Monday 26 February 2018

Overwhelmed - and not just by the weather

Dear Customers,

Since the previous post and the addition of the Special Delivery stamp (and so many nice forgeries) you have filled your baskets over and over - the SD stamp, of course, helping easily to reach our minimum order value.  And some orders have included stamps that were previously set aside.

I'm hoping that we can get these out tomorrow afternoon - or at least those ordered up to today.  But that does depend slightly on the amount of snow we get: it has been coming and going all day, with the temperature not reaching 1ºC, but the sun shining brightly!

Rest assured we will get orders off as soon as we can, and thank you for your continued custom. 

Update Tuesday afternoon: bright sunny freezing afternoon, so 34 orders despatched from Dereham this afternoon, mostly cancelled at the counter, though I fear he may have missed some.  And anybody collecting fingerprints will probably find some on backs of covers as he had recently reinked the datestamp!  
Wednesday: Orders to and including 4035 have been posted. Orders 4036 onwards will be posted Friday if the weather permits.  Not going anywhere today!

Update Friday.  Very strong winds (up to 40mph) have blown much of the snow off some roofs, and there's only about half as much on the cars now.  But a road in the village is blocked, and other roads in the area have been blocked by snow drifting off the fields in the strong winds.  So no orders will be posted today.  Forecast for the weekend is better with winds down to 15 mph and temperatures up to +2C on Saturday and 6C on Sunday, so flooding will be the next problem!
On Monday it should be sunny and warmer still with wind moving to SW, so I'll probably get some posting done then.  Haven't seen a postman since Tuesday, and as that will be the same for most of our UK customers in affected areas, it's best that your stamps stay here for now.

UK readers will know about this: this is for the benefit of overseas readers and customers!  
Next up, the RAF PSB and Retail Booklet definitives (etc), and the new tariff stamps.

As so many customers get new definitive stamps direct from Royal Mail or their post offices we don't order many, so would all customers please let us by email as soon as possible know if you want cylinder blocks, date blocks, or singles of any of the new postage stamps including the country definitives.  Bear in mind that if you service your own FDCs you may not get the new printing of the £2.25 stamp from your PO as stores are sending out the 2016 printing currently.  We can supply the single quickly so that you can add it to your FDCs.

Thursday 22 February 2018

Latest additions to our shop - new Machins and old fakes!

We now have supplies of the new 50p M17L printing - and a new 100g Special Delivery printing on SBP2!

The 50p stamp is Norvic 3051.7 and the Special Delivery 100g stamp is Norvic 2985.7a. and these are in our webshop now on these links.

It would be helpful and speed customer orders if those who have asked us to hold these and others for us would order them through the shop and pay for them in their usual way. together with any older stamps.  [If the order cannot be completed, please order what you can, choose 'pay by cheque', and then we will add anything reserved and bill you for the total of your order for payment by any of the usual methods.]  - Thank you!

The new stamps:

(Yes, the corner of the 50p sheet is bent, and will be sent back to Tallents House, but we have some date blocks which are not folded.)

The first batch of 2018 printings will be issued on 20 March 2018 - that's assuming there won't be any discoveries between now and then!

The RAF Centenary retail booklet contains 4 new 1st class Machins in the darker red colour, coded M18L MCIL.  These are printed in gravure by Walsall.

New tariff definitives.

Information received from sources outside Royal Mail (who won't reveal anything!) are that the following stamps are part of the new tariff range:

£1.25 Holly Green - printing date 10/01/18
£1.45 Dove Grey - printing date 10/01/18
£1.55 Marine Turquoise - printing date 15/01/18
£2.65 Purple Heather - printing date 15/01/18

The above are all printed by Walsall's branch of ISP, and from those dates two values may be on the same primary cylinder.  Colour cylinder number is W1 - the iridescent and phosphor cylinders should also be W1.  As we have seen in comments on the tariff change post, ISP are also printing the £2.25.  I presume for the time being that these are printed in gravure, being long-run definitives but we won't know for sure until Royal Mail tell us.

