Wednesday 27 October 2021

Christmas - 2 November 2021 - Post Offices instructed to pen-cancel stamps!

In response to a number of enquiries I can only say that the publicity for this year’s Christmas stamps will be on the issue date, 2 November.

Please see also this September post.

If I am back early enough on Monday our news blog will replace this and launch at midnight.

UPDATE 2 November

When I returned yesterday I could have made time to add everything about the new Christmas stamps, but as subscribers to the Philatelic Bulletin received it last Saturday and have already commented, it seemed unnecessary to hurry.  By now the stamps and other products should be visible on the Royal Mail website.

So I shall read the Bulletin and catch up on correspondence and get back to this later.

Above is the heading on the information sheet that Royal Mail supplied to registered dealers.  It is - compared with the Philatelic Bulletin - remarkably devoid of facts.  The technical details are provided, along with the name of the artist, but very little else, as I will show.  

It was bad enough that the stamps were offered and pictured on auction site eBay, and grocery delivery service Ocado showed them for purchase on their website, during last week, but subscribers to the Philatelic Bulletin received the November edition on 30 October.  The embargo, of course, is so that the Royal Mail PR team can achieve maximum coverage in today's press and online news sites, especially regional local newspapers.  It seems that success is measured by column inches and pixels because they know that collectors will buy these for their collections however much - or little - publicity is generated.

So at 9pm today search engine results show news coverage from Kent Online, The Sun, (Newcastle) Chronicle Live, Devon Live, North Wales Pioneer, Plymouth Live, Liverpool Echo, Newbury Today.  But the nationals are mainly concerned with COP26 in Glasgow, so if they gave any space to the Royal Mail press release, it certainly didn't make them stand out on Google searches.

Only Design Week refers to the barcodes, 'which will aid with identification and “pave the way for innovative customer services in the future”, according to Royal Mail.' 

Christmas stamps

Royal Mail celebrates Christmas 2021 with a series of eight stamps, exclusively illustrated by
internationally renowned artist, Jorge Cocco.

The illustrations this year warmly reflect on key events from the traditional Christmas story, including Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, Mary and baby Jesus, up to the visit of the three magi observing a star and delivering gifts for the new baby.

The six designs portraying the Nativity are reflective of Cocco’s modern style of painting, illustrating sacred events through post-cubist art.

This year, some of our Christmas Special Stamps will feature barcodes.

Royal Mail 2021 Christmas stamps set and Miniature Sheet issued 2 November 2021

The design is attributed to Supple Studio, and printing is by International Security Printers in gravure (which almost certainly means ISP Walsall).  The barcoded stamps are 39 x 30 mm and perforated 15 x 14½, the other stamps are 24 x 28 mm and perforated 14½ x 15.  All values of the self-adhesive counter sheets contain 50 stamps.

The stamps on the miniature sheet are the same size, the sheet is 178 x 74 mm, and the sheet is conventionally gummed self-adhesive. 
I have been informed by HF that the miniature sheet is actually litho, which probably also means that it was printed by Cartor in France.  Something else that Royal Mail omitted to mention in their so-called Factfile.

The artwork is by Jorge Cocco†, exclusive to and copyright of Royal Mail Group 2021.

Other products

First day covers, presentation pack, stamp cards, retail booklets and Generic Sheet.

Retail booklet of 12 x 2nd class Christmas stamps 2021
Retail booklet of 12 x 1st class Christmas stamps 2021.

Christmas 2021 Generic Sheet of 20 stamps containing 8 each x 2nd and 1st class, and 2 each £1.70 and £2.55 self-adhesive stamps and labels, price £21.75



Stock codes for ordering from the Royal Mail Bureau are as follows:

1st barcoded - AS7900A
2nd barcoded - AS7900B
2nd Large - AS9700C
1st Large - AS7900D
£1.70 - AS7900E
£2.55 - AS7900F
Retail booklets
12 x 2nd - UB449
12 x 1st - UB448

And that's it as far as 'facts' are concerned in the factfile.  

I really expected that the embargo was related to a press release which would explain to ordinary social users the purpose of the datamatrix barcode.  At the time of writing it has not been added to the RM corporate website of press releases, but I suspect it doesn't mention them.  So there is apparently going to be no explanation as to why the 2nd, 1st and Large stamps have these appendages, nor why the booklet stamps do not.

