Monday 26 March 2018

Customer order update

Because of the work involved on last week's new stamps we were not able to get all orders out as quickly as we would have hoped.

Orders up to 4099 were sent last Friday; orders from 4100 on, received today, will be posted tomorrow afternoon.

Update: orders to 4109 were posted Tuesday 27th March.

Further update: when telling people that their orders would be posted on Friday, I had forgotten about the holiday.  Orders 4110-12 were posted this afternoon.  No more orders will be posted until Tuesday 3rd or Wednesday 4th April.

To our customers and readers outside the UK, and in Scotland, please note that Post Offices are closed and there are no mail deliveries here on Friday 30 March or Monday 2 April.  Our webshop will remain open during this period, and some new stock may be added.  

The shop will then be closed from Sunday 8th until the end of April and 
we will not always have email contact during that period.

Thank you for your patience.

Mind the gap! Tariff FDCs stamps quite different to sheet stamps

It has been well known for many years that the definitive stamps applied to Royal Mail standing order FDCs are produced in mutli-value side-ways delivered coils, usually with a different direction of print (DOP), to those sold in sheets.  This has been of interest mainly to extreme specialists who can see and therefore monitor and collect DOP differences.

I don't usually obtain those FDCs but lacking time, and needing to add the £2.25 M18L stamp to some, I ordered from Royal Mail unused FDCs with stamps affixed: one of the benefits of dealer registration means that we can do this and then have any postmark applied.

Looking at the returned covers today, I noticed that the gaps in the U-shaped security slits on the £2.25 were smaller than on the other four values. I quickly checked my new sheet stamps, and found that the four new values on from the coil printing on the FDC have gaps which are quite enormous compared with anything else we have seen, and totally different to those sold in sheets:

Needless to say these are not available mint on backing paper and are only available unused* on Royal Mail FDCs which have not been postmarked.

UPDATE 5 April: Royal Mail have confirmed that the stamps on the FDC were printed by ISP (so Walsall as they are gravure, one assumes).   Some had thought that they were printed by DLR or even Enschede.

They won't, of course, have separate numbers in the mainstream catalogues although Deegam may record the distinction.  I'll record this as a note in our Checklist.

* Anybody who is interested in having one of these should contact me by email only as soon as possible.  Thank you. 

Saturday 24 March 2018

Twenty Years Ago......

... these lighthouse stamps were issued.

They, and the associated aerogrammes, were the subject of our first webpages which have now been resurrected and can be seen for the first time in many years, after they were lost in a disastrous migration to a new host.

We started with as our ISP.  The internet was only accessed via dial-up modem, free websites abounded and we started on Geocities, later bought by Yahoo.  Geocities didn't want commercial activity, so we moved to, later bought by

Around this time we decided to have our own domain name and host the website independently, and was born.  Unfortunately the downside of such a long address soon became apparent with people writing to, and so on.  When they used these addresses for PayPal payments we never received them!  So we added the extra domain with all pages accessed from both URLs.

The other, personal collection, wing of the first website displayed results of research into the contemporary postal history of the countries of the former Soviet Union, which had become 15 new countries.  We started with Belarus, with an even more primitive webpage:

Because of the very slow speed of internet access it was necessary to make pictures quite small.  For the technically-savvy, the 'alt' code on these images included size-limiters on the images, and an indication of the file-size.
<img style="width: 110px; height: 90px;" src="bel_images/belminmp.gif"
 alt="map 1k">
This was because many readers took advantage of the option to display pages without images (for faster loading), and the text "map 1k" would be shown, giving readers an idea of how long the page with images would take to load!  Nowadays with fibre-internet and mobile 4G access, it is almost impossible to imagine that world.  Think how lucky we are!

Many thanks to our customers, suppliers, blog readers & others who have contributed to our success, and a personal thanks to my partners, Val & John, for their patience!

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Confusion at Post Office Branches over new tariff

Post Offices will know what the new postage rates will be next week, but some are apparently refusing or reluctant to sell the new stamps today.

A reminder that all the new stamps are on sale from today -

- the Machin £1.25, £1.45, £1.55 and £2.65 - and also the £2.25 which is a reissue.

- the country definitives of £1.25 and £1.45 and, if they have them (which I think they should), the redrawn 2nd and 1st class.

Telephone number for PO Customer Services is 0345 611 2970

What might also be useful is Royal Mail Tallents House 03457 641 641 or 0131 316 7483

Several readers have mentioned that the Country Presentation Pack has been sold at Post Offices for 15p more than it should have been, £16.30 instead of £16.15.

