Friday, 3 April 2020

On The Collector's Bookshelf: beyond the basic catalogues

As a collector you will have basic catalogues for the areas you collect.   It might be Stanley Gibbons simplified Stamps of the World (SOTW) if you are a world collector, their Great Britain Concise or even the Deegam Catalogue if you are a specialised Machin definitive collector.

As collectors progress from the very general when they are young, realising that collecting the whole world is very difficult, many decide to specialise in one or more areas.  For the collector who has only been collecting GB or Commonwealth, that may be to concentrate on King George VI stamps, in which case Gibbons' Commonwealth & British Empire (or Part 1) catalogue is needed, and the Murray Payne catalogue which includes more detail on KGVI is also useful.

That applies wherever you are in the world.  If you are in North America, or Germany, India, China, if you decide to concentrate on all King George VI issues, then the Part 1 is essential although you may not buy a new one, nor replace it every year.

Other Countries
When I decided that the whole world was too big I reduced my scope - GB, Commonwealth, and Europe seemed to be enough.  I had my grandfather's Commonwealth collection which was mainly KGVI because they were new issues then.  Unfortunately because times were tight for most people during world war II, many were short sets, missing the top values, so I had plenty of scope.

When I looked at GB I decided that the 19th century period was too expensive for what I could afford at the time.  But the equivalent period in some countries was cheaper - at least here in Britain.  I concentrated on the Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden etc.  The earliest Facit catalogue I still have is 1968! - and I have more than a dozen.  The catalogues are bilingual Swedish/English and contain far more detail than does Gibbons' Scandinavia catalogue - as you would expect and each one has specialist articles not repeated in the others, which is why I ahev so many.  As I mentioned before, I like covers as well as - or even more than - stamps, and so the inclusion of prices for stamps on cover sometime during the 1970s was a welcome addition. 

Side Interests
Over the course of a few decades I bought (as a collector) mixed auction lots which included something I wanted, and through my cover-browsing, many covers and postcards that I thought just had something interesting about them.  Nowadays the internet is a great help in researching the totally unknown, but there's nothing quite like getting your nose into a catalogue!

But who can afford to buy new catalogues?  The answer of course is to buy second-hand.  I have bought several from dealers selling 'previous years' or from charity shops.  Review copies are sent to magazine publishers and I bought enough at one Stampex to fill a whole Samsonite briefcase and more!  And as a writer and blog publisher I have been sent a couple of new ones which have proved useful, even though one of them was the Sakura catalogue of Japanese stamps.

Back of the book
This term is used, mostly in North America, for those issues not in the main part of the (Scott) USA catalogue which lists revenues, postal stationery, parcel post, and a whole host of stamps not found in the main part.

We've all found odd stamps in old collections, whether bought at auction, inherited, or single sheets from dealers.  You are attracted to what you want or need, but there is often something else that you can't find in SOTW, or even in Gibbons' specialist catalogue for your country.  But the specialist catalogue published in the country that you are interested in holds a wealth of information, and with colour printing getting cheaper, these catalogues are more useful than ever.

You may have seen the revenue stamps shown in this Hungary catalogue, which has a detailed listing.  Or you may be interested in Greece and have a range of (easy-to-read) postmarks on what are often lightly-coloured stamps.  Which ones are from the mainland and which are from islands?  Which are from islands that were only briefly occupied during the war?  (As always you can see these much larger if you click on them.)


If you collect Denmark, the AFA series of catalogues contain some really interesting nuggets of information.  Especially this 72-page volume about postage rates.

The first picture is from the  Postage Rates tables.  
The second shows, under headings for different postage rate periods, which stamps were current and what purpose they served.


Possibly the most fascinating is the reverse of this which shows individual stamps - definitive and comemmorative - with the purpose they served and the period for which the rate was valid.  The first line shows that AFA460, the 50 øre Frederick IX definitive was valid for the inland letter rate for just three days - 30 June 1967 to 2 July 1967, whilst 462F, the similar 80 øre was valid for overseas letters for the same period.

Where can you find such information for the stamps of Great Britain?  You can't, not in a similar format.

Finally for today, a clip from the specialist Australian Commonwealth Specialists Catalogue (section 9A!).   For every stamp issued, this catalogue shows the technical details which you would hope for,  including which printer and pressAlso shown is which stamp each one replaced, permanently or temporarily. 

Most useful for the postal history collector, is the 'Usage' section, which shows the sometimes multiple uses not only when it was first issued, but when the rates increased later.  Finding examples for each of these - or in some cases even any use singly on cover - is the challenge that collectors of Australia have.  Here's a link to discussion on the 1966 definitive birds.

Oh that we had something like that for Great Britain - most of the data is out there, and not just at the Postal Museum, but in hundreds of collectors' libraries.  But it is fragmented: it needs collating, but I doubt that that will be achieved in my lifetime.