I suspect the booklets contain ordinary-sized stamps because to do otherwise would have necessitated investment in new booklet equipment at the printers - and complaints from the public that the new larger books were too large to fit in wallet/purse.

Other technical detail

Sets provided to the Royal Mail standing order customers contain 8 stamps, of course as the basic 2nd and 1st exist in two forms.  Except that they don't, they exist in three forms.  The counter sheets are barcoded on security backing paper - and taking their lead from the forgers, the security printing consists of vertical wavy lines of text rather than horizontal.  Let's see how editors cope with designations for that!  My examination of one set of stamps shows that the backing paper is the same way up on each.

The retail booklets contain smaller (non-barcoded) 2nd & 1st stamps, but in the standing order supply and, I suspect, in presentation packs, these are not cut from booklets but are on similar thicker paper with no printing on the reverse.  The matrix surrounding the stamps is not removed, but lifting the stamp reveals the same type of (horizontal) security printing as on the booklets (which do have the matrix removed).

Stamps from Christmas 2nd class booklet (left) and presentation pack (right).

2nd class Christmas stamp with barcode, showing vertical printing on security backing paper.

1st class and 1st Large, £1.70 and £2.55 from sheets, and 1st class special printing on unprinted booklet card with matrix intact.  The two airmail values have conventional security backing paper.


UPDATE 3 November. Thanks to reader Iain who, in comments, drew attention to an eBay listing which shows all 8 stamps with vertical security backing printing. Further update: GONJ3 points out that "these are booklet stamps picked off and stuck on random backing" - I now see that the 2nd is scissor-cut at the top, the 1st scissor-cut at top and bottom.

Set of 8 Christmas stamps apparently from counter sheets, with vertical security backing printing. However the uncoded 2nd & 1st stamps have been transferred from booklets to ordinary backing paper.

Also, JG has written with his interpretation of the datamatrix codes as follows.  In the light of the new information below, these designations must change as shown.

2nd class: 26 07 21 on SBP2i SBP2u paper
2nd Large: 15 03 21 on SBP2u
SBP2i paper
1st class: 26 04 21 on SBP2u
SBP2i paper
1st Large: 12 04 21 on SBP2i
SBP2u paper

My thanks also to CFN for providing an image of the cylinder blocks for the 2nd and 1st class stamps.  As you can see these are printed sideways on conventional security backing paper, with the cylinder numbers above column 2.  The designation of backing paper should be simple based on the datamatrix being at the top of the stamp.

Christmas 2021 2nd & 1st class cylinder blocks from counter sheets printed sideways on ordinary security backing paper, and with the cylinder numbers above column 2.

Whatever designation you use for the SBP2 it is conventional, if based on the datamatrix code being at the top of the stamps.  The 2nd class in the picture is not the same as the 1st class, whereas all those I have received are the same as the 2nd class.  The dates are all the same as listed above, which may or may not be the printing date.  Royal Mail have not clarified this with us yet. 

Update 6 December:  according to IP, based on eBay observations, the sheets given to Royal Mail employees (50 x 1st Class barcoded stamps) have been provided with the surrounding matrix removed.

† Further research - Who is Jorge Cocco?

According to the Bulletin Jorge Cocco Santángelo comes from the city of Concepción del Uruguay, Argentina, and paints in a sacrocubist style - so called because of the fusion of sacred objects and post-cubist techniques.  (Wouldn't sacrocubist be a fusion of sacred objects and cubist, rather than post-cubist? - Ed.)

Apparently Cocco and his wife were Mormon pioneers in Argentina. 

And this from the Salt LakeTribune:


Datamatrix codes

The coding technology is the same as on the 2nd class business sheet trialled (although nobody has seen any commercial use) in the spring.  Using a smartphone QR-code reader the date is shown to be 190721.  All the stamps on a miniature sheet have the same serial number and date, but different values of course.  

We demonstrated earlier in the year that the presence of a postmark on the business sheet stamps did not hamper reading by a QR-code app, but it seems that Royal Mail are attempting to ensure that reading by their high-speed mail processors would not be affected, by changing the 7- and 11-wavy lines on ink-jet postmarks to just three.  These are now being widely reported across the UK.

Trial 3-line postmark designed to reduce interference with the barcode reader.

Post Offices

We have been told that post offices were told about the new barcoded stamps before they were distributed.  More recently we have been sent a copy of this instruction issued to branches concerning stamps affixed to items posted over the counter (which should - as we know but many of them don't - be cancelled with the counter date stamp) - but no longer!

