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."

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