I hope I've demonstrated why it might be a good idea to get a 'local' catalogue for your chosen areas of study.  As well as those specifically illustrated I have several of the Scandinavian, Israel (Bale), Switzerland (Zumstein), Germany (Michel), France (Yvert & Tellier), Italy (Sassone), Belgium (COB), Netherlands (NVPH), Armenia, Ukraine, USA, Canada, Ireland, and South Africa - and that's just the ones I can see! 

If you have any questions on these, email to the address at top right.  I look fooward to hearing from you!

Thursday, 2 April 2020

My third string - a different Commonwealth.

Thirty Years ago - life was so different, especially in the Soviet Union

1989 was a year of turmoil from Communist China to Eastern Europe, from Tienaman Square to the Berlin Wall, via Poland, Hungary, Czecholsovakia and Roumania, and into the Soviet Union, starting with the 300,000-strong 'Singing Revolution' in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR).

There were insurrections in the Azerbaijan, Moldavia, Tajik SSRs and Lithuania declared independence in March - independence from the USSR - it was almost unbelievable, and it was resisted by Moscow.  Estonia and then Latvia followed Lithuania, the two Germanys were united, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin bounced onto the world scene as he was elected first president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

Further east, Iraq invaded Kuwait, Armenia declared independence from the USSR, and at home Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister and the Channel Tunnel linked France and the UK.  Interesting times, but most interesting for collectors with a wide view was not the joint issue of a set of stamps marking the Channel Tunnel, but what was happening in the Soviet Union over the next few years.

All over eastern Europe the fall of communism continued, not least in the USSR where, one after another, the Soviet Socialist Republics declared that they wanted independence from Moscow.  The USSR collapsed and was dissolved on 26 December 1991.  What followed was, for a period, The Commonwealth of Independent States.

But for those states, and their peoples, who had either demanded independence or had it thrust upon them, the troubles were only just beginning. The centralised control over the economy of the Soviet Union meant that the economies of many of the constituent republics had been founded on a single or few industries, with all the market for their products being controlled from Moscow. With the loss of this central control and the loss of raw material supplies from other republics, the new states were now fighting inflation by setting up their own central banks and printing their own banknotes, which created inflation. This caused all prices, including postage rates, to increase, and stamps – and the means to print them - were in short supply. Provisional stamps and surcharges proliferated. The confusion also allowed individuals to create their own free-market economy - and stamps to sell to the west.

Meanwhile in the west.
As usual I visited the big London Stamp Exhibitions.  Stampex, StampWorld '90.  There were also big events held at Wembley in at least 1995-97.  As usual I bought a few stamps, but mostly browsed the boxes of covers, looking for the unusual and cheap, because I favoured quantity over quality.  Yes, it may not be the best way of building a collection, but if you are starting something new, then buying contemporary non-philatelic material was really quite cheap in those days.

It was at one of these that I chanced upon a shoe-box full of c6-size envelopes, mostly from "Russia' but some from Albania and other east European countries. Like many I had learned the Cyrillic alphabet at school, even though I never learned Russian.  Picking out covers from the Baltic States was easy: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had bright new stamps, although Latvia had overprinted some Soviet definitives.  These seemed a good find.  But the gem, which sparked my long-term interest - almost an obsession for a while - with this area, was this unstamped postal stationery cover.

Provisional postage from Kazakstan to India 1992 (senders address at lower right).

This has several attractions: (1) it is to India, rather than to the UK or north America; (2) it is from Kazakhstan (Республика Казахстан); (3) the postage is paid by a TP (Taxe Perçue) marking on a small duplicated label.  Although the value is written on the label, it still qualifies in many ways as a stamp.

And so I veered away from GB stamps, in the main, and acquired as much knowledge as I could about this area.  I had never collected 'Russian' stamps - those of the USSR, so the whole area was new to me.

Without the web
But how did you do research before the World Wide Web was established - Tim Berners-Lee only produced the first written proposal for the World Wide Web in 1989, and the internet was in its infancy.  Who remembers 'newsgroups', such as rec.collecting.stamps ?

It's difficult to imagine now, not opening up a web browser (ok, you have one permanently open), and tapping into the URL field a subject that you want to research.  Now, most browsers will give you a google-created list of webpages covering your field.

Then you had to look for discussions already taking place, and read, and maybe ask a question, or just post your own and hope that somebody would answer it - and all this was on a dial-up modem connection!

I had this sort of thing, provisional, typewritten labels from Ukraine, postally used(?):


Eventually I was part of a worldwide network of similarly-interested people, but still email and webpages were not widespread.  To further my studies of the provisionals of Ukraine, I purchased a groundbreaking 270-page handbook (and that's only volume 1) full of illustrations.  However this was produced in eastern Germany, and the text was in German.

It included copies of many 'official' documents from postal officials in the 25 regions of the country - translated into German (above right).

Best of all it included postage rates from 1 January 1991 to December 1993: eight rates in this short period.

Translation was not easy - and I like languages!  To get the basics I did a term of Russian at a local evening class.  Like English, Cyrillic script letters are quite different to capitals, but more so!  The script т is actually the letter T, which would be written as a small т if written upright!  Now we have google translate and although entering Cyrillic is a pain, at least German is easy enough!

