Monday, 20 December 2021

Seasons Greetings: The Review of the Year 2021, déjà vu on so many fronts.

As easily predicted this time last year, things did get worse before they got better in 2021. But there was success in the form of vaccines.  We three - and most of our wider family - have been fortunate in having had our vaccinations and not having been infected by Covid-19.  The exceptions are some of those with children of school age, who were occasionally required to isolate.

On the political front it's turmoil again: as I quoted from a wise US dealer last year:

'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.  

And it has turned out that way again, the difference this year being that we now have Delta and Omricon alongside each other.  This year the government is dithering again, primarily giving advice rather than laying down strict lockdown rules which would cost them money in business support and furlough payments.  Meanwhile other European countries are back in full precautionary lockdown.

I suppose it's a bit difficult to lay down more rules if you can't be seen to be complying in our own backyard.

Posted in advance
for delivery on Christmas Day,
Norwich 1907 - the closest
I could get to Dereham!

  

2021 & 2022 Special Stamp Programmes

The 2021 stamp programme was announced on 5 January, but there were some gaps to be filled in later.
Even once we knew the titles or even the subjects we were left to wonder "Why?".  What possible reason was there to include the Legend of King Arthur?  It's not even as if it was likely to be a big money-spinner for Royal Mail like Music Giants or DC Comics.  The Philatelic Bulletin's annual poll for the most liked stamp of 2021 records 147 stamps.  And that huge number includes only one definitive as all the January tariff stamps were issued on 23 December 2020.

Some issues mark anniversaries, although few members of the general public who were sold the stamps, from the diminishing number of post offices that sell them, would know in most cases what those anniversaries were.  Collectors of the future will have problems working this out from catalogues as well.  As an example, for the 1981 Fishing Industry set, Stanley Gibbons Concise catalogue records that this was issued on the occasion of the centenary of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.

But the same catalogue does not mention that the January 2021 National Parks issue marked the anniversary of the first National Parks being established.  It looks like just another pictorial landscapes set.  Even Royal Mail couldn't tell us why the abomination of the United Kingdom: A Celebration MS was issued.  And then there was King Arthur: I think we are likely to get mystery issues more and more.

Royal Mail produced three issues this year to appeal outside the hobby: television's Only Fools & Horses, Music Giants V, and DC Comics' Batman etc.  All in stamp collectors were able to buy 101 new stamps, 10 miniature sheets, 10 booklets, 4 prestige stamp books and 9 collector/smiler/generic sheets.

Having seen the outline programme for 2022, I can tell you that things won't be much better, if at all!  We already know that Music Giants VI (The Rolling Stones) will be issued on 20 January (some bogus 'stamps' purporting to be from Tajikistan).  You can expect all the usual paraphernalia associated with such issues. And despite the January embargo date, the 2022 programme has already been listed - from the Philatelic Calendar available from Post Offices - on another blog site.


Machin & Country Definitives

While collectors who avoid 'special' stamps were spared more than the single new stamp, almost the full range of 2021 reprints of normal stamps occurred spread through the year.  Note, though, that this is the first year since the white-bordered versions were issued in 2003, that no Country Definitives have been issued!  

With stamp fairs thin on the ground for much of the year, collectors who didn't manage to find new stamps in their local shops or post offices were forced into contacting dealers or ordering online.

The only totally new Machin, issued in March showed a new development, likely to be extended, that is the inclusion of a datamatrix code on a new, larger, 2nd class business sheet stamp which was sold through limited outlets to businesses. 

After nearly 9 months, only one person has reported receiving one of these on non-philatelic mail, used by local a branch of the NHS (National Health Service).  The sheet printed Christmas stamps included a similar code, and these have been widely used although nobody - perhaps not even most Royal Mail employees - know what the purpose is.