The first supplies of £2.25 distributed to branches are from De La Rue stock from the only M16L printing, 21/11/16.

The England country definitives were printed on 27/12/17 in litho by Cartor, in 4-colour process, with plate numbers C1 x4.

Pictures of all the actual tariff change stamps when we get them.  This is taken from the March Philatelic Bulletin which arrived on 23 February.

Machin Forgeries

As we have posted before, there have been a great number of different forgeries of Machin stamps. The first was the 24p brown, which was very, very, crude.  But it seems that production of self-adhesive stamps and labels is much easier in the 21st century.  There were some fairly crude copies of the early gold 1st class stamps, including the PIP version.

Royal Mail introduced security features in 2009, partly to prevent forgery, and partly to prevent reuse of uncancelled stamps.  But it didn't, as we have noted.  The early gold, then the Diamond Jubilee, and Long to Reign stamps, and finally the forgers produced the red (both versions) including some with the security backing paper!

We've put a selection of these on our webshop.  Some are better than others and some are more plentiful than others: some we have only 1 of.

All used examples are pictured individually, so customers can choose which one to buy.  Not all are postmarked, but all have been through the post.  We don't have any 2nd class, or 1st class Large - although we know these exist.  We still have some stock of the £1 brown MTIL.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Royal Air Force Centenary - 20 March 2018

In a month's time, and just before postage rates increase, Royal Mail is marking the Centenary of the Royal Air Force with a bumper issue consisting of a set of 6, a miniature sheet, a prestige stamp book, and two retail booklets.

The stamps will be issued on the same day as the new tariff stamps, which brings into question the point of the airmail rate stamps in this set.   In earlier years, the special stamps issued just before the tariff change were usually a selection of 1st class:

But in 2016 the British Humanitarians set consisted of 1st class and £1.33 stamps, which worked because the £1.33 Worldwide 20g rate remained unchanged.  And in 2017 the David Bowie set included 1st class and £1.52 stamps - the European 100g rate rising to £1.57 just two weeks later, requiring a 5p stamp to be added to the Bowie stamps.

Now we have RAF £1.40 and £1.57 stamps issued on the same day as their replacement Machin definitives!  And although, as last year, a 5p stamp can be used to make up the £1.40 to the new £1.45 rate, the £1.57 European 100g rate drops to £1.55, meaning that the £1.57 RAF stamps cannot be easily used.  Madness, or just further proof that the special stamps are not designed primarily for postage?

The six new stamps show the Lightning F6 and Hurricane Mk 1 (1st class), Vulcan B2 Bomber and Typhoon FGR4 (£1.40), and Sopwith Camel F1 and Nimrod MR2 (£1.57).

Taking every opportunity to widen the appeal of the set, Royal Mail have also included the Red Arrows aerial display team with four new stamps in the miniature sheet, consisting of 2 x 1st class and 2 more £1.42 stamps.

Two retail booklets will be issued, one on 20 March and the second (Red Arrows) on 11 May. We expect that the Machin definitives will be coded M18L MCIL.

The Prestige Stamp Book includes all these stamps, but widens the RAF net even further by drawing on the 2015 issue which marked the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  That MS included 3 x 1st class and 3 x £1.33 stamps, and the 1st class stamps are reproduced in a block of 4 in the PSB.

The definitive pane contains three new stamps with security codes MPIL M18L - the 2p, 5p & £1.17: 2 sets with spare 2p & 5p.

Oddly the 'P' in the MPIL is very difficult to see, under the phosphor, leading some to suggest that it is not there.
UPDATE:  Stanley Gibbons catalogue editors have decided that the P is actually missing, so have given these a separate sub-number NOT because of the year, but because of the missing P.  The 2p is U3071d, the 5p is U3072f, and the £1.17 is U3084a.  This means that even collectors who don't distinguish by year code, will want these stamps because they have a separate catalogue listing.


Indeed on some it seems that the L appears like a P!