Oh and if you think that is difficult, here are extracts of other languages, in their own script:
  • Armenian: Անկախ պետությունների Համագործակցություն (ԱՊՀ);  (APH)
  • Azerbaijani: Müstəqil Dövlətlər Birliyi (MDB)
  • Belarusian: Садружнасць Незалежных Дзяржаў (СНД), (SND)
  • Georgian: დამოუკიდებელი სახელმწიფოების თანამეგობრობა
  • Kazakh: Тәуелсіз Мемлекеттер Достастығы (ТМД), (TMD)
  • Kyrgyz: Көз каранды эмес мамлекеттердин шериктештиги (КМШ),  (KMŞ)
  • Moldovan: Comunitatea Statelor Independente (CSI)
  • Russian: Содружество Независимых Государств (СНГ),  (SNG)
  • Tajik: Иттиҳоди Давлатҳои Мустақил (ИДМ),  (IDM)
  • Turkmen: Garaşsyz döwletleriň arkalaşygy
  • Uzbek: Мустақил Давлатлар Ҳамдўстлиги (МДҲ),  (MDH)
(Moldovan is like Roumanian (and hence Latin), Uzebek, Tajik, Kyrgyz, Kazak, Turkmen and Azerbaijani are Turkic languages but some use a Turkic variation of Cyrillic!)

My contacts were in the USA, Australia, Canada, Holland, Germany, Ukraine, Siberia, Turkmenistan, and in this country.  But there were not many of us and resources were few.  I joined the British Society for Russian Philately and the American society Rossica.  The drawback to these societies was that whilst there was interest in all periods, the majority were interested in imperial Russia and the USSR period.  But through the BSRP I met and kept in contact with a collector and publisher from Minsk, Belarus, whose website continues to provide useful information to collectors to this day.

One collector in the US formed a new group to study just the 'New Republics', not only the 15 from the USSR but also those which formed out of Yugoslavia some years later.  But he was photocopying and posting all his material.  It was unsustainable in that form and he abandoned the distribution of information in 1995. 

As I pull back from dealing in newer Great Britain, and move to older definitives, my thoughts are on my other two main passions, modern British Postal History, and the Former Soviet Union (FSU).  I think I have more covers for the latter, but both are barely organised.  There is much to do, and for those who are interested I shall be putting more modern postal history on the accompanying blog.  I shall probably add more FSU material to the website, rather than start a third blog, but I'm open to suggestions!

So if you have anything to contribute on either topic, please do write to the email address at top right.  Illustrations should be in jpg/jpeg/png format (not pdfs, please), and no more than 300 dpi for full covers (higher for highlights, of course).

Next - On The Collector's Bookshelf.

The 10p Farm Buildings machine vended booklets.

As Brian M commented on the previous post, Stamp Collecting Weekly (SCW) was a 'great magazine'.  The magazine was founded by journalist Douglas Armstrong, and in 1973 the editor was the eminent philatelic writer and editor Kenneth F Chapman, assisted in 1976 by Douglas Muir, another well-known writer currently Senior Curator of Philately at The Postal Museum. 

Some contributors were anonymous, like 'Watchman' (on market movements) and Queensman's Looking at Current G.B. column quoted last time, and articles.  Another was L.F. (Len) Newbery, whose speciality was GB Stamp Booklets, he also contributed to the Post Office Philatelic Bulletin and co-authored with Jean Alexander what was, at the time, the definitive publication on British Stamp Booklets.

This page from SCW 3 May 1979 describes the difference in the positions of the value on various folded booklets.  We'll start with the earlier 10p machine-vended booklet, SG FA4-9

This is the whole pane:

I don't have a full range of these, but can show these two 7p values compared:

The value block is higher on the left:

According to Newbery, the position of the value relative to the lower edge of the background and the point of the bust is minutely different between stamps on teh same 'sheet' due to incorrect register when the multipositive was produced. But there are patterns.

On the web the stamps are printed sideways in three columns of book panes - for some reason columns I & III had the head to the right, and column II had the head to the left.  But the stamps were always mounted in the cover with the stamps fixed on the left.  There are no miscuts which would produce tête-bêche pairs.

However, the position of the value relative to the foot of the stamp varies: Column III it is 3 mm, column II it is 2 mm, and in column I it is between 2 & 3 mm.  These are noticeable enough to be worth collecting even if they are only noted in some specialist catalogues.

Newbery's column also shows differences with the 8½p and 9p stamps from different booklets. This is the first 50p booklet sold from machines, SG FB1A/B, containing panes X841s/841sa, the former having the 8½p stamp on the right.
The 85p counter-vended booklet (SG FF1) contains 10 x 8½p stamps.  According to the article, the stamps from 50p FB1 booklet has the value spaced at about 2.5 mm from the foot, and the spacing in FF1 is 3.25mm, as shown in the picture below.