There was one other strange new Machin stamp which Royal Mail used to mark the 95th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.  Deciding not to burden ordinary stamp collectors with yet another stamp issue, which might have included 6 or 8 stamps and a prestige stamp book, Royal Mail and The Royal Mint produced a commemorative £5 coin coverInitially the block of stamps - which looked like a cut-down PSB definitive pane - was available only on the official cover, but was then made available mint to registered dealers.  The idea was that these dealers would produce their own covers.  

Several dealers sold used copies of the pane, or the Machin stamp, cancelled with a pictorial or CDS handstamp, but inevitably some were sold against the wishes of Royal Mail, as mint singles or whole panes, often reaching ridiculous prices on that well-known auction site. A little research would have found them on sale at UK stamp fairs - although those dealers who were selling them were wise enough not to advertise their offerings widely.  Another black mark for Royal Mail; however good their intentions, they were wrong on so many levels.

After a summer announcement about their demise, we didn't expect to get any reprints of the Special Delivery or Signed For stamps this year, but it took until 15 November for Royal Mail to provide the philatelic trade with an official statement about their withdrawal from Post Offices and Royal Mail online channels, which had already happened at the end of October.


Post and Go

We did not stock any new Post and Go stamps, so the blog is simply a record illustrated by reader- contributors for the benefit of all collectors.  My thanks to those contributors for their continued sharing their news with the world.  Don't forget Stuart Leigh's Post and Go Checklist can be downloaded here.

Steam GWR 'Zones' error.
As in 2020 there were no new Post and Go designs and, after 1 January, no rate changes to expand the number of basic stamps that collectors might want.  However, material at the new rates was available from museums which re-opened at different times through the year.  Some of the announced dates proved to be inaccurate because the museums did not open on Mondays!  New printings of Machin, Poppy, and Winter Greenery stamps have been available.

Errors a-plenty occurred, starting with the insertion of the wrong (2nd class) Winter Greenery stock in the 1st class position in January, SteamGWR having the old software and therefore producing the old Zone stamps in April, and missing text.  Some collectors were frustrated in travelling to museums only to find that software/SIM-card issues meant that the machines could not function.

 

Postmark slogans and others

I believe we have recorded 48 slogan postmarks this year - it may be one or two more or less as some run over a month end, and others have been used months late.  But a loyal band of reporters continues to make this the only place on the internet outside Stampboards - as far as I know - that records all new British machine postmarks.  

A significant number related to the pandemic but there was nothing new in August when we thought things were improving.  The busiest month was March with 10 new slogans.  My thanks to the people who regularly vie to be first to send the latest.  We get so little stamped post that if you depended on my receipts, the reporting would be very thin indeed!  As usual a number of machines have been brought out of retirement, including one using the census diamond!


The Post Office Horizon IT Scandal

There have been many developments in this story during 2021. The Criminal Cases Review Commission referred more cases to the Court of Appeal and many of these were uncontested by The Post Office and this continued through the year.  A system for the Post Office to make interim awards of up to £100,000 started; although payments have been slow they have been made.  

The Post Office declared that it didn't have the money to settle everything and the government eventually said that it would cover the amounts that were settled.  Nobody knows how much this will be in total.  More particularly we don't know how much of it will be recovered from Post Office Ltd's future profits - it will be a balancing act between the government taking their dividend and leaving enough in the business to keep it sustainable.

The government's enquiry into the scandal was eventually put on a statutory footing and the remit seems to be as wide as it possibly could be including looking at redress, restitution and blame.  Perhaps 2022 will see the Metropolitan Police actually charge some previous case witnesses with perjury, and perhaps the enquiry - which has already secured access to POL's internal papers - might question former directors and senior managers.  We can but hope.

Finally the definitive story so far, 'The Great Post Office Scandal' written by Nick Wallis was published by Bath Publishing to wide acclaim.  Buy it here!

I haven't had time to report everything here, but if you're really interested you should follow Nick Wallis on his blogs, firstly The Post Office Trial, and subsequently The Post Office Horizon Scandal.