The total cost of the Prestige Stamp Book (product code YB076) is £18.69: it may not be the most expensive ever (I don't have time to check) but it must be close!  There will also be a Limited Edition PSB priced at £45 (product code YB077).

Monday 19 February 2018

Post Office stock turnover - or lack of it

There are frequent comments in the philatelic press - and from our readers - about the lack of availability of special stamps at many post office branches.  Since the programme of 'Network Transformation' started, several thousand branches have closed and others have been combined with other retail outlets to offer longer opening hours but often with reduced services - and stamps products - on offer.

However, it is not only special stamp products which collectors have trouble locating.  It wasn't always so, of course.  Collecting basic stamps was easy: one of each value, all available from the Post Office for a reasonable time, some only until airmail rates increased the next time.  If Royal Mail had not introduced security features in 2009, my calculation is that we would have had 54 definitive stamps - although that doesn't take into account any which already existed before then (eg 1st & 2nd).

But with the security features we have had over 350 different basic stamps to collect - if we can find them.  Registered dealers are provided with details of new printings and in that way we can identify printings which will have a new year code.   But that doesn't apply to anything other than counter sheets, and even then they don't get them all at Edinburgh's Tallents House office, hence the shortage of 1st dark M16L sheets. 

Whilst managers at Royal Mail have confirmed that at some levels they are happy for the stamp trade to save them the trouble of dealing with certain new stamps - singles from booklets, singles from business sheets, for example - they don't actually provide details of those new printings to us.  Finding those is down to a band of collectors who trail between branches and supermarkets seeking out new supplies.  For their dedication and enthusiasm we should all be eternally grateful!

And the lone collector making his own way around local branches, has enormous difficulties.  One recently sent this report of trying to find just one stamp:
In late October 2017 I tried to get the 2p 2017 on SBP.  Stock at the PO was 26/09/14.  I offered to buy their remaining stock (about 4 sheets) if they could order fresh stock. On a subsequent visit stock arrived dated 05/07/16.  I repeated the exercise a few weeks later and stock arrived 30/01/17 (Year 17 plain backing).  Again the exercise was repeated and this week I collected (year 16) 21/12/16!!  
I now have quite a few sheets of 2p but that's not a problem as they are low value and I can use them up.  A similar exercise with the 10p results in the latest stock being 08/02/16.
Some recent stamps have been difficult to find and were out of stock in our shop.   One of these is the 2nd Large booklet.  My local post office has stock, including cylinder books - with the year code MA12!!  These stamps are 5 years old, they just don't have much call for them.  On the other hand he has frequent turnover of others, partly because of restrictions on what he can order from central stores.  He recently wanted more packets of 12 x 1st but was restricted to 3 packets - 150 booklets.  That would be alright for one post office, but he also runs six outreaches.  That makes for a very thin spread round those villages.

I'm sure other collectors will have stories - good and bad - about finding stamps at post offices.

Friday 16 February 2018

Newsflash - new tariffs for 2018

From a Press Release:  

Royal Mail understands that many companies and households are finding it hard in the currenteconomic environment. As a result, we have considered any pricing changes very carefully and in doing so have sought to minimise any impact on our customers.

From 26 March, the price of a First Class stamp will increase by 2p to 67p and the price of a Second Class stamp will increase by 2p to 58p. These changes are necessary to help ensure the sustainability of the Universal Postal Service.

In addition, the price of a Large Letter First Class stamp will rise by 3p to 101p; a Large Letter Second Class stamp will rise by 3p to 79p.

Downloadable rates leaflet is now available from Royal Mail.   Key panel from the point of view of new stamps is the basic airmail rates:

The Postcard, European 20g and Worldwide 10g rates increase from £1.17 to £1.25 - nearly 7%.
The Worldwide 20g rate increases from £1.40 to £1.45.
The European and Worldwide 100g rates reduce by 2p dropping to £1.55 and £2.25 respectively.

These changes take effect from 26 March 2018.