This pattern continues with other booklets.  The spacing in the 50p booklets is quite different from that in the 70p, 90p and £1.60 Christmas booklet although in these booklets the spacing for each value is the same.  More about this in the next post, when I should have more of my own stamps to show.

International Mail Services during the Covid 19 pandemic

I am posting this because a lot of collectors have contacts all over the world and collect more than just British stamps.  The situation is impacting on exchanges and the passing of mail from one country to another.

For outgoing mail (with an implication for incoming mail) this is Royal Mail's 'International Incidents' webpage:

This currently shows mail suspended to most of the West Indies, Albania, Armenia, Boznia-Herzegovina, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, French Polynesia, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Samoa, South Africa, South Korea, Tanzania, Taiwan, Tunisia, UAE, Ukraine, Zimbabwe.

For other countries you can examine their websites and there is also usefulongoing information being added by collectors on the special Stampboards thread on the impact on mail.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

A delve through the archives, and time for discoveries

Like many of today's 60+ collectors, I started collecting as a child.  Unlike many, I kept my interest going, alongside other things like non-league football, and bought what I could including maagzines of the day.  

I read as much as I could - something I still do within limits - even if it wasn't of immediate relevance to my current collecting.  Who remembers Stamp Collecting Weekly?  Yes, the UK had a weekly stamp magazine as well as Gibbons Stamp Monthly and at least one other stamp magazine from time to time.  Many of these date from before I married, but I am grateful that my wife didn't object to my continued interest in stamps - as long as I could cover purchases with sales of spares all was fine. I enjoyed buying and selling at Essex Stamp Auctions, but didn't auction much after we moved to Norfolk.

I've been sorting out drawers of papers, including scraps and cuttings from those magazines.  It made me realise how much I had forgotten, and how much times had changed.  Over the next few weeks I'll post some of these relics from the past, hopefully alongside the relevant stamps, if I can lay my hands on them.

I'll also try to add some Machin covers to my other blog on Modern Postal History and try to explain why it should be important, and why - if you have odd boxes of covers in your stamp den - now is a time to look at them afresh, and to critically examine what you have before you consign the cover to the bin after taking the stamps off and putting them in the charity bag.

GOING BACK IN TIME!   Machin 10p machine-vended booklets
These were first issued on 10 March 1976 containing 3 x 1p, 2 x ½p and a single 6p stamp.  With changes to postage rates the next variant was aa series of booklets illustrated with Farm Buildings, first issued on 8 February 1978.  This contained 2 x 1p, 2 x ½p and a single 7p stamp.  I may come back to those later.

The final variant was issued to publicise the London 1980 stamp exhibition and contained 2 x 1p stamps and single 8p.  These were printed on the Jumelle press.  A reprint was issued on 4 August 1980, printed on the Chambon press.  By the 14 August, Stamp Collecting's 'Philatelic Newsreel' had described the differences, and these were shown in the 28 August edition.

I looked at my own copies and found what appear to be more variants.

In these scans the stamp at the right is a Jumelle printing, and that in the centre is a Chambon.  The stamp at the left is also a Jumelle, but the alignment on the 8p, at least, is quite different with the value set higher than the other, more like the Chambon.

The 1p stamp on the left also depicts the 'repaired chin and beard flaw'.

When we are able to have our shop online, some of these will be there - hopefully with better perforations than some of those shown here!  Just for the record, here's the whole booklet pane, with the 'beard' flaw, etc, on the lower right stamp:

Some words of warning.
As regular readers will know, I have specialised on the U-numbered Machins with security features - cut-outs and iridescent text.  I don't know a great deal about the previous versions, so I'm treading into unfamiliar ground (or waters!) here.  If anybody spots anything that I've got wrong please add a comment, or email other images.  Thanks!

Friday, 27 March 2020

A little light relief to help the posties

Spotted on the web today

Stay At Home -
Save Lives -
Help the NHS

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Spain postpones all new issues: should Royal Mail follow suit?

The Spanish Post Office has postponed all new stamp issues from and including that due for issue on 30 March until the pandemic affecting that country has been dealt with.

Whilst UK post offices remain open, and the 'philatelic bureau' of RM Stamps & Collectables remains functional, attending the post office branch solely for the purpose of obtaining a new stamp issue is hardly 'essential travel', and with a majority of collectors in the vulnerable groups, they are unlikely to bother.

Royal Mail have indicated that all special handstamp facilities will be open indefinitely, in other words, collectors will be able to send FDCs and cards to be postmarked for some weeks after the issue date.

This is the (modified Google translation of the) statement from Correos in Spain:



Madrid March 20, 2020

Due to the current state of alarm in which we find ourselves as a consequence of the crisis caused by COVID-19, we regret to inform you that this situation will affect the 2020 stamp emissions schedule.

We can confirm that we have ensured postage stamps throughout the postal network. However, we are obliged to inform you that we can not ensure the circulation and sale of stamps scheduled to be issued from March 30 to the entire postal network. That is why the issues from March 30 included will be postponed and will be put into circulation later to ensure their sale the same day throughout the postal network, which we will advise in due course.