 

Post Office, Royal Mail, Revenue Protection and Invalid Stamps that aren't

Although the number of new forgeries being reported this year seems to be fewer than previous years, that did not mean that problems with forgeries was any less.  This year the principal problem seems to be that Royal Mail's Revenue Protection (RP) teams have been flagging more and more genuine stamps as invalid, and charging the recipients as if the items are unpaid.

What makes this worse is that some have been accepted at post office counters, such as the special delivery item shown alongside.  It seems to me that if Royal Mail's retail partner (Post Office Ltd counters) accepts stamps proven to be invalid, then the money should be recovered from POL.  And if the stamps are only suspected of being invalid, it is incumbent on Revenue Protection to investigate further and not just rely on a gut feel or the information published on its own website

Strangely they seem to have no problem with a multitude of special stamps that are used, the problems seem to occur only with pre-2006 gummed Machin definitives.

Of course in cases like this the complaint is made, the claim is registered, and the money refunded, but at what cost in time and inconvenience, to say nothing of the fact that the 'next day' service is never achieved because of an error on behalf of Royal Mail.

It seems to me that it might be time for the regulator to be involved, and maybe issue a stern warning (for a start) to Royal Mail to get the RP house in order.  The next step would be a fine, or standard compensation for every case - much as power companies are obliged to pay if the power is off for more than 12 hours.


The business

In last year's review I said that we would open our online shop (shop.norphil.co.uk) from Christmas and we were grateful for the people who came back, and to new customers.  Unfortunately other pressing matters with the premises and domestically prevented me from adding as much new material as I would have liked, but I have been able to sort through some foreign postal history and postcards to at least find that which has potential as single items, and that which is best sold in bulk.  I also drastically reduced some GB prices; there are some bargains available, look for the flashes on the thumbnail images, or click the Special Offers tab - nearly 250 items reduced.  Hopefully while I am keeping out of the way of the builders I can start making that available.

I'll put news about developments here on he blog - and on Twitter as well.  

Saudi Arabia 1960s airmail stamp.
For collectors with wider interests I'll be continuing the modern GB postal history blog, and starting other blogs, including one on Saudi Arabia and one on the Former Soviet Union countries: Armenia to Uzbekistan.  And whatever I sell, it will be yours to keep, I won;t be selling fractions of a stamp or cover!

Remember, if you are tired of Royal Mail's modern productions, there is 180-years' worth of alternative stamps and postal history from 200+ stamp-issuing entities that you could turn your attention to and build extensive collections as complex or as simple as you wish, by region, country or even by theme; and you can do that for a much lower outlay than you would pay for new British stamps, mint or used.


Sharing

Whilst many people share what they have with other collectors, either through forums or blogs like this, or at their local or specialist societies, I'm sure many of you have material which ought to be shared more widely.

Missent to Gibraltar metal handstamp
A few years ago I was looking at a cheap GB cover that I had picked up at a fair, which had been sent to the wrong BFPO number.  Consquently it was redirected.  The thing that made this interesting was that instead of being sent to Germany it went to Gibraltar.  Now in Gibraltar much use is made of the civil postal service; indeed FPO postmarks can often be found on Gibraltar definitives.  Anyway this cover received a MISSENT mark which turned out to be metal rather than rubber, indicating that it was much older than it's 1960s date would have suggested.  

The editor of journal for the specialist society which covers the area was interested, but none of the members contacted me about this very late usage - it extended the known usage of a Victorian postal marking by about 30 years - and I sold it on eBay for less than £10, which was probably very cheap indeed.

And the more I look at what I have, away from bog-standard stamps, the more I think that other collectors might be interested, and there must be a specialist society which should record this in their journal.  It has never been easier to find out about organised philately so there is no excuse for not sharing with others.  This year I shared Official Paid postal stationery with the Postal Stationery Society and had an illustrated article published; that led to somebody acquiring my small accumulation, which is useful as it creates more space here/

Be proactive - share what you have.  If it is already known, they can probably tell you more about it.  If it isn't, then you can bask in the knowledge that you have contributed to the world body of philatelic knowledge!

