Tuesday 31 January 2017

65th Anniversary of the Accession - update

Details and illustrations of the £5 commemorative/definitive have now been added to the earlier blogpost, and to our webshop for delivery after 6 February.

Monday 30 January 2017

Unusual Machin Trials Surface 20 years After Production

Complete sheets of three trials of the Machin head, produced in 1997, have just come to light in this, the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Arnold Machin’s iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Machin definitives were first printed in lithography in 1980 as Royal Mail expanded its range of suppliers. However, by the mid-1990s it had decided that all the standard definitives should be printed in gravure. At the time The House of Questa, based in south London, did not have gravure capability.

So Royal Mail permitted Questa to approach Helio Courvoisier SA of Switzerland, probably with a view to subcontracting the gravure printing.

Courvoisier was founded in 1880 and started printing stamps in 1937. It was noted for the high quality of its photogravure work, but sadly it ran into financial difficulties and ceased trading in 2001.

(Click to see larger images)

The undenominated trials were undertaken on 20 October 1997 in sheets of 100 with the Courvoisier imprint along the vertical margins. They exist in three colours: deep green (as used for the 2p), light grey (as used at the time for the 29p), and flame (as used for 1st class). Courvoisier had been printing the then current Kenya definitives, and these trials are printed on the same coated paper, without phosphor bands, and have perforation 15 x 14 (although the stamp image is slightly smaller than that used on Machin definitives.

The stamps are printed in 10 rows of 10, with the imprint


reading upwards in the side margins.   The sheets are perforated on the outer left margin (though the perforations are almost completely guillotined off on the flame sheet), suggesting panes of two.  Sheet numbers are in the lower right corner, with the grey sheet showing (0)10531 though it is not known whether the numbering was reset for this trial, so this is no indication of the total numbers produced.

In the event Courvoisier had no further involvement in producing Machins. Questa, having been acquired by MDC Corporation, moved to premises in Byfleet, Surrey, where it had gravure facilities.

The total quantity of panes printed is unknown at this time, but they are now in private ownership. Allan Grant of Rushstamps has arranged for a set of the sheets to be donated to the new Postal Museum in London, and they will be on display at Spring Stampex (15-18 February) in London's Business Design Centre.

Stanley Gibbons has confirmed that they will be included in the next edition of their GB Specialised Catalogue Volume 4, Part 2 (Decimal Definitive issues).

According to US magazine Linn's Weekly. Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions of Danbury, Conn, USA is representing the owner, who “has not put forth plans for a sale”. Collectors interested in the trials should contact Rick Penko at Kellehers (www.kelleherauctions.com).

How much would you pay for a set of the stamps?!

(Click to see larger images)

Note, a number of people have mentioned the £5 brown De La Rue printing, and the trials with 00 values.  Whilst interesting those post-date these, so are irrelevant to this particular subject.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

2017 Music Giants Pays Tribute to David Bowie

Royal Mail have announced that this year's Music Giants stamp issue will be a tribute to David Bowie who died last year aged 69.  [Edit: the stamps will be issued on 14 March]

The stamp issue features a set of six showing album covers, and a miniature sheet showing stage performances.

The sheet stamps are:

1st class - Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, and Heroes.
£1.52 - Let's Dance, Earthling, and Blackstar

The stamps on the miniature sheet show the Ziggy Stardust (1972) and Serious Moonlight (1983) Tours (1st class), and The Stage Tour (1978) and A Reality Tour (2004).  The background image is of the Glass Spider Tour (1987)

There will also be a six-stamp retail book with the Aladdin Sane and Heroes 1st class stamps, and 4 x 1st class seep scarlet.

More details will provided on our website soon.

Slogans for Saint Dwynwen’s Day and Burns Night - but not in England

Two slogan postmarks will be re-used at Mail Centres throughout the UK, but only on certain mail. 

On Wednesday 25 January, a postmark will be used on letters and cards delivered in Wales to celebrate Saint Dwynwen’s day.

