Wednesday 29 November 2017

Stanley Gibbons Guaranteed Investmenet Scheme Collapses: Guernsey arm in Administration

I'm sure some readers of this blog in the UK and outside will have read that Stanley Gibbons (Guernsey) is "in Administration".  This means:
-The purpose of administration is to enable the company to be rescued as a going concern. Through being in administration an insolvent company is protected from its creditors and given time to restructure itself in a way that will allow it to survive.
- The company directors might choose to go into administration, or it could be forced on them by creditors or their bank.
- The process of going into administration involves the appointment of an insolvency practitioner, often an accountancy firm, to run the business. They have a statutory duty to work on behalf of all the creditors and they will investigate what actions are available to save the business.
- At the same time they will do what they can to keep the business operating as normal, although sections that are clearly losing money will be shut down very quickly. They will do what they can to cut operating costs, which is why a round of redundancies often occurs shortly after their appointment.
In the case of Stanley Gibbons, an official statement says that administrators have been appointed for the Investment arm - Stanley Gibbons Guernsey [SGG] - and the group stressed that other parts of its business are not affected by the move "and are ring-fenced from the buy-back guarantees of this division".  According to International Investment,
"The scheme is said to have more than £70m in liabilities, though only £6.5m of that is owed to the parent company.   The subsidiary holds about £12.6m in “philatelic stock”, said the parent company in a statement issued today.
The subsidiary’s “potential liabilities”, said the company, primarily consist of around £54m contingent liabilities relating to the buy-back guarantees, and a further approximate £11m in liabilities included on its balance sheet.
The £6.5m owed to the parent company would, it said, “rank alongside other unsecured creditors, mainly consisting of bank debt and payments due to holders of
investment products”."

Amazingly the Gibbons Investment page is still available to read on the web, albeit with a new header about the appointment of PWC as administrators, and the investment guide is still available to download!
So how is Stanley Gibbons overall?
Not so good.  Some of us have been following the misfortunes of the company for a few years.  These misfortunes have been largely hidden from ordinary collectors, and have involved Gibbons 'diversifying' into new areas and taking on new managers, and - in the view of many - throwing too much money at those ventures.

Gibbons became a public company after a launch on the London Stock Exchange in 1968, and was bought in 1979 by dry-lettering company Letraset which was attempting to diversify.  The integration failed and weakened Letraset (their chairman was quoted as saying "we significantly overpaid for what we got". - remember these words!).  Letraset was bought in turn by Esselte, which soon dumped Gibbons as it was not a logical addition to their business.

This led in 1982 to a management buyout by Clive Feigenbaum who owned 50% of the shares and attempted to join the Unlisted Securities Market, but the shares were suspended before trading began following exposures by a newspaper concerning earlier stamp ventures by Feigenbaum.

Between 1989-95 all the shares in SG were acquired by Paul Fraser, who sold the company in 1998 to Flying Flowers, but this was not a success and the companies were demerged in 2000, with the value of Fraser's stake falling from £13.5m to £4m. (The chairman of Flying Flowers said the deal "was at the wrong price and at the wrong time" - those words again).  Fraser sold his remaining shares in April 2008.

After this SG engaged in a vigorous acquisition plan to diversify, a process which included non-philatelic businesses.  In September 2010 they bought Benham first day covers (etc) from Flying Brands Ltd (owners of Flying Flowers).  The attraction was "synergies between the two databases of collectors... and potential to develop the Benham website".

In an attempt to improve its online presence Gibbons acquired US stamp auction/sale site bidStart in November 2012 for US$1 million. BidStart owner Mark Rosenberg was appointed Chief Digital Officer.  The online Marketplace was eventually launched in May 2015.

In November 2013 SG acquired Noble Investments which included Apex Philatelics, Baldwin's, Drewatts, and Bloomsbury Auctions - a significant diversification.  In 2014 the company acquired George VI specialist dealer and publisher Murray Payne, and Mallett Antiques which had premises in London's Mayfair and New York's Madison Avenue.  BidforWine was acquired in July 2015.

By December 2015 SG had resold Benham to former Managing Director Tony Grodecki and suffered a big write-off of the value in its accounts.

