Thursday 26 October 2017

Christmas 2017 - 12 stamps, 2 generic sheets & 4 booklets

Our website has been updated with details of this year's Christmas stamps which will be issued on November 7th.

The usual rotation of subjects means that there is a religious theme this year but, as previously announced, there was also a children's design competition from which two designs will contribute four secular stamps.

The Madonna and Child stamps are issued in 6 designs in 8 values, and the Competition stamps in two designs in four values.  The miniature sheet has only the Madonna and Child stamps.

Retail booklets containing 12 x 1st or 2nd class stamps contain 6 of each design and are printed on SBP2 paper (the picture below shows centre of 2nd class book).

 In case supplies of these booklets are insufficient to meet demand, two additional books have been printed, each containing 12 x Madoona and Child stamps.  These are supplied to Royal Mail's standing order customers but may not appear in Post Office branches and retailers until much closer to Christmas.  My expectation is that these will carry over to 2018 and will provide the religious alternative to the secular designs to be used next year.

Update 10 December.  I've been told that these are not available from Royal Mail online, but can be ordered by phone or post (and maybe if you have an account, by email).   The two product codes are UB410(1st class - £7.80) and UB411(2nd class - £6.72)

UPDATE 15 November
JG has sent another example of the mixed 2nd class booklet showing the backing paper inverted (see above).  I don't intend to look for all the variants as I find that few people are interested in more than one example, but collectors who are interested know that that at least one of the booklets come in two types.

To add to the cost for collectors of 'everything', there are also two generic stamp sheets.  The religious one contains, as usual, just one set of Madonna stamps consisting as it does of 8 x 1st, 8 x 2nd and all the airmail stamps.  Printed by International Security Printers rather than De La Rue there will be space for these in some pre-printed albums.  Collectors who buy the sheet for the set of 6 stamps (no Large Letters) will at least have 7 each of 1st and 2nd to use on their Christmas Cards.  The design of the sheet echoes that of the miniature sheet.

The other sheet contains 10 of each of the 1st and 2nd Competition stamps, with the sheet border showing pencils, crayons and other craft materials which could be used for making greetings cards.

See all the stamps and sheets, and see the technical details and source of the images used on our new webpage.  We will not be stocking any of these stamps, though we may use some on customer orders.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Temporary closure of our web shop.

Our shop will be closed from Friday 27 October for 2 weeks.  

Orders placed by Thursday of this week will be posted Friday or Monday next.  There is very little happening at present so this should not cause too many problems.  Supplies of the M16L 1st class dark stamp are proving particularly elusive.   But today we've added the missing (blue) Star Wars retail booklet with cylinder numbers as an option on those booklets.

When we reopen we should have some Poppy Post and Go stamps, although this is not guaranteed and depends on obtaining supplies.

Monday 23 October 2017

Local Handstamps for New Stamp Issues

The Windmills and Watermills stamp issue on 20 June this year achieved widespread publicity
due to the efforts of Royal Mail's PR department, which arranged for local operational handstamps to be applied to all mail posted in the postboxes nearest to the Mills.  A similar promotion took place in January for the Ancient Britain stamps, with mixed results.

This time, responding to collector and dealer irritation that these were neither announced in the Postmark Bulletin nor available from Special Handstamp Centres via the reposting service, the Press Office decided to accept covers for a period, and have them handstamped and returned.

However, it never occurred to me to suggest to the PR department that there should be a time-limit on acceptance of covers: they would be, after all, first day covers and obviously(?) ought to be processed near to the date of issue.  With no deadline announced, collectors and dealers found out about the arrangements as they read society newsletters, philatelic magazines, etc, and so continued to send covers and cards for postmarking through June, July, and into August.  Royal Mail had already decided that all the handstamps would be applied at the London Special Handstamp Centre where the experienced team could handle everything submitted with their usual efficiency and professionalism - once they got them!

A similar promotion for the Landmark Buildings issue was quietly abandoned after publicity that there would be handstamps, and after some of us had sent our covers to the Press Office.  The continued involvement of the PR team in that issue, the World War I, Classic Toys, and Stampex stamps, and the Star Wars stamps which involves a lot of work nearer the date of issue, meant that the Mills covers were not sent to London SHC until October.  I had decided from the start not to get FDCs for this issue as certainly anybody in the UK could follow the instructions and get their own - and none of our overseas customers asked for them.

So I am grateful for AB for providing these images of the six special handstamps used this time around.  (I believe others exist for subsequent dates, but few people will be interested in these).  Note that neither the actual location nor the nearest post town are mentioned, only the county location of the Mills, and the Gwynedd one is not bilingual.  (Click on the images for larger views).

Note, these are all the same size (30mm): the apparent difference here is due to my cropping the full-cover images in different ways.

