Wednesday 23 December 2020

Best wishes for the Festive Season! What a year 2020 has been!

Maximum card of No 10 Downing
Street, residence of
the UK prime minister

Who would be a politician?  You make promises that the electors know that you won't necessarily keep once in power; that's a given.  You say things that people 'take out of context' when it suits you.  But even when you put on your really earnest face, and look really tired and tell people that they can have Christmas together, you overlook the fact that circumstances may change, and you may have to change the rules.  

That's what happened here on 19 December; with a week to go the rules changed so that 'Christmas' - normally several days of meeting and eating - was cut to just one day, and for Londoner's and others who moved up to tier 4, no visits at all.  Back to square one.  I know the politicians could have made different decisions earlier and maybe we may not have been under quite such tight restrictions as many people are in now, but that broadcast had some of us feeling great sympathy for our PM and his scientific advisors just as we did back in March and April.

As one of my American dealer contacts wrote just last week: 'The currently available vaccines seem to be effective against the current version of the virus.  However, the "enemy has a say in all this".  We DO know that the virus WILL mutate, but we don't know HOW the virus will mutate, nor if the current vaccines will be effective as the mutations occur.'  And so it has turned out. 

It won't make any difference to us; we weren't planning to visit anybody even though we have several sets of relatives within 5, and 20, miles.   We have plenty to do, with Netflix and Amazon Prime in addition to most other tv channels, and dozens of board and card games, many of which have been packed for a year in preparation for our moves. 


2020 & 2021 Special Stamp Programmes
This year's stamp programme met with the usual range of criticisms - too many, too expensive, and just plain "why?".   Out of 14 issues, only two or three could be regarded as commemorating something really significant to the United Kingdom events and institutions - the 200th Anniversary of the Royal Astronomical Society, the end of World War II, and 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth.  Oh, and the London 2020 International Philatelic Exhibition - like so many others a victim of circumstance.  It's cancellation didn't stop Royal Mail from issuing a sheet of 25 Penny Blacks which were only available as a £19 sheet!

Whilst the first two issues mentioned were stand-alone, the last could only be justified by Royal Mail under a banner of Romantic Poets in which Wordsworth shared the limelight with nine others.  And even then, they were illustrated by abstract lino cuts rather than the faces of the poets themselves.  What is it about this country that we can show rock stars (living or dead) but not William Wordsworth?  

Everything else was either a blatant thematic/topical subject or a popular entertainment subject (or both):  Royal Palaces and Insects, Video Games, James Bond, Coronation Street, Sherlock, Queen, Star Trek.  When this last was revealed more people than ever declared that they would stop collecting new issues and not wait for a change of reign.

Perhaps we are all Sherlocked!

This won't make any difference to Royal Mail, of course.  The existing policies will continue and probably get worse.  I've looked at the outline of 2021's programme and I can find 50th, 70th, 75th and  550th anniversaries.  From a short look at Wikipedia I can see that Peter Ustinov, Dennis Brain, George Formby, Malcolm Arnold, Humphrey Lyttleton, Dirk Bogarde, Deborah Kerr, Peter Sallis, Harry Secombe, Thomas Gray, Nobel Chemistry laureate Geoffrey Wilkinson, and John Keats might all have qualified, all have anniversaries next year, and that list includes eight popular entertainers.  But there are NO centenaries, or bicentenaries as far as I can see.   

Breaking news: the first issue for 2021 will be in the national media on 27 December, and the programme will be announced on 5 January.


Machin and Country Definitives
There was nothing excepetional in the definitive range, by which I mean we had the usual tariff change in March, which brought 15 new stamps.  There were no new stamps for the second tariff increase on 1 September, but the final one (from 1 January 2021) gives us 7/8 new stamps before Christmas. 

Some late M19L reprints of security definitives were finally supplied early in the year, and M20L reprints appeared through the year in the usual way.  The first two (February and March) prestige books (PSBs) both contained M19L stamps but only three new ones between them.  Subsequent PSBs (there were three more before the year was out) contained 6 or 7* new gummed M20L stamps (*depending on how you see them). 

The number of different postal forgeries found during the year was remarkable, with 1st class books and sheetlets of 12, sheets of 99 (11 x 9), and 100 (two panes of 50 - 10 x 5), 1st class Large sheets of 66, getting better and better but unlikely to fool astute collectors.

