Saturday 21 December 2019

Season's Greetings! It's time to look back, and forward!

Our business

In 2008 I announced to customers that the increasing Royal Mail stamp programme meant that production of our own design first day covers would have to stop because there was not the time to do justice to the product.

The following year we stopped servicing any first day covers or PHQ cards. One of the purposes of this was to enable us to delve into accumulated stamps, postal history, FDCs, etc, to make them available to buy. But it was not to be.

The 2009 introduction by Royal Mail of security features to self-adhesive Machin definitives, and developments in 2010 showed that this would be an ongoing specialism that needed serving, with information as much as with stamps. The accumulations of other material that I wanted so much to move out of the office and into your collections didn't move much at all!

And so from 2019, because the proliferation of Walsall-printed Machins with their various phosphor and fluorescent variants took up so much time last year, I decided that we would no longer stock new Machins, although we would continue to supply information about them.


So what has been the result? Well, I've spent more time away from the office than before. I have been sorting postal history and working on my own collections (!), and have scanned, packeted and indexed stock ready to add to the shop in due course. The only major addition (apart from a few 2019 Machins) has been the previous block of Machins, those elliptically perforated – the Gibbons' Y-numbers – and associated booklets.

Not as many additions as I would have liked, but a little more order here. And some decisions about the future. Nothing fundamental at present, but certainly scope in 2020 and beyond to make more available and to find an audience for it.

And what of 2019?

The Special Stamp Programme
Royal Mail got off to a bad start in 2019 when they released pictures for some of the year's new
issues – and experts in the field soon told them that they had got a D-Day image wrong: it showed US troops landing in Dutch New Guinea. Cue red faces at RM and the design agency.

As usual, there was mixed reaction from readers to the special stamp programme with many collectors condemning the cost of most issues and the excessive number and values in sets. The same collectors exercised themselves trying to work out what the several heavily embargoed issues would be.

They also criticised Royal Mail for their policy of allowing cover-producers to show stamps, for not controlling the staff in retail outlets (Post Office branches) some of whom had no qualms about talking about, showing and even selling stamps before the embargo date, and even their own web-team for making stamp products available for pre-order before the date we were allowed to show them on the blog. Some were offered on eBay before we were allowed to show them, and there were reports that some Post Offices “didn't know what date they should be sold”.

(Just as an aside, take a look at the 2011 programme, published here in February 2010.)

The Cricket World Cup win by the England men's team was marked by a miniature sheet, but Royal Mail decided to double the cost by marking the Women's team win two years earlier, and then delaying the issue for over two months because of 'congestion in the stamp  programme'.

They managed to shoe-horn four PSBs into the programme – Leonardo Da Vinci, Marvel Comics, Queen Victoria, and Star Wars III, with the Da Vinci and Queen Victoria selling out well before the normal end of sale date. The Star Wars PSB included an obsolete value of £1.17 due to mis-communication between Royal Mail and Cartor.

Machin and Country Definitives

Laundering and Forgeries.
There were at least two successful prosecutions for washing used stamps and reselling them for use which resulted in prison sentences for the offenders.

There have been a wealth of forgeries this year. Some of these were straightforward (and in some cases very good, but other cases very obvious) copies of 2nd, 1st red and the two Large stamps.

But there was also a bewildering array of forged self-adhesive country definitives in various values, and in some cases in the wrong colour, and Christmas stamps from several past years, some of them in the small definitive size instead of larger as issued. Amazingly the £5 blue Accession anniversary stamp was also forged!

Royal Mail do occasionally spot forgeries of the current NVIs and surcharge the recipients – but just as often they seem to raise surcharges on perfectly valid but older (pre-security) stamps and those in 'wrong' colours such as 1st class black.

New stamps
All the expected stamps appeared with new year codes, but some for the first time by ISP Walsall. The first ISP printings of each value were distributed as non-visible change by Royal Mail, and were available for ad-hoc orders, so there was no need for dealers to stock quite as many. The delayed 1st class Signed For, and the high values (£2-£5) were reprinted, the two top values for the first time since 2009.

Lack of oversight of printers by Royal Mail continued. The Marvel PSB Machins were missing the P;
there were disappointingly different shades for the stamps in the Victoria PSB, both Machins and Victoria reprints; and the Wales 1st class country definitive was reprinted with the old font – but a new cylinder number. This didn't happen when the Scotland 1st was reprinted.   They year ended with the inclusion of a £1.17 value in the fourth PSB as mentioned above.

There were more red faces and apologies when RM increased their inland prices a week earlier than permitted by the regulator. The tariff increases produced six new Machins for the airmail rates (costing over £15), and 8 new country definitives.

Stanley Gibbons' lack of foresight once again meant that they needed space for new stamps within the security definitive listings (U-numbers) so batches of these were reassigned requiring dealers to use both numbers while collectors (who may not have bought the new edition of the Concise catalogue) caught up.

Post and Go – There were no new designs, but there were some new printings, as needed. Branches continued to use stamps in the wrong place, so 2nd class stock being used for 1st class (and airmail) stamps and 1st class stock being used for 2nd class.

And readers have been monitoring the comings and goings of SSKs at PO branches with a record 90 comments on the main (14 May) post.