Saint Dwynwen is the patron saint of Welsh lovers. The Saint Dwynwen’s legend tells of her unrequited love for a young prince called Maelon, and her subsequent life as a nun on LLanddwyn Island, located off the South-West tip of Anglesey.

The second postmark will be used on Wednesday 25 January in Scotland to mark Burns Night. Burns Night is an annual celebration in Scotland to commemorate the life of the poet Robert Burns.

These are the slogans used in 2015.  This year's Burns Night slogan omits the word 'Celebrating' and shows the date as 25 January 2017.  The St Dwynwen slogan is in Welsh only, and has the wording between two rows of three small hearts.   New pictures will be added if anybody sends one of them.

Thanks to Robert for a very quick response with this Burns

As you can see this was used at Chelmsford's South East Anglia Mail Centre, and as far as I know it was sent to Essex, not Scotland.

Another, from Brian, with the other layout, but also used at Peterboroug.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Unannounced Special Handstamps for Ancient Britain stamps.

Readers who happen to live close to one of the sites where the Ancient Britain artifacts were found may have read in their local newspapers about a new unannounced special postmark to be applied to all mail posted in a postbox at or near the location.  This would apply to mail posted between January 17-21.  These postmarks were not announced in the Postmark Bulletin and were not available from Special Handstamp Centres using the reposting facility.

For example, Norfolk's Eastern Daily Press advised 'To obtain the special handstamp on their Grime’s Graves stamp, customers should post at the postbox at West Tofts Camp near Thetford'.  The postbox is outside West Tofts military base, which is the only major habitation in this part of Thetford Forest.  The nearby village of Mundford (population 1560) has its own Post Office, and there is another at the town of Brandon, 6 miles away.  The permanent population of West Tofts itself is very low, as most of the village is in the battle training area commandeered during world war 2 and not yet returned.

In Orkney, The Orcadian advised that "This (Skara Brae handstamp) can only be obtained by posting at postboxes in Quoyloo (Isbister Bros shop) and at Yeldabrek, Sandwick".  The population of mainland Orkney is over 17,000 (more than half in Kirkwall but the west of the island consists mainly of isolated villages, fams, holiday cottages and ancient monuments.

In Wales, the Daily Post has a video about the Mold Cape, and mentions the handstamp but doesn't indicate where it is.
UPDATE 19th: Bob reports this from 'The Leader' (See comments):
"To obtain the special handstamp, customers should post at the postbox in Ffordd Pentre, just off Chester Road in Mold, between January 17-21."

The Press of York, reported that in Star Carr's case the at the postbox at Seamer Post Office would collect mail for the special handstamp.  The population of Seamer, near Scarborough is 4,500.

For Maiden Castle, the Dorset Echo gives precise information: customers in Dorchester should post at the postbox at the end of Gladiator Green, where it meets Celtic Crescent.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald seems to have missed the point slightly, writing that "Royal Mail will also provide a special Avebury stone circle handstamp, which will be applied to people’s hands when they post mail at the letter box in the High Street until Saturday (January 21)."

I haven't been able to find any references on press websites local to Battersea, or Drumbest in Northern Ireland *.

Royal Mail's press release - promoting the stamps - does not specifically say that the handstamp will be applied only to mail bearing the new stamps.  I will venture to West Tofts and post some self-addressed items of mail in the box and see what turns up.  No all will bear Grimes Graves stamps.

I've asked Royal Mail for more details and pictures and will post these here as soon as I get an answer.

(* Nearest postbox to the find site would appear to be at Knockahollet Road near the junction with Moyan Road, near Ballylough Big Hill SE of Ballymoney. )

None of the letters I posted locally has yet been delivered, barring two sent to a local business which arrived with no postmark at all - just as clean as when they were posted!   Fortunately the one posted to me on Friday from MOLD has arrived, albeit with an additional pen cancel.  This, however, brought another surprise - there is a different datestamp for each day of the local campaign, rather than a single one being used all week for the day of issue.  The caption reads MANTELL YR WYDDGRUG, SIR FFLINT

UPDATE 24 January 
Covers from Grime's Graves are still stuck in Royal Mail's system somewhere.  Thanks to a kind soul in London I am now able to show the similar postmark from Battersea, for the day of issue, captioned BATTERSEA SHIELD, LONDON

A similar postmark was used for the Beatrix Potter stamp issue, for mail posted in a box at Hill Top Farm.  The postmark isn't clear, but the caption only includes the words HILL TOP FARM, and excludes the actual location of Near Sawrey.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

65th Anniversary of the Queen's Accession to the throne - a mixed blessing from Royal Mail.