New Tariff stamps (details not yet announced) will be issued on 20 March, the same day as the Royal Air Force Centenary Set.

This should mean a new £1.25 stamp replacing the 'sunrise red' £1.17;
a new £1.45 stamp replacing the 'dark pine green'(!) £1.40;
a new £1.55 stamp replacing the 'tarragon green' £1.57, and 
a new £2.25 stamp replacing the 'harvest gold' £2.27 

However, the purple/plum £2.25 is still available from Tallents House from the 2015 printing and in Royal Mail's apparently increasingly cost-conscious climate, I could see that colour being reused and therefore existing stocks not wasted.

Similarly the 2015 £3.30 Rose Pink could now be used for the Worldwide Large Letter Zone 1 100g rate instead of the Zone 2 rate, and the 2015 £3.15 abandoned.

There might be a new £2.65 replacing the £2.55 for the European Large 100g rate and a new £3.45 for the Large Letter Zone 2 100g rate but these stamps are apparently not used by many post offices and it seems they are mainly bought by businesses from Royal Mail's website.

UPDATE 21 February
As readers of the comments will see, a letter from Royal Mail indicates that the £2.25 (at least) will be printed by International Security Printers rather than De La Rue.  We await more news!

Further update:
I'm told that stamps with these values have been delivered to Post Office branches:
£1.25p £1.45p £1.55p £2.25p and £2.65p

Going by the comments down below, the £2.25 must be the existing colour purple. Tallents House will probably send out a new printing of M17L or M18L, but Post Office supplies may still have M15L or M16L stocks which will make their way into branches.

It may not have escaped your notice that all the new international rates are now multiples of 5p.  I think we can be fairly sure that if the inland letter rates were not regulated in the way that they were, there would be some simplification changes to those rates.  Some people would like to see the return of the 9p, but that would only help in one case.  With the rate differentials currently as shown, how much easier it would be if differences were a multiple of 5p/10p.

From    to      Diff        Make-up    No

2nd      1st       9p           5+2+2      3

2nd      2Lge    21p         20+1       2

2Lge    1Lge    22p         20+2       2

1st       1Lge    34p   20+10+2+2   4

SF premium    110p     £1+10        2
for small letters                                    

Update 23 February.
This picture is in the Royal Mail Philatelic Bulletin  received today shows the four new stamps but with the values obliterated.  We now know that these are £1.25, £1.45, £1.55 and £2.65.
First thoughts: the top two values are remarkably like the £5 azure and £3 purple; the green in this picture is very similar to the 2p, and the grey is, well, grey!  On their first day cover, Royal Mail are including only the four new colours; as the £2.25 is a new stamp from a new printer we will include that on our first day covers.  If you wish to have one of these, please let us know as soon as possible. We will have very few for stock after the date of issue.

Hot on the heels of the Bulletin was an email to registered dealers with more details of the new stamps.  As predicted by one of our Anonymous commenters, the 2nd & 1st country definitives have had a make-over with the new font being used for the denomination.  Just how necessary this is given the small number that any of us see on letters, or find in our post office branches, is a matter for debate.   From these pictures it appears that the 1st class Lion may well be the only one to have the denomination in silver-grey, because white would certainly not show on the yellow, not that that has stopped them using white for the 2nd class England stamp which joins the top value for Northern Ireland in having a face value that is almost impossible to determine.


UPDATE 26 February
Non-trade customers have had advance billing notices which price the 1st and 2nd class definitives at 68p and 59p respectively.  Querying this I have been told

The prices listed are post Tariff, all orders between 20th & 25th March will be billed at the appropriate rate.

This will also apply to standard customers who will be advised accordingly.

London Spring Stampex Report

As I mentioned at the beginning of this month, this Stampex was always going to be a 'different' affair as far as customers to Royal Mail's stand were concerned and it will, I think, set the pattern for future events.