Despite my suggestion that customers could get a refund by returning with their receipts to the issuing branch, P O Ltd have insisted that you must fill in a webform here.   Defies belief really.

UPDATE 5 April
After several weeks and much prompting I have now had a reply from Post Office Ltd about the over-charging of the Country Definitive Presentation Pack.
I can confirm that any customers that have been incorrectly charged for the Philatelic pack, can receive a refund of the difference in branch; they will just need to show their receipt.
So to those who were overcharged, and haven't destroyed their counter receipt, you now have the opportunity to get that 15p back!

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Gibbons reworking U-Machins for next Concise catalogue.

Tucked away in the Catalogue Supplement in the April edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly is news to bring a groan from all who collect or deal in modern definitives.

"Game of Thrones premium booklet.
The Machin pane and booklet will be listed in a later
Catalogue Supplement, because the machin (sic) set
is to be re-numbered for Great Britain Concise 2018
The next edition of the catalogue is expected in April/May.

UPDATE 1 May: A table showing the new numbers is now shown on this blog post.

Two reminders for customers

Confusion with security backing paper.

A reminder to customers and other collectors that security backing paper (type 2) on counter sheets varies widely as to its depth and appearance.  On some single stamps the SBP2 is very difficult to see leading to the belief that this is plain paper.  Here are examples of the 2p and 10p which show possibly the greatest contrast.

And these are both 2914a.7, the 1st class counter sheet M17L on SBP2.  Yes, they are from two different printings, both by De La Rue.  As it happens they are also the two different types of SBP2 but we must remind customers that we do not stock these variations, nor list them in our checklist.

Customer reminder
If you believe that we have sent the wrong stamp, please contact us first, just as you would if you were buying on eBay (this is in our T&Cs).   If we are wrong, and it is a low value stamp, we will probably send you the right stamp (if available) with your next order, without you having the expense of returning the one you didn't want.

On the other hand, as with the 10p shown above, we may explain that we have actually sent the right stamp, you just can't see very easily that it is the right one!

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Royal Mail Unadopted Christmas Stamp found used

Every week we get questions asking about details of stamps or for assistance in identifying stamps which may or may not be real stamps.  Long-term readers will recall the postal use of Olympic Gold Medal trial printings, and the parrots back in 2012/13.

Once upon a time I could remember the date of issue of most GB special stamps - at least up to the 1980s.  Nowadays I'm lucky if I can remember which year some issues were, let alone what time of the year, but I recognise most of them as being genuine - after all, I have written about them here and on the website, and stocked most of them.

Today I was sent a real stumper.  Obviously a Christmas 2nd class stamp, and obviously postally used, this one didn't ring any bells, and the writer hadn't been able to find it by searching the description on Google.


But Google also has a 'reverse image search'.  Most web browsers now allow you to type your search terms in the 'web address bar' at the top, rather than going to your favourite search engine, but if you go to you get this search box:

and if you click on the black camera icon you can either enter the URL of an image, or upload one from your computer.  Doing this I found the website of the designer, Gaia Bordicchia.  They were produced for the 2014 issue but not used.   

I don't yet have permission to show all four designs, but you can see them here.  This is the Christmas pudding one shown as on the website:

So the question is, who produced the stamp?  My deduction is that it is certainly not a print from the website, because the perforations on the used one are torn, not die-cut, and if you were cutting out a picture printed from the web, it would be straight-edged either including or excluding the printed perforations.  So it must have been taken from a perforated sheet (or miniature sheet?).  Did Royal Mail produce some as trials - gummed trials are cheaper than self-adhesive?  How many of the four were printed, how many different designs, and how many were used? 

If anybody else has seen these, I would be interested to hear about them.  Meanwhile the investigation continues!

The comments below refer to Philatelic Bulletin giveaways, but these were not commissioned for potential use as actual stamps.

Sunday 11 March 2018

Campaign against pen-cancels - if you care, join now!

Readers of Britain's Stamp Magazine and Stamp and Coin Mart will see in the April issues the start of a campaign by John Gray to persuade Royal Mail to find an alternative to cancellation by pen and marker with which we have all become so familiar.

I've written about it before (recently, identifying a reason why stamps are not cancelled at the Post Office, and previously when Royal Mail introduced neat little devices (which seem to have got lost in the mail centres and delivery offices).   We are often served with - in some cases unnecessary or wanton - destruction of our property.

