Sunday 20 August 2017

What purpose do country definitives serve?

Country definitives were introduced as Regional Definitives in 1958 to appease the Welsh, Irish
and especially the Scots, who thought they should have their own stamps rather than national symbols on UK definitives and the occasional 'special stamp' issue with one stamp for each country.  This is quite well written up on Wikipedia where there are also many external references, for example to the BPMA or Postal Museum.  Their 50th anniversary was marked with the miniature sheet and a prestige stamp book in 2008.

From 1999-2001 the old-style regionals were replaced by a set of four 'Country Definitives', for 2nd class, 1st class, and the European and basic worldwide letter rates.

Initially issued with all-over colour, they were re-issued with white borders in October 2003. The designs have remained basically the same since then, although the values of the two airmail rate stamps have increased alongside the Machin definitives.  Various values have also appeared in miniature sheets and prestige stamp books, presenting an interesting collecting area.

But are they used - or even available - now?  The answer, it seems, is not very much.  Mike writes about his experience in Scotland.
In a post office in Deeside I was told they had NONE.   In another branch near Dundee didn’t know what I was talking about. Even when I mentioned the thistle and the tartan they were mystified, until they opened their stockbook and I showed them the £1.17 and the £1.40. They had no 1st or 2nd.
Last week the Western Mail carried a letter of which this is an extract:
I am writing to express profound dissatisfaction with the inability to buy or use the main Welsh definitive stamps, 1st and 2nd class, the green 1st class one with the dragon and the 2nd class brown one showing a wilting leek.
For some time now I have been unable to buy regularly these stamps, even at my local crown post office in Bridgend.
When my recent stock had run out, I visited the post office a couple of weeks ago only to be told they had none (and the assistant checked all the counter books) but that they were “on order.” Earlier this week, I went in - still not delivered, should be in a week on Friday (August 4). This is not only not good enough but at best seems a sign of inefficiency or, at worst, an attempt to rob Wales of its distinctive stamps on the grounds of “lack of use”.
Earlier this year, I was told by a post office assistant that the reason they had none was the customers preferred the peel-off UK ones. Even if this is true, the question arises: why are the Welsh stamps not available as peel-off stamps?
A follow-up letter reported on a reply from Royal Mail
I am told that for “cost and efficiency reasons”, the definitive stamps of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are still gummed stamps rather than self-adhesive. The quoted phrase is not in itself convincing, of course – merely an unsupported assertion.
The spokesman also said that all Welsh post offices, big and small, are at liberty to order the Welsh 1st- and 2nd-class stamps as they wish.
I have replied to Royal Mail that I am still dissatisfied, not least because someone somewhere in England might eventually assert, “Oh, there is so little demand for the Welsh definitive stamps, we’ll discontinue them”. The reality is that the Welsh stamps are perhaps less popular by virtue of being still gummed rather than the self-adhesive.  And the Welsh versions are so damned difficult to buy, most people are probably unaware they exist.
The writer has been on this campaign for at least a couple of years, but it does seem that this is not uncommon.  When I asked a Northern Ireland customer to send his cheque using a (maybe not as inspiring as the others) NI country definitive a few years ago he had to visit several branches to find one.  And with the vast number of 1st and 2nd class stamps sold in booklets (or 10 x 1st special issues) it's little wonder that many branches in England don't have the England lion definitives either.

I'll be happy to report some positive news - that you are regularly able to buy the country definitives (of any value) at your local Post Office branch.  Do let us know what you find and where.  We'll keep the reporter and branch anonymous!


  1. I prefer to use English stamps on my letters, but they are difficult to get. I travel throughout Essex and Kent & always ask for 2nd Class NVIs ('English second class stamps please')at a post office if I visit somewhere. They usually do not understand what I want and try to sell me British Machins. The only post offices which have any are Cranham and Terling in Essex and St Paul's Cray in Kent. Only when I point out that they are gummed do the clerks sometimes know what I am on about. It is easier to get the English stamps for Denmark and Australia. I recently bought the former in Cranbrook & Hatfield Peverel and the latter in Cirencester (Glos). By contrast I have holidayed in Wales for the last three years and had no bother buying Welsh NVIs in Cardigan last week and have bought them in Llanwrst, Bute town (Cardiff) and Bethesda too. A friend kindly bought me some Scots 2nd NVIs in Oban a few months back without difficulty. I work as a Royal Mail sorter and they are rare to see on work, but then they do not jam at the corners and get spat out from the ILSM as often as the peel and stick one do. the worst for this were the Xmas 2016 snowman 2nd class NVIs.

  2. Here in South London, I see England definitives appearing now and then at my local sub-PO but not predictably. About 10 years ago on a business trip to Dundee I was pleasantly surprised to get the 2nd class Saltire - again in a smallish sub-PO.

  3. I have been on my travels recently with mixed results in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. Wisbech had plenty, but March didn't have any (but did have the commemoratives). A small post office in a convenience store had some £1.17 but none of the others. Beccles didn't have but said you'd have to go to a crown post office. We stopped off at one of the Norfolk Broads locations, but the little post office in the shop by the water didn't have any regionals.

    Back home, the small post office round the corner in a newsagents had the blue daffodils and the feathers, but no 1st or 2nd. They also do not get the special issue stamps.

    1. Been out today for the Classic Toys stamps - not my local, but one about 10 miles away - a nice little post office (in a card and gift shop) had been selling them this morning to those needing postage - good for them. On previous visits on days of issue, they've been selling the stamps to anyone who needs them, not just to stamp collectors. They do get the Welsh definitives in, although I didn't see any dragons in the one counter book.

  4. The "Collectors" counter at Trafalgar Square, London currently have all the regional issues - BUT - when I asked for some Welsh stamps I was told that they would not be re-stocking once current stock exhausted. I have to question the function of a "Collectors Counter" if it is not for selling items to collectors. Doug (Enfield)

    1. Doug, I suspect it is a case of too little demand to justify keeping them. Viscious-circle-philately!

    2. Doug - it's for selling over-priced "gift" items like coin and stamp covers... plus the odd presentation pack on day of issue. The idea that actual stamps are collectible is secondary

    3. Earlier in the year I visited the Philatelic Counter at Trafalgar Square Post Office seeking a particular definitive. I was told that they had been instructed to issue 'labels' instead of definitive, and that once stocks had been used, they would not be restocked. They would in future only hold limited stock of new definitive issues. I was advised to contact Stamps and Collectibles who would supply the particular stamp. Well we all know that's not likely to happen, as to just get a particular definitive to complete your collection is a complete gamble, unless your willing to repeatedly send back the stamps in the hope that eventually they send you the security stamp that you wanted.

      I attended 2 sub post offices this morning in the London area. Since the tariff change in March neither Post Office had placed any orders for stamps. They had been instructed to issue 'labels'. They only held limited stocks of stamp booklets.

  5. I spent a few days in Carmarthen recently and went into the main post office there - which is in a WH Smiths branch. I requested 10 first class stamps and was asked if I wanted the "red" ones or the Welsh ones. Took the Welsh and bought some second class ones to boot.

  6. Called at Dartford Crown Office this morning for some English second class NVIs. AS ususal they claimed not to know what I meant. Pointed out that I had some recently from St Paul's Cray (about 10 miles away). The reply was that their stock must be very old and that they had been out of use for years (despite them not having heard of them)! Country definitives do serve several purposes: to support national pride in the four nations; give an alternative the the ugly, boring old-fashioned Machins and give those of us who disapprove of the mediæval principle of monarchy, neutral stamps to put on our letters.


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