Effect on results

In the 15 months to 31 March 2014 SG had trading profits of £6.9m (on sales of £51.8m) compared with £6.3m (on sales of £35.6m) for the 12 months ended 31 December 2012.  The big hit of about £1.8m was suffered due to their investment in 'online developments', including the US-owned Bidstart, which seems to have been badly mishandled. 

Bidstart enabled dealers and collectors alike to - as with eBay - list stamps for sale without regard to condition or accuracy of description, and - because the membership base was mostly in North America - mostly using Scott catalogue numbers instead of Gibbons.  SG listed some of their own stock (with SG numbers) alongside and although the stamps were probably superior examples the (mainly US) membership would find them more expensive, if they found them at all, because they were drowned out by cheaper examples using the other catalogue.  

With the Marketplace launched, Rosenberg and Gibbons parted company in July 2015, and a year later Gibbons sold bidStart back to Rosenberg for "an undisclosed sum" - reported to be much lower than its purchase price.  (Sounds familiar.)  In October SG reported a hefty pretax loss of £28.9m, from a profit of £1.8m for the previous year.  A year later the group posted a loss before tax of £30.2m.  A 48% fall in net asset value resulted from a combination of one-off restructuring costs, continued difficult trading conditions and the ongoing legacy of the group's investment contracts, the company said.

Share Price
The other investors in Stanley Gibbons are the shareholders, with directors often holding considerable shares.  The value of the shares has been diluted by further shares being issued to raise additional funds, but the price has fallen catastrophically and the company is now ripe for takeover if only anybody had the vision to properly turn it round and concentrate on core areas.

When they bought bidStart in 2012 the share price was 288p per share, and it rose to over 300p on the acquisition of Noble Investments.  But by September 2015 the price had more than halved to 152p, and following a profits warning in October dropped a further 41p (28%).

Shares opened January 2016 at 86p.  In February with the share price down to 45p following market analysists' reports, their auditors resigned and by mid-March - when they were looking to raise £13m additional capital - the share price was down below 12p.  It rose, but by June was back down to 12p.  At this level the price is affected by any sales or purchases, or even by general volatility in the stock market, but a few days ago it was at 4.4p.

The future
In March this year the trading results showed a loss of £8.8m (compared with £3.9m) on a turnover of £42.5m.  The results reported that the lease on the Strand premises (no, they don't own 399 any more) expires in spring 2018 and the landlord wants the premises back. 

"A full review of Group E-Commerce strategy led to the closure of The Marketplace, based in the USA, ‎on 7 September 2016 bringing to an end a project which had consumed some £10m cash over the last few years.

"The Board believes there remains an opportunity to grow online revenues substantially. This will ultimately be best achieved via a cohesive strategy linking online sales of the Group's own, high quality collectibles assets, with our world renowned publications business.

If they can do that without spending too much, they may be successful, but "the Group is currently in default on its bank facilities and the Company remains dependent upon the bank's ongoing support. There can be no guarantee that the bank will provide facilities beyond 31 May 2018 and the Company is likely to require access to further liquidity in the intervening period."

As we know, there is strength in the catalogue and publishing business (although the demand for monthly paper magazines will be declining) and it seems likely that this part of the business will continue for many years.  Aside from any bought (at deep discounts) by public libraries, many of the catalogues are bought by dealers who require access to the latest information and suggested prices to conduct their own businesses.  

Collectors tend not to buy catalogues as often, but they need to recognise that the continuation of the business will require continued catalogue sales.  Order through your dealer to provide him with some business and a small margin of profit - he may even share the margin and give you a discount from the cover price.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Post and Go News - there isn't any!

When we reported on the re-introduction of Poppy stamps and other Post and Go changes last month, a number of readers pointed out that the information provided by Royal Mail was incorrect, as some machines were no longer at the locations mentioned and some stamps were introduced early - or late.

We've now been told that machine M011 at Ministry of Defence Abbey Wood does not have the Poppy stamps in this week, although the original announcement indicated an end date of 23 November.  The Poppies have been replaced by the Union Flag.