I deliberately used the terms unnecessary and wanton here after receiving this perfectly cancelled but subsequently ruined piece of mail which would have joined my postal history collection. The 2017 £1.57, pair of 2016 20p, 1p and 10p definitives have been correctly and well cancelled at the Post Office counter.  Somebody in Royal Mail has then decided that these postmarks were insufficient, and has taken a thick black marker pen to them.

Royal Mail correctly say that they are permitted - for revenue protection reasons - to render stamps unusable by marking them in any way that they wish.  Obviously machine postmarks and packet postmarks are the most obvious but should the mail not get properly processed, then the pen is the last resort.  The last resort, not an extra embellishment!

Sometimes, as shown in these pictures John supplied, the markings are offensive, sometimes humorous.  The item on the right could be included in a 'cats on stamps' collection if you felt that way, but the drawing of a Hitler moustache on PM Churchill could hardly be less offensive.


Aiming High
John writes that rather than simply writing to the philatelic press (where we are clearly preaching to the converted) we should target Moya Greene, the Chief Executive of Royal Mail.  After months of correspondence with her Executive Office team, John has decided that the best way forward is for all those affected to send pictures of the offensive mail to the Chief Executive on every occasion.  Colour scans or photographs should be sent direct to

John suggests that each email should contain just a single image and a polite request.  Multiple examples should be the subject of separate emails.  To see the whole article, go to this page.

I suspect when we do this, we will all get standard replies, but I'm happy to publish here anything different and further examples of, especially unnecessary, pen cancels.

Alternatives - what else can be done to avoid this scourge?

1. The first alternative is that - tiresome and time consuming as it may be - we should all post our mail over a PO counter or RM Enquiry Point, and ask that the stamps be cancelled.  For many of us obtaining a certificate of posting is mandatory, so that's not really a problem.  More of a problem is persuading the counter staff that it is not against the rules, or that it is positively required by Royal Mail instructions.

As I know how concerned collectors and dealers alike are with this problem, especially as the device introduced earlier appears to be so little used, I have been discussing the problem with Royal Mail managers.  I have two suggestions that could help at least on mail to and from collectors and dealers.  Both would need to be properly communicated to employees, but job-training is a continuous process and that should be no problem.

2. The first is a brightly coloured official label to be placed near the stamps, indicating that the mail is philatelic and should not be pen-cancelled (see right). Some people will highlight a potential drawback to this, in that it reveals the contents as potentially 'attractive' in the financial sense.
     But we must remember that the vast majority of British postal workers are honest and not assume that marking in this way would encourage theft.  [I accept that this may not be the case in some other countries; the label would have to be used with discretion.]

Any postman finding uncanclled stamps on mail bearing this label should be required to find an acceptable means of cancelling the stamps.  If the person who finds it is the last in the chain, ie the one who delivers it to the addressee, it should not be delivered, but returned to the delivery office so that the stamps can be acceptably cancelled, and delivery should be effected on the next working day.  Such a delay is a small price to pay.

3. The United States Postal System has for decades allowed any senders to cancel their own mail, which is then segregated in the mailstream so that it should receive no further cancellation.  These are are known as Mailer's Postmarks and the devices are marked with the Mailer's Postmark Permit number.  They are widely used by collectors and dealers, and much appreciated by people who receive mail from these people.   It would not be difficult to introduce such a system here.

As you can see from the examples* here, designs are not limited to circles or wavy lines.

The key point appears to be that the date and place of posting, and the permit number, should be visible.  The great thing about this service in the US is that no payment is required, apart from the manufacture of the device itself.  USPS makes no charge for this.

The difficult thing would be segregation in the mailstream, but this is achieved with franked/meter and PPI mail, which is still sorted at mail centres (receiving the red bar codes after address interpretation), so obviously it is workable.  The mail would have to be handed over the counter (not a problem if a certificate of postage is wanted anyway), and enclosed in a returnable pouch, as meter mail is.

It's early days yet, and any moves to introduce anything new have been held up while Royal Mail has had more pressing matters to discuss with its staff and unions.  And let's face it, the benefits of pleasing us in any of these ways do not add much to their bottom line financially.  But I did receive encouraging responses when I first mentioned these suggestions last autumn, and I am hopeful that John's campaign may encourage Royal Mail to consider suggestions on how the problem can be solved.  All it needs is a little goodwill on their part towards the people who provide them with profit,
however small, at virtually no cost to them.