On 6 February 1952 King George VI died peacefully in his sleep at Sandringham House.    The official announcement said the King retired in his usual health, but passed away in his sleep and was found dead in bed at 7.30 am by a servant. He was 56, and was known to have been suffering from a worsening lung condition.

Princess Elizabeth, who was in Kenya at the time, became Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 25, and returned to the United Kingdom as soon as arrangements could be made.

In 1977 the Post Office marked the Silver Jubilee with a set of 5 stamps issued on 11 May, with a further 9p stamp for the increased postage rate on 15 June.  The profile used was criticised at the time, but the Post Office maximised coverage by producing souvenir covers for each of the towns and cities visited by the Royal Tour.  (SG 1033-7)

The next commemoration marked the 40th anniversary in 1992, when a strip of five 24p horizontal multicoloured stamps was issued.  This was an attractive set, and set the bar for future royal anniversary issues.  One problem was the strip of 5, because it was difficult to fix to first day covers, and to mount in albums - it was too big for the page unless turned sideways.  (SG1602-6)

The Golden Jubilee in 2002 was marked by a set of stamps illustrated with five black and white studio portraits, in values from 2nd class to 65p.  (SG 2253-7) This set was unusual as the paper was watermarked with multiple '50' - and those in the prestige book had the watermark upright, whilst the sheet stamps had sideways watermarks.  Also included in the book was a pane of the first Wilding definitives revalued as 1st and 2nd class, one of the 2nd class being in the selvedge outside the normal pane of 8 and printed at an angle, dubbed the 'wonky wilding'.  Also for 2002, the colour of the 1st class Machin definitive was changed to gold.

2012 marked the Diamond Jubilee of the Accession, and the London Olympic Games, and was a bumper year for Royal Mail stamps.  The colour of the 1st class definitive was changed do 'Diamond Blue' in all self-adhesive formats, and was also included in a gummed miniature sheet accompanied by five other 1st class stamps.  One was based on the 1s Wilding definitive, two included detail from coins, and two more were based on banknote portraits.

The miniature sheet and some of the definitive stamps were issued on 6 February, others were supposed to be issued on 27 March, then delayed until 25 April, although some Post Offices managed to sell them as early as 8 March.  

By now Post and Go stamps had been introduced and the commemoration included additional inscriptions on Machin Post and Go stamps sold at Stampex.

And so to 2017 and the 65th Anniversary.   How many stamps would be in the set, or miniature sheet that Royal Mail issues to mark this event?

Well, we've already pictured a £5 Machin definitive - what may be just one of several, or may not - as shown on a cover-producer's website, but although we now have the stamps we cannot show them or provide any details until Royal Mail add it onto their own website or publish it in their Philatelic Bulletin.  So there you have it - or not.  We have the pictures all ready to add to this post, but it may not be before the end of January!

I am pleased to say that Royal Mail have now added this stamp to their website, so I am now able to
show the real thing here, rather than design studio preliminaries.  

There IS only one stamp.  Although listed on the Royal Mail webshop in the 'latest special stamps' listing it is announced as a definitive, replacing the £5 blue issued in 2009.  

Nonetheless it has a commemorative iridescent layer, and a commemorative inscription in the top margin.  I don't know how Royal Mail standing order customers are placed: ideally both those with High Value Definitives and Special Stamps on SO should receive it but I wouldn't want to bet either way!   As you can see the design incorporates a 17 year code in the word ACCESSION in the iridescent 65TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ACCE17ION.  Although the existing high value stamps are not widely sold the existence of the year code suggests that Royal Mail have had a print run small enough to require more to be printed next year with an 18 code.

