners, we now have the first American winner being marked on a British slogan postmark for no apparent reason.  So

Congratulations to 
Paul Beatty
winner of the 2016
Man Booker Prize

I have only one example used on 25 September, from the Norwich iLSM.

At the beginning of November Royal Mail marked the 80th anniversary of television.  The iLSM at Dorset and S.W.Hants had this on 1 November: I don't know the full period of use as it was not the subject of a Royal Mail press release.
80th anniversary of
broadcast television

The annual remembrance slogan was used again this year, almost certainly from all machines, although I only have this example from Home Counties North on 09-11-2016

Lest we forget

#GivingTuesday is the day to do good stuff for charity, straight after Black Friday and Cyber Monday - so says their website.  For this one I have both IMP and iLSM versions, the later coming in two sizes on similar-sized envelopes.

29 November 2016

The IMP has the date abbrevaited to 29 Nov 16 for some reason: there is plenty of room for the same format as the iLSM.

We've had confirmation that the St Andrews Day slogan was used again on mail addressed to Scotland to arrive on 30 November so we can assume it was used on 28/29th.  (Image awaited)

And so in the middle of November we start the Christmas campaign, with the Post Early slogan, which used two quite different holly-adorned slogan layouts on the different machines, with different sizes in use at Exeter.
Remember to post
early for Christmas

One of our contributors had tried to get Royal Mail to mark the Battle of Hastings with a slogan postmark.  One was lined up for use in October, which would have been good for first day covers using the stamps of the commemorative sheet.  In fact it was scheduled but suddenly pulled for no apparent reason:

The actual surrender was at Berkhamsted in early December 1066, so a slogan was suggested for this December, but the response was that no other slogans could be used during the Christmas campaign - absolutely not!

So..... on 6 December the NHS Blood and Transplant campaign was the subject of a further slogan!

Blood and Transplant
Sign up as an organ donor

I don't know the period this was running - surprise, surprise, no RM press release again.

UPDATE 23 December 2016
Quite accidentally I found an article about this campaign in get Surrey.  "A mother who campaigned for organ donation awareness to feature on postmarks on envelopes across the UK was thrilled to see her suggestion become reality." She wrote to Royal Mail in 2014 and heard nothing but was surprised to find 'her' postmark on a letter or her doormat.

The previous 'Post Early' slogan continued after, or alongside the above, but it was again interrupted on 14/15 December to mark the centenary of the Cub Scout movement.  The actual big birthday party was 16 December, and the slogan incorporated the Cubs100 logo, with the legend

100 years of fun, adventure
and skills for life


Note this last also has the wavy line handstamp struck for some reason, as if 11 wavy lines weren't enough!

After the international postal deadlines have passed the Post Early slogan is replaced by the Last posting dates for 1st and 2nd class mail, again with two slightly different holly-adorned layouts:

It's Christmas time!
Last posting dates
First Class 21 December
Second class 20 December

with the IMP abbreviating the month to Dec.

This may give rise to a further change tomorrow when the Second class date has passed - watch this space, and your post!

UPDATE 22 December:
At least two offices have reverted to the Royal Mail 500 slogan on mail received today, according to reports.

Friday 16 December 2016

Shortage of 2nd class stamps may mean M17L appears early on

According to reports received, 2nd class stamps are in very short supply in some areas.  A
correspondent from Leicester writes:
Her post office ran out of second class stamps a few days ago and they can’t get anymore.  All second class, both Christmas and Machin.  They have no counter sheets or books and they resorted to cutting up the Business sheets. It’s probably been like this for a week.  All local shops including a very big Tescos have none either. Comment was overheard – “We have had our allocation”.
Now it may be that PO Supplies at Swindon are not making any more deliveries - although there is still a week to go, and stamps will be needed after Christmas, so holding back makes little sense.  There were printings early in the year and again in July and October.  Will the next one be in 2017 with a new year code?  And will branches with SSKs run out of 2nd class Machin and Hibernating Animals stock and use 1st class rolls in the 2nd class position instead?

UPDATE 18 December:
A sub-postmaster locally told me that he too is cutting up business sheets in the absence of counter sheets of either Machin or Christmas stamps, and the booklet rack is empty. Judging by the MBIL-coded stamps received on Christmas cards (from people who I would expect to use booklets) the problem seems to be widespread.