From what I have seen of the 2018 stamp programme, nothing lends itself to a similar multi-location local handstamp promotion.  Given that the 'postmarks' break several postmarking rules, and given the tortuous and flawed process for obtaining the covers, we hope that the PR department consigns this experiment to the bin.  As I wrote in my article for various specialist society newsletters:

"I haven't managed to work out what the prime purpose of these special handstamps is: if the locals who post letters in these locations were not aware of the special handstamp, then they still won't know as the letter will be delivered somewhere else.  The recipient of the letter will know, but it would mean little to them, especially if they are in another part of the country."

Thursday 19 October 2017

Another Printed Machin as PPI - PDSA

If you are interested in the Machin PPIs, may not have seen the 2nd class Large, currently being used by the PDSA Charity on a pre-Christmas mail campaign.

This is the first Large letter PPI I've seen, although they have been reported from various mailers.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Lest We Forget Poppy re-use

As usual at this time of the year, the self-adhesive Lest We Forget Poppy will be on sale at Post
Office branches (from 24 October), and the Post and Go Poppy stamp will be in use again, though not from the same date at all locations.  A new printing with R17YAL** (thanks Frank) code has already been offered for sale on eBay.

Post and Go details
Post Office branches and Royal Mail Enquiry Offices should have the Poppy stamp replacing the Union Flag from Tuesday 24 October.
** Comments include information that the Museum and Enquiry Office machines have 2015 printings and the small rolls for these machines have NOT been printed with R17YAL code.

Museum sites will have the following changes:
(My apologies that this table may not show fully on mobile devices.  On iPhone, rotate to horizontal, and scroll right. iPad uses the web format, and data is not visible.   The end date for Museums is 19 November and for Enquiry Offices and BFPO, 23 November.)

British Postal Museum †
Poppy Stamp replaces Machin 1st on 24th October
until 23/11/2017
Royal Navy Museum
20 October: Poppy Stamp replaces Machin;
Union Flag  ONLY - Trafalgar Day inscription
until 19/11/2017
Fleet Air Arm Museum
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 20th October
until 19/11/2017
Submarine Museum
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 20th October
until 19/11/2017
East Anglian Railway Mus. ≠
No change.
HMS Trincomalee
20 October Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag; “HMS Trincomalee”  replaced by “12th Oct 1817” on Machins
until 19/11/2017
RN Explosion Museum
20 October Poppy Stamp replaces Machin;
Union Flag  ONLY - Trafalgar Day inscription
until 19/11/2017
Shakespeare Trust
No change.
Steam GWR
No change
Royal Corps of Signals
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 20th October and White Helmets inscription and logo ends
Until 19/11/2017
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 24th October
until 23/11/2017
Mount Pleasant
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 24th October
until 23/11/2017
Enquiry Office Bradford
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 24th October
until 23/11/2017
Enquiry Office Kingston
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 24th October
until 23/11/2017
Enquiry Office Windsor §
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 24th October
until 23/11/2017
Enquiry Office Doncaster*
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 24th October
until 23/11/2017
BFPO-Abbey Wood
Poppy Stamp replaces Union Flag on 24th October
until 23/11/2017

RM seem to have forgotten machine M010 at Norwich Enquiry Office: we must assume that if anybody wants to use it they will add the Poppy stamps. 

† - The Postal Museum has confirmed that this will be for all values.
§ - Not Doncaster as in RM advice.
* - Not Croydon as in RM advice.
≠ - Yes, having been there I should have remembered this change which occured so long ago that you would have thought that the RM team responsible would have known!

Winter Greenery
This was mentioned in the October Philatelic Bulletin but we have had no other confirmation from the Post and Go team, but it is worth mentioning here although we are light on detail.  I suspect some offices may still have old 2014 stock, but there may have been a reprint so we await reports of a printing with R17YAL code - which may not be on both designs (1st/2nd) at any one location! (Thanks to Frankie G who confirms: "2nd class is CL17S and 1st class is R17YAL" - although that does not mean that you will find the new ones in your Post Office branch!)
  "13 November: 2014 Post and Go Winter Greenery: Stamps (2 x 1st Class, 2 x 2nd Class). Post Office Limited (POL) Self-Sservice Kiosk offices and selected sites POL only."

Quite what 'selected sites POL only' means I don't know.  As far as I know all sites which are not branch SSKs are Royal Mail (controlled), eg at Museums, so I have sought clarification on this as well.

UPDATE 23 October
Thanks to RW I can now show images of the 2nd class CL17S Winter Greenery stamp, and the embargo label from the 1st class roll.