I have found a copy of a Horizon instruction that was issued 10 years ago (pictured right - click for a larger view), principally regarding packet segregation.  The key for our purposes is the lower part.  Feel free to copy this for your own purposes and to send with any images of badly-cancelled covers.

When you've had time to digest this, and study the Stamp Magazine/Stamp & Coin Mart articles write to the editors in support, and send your examples to Moya Greene.  Let us know what happens.  If you have any other suggestions to solve the problem, I'll be happy to add them here - send them to me by email.   I'll add them here to get other reactions, and forward them to Royal Mail for consideration.

Update: Added new page of images that readers have sent to Royal Mail:

(*Note, I have taken these images from and shall be sending Timothy some postmark examples, and details of how to get British postmarks soon.)

UPDATE An anonymous writer left a comment suggesting ways of removing the pen cancel, and marker-pen. I won't allow this to be printed as it would also enable the stamps to be re-used.


Website and checklist update - at last

After much delay due to problems with previously perfectly behaved software, we have now been able to update the website with new pages for this year's issues (at least until the RAF Centenary and tariff issues.

More importantly the updated Security Checklist is now available, version 1.7.10.  This includes stamps officially issued up to 20 March - including the new tariff and those included in the RAF retail and prestige books.  Of course it is quite possible that something else will be discovered in the next week, so watch this space! 

In case you landed here for the Checklist, it can now be downloaded from Dropbox.

Friday 9 March 2018

New Postage Rate stamps 20 March 2018.

The first stocks of these are now starting to arrive after Royal Mail's snow-enforced shut-down last week.   

The Machin pictures below are from the FDC, except for the £2.25.  This may mean, for people who worry about such things, that the direction of print is different on the £2.25.  All these are all actual stamps so you can see that the year code is M18L as expected.  

£1.25 - holly green, same colour as 81p of 2014
£1.45 - dove grey, same colour as £1.47 of 2014
£1.55 - marine turquoise, same colour as £2.15 of 2014
£2.65 - purple heather, same colour as 97p of 2014
£2.25 - plum purple, unchanged

As you can see from the sheet, the £2.25 at least is printed in 8 positions on the cylinder.  I suspect that the others will be the same.  The sheets are of 25 stamps, not 50 as suggested by Royal Mail's trade information channel.  The full range of stamps will be in our shop to order before the issue date.

Machin Printing Dates known so far: those in red are ones that we have, others have been reported from POs.

£1.25    10/01/18
£1.45    10/01/18
£1.55    15/01/18
£2.25    15/01/18
£2.65    15/01/18

Of the country stamps....
Shown for comparison are earlier examples of the Northern Ireland 1st & 2nd values.  As expected the stamps are gummed, not self-adhesive.  1st & 2nd values for all countries are in sheets of 50, airmail values are in sheets of 25.


Country stamp printing dates  .
England and Wales 1st and 2nd class - 26/12/17 (well, that's what it says on the sheets!)
All other values - 27/12/17


Wednesday 7 March 2018

Slogan Postmarks for March 2018

The first one is strictly a February slogan, and I have included it in that post, but as it refers to a March event, it seems sensible to include it here as well.

Just creeping into February is the slogan for World Book Day which is on 1 March.  This slogan was used at North West Midlands on 28 February, and I assume nationwide and only on the one day.  Royal Mail's media department is silent on the subject as usual.  Thanks to MB and our friends in Shropshire who both sent examples.
Book Day
1 Mar 2018

The second slogan for March was certainly in use on 2 March and may be in use for the whole of National Apprenticeship Week.  Again, despite having a press release about apprenticeships, Royal Mail's media team are silent on the slogan postmark.  Examples both dated 2nd March from North West Midlands (MB), and Peterborough (BE), thank you both.

WEEK 2018

UPDATE 9 March 2018
There were two reasons why the Apprentice slogan wouldn't run all week.  The first is International Women's Day, with these two different formats, from Northern Ireland MC and Edinburgh MC on 07/03/2018 to arrive on 8th, thanks to GF & MB.
Women's Day
8 March 2018

The second new slogan this week was Royal Mail's reminder to send cards for Mothering Sunday, celebrated here at a date which is linked to Easter, rather than later in the year as in some other countries.  This example from MB is from North West Midlands dated 8 March.
Don't forget
Mother's Day!
Sunday 11 March

More to come, for certain, probably for the RAF Centenary but probably not (as used to be the case) for increases in postage rates!