 

The future

It seems likely that we will get used to Covid variants and to having regular vaccinations.  Those club and society meetings that have not already done so should resume - we cannot put our lives on hold forever.  Some societies have been able to continue with online meetings, but those which were already struggling for officers - including some of the oldest in the country - have been in stasis for nearly two years.

Stamp fairs in the middle and latter part of the year have been successful so we must hope that they continue, with suitable spacing, masking and sanitising.  The London 2022 international committee are determined that the event in February will go ahead at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London.

I will not go to London, but I do hope to visit more fairs this year, even though I am no longer buying much, and I hope to meet friends and readers at those events. Please come up and say hello if you see me with my head down, oblivious to all around me! 

By moving from being a fullish-time dealer back to being a collector-dealer, I hope to have as much time for my collections as you have for yours!  


We hope all our readers have a happy Christmas whatever religion you follow (if any). 
Once again we hope that you and your friends and loved ones stay safe now and in the future. 
Remember those who are less fortunate than you and if you can help one person - try to make it two!

Norfolk, January 2021




16 comments:

  1. My local main post office tends to only get a full sheet (or 2 halves).

    I would love to buy the stamps from my local little post office, but other than Christmas 1st/2nd... no go for special stamps. I do occasionally buy the make-up value Machins from there, and they will put my post in their mailbag (but then I also buy a lottery ticket...) to save the post getting wet (it does rain in North Wales).

    However, last week I placed (and received) an order from Royal Mail online... I wanted the National Parks issue, but it had sold out (before September), perhaps one of the nicer issues this year... I had decided against buying the full half-sheets of them in January, and now when I'd like to, can't. Yet, they still have Harry Potter, James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel.... available to order. Did RM not print as many National Parks stamps as the Marvel issue?

    With Covid about, I wonder if The Rolling Stones stamps will be self-adhesive (David Bowie & Pink Floyd were). Will more of the special issue stamps be self-adhesive?

    I'm still writing Christmas/Season's Greetings cards to send. I haven't bought any of the Christmas stamps this year.


    ReplyDelete
  2. Ian
    Thank you for another year of this blog and providing so much information that is difficult, if not impossible, to source elsewhere.
    Wishing you and your family a safe, peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and a philatelically fulfilling 2022.

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  3. Seconded - this is one of my first ports of call for finding out the latest news.

    Having just looked at the proposed RM issue list for 2022, it looks ominous for collectors' pockets!

    Best Wishes to all for 2022.

    John

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  4. An interesting summary of 2021. I have no objection to the King Arthur stamps, not least as they are my favourite issue this year and sadly I have used nearly all of them up. Stamps do not necessarily have to commemorate a specific date do they? The National Parks and Wild Coast ones were good too and I think 2021 one of the best years æsthetically. It would be interesting to know if more stamps were sold than usual this year; because of the restrictions and the need to do more by post, particularly if compared to Sweden which did not impose draconian restrictions on its people and has a lesser infection rate than us. Sadly I think that stamps will not be sold in a few years' time as the dull grey labels are always seen on parcels now and ordinary customers just go in to the post offices crammed into the corners of other shops and want their letters sent at once, rather than buying stamps to use up later.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you could buy more of the King Arthur stamps direct from Royal Mail (they are still available on the website, unlike The National Parks).

      One of the postmark slogans did seem to want people to send nice post.

      Send A Card
      Deliver A Smile for
      Thinking of You Week

      but I don't think that was done in 2020...

      How did Sweden do on their stamp issues this year?

      Anyway, I don't want to think how many stamps I have... to use later!