Making an appearance for the first time was the 1st class (definitive-sized) Game of Thrones stamp in booklets of 12 (it was only ever issued in 6s).  Making a reappearance on eBay was the 1st class Olympic games definitive (just the one type) in sheets of 16, some of which were despatched direct from China.  This was followed by the 1st class Machin with the reversed text which I reported here.

Even after this sheets of 16 x 2nd class Christmas stamps in four designs (2016, 2017, 2018 & 2014) were circulating, followed by mixed sheets of self-adhesive £1.55 country stamps, and finally this year's 2nd, 1st and 2018's £1.25 Christmas stamps were being used by eBay sellers.  The £1.33 Christmas 2016 stamp has also been found.  Many of these Christmas forgeries are in the smaller size of the Machin definitive rather than the original Christmas stamps so would be easily spotted.

I haven't had time to report and show all these.  I suggest readers who are really interested should join the MBPC and read 'Fake News'.  I hope to have some more forgeries, mint and used, for sale next year.

Post & Go
Once again there were no new designs, but there were 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.

The tariff changes produced new stamps with different service indicators for airmail zones. Unfortunately alleged software limitations produced a misleading 'Zone 1-3' inscription which referred only to Zones 1 and 3.  This was corrected on Royal Mail machines (not PO SSKs) and the need will disappear from 1 January with the consolidation (for the time being) of the basic rates for all zones. With the range of stamps reduced, the cost increased as more expensive 100g airmail stamps were provided in place of the ones no longer needed.

Post Offices

There has been little to write about regarding actual post offices, although contributions to the postmarks topics allowed me to write about Mobile and Outreach postal services which I hope was of interest. 

The news about Post Office Ltd and their former sub-postmasters rolls on very slowly but has culminated this month in the news that the first six have had their convictions - for theft, false accounting, false representation and fraud - quashed.  Another 40 will come to the Court of Appeal in March.

There were, of course some early releases of special stamps, though maybe not as many as in previous years and fewer letters were posted.

Finally, news that I haven't had time to report suggests that Post Office is looking to replace the existing NCR self-service kiosk machines and has launched a process to find the next generation.  I'll cover this next month, but if you want to look at the paper, which includes some interesting diagrams about data relations and systems integration, click here (downloadable pdf).


Postmark Slogans
I'm indebted to all the readers who have continued to send in details of the slogan and other postmarks they have received during the year.  The number of Universals is probably down, but then letter mail was also down over the year by a significant amount, and it won't be until next month that we find out just how busy - in emergency postmarks terms - mail centres were during the Christmas period. All we know at the moment is that there are a few Universals, that parcel volumes are up, and the postmen and women are working their socks off in trying conditions. Our thanks to them all.


The business in 2020
The decisions we took to stop selling all new Machins after M18L and the Covid-related decision to shut up totally for most of this year means that our sales volume was down to less than 10% of 2019 which in turn was about 50% lower than 2018: it's just as well we don't do this for a living!  But with or without the pandemic we would have had to have closed at some time due to our relocation.  The pandemic made this a much longer process than it would normally have been, of course.  

Now, as things settle down here, and most of the stock has been unpacked, we have to catch up with other dealers.  According to word in the trade, business has been phenomenal, and that's even for dealers without detailed websites.  So we will reopen our online shop ( from Christmas - but we will not process any orders until January 3rd, as many as possible being posted on January 7th.

We hope that existing customers/readers will find something of interest, and we will welcome new customers as we expand into other areas of worldwide philately.  We will also be offering some bulk lots of postcards and postal history, and will also expand onto eBay and probably to Delcampe for some areas.  As always the user name is norvic, so when you are browsing those sites, take a look and see if we are there.  We'll try to put news here and on Twitter as well.  


The future

There can be little doubt that things will get worse before they get better in 2021.  Despite the endeavours of the politicians the enemy at the gate will be there for some time before sufficient vaccines are available and effective against all strains of Covid-19.  And sadly there will be some who are confused by the rules and others who simply refuse to obey.  Only yesterday police had to contend with a demonstration in London against the restrictions and some officers were injured. 

A local dealer was telling me about a hospital in the midlands where management had to call taxis for staff because anti-vaccine protesters and Covid-deniers were verbally abusing the nurses and doctors coming off shift who are fighting to keep people alive.  The staff were returning to the hospital rather than suffer the abuse.

Sadly the anti-vaxers could well be the people who acquire the virus without showing symptoms and pass it on to others.  So don't engage with them; don't argue, steer well clear.  Protect yourself and others as best you can, and be kind to people.