This means that we will not be able to obtain more Poppy stocks from Abbey Wood - sorry!

In the original announcement Poppies were to be removed from machines at museums (except the postal museum) on 19 November, while those in the machines at Postal Museum, BFPO, MoD and Enquiry Offices would be removed on 23 November.  So if anybody can check on the situation at any Enquiry Offices I'll be happy to record it.   As far as I know Norwich EO didn't load the Poppies at all: they are still using Hibernating Animals - but not very many.
See Update2 at foot of post.

For some time Royal Mail had a webpage of Post and Go News :
... but this now diverts to the Post and Go sales page at
... and even this page does not show the Winter Greenery stamps.

It seems that Royal Mail is doing its best to keep us in the dark about Post and Go changes.  IAR told me earlier in the year that they would not be putting Royal Mail news on their website until Royal Mail had made the announcement (on theirs), so don't look for anything from either soon!

IAR still provide information on Jersey and Guernsey changes and events, though.

I've been told that Postal Museum and Mount Pleasant EO machines had Winter Greenery from 13 November.

I've managed to track previous versions of the Royal Mail web-page and found this statement on the 23 October version:
To mark Remembrance Day, Royal Mail Enquiry Office machines and Post Office Limited machines will carry the Post and Go Poppy stamp, from 24th September until 13 November.
Three days later the 'news' page redirects to the shop page.

Thursday 16 November 2017

Post and Go: Poppies and Winter Greenery 2017 printings, and some others

We now have supplies of the recent Post and Go stamps issued for the period of Remembrance and for Winter/Christmas mailings.

As previously announced, the Poppy Post and Go stamp was reintroduced at Post Office branches, the Postal Museum, and Enquiry Offices from 24 October, and at Museums from 20 October.  The stamps at Museums were the residual 2015 stock coded MA15.  Those in PO branches and enquiry offices are a reprint with code R17YAL - this last one interesting because the twin digits have replaced a single letter.  (Click on any image for larger versions.)

PO SSK R17YAL collectors set
Machine M011 Ministry of Defence Abbey Wood - MA15
The default version has the Ministry of Defence de&s logo, but buyers can choose the 'posting to Northern Ireland' option, whereby the obvious origin is hidden and the stamps are printed without the logo.

On the other reel, the Machin Post and Go stamp has the same two options.  We already have the original MA13 version on our webshop but obtained some more with the poppies, only to find that they are undated.  The only other M-series machines which have produced undated Machins with the current range of 6 values were those at Mount Pleasant (from 3 June 2015, and BFPO Northolt (from 27 June 2016) until M011 had undated stamps added earlier this year.  Stuart Leigh's Catalogue only shows this with the logo, but the no-log version may have appeared before now.

UPDATE 18 November
Some of the latest Abbey Wood stamps are already sold out, at least in collectors's strips, though we have 1st class singles.  We are attempting to restock with the sets and will notify customers as soon as we have definite information.
Update: No Poppies were available, but more Machins have been obtained, a mix of undated and MA13.

A new printing of these stamps was introduced at Post Office branches from 13 November 2017.

The 1st class stamps have the year code R17YAL and 2nd class have CL17S.

UPDATE 9 December
A correspondent writes that "Sheffield are dispensing the 2017 Poppies, but not Winter Greenery so far."  A chance for local collectors to get the December datastring on Poppies.

Machin Definitives from Star Wars Prestige Stamp Book

As we mentioned in September, the Star Wars Prestige Stamp Book will be issued on 14 December to coincide with the cinema release of the latest film in the series.

I mistakenly wrote then:
the PSB will contain 4 x 1st class, 2 x 2nd class and 2 x £1.40 Machin definitives which should be coded M17L MPIL.  This will give us three new stamps in the pane of 8.
I had overlooked, of course, that the Machin PSB also contained a gummed 1st class stamp coded MPIL M17L, so maybe there would only be two new stamps in the Star Wars pane.

Like the 1st class stamp in this year's Windsor Catle PSB we would expect all these to be the new darker red, also known as deep scarlet.  But the stamp in the Machin pane was lighter - presumably the original red colour as shown on the miniature sheet in the same issue, although some people thought that it was dark enough to qualify as the new colour.  Who knows what the ink mix was that time?