Instruction to PO staff to pen-cancel barcoded stamps (click to enlarge).

"The introduction of barcoded stamps will allow Royal Mail to provide customer benefits in the future so the barcode must be readable.  This means that only the stamp should be cancelled and not the barcode which should remain unmarked.

"You should continue to cancel barcoded stamps for Large Letter and Parcel formats only and not letters§ (except for Special Delivery).

"Where multiple barocded stamps are affixed to a Large Letter or a Parcel the end stamp must be cancelled with a date-stamp and the remaining stamps should be struck through with a pen......"

So there we have it: Royal Mail's technology is so inadequate that the barcode must remain pristine. Deutsche Post of Germany avoided the problem by making all the barcodes black, and the postmarks blue - machine and handstamps.  Of course if stamps are monochrome, as UK definitives are, this would involve introducing a second colour.

Germany's first 'digital' stamp with datamatrix code in black, and postmark in blue.

But if Royal Mail goes down the same avenue as Deutsche Post (where special stamps are probably more widely used in preference to definitives) and applies datamatrix codes to all basic letter rate special stamps, it might be the end of VFU stamps from over-the-counter postings.

§ Incidentally this is the first occasion that we have seen counter staff told not to cancel basic letters; until now it wasn't mandatory but was obviously discretional.

What an absolute debacle.  We haven't asked Royal Mail for any comment on this yet: I'm sure we would be told that it is for operational reasons - after all these stamps, at least, are supposed to be used.  But likewise they have never indicated what the benefits are to the organisation or to the customer.  I wonder if they have yet decided what the 'future customer benefits' will be.  It certainly won't be collectable stamps.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

DC Comics bundle review by a superfan

It is unsurprising that Royal Mail send 'review' copies of their products to a variety of people, especially those who might be seen as 'influencers' on social media who may lead to increase sales.

They sent a box of Batman goodies to Neil A Cole of the Superman Super Site

Here's his review, or 'unboxing' (runs just over 17 minutes, no ads).

It's interesting to see the perspective of the person who apparently knows nothing about special stamp issues, save that they could be used to post letters.

It's good publicity from Royal Mail, although they might have done better had they provided information about what their products actually are - the FDC insert shows that you can also get presentation packs, but clearly the reviewer didn't know that they mint stamps are IN a presentation pack, almost overlooking the Justice League miniature sheet as 'another nice piece of artwork'.  

And the Gold-plated medal folder has a first day cover inside, not that the reviewer found that - which is, I suppose, the problem of doing an unboxing review; the video will be edited, but how long do you want to spend between takes actually investigating what is included?

Would Royal Mail have done better to include First*, or a glossy brochure of all the products? Maybe, though I suppose they have already had similar give-aways for other similar stamp issues so you would think that they might know what works best.

*  I don't receive First so I don't know how comprehensive it is.

As at the time of writing, that YouTube video has a whole 10 views - but then the channel only has 90 subscribers.  

Meanwhile on this site the Royal Mail announcement has had 884 views (our post on the stamps has over 1500, but then our readers are looking at the stamps, more than anything else).

Monday 18 October 2021

October updates

I'll use this post for news snippets and to highlight updates made to earlier posts.



The unofficial news site operated by Royal Mail contractor IAR reports that 

machine A002 at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth Dockyard, where HMS Victory is located, will have a ‘Pop Up’ overprint to mark the Battle of Trafalgar.

Overprint on current Union Flag and Machin = Trafalgar Day

The overprint will run from the 21st to 31st October.

UPDATE 21 October: My thanks to cfn for providing these pictures of the Machin and Union Flag stamps, and MB for information that the Machin is MA14 and the flag undated.

 The Commonwealth Stamps Opinion blog (see links below right) reports that:

Guernsey Post’s Post and Go kiosk GG02 located at Envoy House in St Peter Port will dispense strips of the Guernsey Flag stamps with an additional inscription to commemorate the Centenary of the Royal British Legion from 11 to 13 November 2021. 

The inscription will read, “RBL 100/1921-2021’ along with a Poppy icon.

The day of issue coincides with Armistice Day.

Special Stamps

The Rugby Union post has been updated with news of pre-release.

Postal Systems

News about trials of a new layout for ink-jet postmarks has been added to the month's slogan postmarks post.