Keep your eyes open - your mail is not just Christmas Cards, it is the stamp on the outside too!

UPDATE 11 January
We've had no news on further shortages - all areas have new supplies by now, but early-December printings of both 1st and 1st Large counter sheets have now appeared.  It really does seem likely that 2017 printings will appear ere long.

UPDATE 7 February:
The 2nd class M17L has duly appeared from a printing of 04/01/17.

Thursday 15 December 2016

Details of first 2017 stamp issues now revealed

Royal Mail's Philatelic Bulletin has now confirmed that the 2017 programme will be revealed in its January issue - as my December issue has only just arrived this may be between any time between January 1 - 31!

Details of the first issue have already been published, and as soon as I have time I will produce a set of pages on our website with the usual details.  Meanwhile here is an outline of what we know.

17 January - Ancient Britain
Headlined 'Biography of Britain' in the Bulletin this may be the first of many sets charting Britain's history from early times through the Dark Ages to those which have been partly covered already.  This new set of 8 has se-tenant pairs in each of 1st class, £1.05, £1.33 and £1.52 which at least means we get international postcard rate stamps from the outset.  The subjects, in the same value order are:
  • Battersea Shield, London c350-50 BC
  • Skara Brae Village, Orkney c3100-2500 BC
  • Star Carr Headdress, Yorkshire, c 9000 BC
  • Maiden Castle Hill Fort, Dorset, c400 BC
  • Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire, c2500 BC
  • Drumbest Horns, County Antrim, c300 BC
  • Grime's Graves, Norfolk, c2500 BC
  • Mold Cape, Flintshire, c1900-1600 BC
6 February - 65th Anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II
Listed in the Bulletin's 'issues and withdrawals calendar' is a new large Machin with a face value of
£5 in Sapphire Blue.  Post Office branches no longer use stamps with such a high face value, which begs the question as to why a more useful stamp wasn't issued.  I guess it is because they didn't want a set of 6 or miniature sheet but did want to get more than pennies for this event.  It's described as a definitive, but although in the Machin definitive design, it won't be widely used as a definitive so that categorisation is dubious
      However, if you think that is bad, be thankful that you don't collect the stamps of the British Virgin Islands.  Their similar commemoration consists of two stamps priced at $10 and $90.  If those dollars traded at 20 to the pound it would as 'reasonable' as the British issue.  But the BVI stamps are priced in United States dollars - making this set one of the most expensive and least justifiable ever at pennies under £80 or €95 - see, there's always somebody worse off than you!  More on this on the very useful Commonwealth Stamps Opinion.

15 February - Post and Go Mail Heritage: Mail by Rail
We showed and described these stamps earlier when the Postal Museum announced their version.

On the same day, coinciding with Spring Stampex, the Windsor Castle stamps will be issued, consisting of
  • 3 stamps each 1st class and £1.52 - just one of the 1st class is marked Europa
  • Miniature sheet of 2 x 1st class, 2 x £1.33
  • ditto - Limited Edition Stampex Exhibition MS
  • Press Sheet of 16 miniature sheets (does anybody buy these now?)
  • Retail Booklet
  • Prestige Stamp Book
  • Presentation Pack
  • Stamp Cards
  • Medal Cover

Monday 12 December 2016

A confusion of islands at Stampex

On the subject of errors - see post below - here's one which has only recently reached us.  This customer writes:
At the Autumn Stampex I bought a Collector Strip from the Jersey Machine, with the
Battle of the Somme overprint. I checked the printing and all seemed fine. It was not until Monday that I was able to sort out my purchases but on so doing I became confused as to what I was looking at. Clearly, I had made a mistake and bought two of one item and none of another.
Indeed, an error had been made on my part, brought about by my not having my wits about me. I had not, as I thought, made the wrong purchases but I hadn't spotted - until Monday morning, that is - that the Jersey Machine had issued a Guernsey Strip but with the Jersey datastring.

Had I been more alert, of course, I would have bought a few and then informed the Staff of the wrong roll in the machine. But I wasn't so I didn't. But I shall be more alert in future.

