Wednesday 20 May 2020

Guest Blog: Open Value Post & Go stamps – overlooked and undervalued?

 I haven't written about Open Value Post and Go stamps for a few years - mid-2016 in fact, when I wrote that
.... to find and accumulate a comprehensive collection of 'used-on-cover' Open Values would be very worthwhile, and would definitely be a challenge.
At the time John Gray commented "I can let you have images of various Open Value stamps - the most widely dispensed stamps from Post Office NCR machines - if you want to see them. These will be the items for postal history collections in the future - and very few people seem to be bothering with them!"

Our long holiday then intervened, and Security Machins and slogan postmarks occupied much of the blog for the next few years, but I recently came across a few examples of the Open Value stamps and decided to explore further.  I then asked John if he would consider writing a guest post on the blog - as he knows so much more about them than I do - which he has kindly agreed to do. 

There are some links to articles he has published elsewhere, which I shall publish on our website.  I'll have to do some editing to get the images and captions in to this blog, so any errors or omissions will undoubtedly be mine, and I'll get John to have a look very soon after publication.

Please comment as usual - we would both be very interested to know just how many people are taking an interest, and how many collections are building up.

Open Value Post & Go stamps arrived on the philatelic scene on 28 February 2014 when two NCR self-service kiosks were installed at Harpenden Post Office. Subsequently, about 650 NCR kiosks have been distributed among about 230 post offices throughout the UK. 

However, despite the widespread distribution of these kiosks and their apparent accessibility, Open Value stamps remain an enigma. Their use on letters and parcels handled by Royal Mail and Parcelforce must surely greatly exceed the use of commemorative stamps, but the latter have a much stronger collector base than Open Value stamps. Similarly, overprinted Post & Go stamps from Royal Mail kiosks in museums and at exhibitions appear much more popular despite there being about 40-fold fewer kiosks in less accessible locations. So why are Open Value Post & Go stamps not more popular? 
What is the problem?

The problem appears to have started on day 1, with incomplete information on exactly how many different Open Value stamps were available from NCR kiosks. Douglas Myall, the doyen of Machin collectors, admitted it was extremely difficult to compile an accurate list (Deegam report 107) and there was fervent discussion on the Stamp Magazine Forum on-line and on John McCallum’s ATM Reporter (both now defunct). The announcement of the new NCR kiosks on the norphil blog produced many comments, but not a consensus on what to collect.

Fig 1. A recent cover with an Open Value International Standard Airmail stamp and a currently relevant slogan postmark

It took some time to work out exactly what Open Value stamps were available from NCR kiosks [see earlier articles in Gibbons Stamp Monthly Feb 2015 and The MBPC Bookmark Journal April 2020] – and the result didn’t inspire many (any?) to contemplate a complete collection. There were originally 34 different Service Indicators, and this number increased to 45 with changes in postal services (mainly to the classes of International services).

The second off-putting feature was the cost of many of the services, particularly Parcelforce services, for collectors of mint stamps. Currently, the minimum cost of the globalexpress (GX) service is £43.50, for sending a 0.5 kg parcel to the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg (so for a Post & Go issue with 6 designs, the cost of mint GX stamps would be an eye-watering £261!).

Figure 2. A used Open Value stamp for the Parcelforce globalexpress service.

These two features, the complexity and the cost of mint stamps, were I believe the main factors deterring collectors from making comprehensive collections. However, a third factor has undoubtedly contributed to Open Value stamps being ignored, or overlooked, by many collectors: the lack of up-to-date information. Open Value stamps are the orphans of the GB collecting world: there is no catalogue, no specialist web-site or philatelic society providing comprehensive information. Information can be hard to find!

Open Value stamps are not listed in Stanley Gibbons GB Concise catalogues, despite the banner on the cover of the 2019 edition stating ‘Post & Go fully updated”. However, careful reading of the Post & Go section reveals Open Value stamps “are outside the scope of the catalogue”. Open Value stamps were initially listed in Douglas Myall’s Deegam handbook, but information has not been updated since Gerry Fisk and Hanns Fasching were appointed editorial assistants, and they have confirmed that Post & Go stamps will not be included in the fifth edition of the Handbook. 