Tuesday 5 October 2021

150th anniversary of Rugby Union - set of 8 - 19 October 2021

Royal Mail will issue a set of 8 stamps depicting action from ruby union international games to mark the 150th anniversary of the Rugby Football Union, and the first international match when an England team responded to a challenge from five of Scotland's club captains.

According to Royal Mail's publicity for the set:

The popularity of the ‘rugby’ style of football, and the corresponding need for universal laws, saw 21 English clubs meet in London on 26 January 1871 to form the Rugby Football Union. The first set of laws was approved later that year, and not long after England met Scotland’s challenge in the first rugby international.

Rugby continues to evolve today and is becoming an ever more inclusive sport. At the last count, rugby union is being played in 124 countries by some 10 million players, approaching three million of whom are female, and broadcasts of domestic and international fixtures are watched by millions.

The stamps

Set of 8 mint stamps featuring iconic moments in key rugby union matches over the past 60 years for
all four home nations and covering both the men’s and women’s game. The striking stamp designs
feature selective colourisation set against a monochrome background.

Set of 8 stamps issued 19 October 2021 to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Rugby Football Union. (C) Royal Mail.

The details:

2nd Class Women’s Rugby World Cup Final, 2014.  After defeat in three successive finals, England win the World Cup. Tries from Emily Scarratt (pictured, with ball) and Danielle Waterman secure victory.

2nd Class Five Nations Championship, 1970.  A victory marking the start of a glorious era in Welsh rugby for a side featuring greats like JPR Williams (pictured), Gareth Edwards and Mervyn Davies.

1st Class Women’s Six Nations Championship, 2015.  Needing to win to secure the title, a rampant Ireland – with lock Sophie Spence (pictured) to the fore – ran in 11 tries to become champions.

1st Class Five Nations Championship, 1984.  Scrum-half Roy Laidlaw (pictured, with ball) scored two tries as Scotland became outright winners of the Five Nations Championship for the first time since 1938.

£1.70 Women’s Home Nations Championship, 1998.  Led by Kim Littlejohn (pictwured, far left), Scotland complete a five-year journey from novices to best team in Europe with a win that boosted the sport’s status in the country.

£1.70 Five Nations Championship, 1994.   Ireland upset the odds to win at Twickenham for the first time in 12 years – a brilliant try by Simon Geoghegan (pictured) inspiring a generation of great players.

£2.55 Women’s Six Nations Championship, 2009.  Non Evans kicks the winning penalty in the final minute as Wales, captained by Melissa Berry (pictured), beat England for the first time and win the Triple Crown.

£2.55 Rugby World Cup Final, 2003.  Jason Robinson’s try and five successful kicks from Jonny Wilkinson (pictured), see England become the first northern hemisphere country to win the World Cup.

Technical Details

The 37 x 35 mm stamps, designed by True North, are printed by International Security Printers in litho with ordinary gum in se-tenant horizontal pairs.  

Acknowledgements:  Stamp designs produced under licence with kind permission of The Rugby Football Union, Scottish Rugby Union Limited, The Welsh Rugby Union Limited and The Irish Rugby Football Union. England Rugby and the England Rugby rose are official trade marks of The Rugby Football Union and are subject to extensive trade mark registrations. The Scottish Rugby and stylised thistle logo are registered trade marks of Scottish Rugby Union Limited and used by Royal Mail Group Limited under licence from Scottish Rugby Union Limited. The Welsh Rugby Union logo is an official trade mark of The Welsh Rugby Union Limited and is subject to extensive trade mark registrations worldwide. The shamrock rugby ball is an official trade mark of The Irish Rugby Football Union and is subject to extensive trade mark registrations.

Images: England v Canada – Women’s Rugby World Cup Final, 2014 © Jordan Mansfield/Stringer/Getty Images Sport;
England v Wales – Five Nations Championship, 1970 © S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport/PA Images;
Scotland v Ireland – Women’s Six Nations Championship, 2015 © INPHO/Dan Sheridan;
Ireland v Scotland – Five Nations Championship, 1984 © Independent News and Media/Contributor/Hulton/Getty Images;
Scotland v England – Women’s Home Nations Championship, 1998 © 1998 Marc Aspland/The Times of London/News Licensing;
England v Ireland – Five Nations Rugby Championship, 1994 © Colorsport/Colin Elsey;
Wales v England – Women’s Six Nations Championship, 2009 © Stu Forster /Staff/Getty Images Sport;
Australia v England – Rugby World Cup Final, 2003 © Phil Walter/Staff/Getty Images Sport Classic.