UPDATE: A few people have contacted me to tell me about the self-adhesive poppy being on sale in their PO not having seen this post on the blog, so I have now added a picture of the stamp to show that this is not just about Post and Go stamps

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Special Handstamps now visible on Royal Mail's new webpage.

In the 29 September Postmark Bulletin, Royal Mail announced the launch of 'Postmarks Online'
With effect from 3rd October 2017 new Postmarks will be announced online at
New sponsored postmarks will be added each Monday during the month before being
published in the Postmark Bulletin on the last Friday of each Month. The Postmark Bulletin will then be published online and the latest sponsored Postmarks will once again be added at the start of the following month
This ensures that Sponsored Postmarks are announced earlier throughout the month in which they’re received by us, rather than waiting until the end of each month when they will be published officially in the Postmark Bulletin.
 Whilst it didn't happen to schedule, the page has now gone live and you can see it here.

Unanticipated new Machins.

I use the term unanticipated rather than unexpected because I should have expected these to appear but one of them I didn't notice, and the other one I had written off as unlikely.

When writing about the new Star Wars booklets I concentrated on the fact that the booklets we had received had the SBP2 printing in different orientations, which is interesting even though we don't intend to sell the two types of SBP2 separately.  What I overlooked was the low number of mixed-content (MCIL) booklets this year, and the fact that the only other two - Windsor Castle and David Bowie - were printed on SBP1!

Thus these booklets contain one definite new stamp - or two if you collect that way.  The new 1st class deep scarlet M17L MCIL stamp is listed in our shop as 2936aC.7a

Back in the spring there were reports that the first counter sheets on paper with security printing on the backing paper were printed on 09/12/16, and a 1st class example was pictured in Stamp Magazine.  Needless to say, none were found in post offices, and the M17L printed 27/02/17 appeared in April.

Collectors and dealers don't know whether Post Office Distribution Centre at Swindon has any specific way of storing and issuing stock (though we have long believed that it is random!) but it appears that the 2017 stock was stacked on top of or in front of the 2016 printings - which have now come to light!

The ones found were printed on 12/12/16 (a Monday), whereas the one shown in Stamp Magazine was printed on the Friday.

The 1st class deep scarlet counter sheet M16L has been listed in our checklist as 2914a.6 just for the record.  Few sheets have been reported so far, so it's unlikely many dealers will have them - although we await more reports.

It will be listed in our shop using this number as soon as we have supplies to offer.  At the moment we can only show this picture.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

October 2017 Slogan Postmarks

Today is World Mental Health Day and yesterday Royal Mail used a nationwide postmark to mark the occasion.

I had four examples today from Edinburgh, Swindon, Sheffield and Romford Mail Centres.  The last three are shown here, with Sheffield using the / separator and Romford still using the decimal.  I hadn't noticed that the impressions with the / separator show the time as whereas the others show (or am).

UPDATE 12 October
I'm advised by JE that "On 9 October, Preston IMP 144 (Lancashire and South Lakes) used the Eye Health Week (18-24 September) slogan and not World Mental Health Day."

There has been no announcement about this, but I expect it to be a one-day only slogan - so reports of overruns and other new slogans are welcome, as always.  Thanks for continuing to send them.

BTW: did anybody ever see a slogan about the Queensferry Crossing ?  (Update, and image has now been added to this original post.  The slogan wasn't used in Scotland.)

Merchant Navy Convoys
A slogan commemorating '100th Anniversary of Merchant Navy Convoys' is reported to be in use on 2nd class mail from Saturday 14 October, so probably in use on 1st class as well, and possibly today 16 October.  It may be on all week, but there is no news on Royal Mail's website.

Our readers can be relied upon to come up with the goods, unfortunately both examples so far are from Jubilee Mail Centre!
UPDATE 18 October:  Sheffield MC has 'mental health awareness' on 17 October which suggests that the Merchant Navy slogan was one-day only.

As usual Royal Mail have marked the award of the Man Booker prize by a slogan postmark on 18 October 2017, this example from Peterborough MC.  (Thanks to JG & BE):

Congratulations to
George Saunders
winner of the 2017
Man Booker Prize

UPDATE 7 November
Still working with the National Health Service, what is probably the final slogan for October asks if we have had our vaccination against influenza.  Apparently a nasty version is coming in from Australia.  Only one example so far sent from Romford Mail Centre on 28 October.  Must be some more out there, as the next one I have is in a new post for November's slogans.

Have you 
had your 
flu jab yet?


Friday 6 October 2017

This is why shopping carts expire after a period of time

Customers on our webshop will know that the shopping basket doesn't keep your purchases for very long if you are interrupted while browsing.  Unfortunately we have no control over the length of time the goods remain in the basket: this is controlled by Freewebstore* and is currently only about 45 minutes, I think.