So what colour is the one in the Star Wars book? - Answer: Lighter than both the others!!

The picture shows: left, Windsor Castle M16L; upper right, the Star Wars M17L; lower right, the Machin Anniversary M17L.

In my view, the latest stamp cannot possibly be described as deep scarlet, it certainly isn't the same colour as the Windsor Castle one - arguably there's even less black in the mix than in the 2015 Star Wars stamp or even the 2013 Football Heroes PSB!

UPDATE 15 January 2018.  Readers have reminded me that the stamp in the Machin Anniversary PSB was printed in gravure, so different to the others in any case. For the present SG have listed the pane as U3014ac containing U3016b, the darker colour.  This may well change.

The lack of colour consistency extends to the new £1.40 stamp in the new book as well, the self-adhesive counter sheet stamp shown below on the left.  Maybe it doesn't matter because they are not supposed to be used for postage, but colour matching seems to have gone by the board.

For the record, here are pictures of the whole pane, and close-up of the three new stamps which we shall offer in our shop at the appropriate time.

The Norvic Security Stamp Checklist will be updated when I have finished dealing with the latest Post and Go stamps, and can get my head round these in the PSB.  Your thoughts, as always, are welcome!

Monday 13 November 2017

Royal Mail Announce 2018 issue programme

The Pocket Calendar for 2018 has now been distributed by Royal Mail and lists the following:
Date Issue Comment

23 January To be announced

23 January Post and Go - To be announced

January (provisional) 150th Ann of Trades Union Congress [Com Sheet]

14 February Postal Heritage: Mail by Sea

15 February Votes for Women

20 March Royal Air Force Centenary

Spring (probable) Royal Wedding - probably miniature sheet

17 April Reintroduced Species

11 May The Old Vic

5 June Royal Academy

26 June Dad's Army

31 July Hampton Court Palace

16 August Captain Cook's Voyage

30 August Owls

12 September Postal Heritage: Mail by Bike

13 September First World War 1918

16 October TBA

1 November Christmas

14 November Prince of Wales 70th Birthday

November Lunar New Year of the Pig

A reader has commented:
I suspect Jan 23rd will be another biggie - stamps, minisheet, booklet, PSB, Smilers sheet and Post & Go.
I can't let the comment be published because it contains a coded reference to the January issue, and I can't let those through (Trelantis - you know that!)

No more comments on this post: the programme has been relisted with the first images here.

Shop re-opens, new stock coming soon

After our visit to the Scottish borders, our shop is now open again, but there are no new stamps - yet.

By the end of the week we will have Poppies from the Post Office SSK machines, and also from machine M011 MOD Abbey Wood.  These come in two formats, with and without the Ministry of Defence de&s logo.  Those without are produced if the purchaser chooses the 'sending to Northern Ireland' option on the menu.  We will have collectors strips of 6 or 1st class singles.
Machin head stamps will also be available without the MOD logo using the same option.

Also available will be the Winter Greenery re-issue with 2017 code, issued today.  These will also be available in collectors sets of 16 or sets of 4 (2 x 2nd class and 2 x 1st class, one of each design).

Some of these will be reserved for overseas customers, but all could all customers please confirm their requirements as soon as possible.

Incidentally, I don't think I have ever seen quite so many pink-footed geese even in Norfolk!  As with most images, click on it to see it in larger format.


Surprise Christmas Sheet Format as well as Booklets

As described on our website and shown here in the earlier post, this years' Christmas booklets have both Madonna and Competition stamps in.   I hadn't realised (because I didn't read the advance information thoroughly!) the counter sheets also contain both designs. 

The 2nd class, 1st class, and both Large Letter sheets all contain both designs in one sheet.  Unlike definitive sheets of 50 (which are smaller stamps), there is no central gutter - which means that there is one novelty aspect which collectors might have bought but Royal Mail didn't think of.  The first image shows a photo of several sheets (Large Letter and two airmail). 

The other two are from the Post Office website and don't show the sheet margins.  I've only shown the 1st class sheet and the 2nd class Large sheets; the 1st Large and 2nd are similar.