(Click on these to see a larger image.)
Printed by (ISP) Walsall Security Print in gravure, the gummed sheet of 10 has the cylinder number adjacent to row 2 and the grid pattern adjacent to row 1, this enabling the purchase of a plate/cylinder block of 4 (or even a pair!).  There appears to be no phosphor as The numbers are W1 (phosphor) / W1 (iridescent) / W1 sapphire blue.  There is no printing date or sheet number.

UPDATE: The stamps are 30 x 40mm, and the sheets 80 x 223mm - the stamps are slightly smaller than the similar high values issued in 1977.  (Apologies for omitting this detail originally.)

The stamp is now listed on our webshop with Norvic number 4500 (click here).  I don't know where SG will include it in the Concise catalogue and we await the next Gibbons Stamp Monthly with interest.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Christmas Stamps will include children's designs again.

The Children's Christmas Stamp Design Competition is back - it doesn't seem four years since the last one, but this year's Christmas stamps will include winning designs by primary school children.  

The competition theme is "What does Christmas mean to you?" and as before schools are being encouraged to participate with prizes for the winning designer and school, and regional winners.  The competition closes on 17 March, with winners announced in late July, and the stamps going on sale in November.

It's not clear whether the stamps will be additions, as in 2013 when the Father Christmas and surprised-looking Angels stamps were issued in separate booklets, or whether these will form part of the main issue - or something else. 

In the main publicity Royal Mail indicate that:
Two lucky winners will see their designs made into one of the 1st or 2nd Class Christmas stamps for 2017.
But the entry conditions state that  
there will be two different Christmas stamp sizes produced in 2017: a large and a small size as shown opposite. It is therefore important that the design can work for both sizes. 
To illustrate this Royal Mail demonstrate how one of the 2013 designs would look as a definitive sized and Large Letter sized stamps.  With this year's stamps having religious designs, these are likely to be additions, but in both normal and large letter designs.

Entries are not limited to children at conventional schools and home-schooled children may also enter.  Full details and very lengthy terms and conditions can be found here.

And a reminder of the winning 2013 designs

It does seem a pity to limit the designs to under 12's.  Older children with a real interest in art and design in their further education can produce better designs which show more skill.  The design by Stephen Moore used in 1981 for the 22p stamp is probably one of the best Christmas stamps we've had!

Perhaps they think that designs by today's teenagers would be too anarchic?

Friday 13 January 2017

Windsor Castle at Sixes and Sevens.

The first batch of stamps of the Windsor Castle issue have arrived, and inevitably there are some surprises.

As expected the mixed content retail booklet has two different special stamps from the miniature sheet, and 4 x 1st class Machins, which are of course deep scarlet, and coded MCIL M17L.  This stamp will be Norvic 2936C.7, and the booklet PM55 (which should be the SG number).

In the Prestige Stamp book, the Machin pane contains 3 x 1st class, 2 x 2p, 2 x 10p, and a single £1.05.   I mentioned earlier that, based on its expected coding of M17L this once again would have only one set leaving us with a lot of spare postage. 

In fact, the PSB stamps are coded MPIL M16L.  As the £1.05 and 10p stamps were included in the Beatrix Potter PSB, only the 2p and the 1st class - previously issued in the Queen's birthday PSB - now in the new deep scarlet colour, are new.

1st class deep scarlet (Norvic 3702aP.6) and 2p green (Norvic 4002P.4)

The 10p and £1.05 - previously issued in the Beatrix Potter PSB -  from the Windsor Castle PSB.

So we will produce a few First Day Covers with the 2p and both 1st class stamps on.  If you would like one of these, please contact us as soon as possible.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Special Postmark for Year of the Rooster at end of January

Ever since the Lunar Year of the Rooster Generic Sheet was announced, and illustrated here, people have been asking where the special postmark is that would normally accompany it.  For the Monkey, the handstamp was on 9 November 2015, and for the sheep on 19 November 2014.