Additional Products

Presentation Pack, First Day Cover, Stamp Cards.   Stamps may be bought in pairs (multiples of 5).

Framed prints of the 2nd class JPR Williams stamp, or the £3.55 Jonny Wilkinson stamp (also available signed). 

As usual we are not stocking these products which can be obtained on the Royal Mail website.

Comment.  Although there have been many previous rugby stamps from Royal Mail it is a popular subject and at least in this case is commemorating historical events on a sensible anniversary.

UPDATE 18 October.

CP reports that a local post office was happy to sell these on 12 October, and stated that the cards (always available a week before the stamps) were available on 5th.  Sadly the one that he posted arrived without a legible date.  I checked with my nearest office which has special stamps, the Crown PO in Dereham and of course they said, not until 19th.  The office I more regularly use for posting doesn't take special stamps any more.

Saturday 2 October 2021

October 2021 postmark slogans

This is the place for all new slogans for October, and any other interesting postal markings that I find or which are reported.

The month got off to a good start, in September for delivery on 1 October, with the Breast Cancer Awareness Month slogan

Once again RW was the first to send an image (below).  This example is from Nottingham dated 30/09/2021.

Breast Cancer
1-31 October
        + CHECK

Breast Cancer Awareness Month postmark slogan, Nottingham, 30/09/2021

The other format comes from KD, a true October slogan from Glasgow dated 01-10-2021.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month postmark slogan, Nottingham, 30/09/2021

UPDATE 18 October.  My thanks to KD, RL & JE for recent reports on postmark slogans. I'm sorry that domestic matters have limited my time for adding the news here.

The first is a variation on the above Breast Cancer slogan, "trialled in one Intergrated Mail Processor machine in Bristol Mail Centre.  The whole imprint has been moved 20mm to the left, and the wavy lines at right reduced from 7 to 3.  The Royal Mail cruciform logo is intentionally omitted.  This layout is intended to accommodate barcoded stamps, similar to the trial 2nd class Machin issued in March, to avoid the wavy lines obcuring the barcode."

Breast Cancer Awareness Month postmark slogan, Bristol, 06/10/2021 in new trial layout.

This is especially interesting as nobody has reported any use of said 2nd class Datamatrix Machin on other than philatelic mail.  Please report any other sightings of this 3-line layout!

UPDATE 19 October: PA has sent another image this time with the 2nd class Datamatrix stamp showing how, if the stamp is applied 'normally' the barcode will be clear.

Together for our Planet postmark slogan, Bristol, 18/10/2021 in new trial layout, on 2nd class Datamatrix stamp.

This layout has no space for the Royal Mail logo as there are only four elements to the impression. All have been shifted to the left, with a blank in the right-most position.
UPDATE 23 October: Thanks to KD for demonstrating that this layout is not confined to Bristol with this example of the 'Together for our Planet' slogan from Nottingham with three wavy lines.

Together for our Planet postmark slogan, Nottingham 21/10/2021 in new trial layout.

A new slogan marks Anti-Slavery Day which is today, 18 October. Here are examples from Preston (Lancashire and South Lakes) and the other (iLSM) layout from Dorset & SW Hants both on 14 October.

Anti-Slavery Day
18th October

Stamping out Modern Slavery slogan Dorset & S.W. Hants 14-10-2021

Stamping out Modern Slavery slogan Lancashire and South Lakes 14-10-2021

Later: KD reports receipt of a barely legible late* use at Nottingham aroound 14 October of the Together for our Planet slogan used in September. (Usage date is based on the invoice inside!)

Together for our Planet SME Climate Hub - Nottingham late use in mid-October 2021
* It seems that this is not a late use but a reuse as they are appearing in several places.  (See also the Bristol & Nottingham trial layout above).

UPDATE 3 November recognising the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, otherwise known as COP26, Royal Mail has a new slogan in widespread use, thanks to the readers who sent these in while we were away:
UK 2021


The best example is from Plymouth and Cornwall mail centre 27/10/2021. The slogan continued into November and another example will appear on a new month's post.  Note that this has the three wavy lines which now seems to have been extended to the whole country.

UN Climate Change Conference slogan used at Plymouth and Cornwall mail centre 27/10/2021