From the first picture you can see that the printing date and sheet number are in the upper portion of the sheet, and the traffic lights and FSC logo are at the bottom.   The cylinder numbers are at the lower left, so there is no cylinder block for the Madonna & Child stamps (and no date block for the competition stamps).

I believe this is the first time that this country has ever had two stamps of different designs in the same sheet, other than in se-tenant pairs/strips.  If anybody does want se-tenant pairs or strips of 10, then I can order them.

Printing of the Christmas stamps usually starts in high summer.  What is interesting from these pictures is that the 1st class sheets available locally were printed in July while the 2nd class were printed in September.  There will be many other dates: I don't aim to record them all, but will list in this post, any more that people provide.

UPDATE 18 November
For the record, here are pictures of horizontal pairs from the centre of counter sheets - what would have been gutter pairs had there been a gutter!

Although delivered to many post office branches unfolded, these are often soon folded and thus less desirable.  This format is not available from Royal Mail at this time.

Friday 10 November 2017

Poppy stamp reissue

A short note to point out that the self-adhesive Poppy stamp is on sale again - probably only until next week.  This was mentioned as the lead item in this post, but some people missed it thinking that that post was only about Post and Go stamps.

On Monday, Winter Greenery Post and Go start again, so probably this is the last chance to get the new Poppy Post and Go stamps from Post Office SSKs.

It's an appropriate time to draw attention to the box at the top left of the blog page.  This search box is very useful for finding particular words or phrases and will quickly help you find recent and previous instances of something that you are either sure has been mentioned but can't find it, or ought to have been mentioned and can't find it.  Remember that the listing generated may not be in chronological order.

Also, if you're just browsing, click on the "Next Blog": there is probably a 98% chance that it won't be about stamps, but you may find something else interesting!

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Royal Mail Marks the Queen's Platinum Wedding Anniversary on 20th November 2017

The short answer to the many questions and enquiries is, YES, I do know what Royal Mail are planning for 20th November, and YES it is subject to strict embargo, and NO I can't tell you what's going on until the information is released by RM.

This is really frustrating for collectors - and us - because now that companies are obliged to inform customers in advance what they are planning to charge on their next invoice, or for their next sending which is on standing order(!), they are sending out these notices to tell you how much they will be charging you, but they can't print the details on the notification - and if you phone them up, they can't or won't tell you either.  Call centre staff are complaining (to callers) that they are fielding more phone calls about this than about anything else in recent times.

When in doubt, Wikipedia is a good source, so I suggest you look here and make your own mind up.   And maybe look at other postal administrations' websites. At least one administration in the British Isles has announced its stamps for that date, but this is not visible on their website.  I probably saw it on twitter.

According to (!) the Royal Mint and Royal Mail both have products for this 'event'/'anniversary' which is a surprise.  However, no pictures were shown of either, nor details given.

I am sure you can work it out if you have time.  I am equally sure that most people will think that the secrecy is unwarranted, and will regard this 'surprise' issue as a damp squib.

Sorry, I should have said that I won't be publishing the answer, even in comments, as Royal Mail have already got uppity when I had something on the website which suggested what the stamps will be for.   So, sorry 'Cruyff', that one's not getting through even though it is correct.

UPDATE 2150, 7 November 2017.

Although we understood that there would be no announcement until possibly the day before the anniversary, my thanks to MC for pointing out that Royal Mail have now added the Platinum Wedding Anniversary miniature sheet and other products to their online shop - but they still haven't told us the embargo is lifted - thanks a lot, guys!

Details of the stamp designs and other technical details are as follows:

Other products:
Presentation Pack, First Day Cover, Stamp Cards (7), Souvenir Pack (£14.99), Press Sheet of 14 MS (edition of 500) (£102.56).
Coin cover - edition 10,000 (£19.95) plus three more with proof coins:
Silver proof (500) - £82.50
Gold proof (500) - £1,975
Framed MS - £19.99
Limited edition framed print and stamps (70) - £119.99
Platinum proof (500) - £4,950

These can be ordered direct from Royal Mail - advance orders can be placed now.