Whether or not you think this period should be longer, there has to be a limit, otherwise pending orders which had not been taken through checkout would keep stock tied up and unavailable for other customers to buy.  As all our postal history and many of the postcards are often 'one-offs' - as well as some of the modern Machins which are nearly sold out - this would be difficult for us as well as customers.

Not that anybody would deliberately tie things up, would they?  Wouldn't they - this was an abandoned basket last month:

Both these are unique in our stock, so without an automatic emptying of the basket this joker would have tied up stock.  OK, it still hasn't sold, but it is there for other people to buy.

If you have problems getting through checkout, let us know.  As the image shows, we can show what was in the basket in case you can't remember everything.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Signed For stamps have phantom cylinder number

Readers with good memories will recall that in 2015 there were two versions of the 100g Special Delivery cylinder block because half the panes on the cylinder were missing the cylinder number for the iridescent ink.  This was reported here.

Now a similar but different error has been found on the M17L printing of the only stamp that is the same size as the Special Delivery (SD) stamps, the 1st class Signed For.  The Signed For (SF) stamps are printed in guttered sheets of 50 (two panes of 25), where as the SD stamps are distributed in sheets of 25.  Thus the SD has 8 grid positions, but the SF only 4: the basic cylinder is the same size.

In the case of the SD stamps all 8 grid positions carry cylinder numbers, while the SF stamps only have cylinder numbers on the lower pane on each of the four positions.

However, if De La Rue use the same iridescent cylinder for both stamps, the upper pane on the SF stamps would have an unnecessary iridescent cylinder number, and that is what seems to have happened.  The first picture shows the ordinary cylinder number from the lower pane.

This picture shows the upper pane with the colour name in the margin and the gutter at the foot, with an iridescent cylinder number against row 4 as with the lower pane.

The ideal way to collect these would be to have the complete strip of 2 columns from top to bottom of the primary sheet - 20 stamps - showing the phantom, the gutter and the correct cylinder number.  However, such a strip is over 310 mm, and too long for most albums, even A4.  The next best way is to collect a cylinder block of 6 plus the top two rows from the lower pane below the gutter, showing clearly that the stamps come from the top pane.

We have obtained some of both arrangements: customers are invited to email for details before we put them on our webshop.

Star Wars Sheets update

When news first broke about the latest offering of Star Wars stamps from Royal Mail there was a long list of products but the information provided was very short on detail.  Even in their Philatelic Bulletin the technical details of the 'Ultimate Collectors Sheet' and the 'Droids, Aliens and Creatures Collectors Sheet' was sparse.

On the basis that there might just be something collectably different about these, I ordered one of each because Royal Mail had still not provided the requested information.

The 10-stamp Droids, Aliens and Creatures Collectors Sheet (Product code AT098 costing £7) is self-adhesive, producing 8 new stamps (the pair in the top row are repeated in the last row).
Four of them will be in the retail booklets but those are printed by the Walsall branch of ISP in gravure, and these sheets are almost certainly printed by the Cartor branch in litho.  The phosphor band arrangement is the same as in the booklets, but the (see below) glow-in-the-dark features - which show equally under UV light - can only be seen in normal light on the booklets (held at an angle to light, in the same way that you would for phosphor bands).

As usual these stamps are not likely to be separately listed in the Stanley Gibbons catalogues.

The 20-stamp Ultimate Collectors Sheet (Product code AS3093COLL costing £17.50), however, is on ordinary paper with ordinary gum.

And this explains why only 8 stamps this time.  With 12 stamps in the first set, 10 this time would have produced an odd layout and 12 would not have allowed much room for border illustration.

So on the basis that these are the same as the sheet stamps, there is no reason for the stamps to be separately listed in catalogues.  (I no longer have any of the 2015 set, so if they are different, then I hope somebody will tell me.)

Hidden  features.  Readers will recall that the design of the 2015 set included logos that were revealed under UV light.  I forgot to mention earlier that some of the latest stamps have similar design features.  The stamps showing BB-8,  R2-D2, C-3PO and K-250 have glowing eyes or panel lights.  The humanoid and creature stamps do not, which means that only one of the counter sheets has this secondary invisible colour.

Some illustrations of the retail booklets provided by Royal Mail appear to show the edge inscription on the retail booklets 'glowing' as if under UV light (while other illustrations do not).   On the packs we have, the booklets have no hidden feature which is revealed by UV light apart from the 'eyes' mentioned above.

Sunday 1 October 2017

North of England SHC Closes; new PO branch opens

Royal Mail have announced that the Special Handstamps Centre at Keppel Street South Shields has closed and that all requests should now be sent to Tallents House Edinburgh.

The move coincides with redevelopment of the South Shields retail area, where a new PO branch has opened with two Post and Go SSK machines. More here.