Stuart Leigh’s Post & Go check-list provides excellent coverage of non-value indicated (NVI) stamps, but does not include Open Value stamps. There appears to be no specialist philatelic society that provides full coverage of Open value stamps. The Modern British Philatelic Circle and the British Postmark Society both provide some information on Post & Go stamps, but coverage of Open Values is incomplete.

Where to start?

If you already collect Open Value Post & go stamps, I presume you may have resolved the problem of what to collect. What aspects of Open Value stamps can be recommended to someone wanting to start a collection? The first consideration is likely to be the budget available; many of the Open Value stamps for international mail and parcels are very expensive in mint condition, much more expensive than Commemorative stamps. 

One option, then, is to collect used stamps, which are available in kiloware and from internet auction sites. This option can still be very challenging for fine used examples. The shiny surface of Post & Go stamps often results in blurred and indistinct postmarks (see the 2L stamp in Figure 3), such that some collectors prefer uncancelled used stamps (please, not unfranked!). A postal history collection of cancelled stamps on cover, as suggested by Ian in 2014, is not an easy option.

The basic values for UK standard letter services (1L, 1LG, 2L, 2LG) are the easiest, and cheapest, Open Value stamps to collect, mint or used. They are available for all Post & Go issues over a six-year period from February 2014 to now.  It is much more difficult to find Open Value stamps for the early Post & Go issues (Birds of Britain, Farm Animals and Freshwater Life) that were issued for Wincor Nixdorf kiosks, with very few rolls being used in NCR kiosks.

Figure 3. Open Value stamps for the basic UK standard letters services, 2nd, 1st, 2nd Large & 1st Large

The Signed For versions of the 1L, 1LG and 2L stamps have also been available for the full six-year period from February 2014, but are scarcer because of the premium of £1.00-£1.30 over the cost of the UK Standard service. Stamps for the 2LG Signed For service were available for only 30 months from February 2014, being replaced in September/October 2016 by Horizon–type labels.

Figure 4. Open Value stamps for the UK Signed letter services.

Open Value stamps for Royal Mail Standard and Signed For parcel services (1SP, 1MP, 2SP, 2MP and Signed For) were also available for only a 30-month period from February 2014 and are scarcer than Open Value stamps for the Letter and Large Letter services. They were available for all Post & Go issues from Spring Blooms to Ladybirds, with usage on Birds of Britain, Farm Animals and Freshwater Life much more difficult to find.

Figure 5. Open Value stamps for UK Standard Parcel Services, small, large 1st & 2nd
Figure 6. Open Value stamps for UK Signed For Parcel Services

Stamps for the UK Special Delivery Guaranteed by 1pm service (SD1) are probably more numerous than stamps for the Standard Parcel Signed For services, and occur in reasonable numbers in kiloware and on internet auction sites.  However, they also were available for only a 30-month period from February 2014 to autumn 2016. Stamps for SD1 with Saturday Guarantee are scarcer, and stamps for Special Delivery Guaranteed by 9am service (SD9) and its Saturday Guarantee service are even scarcer and very rarely seen in kiloware.

Figure 7.  Open Value stamps for UK Guaranteed (Special Delivery) services

Used Open Value stamps for Royal Mail International services are much scarcer than stamps for UK services, and it is easier to find mint stamps of the Standard Airmail letter service (A Letter) than used stamps. This is because four A Letter stamps are often included in sets of six Open Value stamps matching the corresponding NVI stamps in Collectors Sets. 

Stamps with the A Letter service indicator have been available ever since their introduction on 28 February 2014, so can be found on all the Post & Go issues from Spring Blooms to the 2019 version of Winter Greenery, but much more rarely on Birds of Britain, Farm Animals and Freshwater Life stamps. 

Stamps for the Airmail Small Parcel service (A Sm. Parcl), introduced on the same date, were replaced by Horizon-type labels in autumn 2016, so have a much shorter period on sale. An Airmail Large Letter service (A Lg.Letter) was introduced one year later on 30 March 2015 and is still available on all Post & Go issues since then.