I wrote earlier, based on what we had been told:
Purchasers of large or bulky products such as albums and framed stamps from the Royal Mail stand will receive free postage and packing and their purchases will be posted on to them after the show.
The full range of definitive stamps will be available, as well as special stamps, although not in the quantities that have been available in the past.  However, more popular stock will be replenished overnight should that be necessary.
Instead of multiple display points as you would find in Waterstones' bookstores, with stock to be selected and taken for payment (or possibly not, such was the lack of obvious security), the new stand was more compact - as a friend mentioned, more like the firework display case of your local retail store, with everything visible but out of reach.  Which, to be fair, is much like Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, Gibraltar and Malta at Stampex.

As promised the surprise new M17L printing of the 50p slate-grey was available, though in limited numbers and with few cylinder and date blocks available after dealers had their pick - but plenty of singles and strips.

One of our correspondents clearly did not like the new format, as it totally changed the customer experience.
The ‘counter’ now doubles up as a glass display counter in which all the products are labelled and priced.  Sounds good.  But whilst you are being served you can imagine other members of the public are trying to view what’s on offer.  The orderly queue gets a bit frazzled.  What’s more you are now greeted by a counter clerk with a spiral notepad who will take your order.  However, don’t ask for anything complex (like 2017 2p with security printing) as it takes a long time to write down. Doing about 2 or 3 items at a time is about all they can cope with.  If you do find something they have nowhere to put it as the counter has no space and there is no shelving.  So the items you have managed to get are constantly being handled and taken back and forth to the back room where all the stock is kept.  Payment time is also a challenge.  You have to go to an end position where the tills are arranged.
That said, I am also dismayed about the stocking.  No better than my local post office.  The booklets are all 2016, I was told that the cellophane wraps on the 1st class and the large are all 2016.  There were no 2p or 10p 2017 and the ‘Signed For’ were 2015.
And I think that last paragraph clouds the whole experience.  I was told by fellow dealers that there were NO 1p stamps at all, quite a stack of 5p, and very few 10p and 20p - and all that was based on day 1.

It is possible that stocks of the 2p and 10p on SBP2 at Tallents House have been depleted to the extent that there are no complete sheets left in stock, so there would be nothing to take to London.  That's a possibility: as they are such low values many dealers do not bother to ask for particular positions when buying from Tallents House as whole sheets (for 50p and £2.50) will be supplied more quickly than orders which need someone to cut specific stamps from the sheets.

But the last definitive stock list we had (early December 2017) showed stocks of the small signed for stamp from 2013, 2015, 2016 & 2017.  For the Large only MA13 and M17L were available.  So maybe at least some of those later printings should have been taken to London?

The comments above have been passed to Royal Mail to influence their presentation for the Autumn event. All feedback is important!

New printings news
Several new definitive printings were available: frustratingly for some a new printing of the 1st class counter sheet was available on Wednesday, and another one on Thursday!  We don't normally stock new printings unless they are new stamps but expect these (and maybe others) to be available to us from Tallents House shortly and we will order if anybody requires them.  Please email and let us know if you want any date blocks for these new printings.

1st class         04/10/17     05/10/17
1st Large        10/10/17
2nd Large      17/10/17
£1.17              23/05/17    28/09/17

These will all be SBP2, of one version or another.  As you know, we don't distinguish or stock the two types as separate stamps.

The 50p printing date is 23/10/17 and that will be added to our webshop soon - probably early next week as the weekend is going to be very busy.

The data above was compiled on Thursday.  Later even more new printings were available - why they were not all sent down from Edinburgh on Tuesday I don't know.  Others are:

5p                03/10/17
2nd class     24/10/17
1st Large     11/10/17
SD 100g      02/10/17 - this is a second NEW stamp, being printed on SBP2

We will have the SD100g stamp in stock; if anybody requires date blocks for the other new printings, email us as above.