But there was none last November for the Rooster, nor in December.  But we now know that the special postmark - usually used in conjunction with the Royal Mail Coin Cover - will be available on 28 January 2017.

As usual, this will be from the London Special Handstamp Centre, Mount Pleasant.  The sponsor is Westminster Collection so either Royal Mail are not producing the coin cover this year, or they are yet to announce their postmark.  (There is another option, but I don't want to contemplate that occurrence!)

Changes coming to IT equipment at Post Office counters, starting with Outreach

My thanks to 'Anonymous' who commented on another post, but acknowledged that it may not
be the right place!  Correct: this is worthy of a new post in its own right, so that collectors can start looking, and talking to postmasters.

From 'One Post Office' website:
Branch technology
Counter equipment can be up to 15-years old and plans have been taking shape to replace kit in some branches.
Rob Houghton, chief information officer, said: “The Post Office is committed to investing in branch technology and we know many of you have been waiting for an update on this for a long time. 
“We’re pleased to announce that in early 2017, we’ll start delivering newer and faster hardware to an initial group of 1,400 branches.
“This first phase will include all those operating mobile and outreach branches, which have unique kit and so need to be updated at the start of the programme."
Branches receiving new equipment as part of the first group will be contacted in early 2017.

I'm hoping that I will be able to report on this first hand as a local postmaster runs 5 or 6 Outreach branches, and has long complained about the IT kit.  On the other hand with rural telephone and broadband connections as wonky as they are, new Horizon kit won't solve all his problems!

It might just mean that we see a further change to the printing and the stamps and labels used.   Although the larger items would need a large label, as shown above, to accommodate the bar-code maybe we will see Post and Go type stamps used for ordinary mail.

An Post of Ireland has gone this way with their 2017 definitive issue, these pictures from Commonwealth Stamps Opinion.   Entitled 'A history of Ireland in 100 objects' the stamps are a mixture of machine-vended variable value and self-adhesive NVI booklets:

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Some they catch, some they don't - modern forgeries

Long-term Machin collectors - especially members of the Modern British Philatelic Circle - will be aware that a number of forgeries have been prepared over the years, from the early and poor-quality 24p brown, through to modern 1st class (or even £1) stamps. 

It must be improving print technology and lower prices for equipment and materials has led to a proliferation of quite good-quality forgeries of the 1st class red with security features!  The one thing that eludes all the forgers is to properly reproduce the phosphorescent ink.

Quite often these forgeries pass through the mail system without difficulty, but I have now been shown an example which was picked up by the automatic sorting equipment, and not cancelled.  Upon examination it was first cancelled with the wavy line handstamp now (not often enough) used instead of the good old ball-point pen, and then the stamp was identified as a wrong 'un.  I've not seen this COUNTERFEIT STAMP handstamp before. Being unpaid, the new £2 standard charge for an unpaid letter was raised, with the yellow sticker applied.

I don't know how old this is.  The stamp coding is MTIL M13L which means it could be nearly 4 years old - or it could have been used late last year.

UPDATE: Rob has identified the competition (correctly) from the limited amount of address shown; it was published on August 28 2016, so the entry would have been posted within a few days of that date.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Guinness World Record at Southern England Stamp Show 10/11 March 2017

Southern England Stamp Show
(formerly the Salisbury Stamp Show)

the largest two day show in the south of the country at the
Farnborough Leisure Centre, Westmead, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 7LD

Opening times are 10am to 5pm on Friday 10th March 2017
and from 10am to 4pm on Saturday 11th March 2017

The Southern England Stamp Show offers all of this...

* Continuous Shuttle bus service between Farnborough Main Railway Station, Two of the Largest Car Parks (Kingsmead and Queensmead) and the Leisure Centre (NEW)

* Largest two day Stamp Show in Southern England * Top dealers present
* Two large on site car parks * Excellent reasonably priced catering
* Chairs at EVERY table * Very easy access either by road via the M3 or rail
* One level enabling wheelchair access * Free Entry
* Free Raffle * Free programme
* Shopping centre + Supermarket adjacent

And there's more......
Guinness World Record 
You never know where life will take you!