New additional inscriptions (also called overprints) were used at The Postal Museum – not without
confusion and embarrassment as Royal Mail dithered and changed their mind on the Crime in the Post exhibition – and at the military museums.

It was only at Shakespeare Trust machine that things went really wrong with two inscriptions on one stamp (see left). Machines were removed where un(der)used – from some Royal Mail Enquiry Offices, from the East Anglian Railway Museum, and from MOD Abbey Wood (Bristol).   On the other hand the off-shore islands and Gibraltar continued to provide dealers with something to sell to collectors.

News about Post Offices has been confined mainly to reporting about the Group Litigation against Post Office Ltd by former Subpostmasters who were sacked, and in some cases prosecuted and even jailed for alleged theft or false accounting.  In all cases POL lost, and in the end settlement was reached by mediation before the costly court action was half done. Many think that despite a payout of nearly £60M it is the Post Office that won.

The final judgement at least allowed for cases of malicious prosecution to be raised, and the judge referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, a dossier about evidence from IT company Fujitsu.

Other aspects that we have had to report are the repeated early-release of stamps, and branches' failure to properly cancel stamps on those items which Royal Mail would really like them to do. It seems RM take little care to control their agent, knowing that they can rely on the public not to re--use uncancelled stamps (see above).

RM took every opportunity to paint selected postboxes in new colours, including yellow and dark blue or to decorate them with hearts, or elves!  Events marked included St. Valentine's Day, World Book Day, D-Day, Red Nose Day and the ICC Cricket World Cup, with talking postboxes reintroduced for Christmas.

Postmark slogans
Collectors have benefitted from the continuing and almost constant stream of information from a regular band of reporters on new slogan postmarks, re-use of the Universal machines, and other oddities. Our thanks to you all.

2020 Stamp Programme.
First news on this came from TalkTV and The Mirror in April, with reports that Coronation Street would be featured on it's 60th anniversary.  The full programme will be announced on 7 January and you will be able to see it here on that date. There are no 'TBA' entries for once: I would suggest it's not for those of a nervous disposition! [Update 31 December: I understand that advice notes from Royal Mail to standing order customers have already revealed the title of the first issue, see the comments on this blog.] 

The business
Next year will involve some diversions from the business for domestic matters, but I hope also to introduce some more older Machins, and other stock, which includes postal history, picture postcards from the UK and worldwide. If there is anything you would particularly like to see, do let us know.

One again our thanks to all our customers, and the readers of this blog and especially to the many contributors.  I intend to go to the London 2020 event in May for a day or two, and maybe to some provincial events. Do say hello if you spot me!

Our office will be closed from 21 - 31 December: the shop will be open and we will process orders as soon as we can, with the aim to post every Thursday in the New Year.
We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and
a Happy and Successful New Year! 

Akureyri Church, Iceland


  1. Congratulations on another year of doing Royal Mail's job for it - keeping collectors (and others) informed - so comprehensively that it little matters that most of the relevant RM webpages are, to put it generously, haphazardly upkept.

    I am mildly dreading the 13th day of Christmas (7th January) now, but it is as well to have loins girded in advance - again, thanks to you, the announcement or the 2020 calendar will now be less surprising even if just as shocking.

    With the compliments of the season, and wishing you everything you wish for yourself in the coming year....

  2. Merry Christmas to you, and thank you for all your hard work. I do find the blog really informative even though I do not buy many new issues these days.

  3. Ian, thanks once again for all the valuable information (often not readily available elsewhere) that you have provided regularly throughout the year. It makes stamp collecting that little bit easier, but no less fun, despite some of the criticisms from contributors on costs and proliferation from RM (valid maybe, but now becoming somewhat tedious). Your review of the year above makes for great reading and reminds me of how much goes on and is quickly forgotten. I've often heard it said that stamp collecting is boring - surely this dispels that opinion! A very joyous and peaceful to you and your family and all the best for M20L !

  4. Ian and staff, thank you all for keeping me abreast of new issues and where to find them, also the valuable information about our wonderful hobby. I wish you and you family a very happy Christmas & all the best for 2020

  5. Thanks for all the info over the year, it's much appreciated. Merry Christmas to Ian and all readers and contributors to these pages.

  6. Hi Ian, Many thanks for the great service you provide. It's still my 1st point of call for news on GB issues and has been for nearly 20 years! Please keep up the great work

    Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and a profitable New Year.

  7. Thanks for all the information and reports during the past year. May I wish you and the team a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2020.

  8. May I add my best wishes for the festive season and thanks for another year of unrivalled information - keep up the good work!

  9. Ian

    Thank you for a very informative blog throughout the year

    Very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

    John Embrey

  10. Just had my order advice note from RM for the January issue, not inspiring to say the least. Have to wait til the embargo is off to actually judge by pictures.

    1. What embargo? Found out ten days ago its video games, just call RM and ask and they will tell,looks like another meaningless issue.

    2. Issue details with images are freely available on RMs own website - totally underwhelmed

  11. Just saw a used RMSD 500g M19L for sale on our favourite auction site, I tried to confirm the date but it was hard to see, I wonder why no mint examples have been found? Reference number 164015748070

    1. I've written to the seller; I think it's M18L, the 8s and 9s are quite alike in some cases and the postmark doesn't help ID.

  12. Thank you Ian for your help.


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