Tuesday 9 June 2020

From the Archive: FDC collecting has changed in 20 years.

Norvic Philatelics fdc, Sounds of Britain
I've been discussing with others the way that First Day Cover collecting has changed over the years.  

Although Royal Mail continue to produce addressed first day covers for their subscribers, the volume of sales must be lower as costs have increased.  We also know that despite the prices/values shown in the Stanley Gibbons catalogues, the secondary market for those addressed covers is far lower than shown in the Concise.  Anybody who visits Stampex or local stamp fairs can buy covers from the period up to 1990 for as little as 25p, and after that for not much more and certainly less than the original cost.

But 'better' covers have always been more popular with serious FDC collectors.  Some people produced their own covers, others used available covers with any appropriate postmark other than the Royal Mail first day of issue covers.  We even produced our own limited edition covers from 2003 until early 2008.  Some of these were very popular and sold out before the issue date.  Others we still have supplies of!  

The Association of FB FDC Collectors categorises Official covers as those produced by a company, dealer or organisation which have a sponsored handstamp on their own produced cover.  The standard reference work, Bradbury's Collecting British First Day Covers lists over 30 cover producers who, for short or longer periods, produced official covers for most or all stamp issues.  Now that number is down to less than 5.

What brought this home was the Roman Britain stamp issue out today.  As I mentioned last week, apart from the two Royal Mail First Day of Issue postmarks, there are only four sponsored handstamps, plus the Royal Mail permanent handstamps such as that for Bath.

Compare that to this double-page spread from the Postmark Bulletin from 30 August 2002 with handstamps illustrated for the London's Bridges 5-stamp issue.  

Leaving aside the ones not relevant to that stamp issue, there are 28 for that date, including four that are not specifically showing bridges or related designs.

Part of the modern problem in selling new FDCs is the price.  Part of it is the cost of intellectual property, ie the use of copyright symbols or images such as those for Star Wars or Harry Potter.  And part of it is just because people having given up collecting first day covers.

Have you stopped collecting GB first day covers?  What were the reasons?  Comment, or email and let us know.  

UPDATE:  Oh, so no comments.  This might be good news.  When I get my new office sorted out I shall be offering first day covers at bargain prices, so if nobody has stopped collecting, I expect a lot of sales.  On the other hand, it may be that you never colleced fdcs in the first place.


  1. Currently there is better value in 'floating' the stamps off the FDC and selling the stamps as a fine used set.
    Royal Mail would increase their sales in FDC's if they left off the address, so FDC's could be inherited as one's own from relatives. Unaddressed FDC's would certainly sell better on eBay and by dealers and become an investment rather than immediately losing value.

    1. What are termed 'Stamp Souvenir' covers have been sold by RM for the last couple of years for most new issues. They are like addressed FDCs but they have no address, and they are on sale for several months.

  2. Along with everything else in British philately it's now all too expensive to collect everything. FDC's were the first to stop. I now concentrate only on Machins and trying to fill my pre QEII gaps

    1. You will have a tough time filling your pre QEII gaps of Machins

  3. I came back to collecting GB FDCs in the mid-1990s. In those days the stamps were often bland but privately produced FDCs were often superb and really added something to the issue. They were expensive relative to the GPO FDC, but, of course, there were a lot fewer issues in those days.

    As time has gone on, I think the design of the stamps has improved and so the privately produced FDCs do not add as much as they used to. This could be linked to the fact there are far more issues now and so private FDC producers may not have as much time to design their covers. Also, I fear the quantity of sales of all FDCs has plummeted over the past decade because of fewer collectors and higher prices.

    I never collected every issue - I was selective, but I am even more selective now.

    1. I agree, some of the private covers seem to cover odd subjects only slightly related to the stamps, and postmarks not related to the locations on the stamps. Others are better.

      The really odd ones were the ones produced marking the odd-numbered anniversaries of major battle on the same date as the stamp issue - barrel scraping at its best, and yet people bought them.

  4. Keen Machin collector, particularly errors but have never been interested in FDC's. Guess it is horses for courses.

  5. Actually, I have only (comparatively) recently developed an interest in modern GB covers and PHQs. I am at a bit of a loss to understand the appeal of covers produced by companies, and much prefer ones with "genuine" postmarks. The company ones remind me of that Westminster Collection and Danbury Mint kind of stuff. Also, The relatively low prices means affordability, a good thing, surely!

  6. For about the previous year before Covid 19 at StampFairs of various sizes it was very obvious that FDCs were being offloaded for peanuts by dealers.

    The problems are several-

    1) The lack of a decent catalogue / history of the early FDC producers (say to the decimal period or just after)- so people could chase just a single producer.
    2) Continued overproduction of modern items so swamping the older material
    3) Dealers selling by years not by private producers so people can't find the single producers.
    4) Dealers not thinking creatively and having 'thematic' bundles of FDCs to sell.

    FDCs were the way some got into collecting philately - but with the population decreasing (less fertile if you prefer - current collectors come from families of 3/4 children and now the average fertility rate is 1.6) and the younger people not seeing any covers with stamps on then the desire to get into stamps is shrinking so oversupplied FDCs are not a winning area. I doubt many existing phiatelists / postal history people move into FDCs...

    1. I think you will find the problem of offloading goes back much further than that, with covers being sold at 25p for many years. Last time I went to Stampex there were offers like £20 a hundred.

      This is due to dealers buying entire estate collections - no dealer would just pick the better items. If they do this, the follow-on has to be:
      a. common mint (especially mounted) for postage, either to use or sell on at a big discount;
      b. parts of the collection outside their interest to other trade dealers, quickly - cash flow is important;
      c. best parts of the collection into their own stock, or even offered quickly to collectors on their books;

      (b) includes FDCs if they don't sell them, and they will want to get rid of stuff that is taking up a lot of space. There is virtually no market for bureau-issued and private hand-written covers and these are the ones that end up in the 25p box. If they DO sell GB FDCs then they make take them to fairs to attract crowds, because crowds attract crowds who may then go on to buy better items from the same dealer.

      As for catalogues, one is produced every year though the prices are maybe high. Another is produced less frequently. Both indicate producers for each issue, though the covers can't all be pictured. Some specialised FDC dealers do sell by producer, but I've never seen any sorting for thematic collectors.

      The big swamping is due to so many people in the past, and to some extent even now, buying stamps and/or FDCs for their children/grandchildren who - when the time comes - have absolutely no interest in them. These, and those from estates are what continues to flood the market. But you can't blame the GPO, then Royal Mail, from selling them then.

  7. I haven't collected commemorative FDCs since 1970 - already my pocket money wasn't up to what seemed then to be a swelling number of issues. I did collect Machin FDCs for many more years though, until Newcastle Philatelic Counter closed down and a Post Shop took its place about half a mile away.

    It took Royal Mail quite a long time to work out what had happened. Sometimes their distribution service just sent new stamps back when they found the old office closed, and on one memorable occasion the new stamps were rolled up and forced through a small letter box, so the whole lot had to go back. In short I had several consecutive occasions when I made a thirty mile round trip to find no stamps available on the day of issue, so I gave up, took a large loss and got rid of the lot.

    It felt painful at first, but I am so glad now.


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