Wednesday 19 December 2018

The end of another year: review of 2018

Normally by mid-December I have at least started thinking about what has happened during the year. Usually by December all new Machins that there will be have come and gone, and there are no stamps except from PSBs (Star Wars in 2016 and Harry Potter this year). It has been a time to start relaxing, or at least diverting attention to family matters. This year, with Christmas Day falling in the middle of a week, we are away from Saturday to Saturday, so hastening the shut down; I need to post this review earlier than usual.

As I said to the members at our philatelic society on Tuesday last, I haven't yet started their latest newsletter, and I blame Royal Mail. If they had not switched the printing of counter sheets to ISP/Walsall – and of course if Walsall had just used one type of ink – the last couple of months of 2018 would have been much the same as any other year - light on news. But more of that later.

Commemorative programme.
We don't stock these but record them only, using the information provided by Royal Mail.  There were some good opportunities to create maximum cards, the owls being very popular with thematic collectors in Europe.  The Royal Air Force centenary issue included values which would only be valid for 8 days before postage rates changed, which provided a challenging exercise to get examples of all of them used to one of the right destinations in the right time.  (We have some of these spare, so email if you are interested in this aspect of modern postal history.)  For the first time (if we ignore Royal Mail's 500 celebrations in 2016 and the Machin anniversary in 2017) a special stamp issue included a set of Post and Go stamps (Game of Thrones in January).

Royal Mail's embargo policy once again meant that some features of some new issues were hidden from the philatelic world: collectors could often see designs at their Post Offices before they were publicised in Royal Mail's Philatelic Bulletin. We were even asked to remove from the blog photographs of embargoed issues that were on show in Post Offices!   I've stopped fighting this now. Various things have meant that we had no time to add some to the blog later in the year, from where they are still absent. I'll try to catch up in 2019 - you've already been able to see the first 2019 issue here.

Due to a communications error, this year's 1st and 2nd class Christmas stamps were printed in two designs on one sheet (as last year) as well as in complete sheets of the Postbox designs. These could be bought from some Post Offices or in complete sheets from Royal Mail.   The company's lack of control over Post Office Ltd continued, with early releases of the Old Vic, World War I, and Christmas stamps reported.

In June, RM announced the suspension of the Smilers personalisation service for ordinary customers, which joins the Business Customised Sheets as a thing of the past.

Post and Go
As well as the Game of Thrones issue early in the year, Royal Mail concluded the Postal Heritage Transport series with two more sets (shipping and bikes) in spring and autumn, but abandoned stamp exhibitions – there were no RM Post and Go machines at either Stampex or Scotex Perth, and there were no new inscriptions at any of the museum locations except for the Postal Museum. This followed the multiple embarrassments to RM in 2017 and the decision to reduce the size of the company's presence at Stampex to reduce costs. The Poppy stamp was reprinted for Remembrance day, and the Winter Greenery set was also reprinted as this year's winter issue. This seems to be the way forward and we have seen nothing in the 2019 programme to indicate that there will be any new Post and Go issues.

Machin definitives...
provided the biggest amount of news coverage this year. Firstly the dark-coloured 1st class M16L counter sheet stamp (which was elusive even in 2017) finally appeared in sufficient quantities to satisfy most demand. The last M17L coded stamps did not appear until the early part of this year with the 50p available at Spring Stampex. Also available there, but not on the first day (!) was the SBP version of the 100g Special Delivery stamp. Alongside all this Stanley Gibbons catalogue and Windsor album editors at last decided that there were too many sub-numbers in the U-series of security Machins, so did a complete renumbering for the Concise catalogue in late spring. This left dealers processing wants lists based on old and new numbers, at least for a while.

But much more interesting things were still to come. We reported three years ago that De La Rue were planning to switch all stamp printing from the UK to Malta (and passports vice versa). At the time Royal Mail knew nothing about this. After intervention by the Maltese government it seems that some passport production was retained on the island. We do know that the RM contract for printing counter sheets was due for renewal: whether DLR did not bid, or whether they were outbid we shall never know, but in March the new tariff stamps were found to have been printed by International Security Printers/Walsall.

Before long the existing values soon appeared with the M18L year code, and we found that these too would be printed by ISP/W.  This caused some confusion among collectors and dealers as these new stamps were regarded by Royal Mail's philatelic service as being 'non-visible change (NVC)' and they were duly distributed to customers who had NVCs on standing order (which meant that we didn't need to order as many to sell to our customers).   Ironically the much more visible year-code change stamps are not so distributed, so next year collectors and dealers will be back to the same situation as every year from 2010-2017, ie no automatic distribution of new printings of counter sheets by Royal Mail.

As some readers know, registered dealers are provided with details of new printings by Royal Mail. With De La Rue printings it wasn't necessary to buy stocks of new printings except for the people who wanted date blocks. All this changed with ISP/W when we found differences in fluorescence or phosphor on later printings: now we have to buy at least a sheet of each to find if there are any differences, and then buy sufficient stock for all the customers who want these variants. The 'watching' season has extended to the whole year! We also found that the Walsall-printed counter sheets are often on thinner paper, making separation more difficult.

Late last year I decided, after 20 years of selling online, to call it a day on new Machin definitives – no more after the M18Ls – in order to work backwards.   I'll still report new stamps and variants as I get them, as I will be getting them for a couple of friends, but not for stock and sale, as announced here

We are grateful for the many positive messages we have had regarding this move, from customers, other dealers, and readers who are contributors but not customers.   Thank you all for your good wishes.  We hope you continue to find the blog of interest, and that you find something interesting for your collections on the shop in future as we work backwards and sideways to other material.


So our thanks to all our customers, to the readers of this blog and especially to the many contributors.  I won't see you at Stampex, nor at York in January, but maybe at Midpex in the summer or another provincial event - or even at our Norwich fairs!  Say hello!

Our office will be closed from 21 - 31 December: the shop will be open and new stock will be made available from 31 December.  We'll process orders as soon as we can.

Once again we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 
- and if you don't celebrate Christmas, then we still wish you and your families and friends, happy times whatever you celebrate.

Birżebbuġa, Malta, April 2018


  1. Any news on the 2019 UK stamp program or did I miss it.

    1. As in every year for the past 2-3, Royal Mail will let the mainstream media have part of the programme between Christmas and the New Year. That's when they think they will get a lot of publicity.

  2. Hello. I wish to you and your family a Merry Christmas and thank you for this entertaining and thoughtful blog.

  3. Wishing you a happy (and possibly more relaxed without those pesky 2019 Machins) new year.

    After Royal Mail's disastrous 2019 programme launch which ended in recrimination and apology, I'm still not sure how collectors are supposed to be able to plan for new issues due from January to the end of March as the announced programme starts in April. Are we to expect another tiresome 'blockbuster' issue, as we have had to put up,with in recent Januarys? Or, apart from the Royal Philatelic Society miniature sheet, are there to be no new issues until we leave (or possibly do not leave) the European Union at the end of March?

    Why is Royal Mail so hopelessly misguided in its approach to promoting new stamp issues?


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