Saturday 18 April 2020

Security Backing Paper - let's end the confusion

Whenever something new occurs, finders, dealers, and catalogue editors inevitably find their own initial ways to describe the change, or to number new stamps leading to some confusion among collectors.  This can lead to errors in orders, something we all want to avoid, if customers are using terms that we do not use everyday and in our own lists.

When I first alerted collectors to the second type of Security Backing Paper, containing some inverted text, I had initially suggested that
...with new printing the paper could be re-rolled as it 'would always be the right way up'. 
But of course I was wrong, as I explained in February 2017. With text both large (L) and small (S) and upright (U) and inverted (I), the field was wide open for ways to describe it, and of course he who goes first doesn't always have the final say.

I suggested that one type would be
SU - LU - SI - LI
and what I described as the inverted type would be
SI - LU - SU - LI

And that stuck until others decided that there could be other ways.

Stanley Gibbons
In his Gibbons Stamp Monthly Machin Watch column John Deering uses an abbreviated form

sL or Ls

So sL equates to our Upright, and Ls is the equivalent of our Inverted.  The chart in the Concise catalogue also shows the upright and inverted versions of SBP1 (PB-up and PB-inv).

Modern British Philatelic Circle
The MBPC has adopted a different approach, with this description:
When, anywhere within the design, the line ROYAL MAIL etc. (in large upright letters) is followed by the line ROYAL MAIL (in small upright letters), the design is upright (designated SBP2u).When, anywhere within the design, the line ROYAL MAIL (in large upright letters) is followed by ROYAL MAIL (in small inverted letters), the design isinverted (designated SBP2i).
Or to put it another way: on SBP2, they've put the Large before the small, and decided that is Upright (SBP2u), the total opposite of my original suggestion and that used by Stanley Gibbons' catalogues.

So there you have the designations most commonly used.  This is why collectors using one or other of these designations when writing to dealers present them with a problem.  Undoubtedly the SG Concise version ought to be most widely used.  However for that degree of specialisation, the members of the MBPC are most likely to want both, and they will use the Circle's system, which is unfortunate as the membership numbers far less than the huge number of Machin collectors worldwide.

Hopefully the information provided will help collectors and dealers to interact with each other without less confusion.


  1. If a collector does not have a copy of the SG Concise (I'm sure there are a few) how does one know sL equates to upright and that Ls equates to inverted as the letters do not say anything about upright or inverted?

    1. I think I must be missing something here. Without a diagram and with just the letters Ls or sL how does one know if the printed backing paper is upright or inverted?

    2. Why is it we have to put up with different types of backing paper again on the new barcoded stamps?. It is no wonder why us collectors complain about being fleeced by Royal Mail & its Printers yet again

    3. 1. It is the same backing paper, it just happens that the text appears different if it is upside down. When the paper was plain, you didn't know which way it went through the press and reels were reversed all the time to use up half-reels.

      2. Many collectors wisely decide not to bother with both 'types' which are really the same one. Indeed many collectors don't distinguish between SBP1 & SBP2 and some don't worry about different year codes or source codes.

      3. Nobody, least of all Royal Mail who don't even acknowledge the differences or accept that they should be able to sell you separate stamps for different years, is forcing you to buy anything. If you choose to do so, then you have no reason to complain about being 'fleeced'. It's your choice whether to buy.

  2. I'm not sure that I agree with the sequence of events as described. I'm pretty sure that I saw the description of the SBP2u/SBP2i system very early on, before I saw either of the others. Because SBP2u/SBP2i was so easy to understand, I started using it immediately.

    It was only a little later that I saw your system. I was impressed by its flexibilty because it seemed to allow you to describe every possible combination of four lines of text, any of which may be either inverted or upright. When the original backing paper turned up inverted on the Harry Potter book, you already had a code for it. I think. But I recoiled from the sytem's complexity and I still feel that I never really understood it. I suspect that I may not be the only one who felt that way, as you remain the only person that I know of to have ever used it.

    I do not regularly follow either John Deering or Gibbons Stamp Monthly or even Gibbons Concise. The result was that I came late to Ls and sL. Which is a pity, since that too is a simple system and easy to use. And rather elegant too. Coming from and SBP2u/SBP2i background, I reacted in the same way as you did but, of course, in precisely the opposite way. I wondered why John got it upside down!! After all, SBP2u/SBP2i so obviously got it right -- just look for the large upright line of text and if the small line of text below it is upright (u), the we have SBP2u and if it is inverted (i) then we have SBP2i. Absolutely obvious. Well, to me at least.