Royal Mail programme news
There's not much that can be said yet, because of the usual embargo problems, although these are under review (again).  Despite a seemingly increasing number of issues, the impact on Royal Mail's revenue streams of income from outside the philatelic collecting area (eg products produced for Star Wars and Game of Thrones fans) will benefit basic collectors who will find some issues will cost less than previously and the range of products on each issue will be reduced.  We've already had good news about fewer Post and Go products and the cessation of the Business Customised sheets, and it looks as if there will be only one Royal Mail Commemorative Sheet this year, and Generic Smilers may be restricted to Chinese New Year and Christmas.  

We also had discussions about their presentation of (first day and other) handstamps, especially relating to the short-notice issues such as Game of Thrones.  This will probably see their two webpages (Postmark Bulletins and Postmarks) share links, official First Day postmarks (FD series) shown on the Postmarks page between Bulletins (instead of just the sponsored handstamps), and possibly a new page for the permanent postmarks, some of which the Bulletin helpfully tells you (back page) were last shown in a February 2011 edition!

Personal Acquisitons 
Aside from the 50p for customers, I was pleased to be able to find some modern (QE2) GB postal history, including some rates which really had me puzzled, but which I thought just had to be right.  On the train back from London I used the website of the Great Britain Philatelic Society to confirm that.  Thanks to the GBPS and Abellio Greater Anglia wifi!

I'll be writing about these on my Modern Postal History blog.

It was good once again to meet up with collectors (some of them identified themselves as customers, and many as blog readers) and dealers and have a natter, and with the Royal Mail team who, I'm sure, regard me (and some other dealers) as a bit of a thorn in their side.  At my time of life and stage of collecting, the social side of Stampex brings more pleasure than seeing the dealers' stands with boxes of face value booklets (where to be fair there must be specialist bargains to be found), and worldwide first day covers at often optimistic prices just yards away from similar priced at 25p.  At the other end of the market, of course, there are the high end stands and although I don't collect them it is a pleasure to see blocks of 1d blacks, and fine examples of classic stamps of all periods and countries.

And then there are the exhibits.  As usual I couldn't but glance at most of them, seeking those most interesting to me, but again, Commonwealth King George V high values fine mint and on cover, classic Channel Islands and more esoteric material like revenues or Austro-Hungarian postal stationery will, if attractively presented, find an audience.  I would recommend spending at least some time there.

Finally, and of direct interest to collectors (and sellers) of Australian material in particular, it was good to see Torsten Weller representing Abacus Auctions, taking over the stand allocated to Mossgreen Auctions who have gone into administration.

Sunday 11 February 2018

Post and Go overhaul

As previously mentioned, Royal Mail are cutting back on the Post and Go programme this
year,  although they have not made a specific announcement about just how much.  Already we know that they are not having kiosks at either Spring Stampex or the Scottish Congress in Perth, and I have been told unofficially that they will not be taking their machines to the political party congresses in the autumn. 

Partly because of this we have taken time to look over our Post and Go stock and ensuring that all our stock is actually listed in our webshop, that all is in the correct category and will be selected under the 'Faststamps/Post and Go' heading.  We've also adjusted many prices - now is the chance to get some you may have missed many at lower prices than advertised elsewhere.  Included are stamps printed in Australia, Hong Kong and Korea, and some of the newer digital printing versions of earlier stamps.

As with Machin Security Stamps, when Post and Go (or Faststamps as they were called) were first FS numbers.
While we were waiting for Gibbons to produce the first entries, we set about our own numbering system, partly because we wanted to list the stamps logically in our stock. So those available from Post Offices and elsewhere with no additional inscriptions were allocated
produced, there was no catalogue listing. When Stanley Gibbons catalogue editors did compile a listing it was fairly straightforward, with one catalogue number assigned to each of the five original values.

The localised or commemorative inscriptions (variously and incorrectly described as either underprints or overprints by some) to stamps sold at Stampex and international exhibitions, are in the FT series.

Stamps issued from machines at the BPMA, Postal Museum, local stamp fairs and exhibitions, and military and other museums and attractions are listed in FV series. We stock very few of these.

Our stock is listed on our webshop here.   The software arranges stock in a certain logicality, but it is not completely intuitive even in our system.   Some first day covers are also available.