We philatelists are generally solitary, although we meet at stamp clubs and fairs.  Maybe in 2021 some of this will happen again, but don't hold your breath.  The better we protect ourselves now, and in the future, the more likely things will return to normal.  

We count ourselves very lucky, considering the number of tradesemen we have had in our house & garden this year: I make it at least 20, not counting all the delivery drivers from Royal Mail, Amazon, Morrison's, and take-away drivers, etc.  By them being vigilant we and our local family are still safe, and as far as we know, so are they.

We thank you for your patience and good wishes both during the year, as we coped with the delays and the move, and for the festive season.  This summary is not a comprehensive or considered as usual, but let's hope in 12 months things will be so much better. 

We wish all our readers - customers or not - the best festive season you can have in the circumstances. To those who have lost friends or family during this pandemic we offer our sympathies.  We hope that you and your friends and loved ones stay safe now and in the future.
In the meantime let us be grateful for what we have and be kind to everyone.


  1. Very wise words about not engaging with anti-vaxers or other science deniers. Sometimes it seems as though humanity is going backwards into a new dark age.
    BUT...having said that, I'm sure next year will be a vast improvement on this :)
    Happy Christmas and have a great 2021

  2. Happy Christmas & a prosperous new year to all at Norvic thank you for the excellent service each year.

  3. I'm looking for an excuse to cut down on the stamps collected - I'm also running out of album shelf space. How about when Her Majesty has her 70th anniversary in 2022 she makes Charles Prince Regent ? Two heads on the stamps.

  4. So the National Parks look very nice on the RM website, BUT 10 first class!!! why not 5 x 1st, 5 x 2nd may appeal to collectors. Royal Mail clearly cannot see the big picture who ever sat down and thought 'lets carry on as normal' must be blind to see what's happening out there, our postman is very concerned that after the Christmas parcel rush is done and dusted his job will be looked at because with the demise of letters his 5 street round takes half the time to do and possibly 2 rounds per 1 postie is more likely to emerge. Not sure how much longer RM can carry on as they are, Unfortunately after 45 years of collecting stamps I have just placed my last ever order, the very nice colleague said the 'order should go out in 1-2 days however please allow up to 30 days for delivery at this time, Nothing else to say.

    1. Taken down again as at 0730 this morning, left hand, right hand!...........

  5. Following the national shutdown; done on the basis of research which was neither peer reviewed nor published; it will be interesting to see the effects on British philately. Although Royal Mail letter volumes have shrunk this will be because of fewer business letters - which seldom have stamps on, so the proportion of letter post with stamps will rise. So too ought the quantity of stamped post because transactions often carried out in other ways by the public may be done by posting letters to, for example, credit card companies. Although it is forbidden to go into a pub and get infected, going to the Post Office is all right.The clerks may then be more inclined to sell commemoratives to customers who merely sought first class stamps. Overall I though the 2020 issues attractive, especially the miniature sheet for Sherlock Holmes which sold out within a week where I live.

  6. I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue - could that apply to Royal Mail? Haven't heard Humpf's jazz, but love him in ISIHAC.

    In order to beat the price rise, I have received my 3rd order of stamps from RM in the last 6 weeks (I ordered Star Trek first), although didn't realise that my last order would arrive in two parts (today, the bits of poems arrived).

    Why did I need 3 orders of stamps? Well, I am a sender of mail, letters mostly. I also sent quite a few Christmas cards out (many with postbox scenes). Letters have kept me sane, they keep me connected. They also allow me to think before I speak / write (mostly, and in the case of writing before thinking, I can rewrite). I just wish postage prices didn't rise up so dramatically since the 12 years I have been postal. 50p to send a postcard to Europe will now cost £1.70 at the start of 2021.

    Letters do cheer me (and other recipients) up. The stamps too, some really wonderful stamps out there to be used for postage. So please please, consider sending more letters / happy mail and using nice postage stamps in 2021.

  7. Merry Christmas to all at Norvic Towers.

    Thank you for all the hard work you do in maintaining this blog and the valuable information it contains.

    Best wishes for the future and stay safe.

  8. Hi, new visitor to your website. Linked through from a Facebook group about the 2012 Olympic forgeries. I found a couple. Anyway, Just seen this post and Noticed the "Upwell Mobile Post Office" cancel. This is the post office van I use 3 times a week to send off my stamps. I always ask them to use real stamps and cancel them properly. Maybe this was one from me?!

    I will read much more of the website in the near future!

    1. Welcome, I'm pleased you have found this resource. As you will appreciate when you read more, it depends to a great extent on contributions from readers.


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