These measures have been agreed with FESOFI (Spanish Federation of Philatelic Societies), ANFIL (National Association of Philately and Numismatic Entrepreneurs), as well as with CFE (State Philatelic Commission), to guarantee fair marketing throughout the postal network, to avoid possible speculations and distortions in the philatelic collecting market.

Finally, we inform you that both the issue schedule planned for 2020, as well as the release of stamps, will be modified and must be adapted when the national situation returns to normal. These decisions have been taken to guarantee, as it was being done, the correct sale and commercialization of stamps.

Likewise, the sale of specific philatelic products may be attended, but we inform you that we do not guarantee delivery times for them, due to the delay that the service is suffering.

We apologize for the inconvenience caused and ask for your understanding regarding the decisions that this anomalous situation has forced us to make. We trust that we will be able to reestablish the service as soon as possible with the usual normality.

Although we will keep you informed, you can continue to contact our Customer Service through 902 197 197 or by e-mail to:


(via Google Translate)

Pair of stamps issues by People's Republic of China "United against Corona Virus"

Will Royal Mail be able to maintain their usual service of supplying new issues and responding to ad hoc orders if their staffing levels are affected by Covid19?

If Post Offices - many of them small businesses - have to close how will this affect the availability of new stamps.

If Royal Mail deliveries are affected by shortage of staff, deliveries to collectors will be delayed.

Will cover producers - all small businesses - be able to continue their production of specially deisgned covers for each of the many new issues for the next 12 months?

Maybe not yet, and - if the Prime Minister is correct and we will 'send this virus packing' - maybe never, but I hope that Royal Mail are thinking seriously about the situation and will make a decision soon.  There have already been errors (James Bond PP) and dubious decisions (Penny Black sheet) and if key people are not there to make consistent decisions then chaos will ensue.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Response to global pandemic

Coronavirus update

You have probably had the greatest number of emails on a single subject ever, over the last two weeks, as your online supermarket, utility providers, banks, mortgage companies, internet service providers, etc, all tell you how you will be affected, either by changes to their services or by allowing payment holidays if you are in financial hardship.

What are we doing? Well, despite some people thinking we have an army of people sending out orders and maintaining website, blog and shop, it is only a family business. And we are all in one or more of the 'vulnerable' categories. So travel is kept to the minimum, our post is delivered, and we will try to get some home deliveries of essential foods. Fortunately we stock up during winter to ensure that if there are any normal seasonal problems we can survive.
(See update below)

About stamps, the blog and the shop.

The Blog: as you will have seen there has been a flurry of activity this week. With the help of contributors, normal reporting will continue while we can.

Stamps and the Shop: In periods of self-isolation, or enforced lockdown, working on your stamp collection is one way to keep yourself occupied – after all you can only watch so many tv programmes in a day.

To avoid going out, we looked at using courier services which would collect orders from us and found that the minimum costs of sending a basic letter-sized packet (c5, under 500g) would be around £4.50 to UK addresses. We can't go down this avenue.

We could could take paid orders but only go to the post office when it can be combined with other journeys. This would work, but would leave customers uncertain as to when their stamps would arrive, and mean that we had their money for an indefinite period without supplying anything.

We could take unpaid orders, and let customers know when to pay us. So you could still choose and reserve stamps; you could change your mind and we would simply cancel the order – no questions asked; we could then make available everything that is on our product database, and make the hidden categories re-appear.

But ultimately the situation is going to escalate. We don't expect to be going out much at all. What we all thought was a good idea – get fresh air in the country – is not because facilities there are fewer than in the cities and the local population will be vulnerable to visitors from the cities.

So reluctantly we have decided to close the shop indefinitely, until the crisis is over. You've probably got enough stamps to keep you gong for a while, and as we are not selling, everything we have listed will be there when we come back – and maybe there will be more.

Update evening 23 March.
So, as it happens, we were only just ahead of the government on this.  Tonight's announcement by the Prime Minister would have solved the dilemma for us if the decision had not already been taken. For the benefit of those outside the UK, all non-food/banking outlets have to close, and we are prohibited from leaving the house except for brief exercise and then only with members of the household or one other. What I call 'the German' system, as they introduced it just a short while earlier.

Thank you for your continued support, and good wishes, and please do stay safe. We wish you well,

Ian, Val & John Billings

Friday, 20 March 2020

London 2020/22 update - some delayed, some not

From Royal Mail:

London2020 Stamp Products

Following the postponement of the London2020 International Stamp Show in May 2020, we can confirm the status of the following products due to be issued for / or during the show.

• London 2020 Retail Stamp Book – Issued already and will remain on sale
• London 2020 Exhibition Sheet – Issue postponed
• London 2020 Souvenir Sheet - Issue postponed
• London 2020 (Show Exclusive) Souvenir Sheet– Issue postponed

The 180th Anniversary of Penny Black Stamp Sheet will be issued as planned on the 6th May 2020. 

Whilst this was to be issued during the week of London2020 Stamp Show its dual purpose was to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the Penny Black on 6 May 2020. 