Figure 8. Open Value stamps for International Standard services for letters and small parcels
Royal Mail has offered several International tracked and signed services, in addition to its International Standard services. At the time of the introduction of NCR kiosks, the Airsure service provided a tracked service for letters and small parcels, while the International Signed For service provided a service with a signature taken on delivery of letters and small parcels. 

However, within four weeks, on 28 March 2014, these services were revised and renamed. Airsure became International Tracked (IT), International Signed For became International Signed (IS) and a new International Tracked & Signed (ITS) service was introduced from 31 March 2014. 

Open Value stamps for the Airsure services (AAX Letter and AAX Sm.Parcl) and International Signed For services (A ISF Letter and A ISF Sm.Parcl) were available for a only 4-week period and are among the rarest Open Value stamps. These service indicators are probably available only on Machin head Post & Go stamps.
Figure 9. Open value stamps for International tracked and signed services.
Open Value stamps for the new International services for letters and small parcels, introduced on 31 March 2014, are also very scarce; they were available for only 30 months until they were replaced in NCR kiosks by Horizon-style labels. 

Stamps for the IT, IS and ITS services for large letters were available for an even shorter period; these services were introduced on 30 March 2015 and stamps were replaced by Horizon-style labels about 18 months later. Images of Machin head stamps with all these service indicators can be seen in the BookmarkJournal article.

Open Value stamps for Parcelforce services have been available from 28 February 2014 and can still be obtained from NCR kiosks in post offices. However, they are probably best collected as used stamps, if you can find them, because of the expense of mint stamps. Stamps for the cheapest Parcelforce service, express48, with a 48 service indicator, guaranteeing delivery within 2 days, turn up in small numbers in kiloware. 
Figure 10. Open Value stamps for the Parcelforce express48 service.
However, stamps for the globalvalue (PS), globalpriority (GP), globalexpress (GX), express24 (24), expressAM (AM), express10 (10) and express9 (9) services are much scarcer. Mint examples of Open Value stamps for these Parcelforce services are also shown in the Bookmark Journal article

The irelandexpress (IE) service provides overnight delivery of mail from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, and stamps with the IE service indicator are not available from NCR kiosks in post offices in Great Britain. A used example on cover is shown below, unfortunately not cancelled, but with the Parcelforce label showing the date of postage. A postal history collection may be an ultimate goal, but it won’t be easy!
Figure 11. Cover with an Open Value stamp for the Parcelforce irelandexpress service from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.

 John Gray May 2019


  1. An excellent article from John, and a timely reminder why I decided not to collect these! Being a completist, I knew I would never be satisfied!

  2. A very informative article. Apart from obtaining the initial RM Presentation Pack at the time, the lack of information at the time made me sidestep these. And looking at the costs now of the various open values I am glad I made that decision at the time.

  3. What does 'open value' mean?

    1. The short answer is that these stamps have a monetary value shown.

      The first stamps of this type were available with a selection of service indicators - 1st class, 1st Large, Worldwide 10g, etc. Originally there were 5, then 6, and then because the weight-steps changed for international letters there have been 9 different types.

      Later machines in Post Office branches were changed so that the correct postage could be paid for a wider range of services any permitted weight (as indicated in the article). The stamps printed for these services and weights have the price paid, the weight, and - for internal destinations - the area postcode of the addressee. (The Special Delivery stamps illustrated, for example, would have been sent to the CM1, IP11, CB23 and JE1 areas.)

      For details of other types of Post and Go stamp in this blog, please use the search box at the top for 'Post and Go' or 'Faststamp', or click on 'post and go' in the keyword cloud at the right.

  4. Thanks for this interesting article Ian.
    I've found it quite difficult to catalogue the OVs I have, amongst my P&G collection although I do use postandgo checklist website. A timely reminder to have a look through some of mine and that the '9' was £41.48 each and the '10' was £31.49 each.
    Thankfully I was sitting down although it looks like the GX has escaped my collection, so now I'm off to have a look for one :)


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