I have, from time to time, looked on ebay to see if anyone is selling these Errors but either they aren't or I've missed them

The moral of the story - if I needed to remind you - is to look closely at everything you buy, as soon as you can. Had our reporter bought more he could have sold them on eBay or to me for our regular customers, and could have paid for his trip from Yorkshire to London several times over!

Saturday 10 December 2016

Software error causes Post and Go printing to be inverted.

I don't normally blog at the weekend but thought I should share with you a Post and Go error that I received on a letter this morning.

At first sight it seems easy to explain - the reel of stamps was mounted in the machine the wrong way - but that actually wouldn't produce this invert unless the whole reel of stamps was wound the wrong way, because the feed would present the back of the strip to the printer.

The enclosed letter explained: A software fault in the NCR Self-Service Kiosk, which occurred bizarrely only at Sydenham BO, caused the stamps to be to be inverted on a normally-mounted reel of stamps.   On a collectors set of 6, the 1st class stamp was printed first, followed by the 1st Large, Euro 20/World 10, etc.  Apparently despite this the stamps are still usable as printed, so the Branch Manager was told to continue to use the machine (presumably because of the Christmas post pressures), and it took 8 engineer visits (yes, eight) to put this right.

My correspondent, it seems, asked if other stamps could also be loaded into the machine just as I would have - I would have wanted an example of each.  [Apologies for poor editing of this paragraph earlier, it's almost impossible to do on a pad as there is no mobile interface and the web-editor version is clunky beyond belief - Google used to provide an App, but no longer supports it!]

And so the MA16 Poppy, MA14 Machin, and Ladybirds are also currently available on eBay with this error - which is much more than 'an example of each'.

UPDATE 12 December
I'm reminded that when a roll of stamps is replaced in a PandG or SSK machine, either due to a fault in the machine or when new designs are issued, the old roll is often dropped into a storage area within the machine - I've seen that myself and I and my customers have benefited from it.   If the 'part roll' - let's say they are Machins - has sufficient stamps on it to make it worthwhile using it it may be reloaded when the temporary (say Winter) stamps are removed.  If there are too few to use they ought to be destroyed of course.  

Back in 2014 new rates of Europe 60g and Worldwide 60g were introduced when rates changed. Many of these were able to be produced on stamps which were thought to be long out of use.  We reported the following from around the country: All three water life, all three farm animals, union flag, Machin, spring flowers, robin, and lastly Birds 2, 3 and 4.  Obviously these were not all from the same branch but several different branches had some very old stock, and boosted their turnover as a result.  Most branches only had two designs active, but could produce others if asked.

This is unlikely to happen again, not in the near future.  But errors can occur - albeit not many on NCR SSK machines.  But all of us have the opportunity to pop in to SSK branches and buy a stamp - if it turns out there is an error, then buy more.  Of course if you not are a regular visitor you may not be able to persuade the staff to add something different, but if you cultivate your sources by being a regular visitor and finding friendly staff, then you can achieve more - a fact that applies to ordinary post office branches and buying booklets or other stamps as well.  

And don't begrudge others their good fortune and the work they put into sourcing different stamps.  Without these people I wouldn't have anywhere near as much to report!

UPDATE 15 December
We've had a very interesting comment from Paul who is a software designer with NCR - see 15 December comment.  Paul writes:

"I'm the software designer and lead developer at NCR for the Post Office self-service machines. My first inclination is usually to assume that our software is at fault until proven otherwise, but in this case it seems quite unlikely. It is possible to generate this kind of reversal if the media have been removed from the roll and fed into the printer the wrong way, which I suppose could happen with a left-over roll."

My response to this, which doesn't actually explain how the problem occurred:

"Invert the image and the stamps will be correct, and the printing will be in the correct order, ie the first stamp to be dispensed in a Collector's Strip is the 1st class (stamp number 43 on the Machin). The second stamp is the 1st Large - stamp number 44, and so on to the Worldwide 100g, stamp number 48.

So the printing is in the right order on upright stamps, but the print is inverted appearing at the right of the stamp instead of the left. The printing on each stamp *must* have been printed with the datsstring printed first, and the top line of '1st class' printed last.

As an aid to understanding what has happened here is the Machin strip up the right way - see right.  The top stamp is number 43, the next is 44, then 45, and so on.