And to give you the option of buying this or not, they include the following information:

Penny Black 180 Stamp Sheet of 25  ~~  Price £19.00  ~~  Code AW144

Note: This sheet is not covered by any Regular Order

Let's look at that again.... We dealers won't get these on our standing orders, and regular customers won't get them on their standing orders.  Well, that will avoid the inconvenience of sending them back again.

The other stamp set to be issued during the show is the End of the Second World War, and this will continue as planned, and will be issued on the new public holiday, Friday 8 May.  Details are embargoed until then, with FDC producers allowed to show their products on 24 April - so we can expect to see them in Royal Mail's shop in about a month.

As you will see from the comments, people who try to order the 1d black sheet have been told by the RM call centre at Doxford that it is cancelled.
Once again I am trying to get a commonsense answer from Royal Mail for their customers so that I can tell you for sure, even if they can't tell their own people.

I was sent this update in an email from a reader:
I have phoned to Tallents House to place an order and was initially told that it was not available. When I explained that the information was possibly incorrect and that the code was AW144 the assistant checked and came back to say that they would accept the order and would keep it on record and dispatch probably in May.

Romantic Poets - 7 April 2020

On 7 April 2020 Royal Mail will issue a set of 10x 1st class stamps in an issue entitled 'Romantic Poets'.  The stamp issue coincides with the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth, on 7th April 1770.

As is common, the cover producers have started to make their products available online, while those who are not being creative, including journalists and blog-writers, have to wait for the issue date.

But wait, I hear you say, Royal Mail's shop website is showing this issue as available to pre-order.  And all the images are there - although if you click on the £7.60 'stamp set', the next page indicates that the (larger) image is 'coming soon'.   But you can see the designs on the stamp cards image:

Inspiring designs, aren't they?  Although there is more than just text this is yet another issue on an 'arts' subject in boring monochrome (ok, plus the head), and a line of text from the named poet.  I suppose it's difficult to decide what else to do, other than use a pictorial representation of the poets but this follows Shakespeare issues in being dull. These designs were produced by The Chase.

"Lovers of literature will delight in this intricately-designed Presentation Pack, featuring all 10 of The Romantic Poets Special Stamps, alongside fascinating information on the Romantic movement." 
Maybe.  The set depicts quotations from works by Lord Byron, William Blake, John Clare, John Keats, Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Robinson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Letitia Elizabeth Landon.

Anyway, you can see all the products and pre-order via Royal Mail's Shop here.

WOPA have them listed at this week’s price even though they are not being issued until after the rise!

The stamps are printed in litho by ISP/Cartor, size 41 x 30 mm. The set of 10 is in two se-tenant strips of 5, in sheets of 50.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Urgent message for Royal Mail customers re James Bond Packs


My thanks a customer who emailed, and to 'Anonymous' who commented:

Has anyone else been caught out by the different Presentation Pack (code AP472) arrangement for this issue? On my copy at least, rather than plastic pockets to hold the stamps and MiniSheet, the items are stuck directly onto the cardboard of the pack (thus making them no longer Unmounted Mint). 
I rang RM, and was told that it was standard policy for this issue (the nice woman at RM didn't know whether it would hapen for subsequent issues). I've arranged to return the PP for a refund and have bought the set and MiniSheet separately.
When the second such report arrived I check with my contacts at Royal Mail.  Apparently there were two versions of the Presentation Pack AP472 and APR 472.  The latter had the stamps stuck to the card (but not cancelled) and are not, therefore, what most collectors want.  No information about this APR pack was supplied to dealers, nor indeed to the people who handle our orders!

These sound like Retail packs (R for retail) such as those A4 packs retailed apparently exclusively by WHSmith.  But nobody knows anything about them!

The error in sending the APRs to ordinary customers was noticed, but too late to know who had been sent the wrong pack, so they could not be recalled.  If you have not examined your packs yet check them, and if they are wrong, phone or email the usual contacts to arrange for a returns number and a replacement.  It is not necessary, as anonymous unwittingly did, to forgo the normal pack and buy the loose stamps and MS instead.  

I hope RM will include something about this mistake in their Bulletin to alert their customers who are not readers of this blog.

Since adding this to the James Bond Stamps post, another Royal Mail customer has emailed to say that:

"I have spoken to 4 other collectors this afternoon who were unaware of the error, and when they looked at their Presentation Packs found they had been sent the Retail pack instead of the usual pack."

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

London 2022 - this year's international rescheduled

The organising committee for the London 2020 International Exhibition has announced that due to the Coronavirus situation, the show has been rescheduled for 2022.

In a newsletter new dates were announced which will mean that the International will replace Spring Stampex.

19 to 26 February 2022

Clearly in the ever changing circumstances this was the only option.  As far as stamp issues are concerned, the retail booklet issued last week has been issued, and that is a fact.