A couple of years ago Tony Hender of Arun Stamps was asked to supply 5,000 used Red Machin stamps, which he was able to do. This request has led to the discovery of a story that is about to have a wonderful ending.

About 10 years ago a man was taking a close look at a 6½p Machin stamp through a magnifier and he
noticed that the image was made up of lots of small dots. As he was also interested in computers he likened these ‘dots’ to pixels in a computer image. This sparked his curiosity even further so he scanned this 6½p Machin to the highest magnification possible at the time and he then noticed something that was to take him on a ten year journey that has finally reached it’s destination.

He realised that a giant image of this stamp could actually be made, utilising used Machin stamps themselves. Using a combination of mathematics, rulers and patience he made a mosaic template for a 6½p Machin magnified 300 times and duly started to fill in the spaces - all 110,000 of them!

During the completing of this task he found out that the record for a mosaic of this type in the Guinness World Records stood at 220.28 square metres and is currently held by a gentleman in Spain. This offered Peter a challenge he could not resist - after all he was already half way there - so he started adding to his existing project. The Machin Collectors Club March 2016 Newsletter reported a sale of 186,000 used Machins that was made at Spring Stampex by Tony. Well, now you know where they went!

We can now tell you that Peter has now finished his project after these ten years. His completed mosaic measures a massive 27 metres (88½ feet) x 9 metres (29½ feet) and comprises over half a million used Machins - in fact there are 528,220!

To go for the Guinness World Record Peter obviously needed a hall large enough to accommodate the mosaic. As there was nothing near where he lived, he asked Tony if he had any ideas. As one of the show organisers, Tony discussed the story with the others wondered whether we could incorporate this into the next Southern England Stamp Show. Bearing in mind the hall is 35 metres square it would be ideal.

More importantly from the club’s point of view, 2017 sees the 50th Anniversary of the issue of the Machin. We thought this would be good for Peter, good for Machin collectors, good for the show, and perhaps we could also do something for charity at the same time? So, here in summary, is what is planned so far - there are more details to work on but the Guinness World Record attempt will be made at the Southern England Stamp Show at Farnborough on Thursday March 9th 2017 - the day before the show opens.

The hire of the venue has been extended to four days from Wednesday 8th to Saturday 11th March. The mosaic will be laid out on the Wednesday (it will take a whole day to do). On Thursday morning the public will be admitted to see the display. Peter’s record attempt will be verified by the rules imposed by Guinness World Records, and hopefully his name will eventually go in the records. We have also invited a celebrity to appear from Children's Charity Childline for this event as well as the media. A photographer has been commissioned to record the mosaic, and the resulting image will be used to prepare a souvenir to be printed by our printer in Norwich, couriered down overnight, to be on sale at the start of the show on Friday and Saturday in aid of Childline.

At present this event is being supported by the Machin Collectors Club, Arun Stamps, Stanley Gibbons, Gibbons Stamp Monthly, Stamp Magazine, Stamp and Coin Mart, Richard Bond (Photographer) and Catton Print of Norwich. More details are being worked on but this should be quite an event!

Friday 6 January 2017

London 2012 Olympic/Paralympic Sheets Offer - one only

Remember 2009?  The first set of 10 of Royal Mail's London Olympics stamps was issued, heralding another 10 each year, with many more to come when stamps were produced for each British gold-medal-winning participant.

As well as the 10 stamps, each year Royal Mail produced one of their premium priced commemorative sheets.  These were sold at over 3 x face value and although they are not priced in Stanley Gibbons catalogue the retail price is now £20-£25 each.

We have just added one set of these to our webshop at £56.

Also available is the 30-stamp composite sheet issued in 2011.  This was sold without premium and sold quickly at the time, with the price rising accordingly.  This sheet is catalogued, as SG 3204a and priced at £50.   We have this sheet available at £35.

Buy all four sheets and get £5 off, using the discount code LOND2012 at checkout.  Only one of each available.