Monday 27 February 2017

Spring Stampex 2017 report: Post and Go, Swiss Trials, but no crowds

As regular readers will recall I missed last Autumn's Stampex so I was looking forward to a day out in 'the smoke', revisiting the Business Design Centre at Islington for Spring Stampex, an oportunity to meet up with old friends and to hear Royal Mail put some flesh on their previously outlined plans for new stamps for the rest of the year.

As usual there were the Post and Go machines with several new offerings, including two different inscriptions on the Machin head stamps.  (This made up for not having any Machins last Autumn when the poppy stamp accompanied the ladybirds.)  But by midday on Thursday there were not many people buying huge quantities.  Dealers, of course, myself included pre-ordered our large stocks and picked these up from the Royal Mail counter.  These are from back-office machine B001.

You all know what the full six values look like, so I'm showing the 1st class stamps only:

One marks 50 years since the Machin portrait first made an appearance on definitive stamps (1967), and the other marks 65 years since the Accession of HM The Queen in 1952.

The new set continued Royal Mail's 'Postal Heritage' series which started a year ago with the Heritage Transport set, with Mail by Rail (more details here).

As well as the Royal Mail stamps, Guernsey Post, Jersey Post, and Gibraltar PO also had machines, and the most attractive set was of Guernsey Lighthouses.  A little dark, but some attractive designs, including lighthouses on Alderney and Sark.

Newcomer to the 'machine vended postage' market is the Isle of Man Post Office.  They haven't joined the 'Royal Mail Post and Go' group but instead are using refurbished machines from An Post, the postal service of the Republic of Ireland.

This first collection of four stamps is based on the Manx Three Legs of Man emblem which also known as a Triskelion. The legs usually run clockwise and carry the Latin motto 'Quocunque Jeceris Stabit' meaning 'whichever way you throw, I stand', a reference to the independence and resilience of the Manx people.The four versions of this emblem are based on:
  • The three legs as they appear in Douglas Town Hall
  • The Millenium of Tynwald three legs
  • The three legs as seen on the old brewery building on Castletown Quay
  • A modern interpretation of the three legs of man.
The stamps printed from this machine have - of course - a different datastring to the ones produced at the Bureau (it's not clear whether the values etc were printed by the stamp printed or afterwards in Douglas).  The Bureau strip has 4 different values, whereas the counter machine could produce four stamps at the basic 45p rate, a much cheaper option.  Also, the counter stamps have the value in a box.

The Royal Mail stand held few surprises.  The stock included the 2nd class M17L counter sheet which will be available from our webshop shortly.  I'm told the 1st class Wales country definitive from new cylinder 2 was also there.  This is a new printing with the one stamp produced in 4 panes, so all 4 of the grid positions are 'white'.

As in Spring 2016, Royal Mail produced a specially printed 'Stampex' version of the miniature sheet issued the same day.  The sheet is provided in a special souvenir pack, and quite attractive, but as with all presentation packs, totally impractical for displaying.  With a selling price 75% over face value not a 'must-have' for all collectors.

(Incidentally, when in the sleeve, the flap-over at the top of the pack obscures 'St George's Chapel' and the top of the stamps.  Have they overlooked the fact that this is supposed to show the stamps?!)

As last year this is a limited edition of 6,000 sold only at Stampex, and once again I don't expect them all to have sold, even with some dealers picking up extra before the show closed.   We will have a small number for sale on our webshop soon.  Royal Mail have promised that (again as last year) this will not be repeated at Autumn Stampex, but it may be next Spring.

But why?  There is no evidence that this attracts people to the show.  There is no proper head-count of visitors.  And why would anybody incur the cost of going to the show when they can pick one of the sheets up from a dealer afterwards for a lower overall cost?   This is simply a misguided initiative by people in the Philatelic Traders Society who are out of touch with the ordinary collectors of new Great Britain stamps.

As usual I didn't have time to visit many, but did look at the Court of Honour display of Machin material, including original pencil sketches by Arnold Machin and the Cambridge University Colour Trials which were used to determine the colours to be used for the first of the new definitives back in the 1960s.  Very impressive, though it would have been better with better lighting and more room - and maybe better signposting.   Although it was the Court of Honour it wasn't highlighted on the floor layout plan in the catalogue - if you missed it, it was at stand 105 next to the Postal Museum stand.

And what of the show overall?
Well, I was only there from around midday until 5pm and 90 minutes of that time was spent in discussion with Royal Mail about the 2017 programme.  The crowds were not as thick as in previous years though maybe not much different to last year.  Go back 10, 20, 30 years and of course there were more visitors - there were more collectors then!  As usual, the smaller dealers with smaller booths had more visitors: they concentrate on a range of collecting interests, especially the lower end of the market.  As usual the auction houses and bigger dealers with bigger booths had fewer visitors: it didn't just look that way because they had more space, they concentrate on higher-end material for which there are fewer customers with fat cheque-books.  But these companies pay more for their stands and contribute heavily to the cost of running the show, so we must expect a degree of 'white space' in the overall page.

As with any show dealers will probably report mixed results.  One UK-based dealer in mainly American material has written, "Just back from my most successful Spring London Stampex since my first one in 2007 ....  and this with a fall in value of the Pound vs Dollar of 1/3 during the past decade."

However, this comment from my fellow-blogger WhiteKnight is worth some thought!

Read more of his thoughts here.

Did you visit Stampex this time?  What did you think of the show?

Should the duration be reduced once again, to only 3 days?


  1. I was at Stampex on the Thursday and I have to agree it all seemed a bit familiar, even stale. Not terribly busy – no queues for the Post & Go kiosks morning or afternoon, but I guess their main usage was on the opening day for the first day receipts. Regarding the displays, very disappointing setting. I was impressed with the contents as usual, but as you say, cramped and ill-lit. I gave up after about 5 minutes as I was struggling to see the detail.
    Regarding the Isle of Man ‘Post & Go’ (Variable Values as they have to call them to avoid copyright of Royal Mail the man told me). Apparently, the ‘Collectors’ Strips of four values came directly from ‘the supplier’. The machines only produce single values in strips, and no receipts are available. However, an interesting issue with significant differences – values in a different place on the ‘label’, boxed from the machines and in a different font, and with differing coding strings. The man also told me they were planning just one issue per year – I guess we’ll need to wait and see on that score.
    Despite all my reservations, I did actually manage to locate a missing stamp I’ve been after for a while (nothing too special, only cost me £2) so probably worth the visit.

  2. I'm not a Stampex regular and in the end couldn't make this one due to work commitments. Its a show that I never feel attracted to and that is primarily as a result of the venue. I find it sterile and the lack of seating is a problem....and one I know dealers aren't overly happy about. The whole thing lacks a hands on with the stamps kind of feel. In fact the only times I have attended as a special trip (as opposed to when in London on work matters) have been when Essex Stamp Auctions have had material I wanted to view and when the GBPS anniversary had a huge number of displays of GB material at the event a couple of years ago.

    Compare the event to York and you see the difference. York is shoulder to shoulder for the first morning and is reasonably busy until the middle of day 2. Being shorter is probably better and there are seats....and reasonably priced hotels if you're travelling there for the two days.


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