But the other planned stamp issues - the stamps have probably been printed but have not yet been distributed - will surely now be postponed, unless Royal Mail decide that the 180th anniversary of the Penny Black and the 150th anniversary of the first stamped postcard are worth commemorating in their own right, so that some of their printing costs can be recovered.

I think it would be a cynical move, and a mistake to do this.

Whilst the 182nd and 152nd anniversaries should not be marked, the same stamps and products could be issued in two years' time, and surely few would suggest that the show should not be marked in some way.

Doubtless Royal Mail will tell us in due course how they are changing your plans, and we will report them here as soon as we can.

Update 20 March - see

As for other issues, there is no reason not to issue them; Coronation Street is still on its 60th anniversary albeit with a reduced number of episodes per week.

See you in a couple of years!  Stay safe!

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Changes to Royal Mail procedures - infection prevention; London 2020

Royal Mail have announced changes to their delivery procedures and practices to prevent infection.

Public Health England (PHE) has advised that people receiving parcels are not at risk of contracting the coronavirus. From experience with other coronaviruses, we know that these types of viruses don’t survive long on objects, such as letters or parcels. This complements the highly publicised guidance from PHE for people to wash their hands more often than usual using soap and hot water. 
We are actively monitoring this rapidly evolving situation. We take the health and safety of our people very seriously. We have provided guidance to our people, our customers and communities in which we operate, to help prevent the spread of any infection. We are doing so in line with preventative guidance from Public Health England.

Signing for and receiving items

In order to protect both our people and customers as much as possible, we will not be handing over our hand-held devices to customers to capture signatures. Postmen and women will instead log the name of the person accepting the item. This will apply to Special Delivery Guaranteed, Tracked 24/48 with Signature and Signed For services.*
Additionally, for all customers (including those who are self-isolating) where we need to deliver any parcel that won’t fit through your letterbox, we will place your item at your door. We will then step aside to a safe distance while you retrieve it. This will ensure your item is delivered securely rather than being left outside. 
If you are unable to come to the door at all we will issue a ‘Something for You’ card, advising of other ways you can arrange to get your item. For example, by getting a friend or family member to collect the parcel from our local Customer Service Point on your behalf.

Contingency plans

In the event we need to close one of our units, this decision would be made in line with Public Health England guidance. Royal Mail has many years’ experience of contingency planning for a number of different scenarios. We will follow the Government’s advice and work closely with the relevant authorities.
We have extensive experience in being able to quickly deploy business contingency plans so we continue to provide customers with access to our services and their mail.

I had to collect a special delivery package today - this is how it appears on Royal Mail's track-and-trace webpage:

The postman writes COV19 on the pad; the customer does not handle it at all.

International Mail

Details of 'international incidents' and current arrangements for each country can be found here.

For example (today)a:

Delays to deliveries in China
As a result of reduced air capacity and emergency delivery procedures being taken to contain the virus on the ground in China, it is inevitable that customers sending items to China are likely to experience delays to delivery.

Impact to items leaving China for delivery in the UK
We are processing items from China for delivery in the UK as usual, though the transit of mail across and through China is affected. A number of international airlines have suspended flights to mainland China, and some border ports in neighbouring countries are also temporarily closed. China Post will temporarily store affected transit mail (air and surface) and will transport it to the destination countries when these transport options are once again available. Delays should be expected in transport and delivery during this period.

Incident: Deliveries to Italy delayed
Italian Post has advised the whole of the country has now become a Yellow Zone, subject to extraordinary measures, which is effective until 3 April or unless a later date is advised. Human movement and social contact are to be minimised. Commercial transport is permitted with precautionary measures aims at preventing/minimising human contact to preserve personal safety, hence a heavy reduction in work force is applied in the logistic chain within Italian Post with impacts to processing and delivery.

As a result Quality of service is affected on all postal products until the end of the Coronavirus epidemic. Precautionary delivery methods continue with signatures not obtainable from the actual addressee during this period.

While I'm happy to have comments please don't ask me for further updates but refer to the website links shown.  

The organisers plan to hold the show as scheduled, subject to advice from Public Health England and the Government.  Given that across Europe some countries have banned large gatherings indoors and out, and in the UK many sporting bodies have suspended activities for at least a month it remains possible that the UK may prohibit large indoor gatherings.  Given the demographic of the collecting fraternity, there is greater risk than average for the population.

Update Sunday 15 March: However, the retail booklet that has been issued on 10 March has been issued, so it cannot be withdrawn or unissued.  It is unfortunate that it is probably not in many post offices and that many collectors have not been able to buy it yet.  Obviously there has been nobody at RM to answer questions since this was raised on Friday afternoon, so we will wait until tomorrow, and update you with the answer.

UPDATE: Show now in 2022

Be safe everybody, take care, and follow health authorities' advice in your country.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

London 2020 retail booklet issued 10 March 2020

As previously reported, Royal Mail are churning out the 1d black and similar stamps for the upcoming international exhibition in London.  We now have the booklet and can show the detail.