We shall not be stocking this issue in any form.

Movember kicks off November Slogan Postmarks

The first slogan used in November seems to be for the annual Movember campaign to highlight and raise funds to fight men's cancer.

First reports were of difficult-to-read slogans, but thanks to Geoff (GBCC) on Stampboards I can show this fine example from Gatwick Mail Centre used on 1 November.


UPDATE: Thanks to a couple of readers who sent in the other version, which has no 'Delivered by' segment, but a Movember logo, here from Home Counties North on 2 November (the image has been digitally modified as it was very pale)

Hastings Pier
Several people have sent examples of this slogan from Mount Pleasant, Jubilee and Home Counties North Mail Centres, though some are almost unreadable.  JG tells us that the result of the RIBA Stirling Prize competition was announced on 31 October, but this slogan appears to have been used only on 6 November (ahead of the Christmas slogans - see below). (Thanks also to AB, GW & RW)

Hastings Pier - 
Winner of the 
RIBA Stirling
Prize 2017

The reversed version of the slogan applied to the side of a square envelope, from North & West Yorkshire Mail Centre.

As you know, two of this year's Christmas stamp designs were selected from schools competition entries.  According to Royal Mail's Press Release this will be marked in a special slogan postmark on mail arriving this week.
"In addition, to mark their success, a special postmark will feature on mail delivered to addresses nationwide. Each child will have their name on the postmark for a week in November with the message: “Ted Lewis-Clark/Arwen Wilson – Winner of Royal Mail’s Christmas Stamp Design Competition.” Ted and Arwen’s postmarks will feature on mail delivered from 7 November and 14 November, respectively. "
UPDATE 8 November.
Our post this morning brought two examples of the Ted Lewis-Clark slogan, from North & West Yorkshire, and from South East Anglia as shown below.  Both are dated 7 November.

Ted Lewis-Clark
Winner of
Royal Mail's
Christmas Stamp
Design Competition

And another version of this slogan, from Jubilee Mail Centre on 8 November.  Note the different layout of the slogan itself over 4 lines instead of 5:

Ted Lewis-Clark
Winner of Royal Mail's
Christmas Stamp
Design Competition

UPDATE 15 November:
The annual Remembrance slogan was used nationwide - however the only examples we have seen are both 2nd class from Peterborough Mail Centre, one on 9th and one on 10th November.

UPDATE 15 December
For the record, I should add here that Northern Ireland MC used Lest we forget on 13 December as well!

After that, World Diabetes Day (14th) was marked in a continuation of Royal Mail's health slogans.  One could build up an interesting thematic collection of slogans related to health!  This one is from Warrington Mail Centre on 13-11-2017.

Our right to
a healthy future
World Diabetes Day
14 November

UPDATE 18 November
The second Christmas Competition slogan has been in use this week and one arrived in the post this morning.  This is the 4-line version from Glasgow MC on 16 November.  [Thanks also to AB for one from Warrington, also 4-line, on 14th.)  The fact that Arwen's was announced as being from 14th suggests that Royal Mail operations already knew that they would run Diabetes Day on 13th, but they declined to make this public.  It's not rocket science to make the announcement: if nothing else social media would do.

Arwen Wilson
Winner of Royal Mail's
Christmas Stamp
Design Competition

UPDATE 21 November:
As was to be expected, Royal Mail marked the Platinum Wedding Anniversary of HM The Queen and HRH Prince Philip with a special slogan postmark.  Making no reference to the stamps, it would have been quite possible to obtain a first day cover with this postmark which is unlikely to have been used on Friday and Saturday for delivery on Monday 20th.

Her Majesty
the Queen's
Platinum Wedding
20 November 2017

UPDATE 29 November:
The centenary of the establishment of the Women's Royal Naval Service has been marked by a slogan used on 28 November (example here from Norwich mail centre)

Celebration of the formation
of the
Women's Royal
Naval Service
29 November 1917

UPDATE: Here's a poor example of the other format which is, I think, from North West Midlands!  Could do better, I think!  (Thanks MM)

As usual, your contributions of examples of this and other November slogans are welcomed and will be shown here.