    If I had seen John's Ls and sL system first, I admit that I would have been inclined to use it over SBP2u/SBP2i. But there is one huge problem with just using two letters. It just doesn't work if you buy or sell on Ebay. Try searching for Ls or sL on Ebay and you will probably get innumerable hits. That's the problem of using such a short search string on a system whose search algorithm is not even case sensitive. Searching for an improbable string like SBP2u will be far more likely to find what you are looking for. Provided the seller used it.

    It need not be that way. After all, SG Concise does not refer to it as Ls. It actually calls it it PB-Ls. But this loses the elegance of of the extremely concise two letter desciption, and brings home that this system is just as arbitrary as SBP2u/SBP2i.

    For that matter, why is it PB-Ls? What does PB mean? Aren't we describing a backing paper? If so, why isn't it BP-Ls?

    Sadly, because SG Concise is so widely used, I fear that Ls/Sl is here to stay. But give me SBP2u/SBP2i any day. Long may Ebay sellers who want buyers to actually be able to find their goods continue to use it.

    1. I didn't write this post to claim credit, or my superiority, but as I am a contributor to Bookmark, I thought I would check when they first reported it (as I was away from the UK Aug-Nov 16).

      My first write-up was in the blogpost referenced in this one, which was February 2017.
      The first mention in Bookmark was April 2017, on page 253 of Vol46 No 5, where they used the same SULUSILI designation, starting with the smaller letters, then the larger ones.

      I haven't explored to see when it was decided to use a different system based on having the LUSU order, as pictured above, but I will be interested to see the explanation.

      I think PB = printed backing, to distinguish from unprinted backing: that makes more sense than Backing Paper.. Unfortunately although Ls sL is meaningful, SBP2u and SBPi mean nothing, without the diagram. I think the MBPS erred, though it will be too late after four years to change everything: that would only cause further confusion among members.

    2. Firstly you should learn to use properly the name of the Modern British Philatelic Circle (MBPC) (and not MBPS!), and secondly your statement that decisions of the MBPC are erroneous is rather arrogant!

      Catalogue Editor of the MBPC

    3. Oh dear, somebody's feathers are ruffled - the MBPC is correctly referenced everywhere but that reply, done in haste. Apologies for that.

      If you want to tell us why the Circle decided to go with the terminology chosen, when the original entry in 'Bookmark' appeared to show the reverse I'll be pleased to publish it in the main body of the blog, as an addition.

      The right to reply is always here. I wasn't looking for any credit, and the object of the post was to compare the three systems, partly so that when collectors use terminology not used by the dealer there is an easy reference to check what is required. That is precisely why I investigated, because a reader asked me what existed in each of the 2018 variants - he wasn't buying, just seeking information. I suspect he could have found it out from the MBPC: I wonder if he is a member - he used MBPC terminology.

      The same sort of terminological change occurred with Post & Go Stamps, originally referred to as Faststamps in some RM information, and used by me and by Gibbons, hence the FS numbering in their catalogues. But now we have all changed to Post and Go Stamps.

    4. I should also add, for the record, that I don't actually have any axe to grind as I decided from the outset that I would not deliberately stock both SBP2u and SBP2i, by whatever designation.

      If a customer asked if I had one or other, I would look. I would report the format on some new stamps where I thought it relevant, ie when a stamp or booklet existed in two types (or as with the Harry Potter mixed book, with SBP1i, but otherwise I would ignore it, especially if a stamp existed only one way as with self-adhesive commemoratives from mixed books.

      To be honest, there were times when I regretted even finding and publicising the existence of both types of SBP2, but consoled myself with the knowledge that if I hadn't reported it here, somebody else would have done eventually.

  3. Thanks for all the replies. Sadly I can't add anything because the MBPC catalogue editor hasn't taken up my offer of including an explanatory contribution.

    As for the Gibbons system, I can only agree with Brian. Maybe the best thing is just to forget upright and inverted for SBP2 - it isn't a deliberate change, it's just how the printer chooses to use the paper after a rewind. If the paper wasn't printed on nobody would know any differently.

  4. Is the unknown here the same unknown who replied to my blogpost, certainly ruffled some feathers there Ian.

    Regards Peter


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