      Delete
    2. Sweden had similar quantities of special issues as the UK. They are blander and "the environment" was probably the most frequent theme. Their prices have risen quite a bit so I wonder when British prices will rise next. April? And shall we have country stamps at all? We are already down to three of each and none were printed this year.

      Delete
  5. I read somewhere that some Brexiters wanted an issue which would celebrate the UK's exit from the EU. My own MP was part of the campaign. I suspect that the UK Mini Sheet was issued to please them.

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  6. Thank you for all the information over the year Ian a happy christmas to you & your family

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Ian,

    Merry Christmas to you all and thank you for another great year of blogs. I'm now looking forward to what 2022 has for us.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Have just been looking at my Queens 95th birthday country stamps and have noticed that the perforation holes are distinctly larger than previous versions of these stamps. When separated the perfs are also decidedly "pointy". Have not seen this reported elsewhere. To me the stamps are easily visually different and would maybe warrant a catalogue listing in their own right.

    Regards, Andy

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  9. I get items from ebay with the awful forgery https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-VxOmPviGgaY/X8jHgfz9hzI/AAAAAAAAY7U/gbVIUQEgCA88JokjXw7RNMJkDToC-gXFACPcBGAYYCw/s383/1st+forgery-ROYALMAIL-reversed.jpg several times a month now, but RM doesn't seem to care. They've been cancelled by hand by the postman, by the post office, or by the automated sorting machines.

    RM can't be bothered to add up the amounts of small value stamps, as several parcels have arrived with underpaid postage. They do detect underpaid postage when the sender paid online - I've received several parcels with a "fee to pay" sticker - but they just got dumped in my postbox without any request to pay!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sadly my main philatelic memory of 2021 will be of the Queen’s 95th birthday issue, only a commemorative £5 coin cover with Royal Mail Stamps and Collectibles “deciding not to burden ordinary stamp collectors with yet another stamp issue” and / or them avoiding the expense of designing a set of stamps which for such a subject would have meant more than the usual effort – and I think they’ve only properly commemorated multiple of tenth birthdays in the past, four stamps in 1986, eight in 2006 and ten in 2016 ( and just a booklet of four 1ST definitives incorporating a large label in 1996 ).
    I couldn’t agree more with your “Another black mark for Royal Mail ...... they were wrong on so many levels” comment.
    In its Philatelic Bulletin the issue was described with some justification as “a unique pane of Machin Definitive and Country Definitive stamps, of particular interest to Machin aficionados” but unjustifiably us “Machin aficionados” were then denied the product other than USED on a First Day Cover that I wouldn’t have paid the £6.80 face value for let along the £19.99 that was being asked. And that was a few weeks after Maria Bancroft, the Stamps and Collectables Customer Service Manager, sent Standing Order customers a letter urging “Make sure you never miss a single Special Stamp issue” and stating that “there is nothing worse if you miss out on a Special Stamp issue”.
    I have enthusiastically collected British stamps for nearly sixty years, originally using stamp dealers – stamp shops locally and around the Strand and by post – and my local Post Office and then since the mid-1980s, with ever more frequent issues, relying on a Standing Order with the since-renamed Philatelic Bureau to keep up to date without too much trouble.
    I have been especially interested in ALL se-tenant British definitives ( from machine, counter and prestige books, machine and RD coils and miniature sheets ) mint since the 1963 ‘Holiday Books’, and used until 2003, and I even researched the subject at the Postal Museum leading to a long letter I wrote on the subject being published in the June 2014 edition of the Philatelic Bulletin.
    Being denied the 95th Birthday se-tenant pane mint resulted in me having a “finished now” attitude towards collecting, which would have ended RM Stamps and Collectables regularly getting money from me, but on reflection I might just continue collecting for another year or two.
    Reputable “registered dealers” must have been in a bit of a dilemma, naturally hoping to meet their customers’ requirements for a modest profit but not with each sale being a bit like a black market transaction !
    I don’t consider as reputable the dealer in Germany who has used “that well-known auction site” for apparently selling at least fifty of the mint panes – his initial £365.99 on 7th July gradually reducing and £20 on 30th October being in line with the £18 at the Stafford Stamp Show and £25 at Midpex last summer – for a profit probably nearing £4000, and did RM Stamps and Collectables really sell him dozens of mint panes while loyal customers of forty years or more were denied just one pane each ?
    Yes indeed, “Another black mark for Royal Mail ...... they were wrong on so many levels”.
    [ continued ]