UPDATE: Show now in 2022

Earlier versions of the 1d black reproductions have been criticised for being poor - the overall shading for the 2015 edition has a pink tone. The latest version is closer to the original, as it has a yellowish tone - but still with the white border (unlike the Wildings in 2002/3 which had an all-over wash which imitated the off-white colour of the original stamps.)

This is a picture of a (damaged) used original 1d black:

A comparison of the 2015 (top) and latest booklet versions:

As mentioned previously the new booklet contains 1d black, 2d blue and 1d red reproductions as 1st class stamps.

The cover is normal, but of course the purpose of the booklet can be seen by the tab on the extended rear cover.

This is not regarded as a new issue - indeed all the stamps have been issued before in one form or another. The 2d blue version has not been issued in self-adhesive form before, and will therefore have its own place in the catalogues and preprinted album.

As you will see from the pictures, the current booklet is printed with Security Backing paper, unlike the booklet issued in 2015.  So for specialists this booklet produces three new stamps.

It's available on the Royal Mail website.

First Day Covers
Cover producers seem to have overlooked this as there are no sponsored handstamps for this booklet and new stamp, so little opportunity for maximum cards at this stage (there ought to be opportunities when the remainder of the exhibition stamps are issued in May.)  [Postmarks can be found on Royal Mail's website here.]

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Slogan Postmarks in March 2020

This will be the place for all slogan postmarks used in March, and any other postmark news, which will be in a separate section after all the slogans.

The first March slogan arrived today, though I suspect it was actually used on Saturday 29 February, so I will add it in the February blogpost if I get confirmation and a decent copy to show.

One arrived today which, being local, may well have been posted yesterday. But it is too poor to show.  I even looked at others in the sorting office, to confirm the full text which is all but illegible on mine from Norwich Mail Centre.

The celebration is for World Maths Day (4 March*) and it reads:

"The poetry of logical
ideas" - Albert Einstein
World Maths Day
4 March 2020

Update 4 March - thanks to BM for the Exeter Mail Centre example above, also from 2 March.

Thanks to IB for the alternative layout from South East Anglia Mail Centre on 02/03/2020 - the wording is over five lines:

"The poetry of
logical ideas" -
Albert Einstein
World Maths Day
4 March 2020

* The International Mathematical Union website shows the International Day of Mathematics to be 14 March! See wikipedia for more clarification.

UPDATE 5 MARCH - World Book Day....
.... today was marked by a slogan which was also in use on 2 March on 2nd class post, shown here from Warrington Mail Centre.
Help World Book Day
Share a Million Stories!
5 March 2020

Thanks to IB, JE & JG for the alternative formats for World Book Day, this one from Greenford/Windsor Mail Centre on 03/03/2020.

JE writes:
You are right in suggesting that the World Maths Day slogan was used from Saturday 29 Feb.; I have a poor Mt Pleasant iLSM version, on a cover which I posted on Saturday.  International Women's Day is due to feature today and tomorrow [5 & 6 March], with British Science Week being used from Saturday 7 to Friday 13 March!

UPDATE 5 March (ii)
As expected RW came up with the International Women's Day slogan, from Chester & North Wales dated 05/03/2020. (You can find an explanation of the IWD slogan in the link above.)

Women's Day
8 March 2020

Thanks to IB for this Home Counties North version also on 5 March.

UPDATE 10 March 2020
And so we come to British Science Week, my thanks to KD for sending this in yesterday.  From Manchester Mail Centre on Saturday 07/03/2020

"Science is magic
that works"
- Kurt Vonnegut
British Science Week
6-15 March 2020

Further update: thanks to RW for the other format from Exeter Mail Centre probably on 09-03-2020. As usual this is in the 4-line format.

Update 20 March: Thanks to KD and somebody who sent me a bill, I can show the latest slogan, reminding us that Sunday is Mothering Sunday, and time to send a card - too late for delivery Saturday now of course, unless you see this in the next 20 minutes, but it's the thought that counts.

One from Nottingham Mail Centre on 19/03/2020 and ours from Chester & N Wales with a postmark almost certainly applied in two passes on 17/03/20.

Remember to
send that card!
Mother's Day
22 March 2020

UPDATE 27 March, possibly the last this month
Thanks to KD for another slogan, this one reminding us of the daylight saving change here and in Europe this weekend.  From Nottingham Mail Centre dated 26/03/2020

Don't forget!
Clocks go forward:
Sunday 29 March


And in our own post, one from Peterborough Mail Centre for the same date, but in the other format, in three lines.


UPDATE Sat 28 March
I suspect Royal Mail have had this in mind for a while; there may have been discussions with government about just what wording they would like used. There may be more than one slogan before the crisis is over.  

Rather than using a # hashtag as they do in many slogans, they have made this one simple.  My thanks to AB for providing these examples from Home Counties North and Swindon Mail Centres dated 27-03-2020

Royal Mail - keeping
communities connected

And our own mail came later, bringing this one from Chester & N Wales also 27/03/2020. These 2nd class items delivered next day suggest that the difference between 1st and 2nd is disappearing as Royal Mail have less business mail to process and more parcels and packets.