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  11. [ continued ]
    .
    147 stamps is a ridiculous number for one year and though I don’t think print runs or sale figures are published wouldn’t be surprised if Royal Mail now has only one fifth of the collectors of forty years ago when only a fifth of that 147 were issued each year. I think that the thirteen sets of stamps and ten miniature sheets need for those 147 stamps come to £182.61 but adding the larger sheets and booklets, including PSBs, needed for including obvious varieties, such as self-adhesive or not, would bring the total for the year to at least £400, and that’s hardly likely to decrease in years to come. I’m increasingly thinking that such a policy, especially with including issues such as for American comics, is just one of ‘short term gain’.
    .
    For that up-to-10kg Special Delivery parcel I hope that Royal Mail not only refunded the £28.30 fee paid by the recipient, for it NOT being “Invalid Postage Paid”, but also refunded the £26.75 postage to the sender, for them failing to deliver it by 1pm the next day. Not only ignorant of the validity of earlier Machins, the Revenue Protection staff also failed to notice that one of the First Class stamps is (apparently) a current one.
    .
    I’m sure we all appreciate the time and effort that you regularly put into this blog. Your nearly 3000 words here couldn’t have been put together in just an hour or two !

    ReplyDelete
  12. [ continued ]
    .
    147 stamps is a ridiculous number for one year and though I don’t think print runs or sale figures are published wouldn’t be surprised if Royal Mail now has only one fifth of the collectors of forty years ago when only a fifth of that 147 were issued each year. I think that the thirteen sets of stamps and ten miniature sheets need for those 147 stamps come to £182.61 but adding the larger sheets and booklets, including PSBs, needed for including obvious varieties, such as self-adhesive or not, would bring the total for the year to at least £400, and that’s hardly likely to decrease in years to come. I’m increasingly thinking that such a policy, especially with including issues such as for American comics, is just one of ‘short term gain’.
    .
    For that up-to-10kg Special Delivery parcel I hope that Royal Mail not only refunded the £28.30 fee paid by the recipient, for it NOT being “Invalid Postage Paid”, but also refunded the £26.75 postage to the sender, for them failing to deliver it by 1pm the next day. Not only ignorant of the validity of earlier Machins, the Revenue Protection staff also failed to notice that one of the First Class stamps is (apparently) a current one.
    .
    I’m sure we all appreciate the time and effort that you regularly put into this blog. Your nearly 3000 words here couldn’t have been put together in just an hour or two !

    ReplyDelete
  13. The Surcharged Special Delivery was dealt with quickly . A total of £61.90 refunded £28.30 Erroneous Charges , Failure to Honour Special Delivery £26.75 and £6.85 postage cost for sending front SD to customer services (which they did return) . For time and possible reputational damage £0.00 .
    On the plus side the email from Royal Mail experts states 'a genuine error on our part' a useful quote should I accidentally use a counterfeit stamp!

    ReplyDelete
  14. The 95th Birthday pane is conspicuously absent from the four page “Machin Checklist 2021” in the January Philatelic Bulletin that only lists the 2ND class barcoded stamp, four similar PSB panes and six retail stamp books.
    It’s as if what was heralded as “a unique pane of Machin Definitive and Country Definitive stamps, of particular interest to Machin aficionados” nine months earlier is just as much an embarrassing mistake to Royal Mail as the Downing Street parties of a similar time are to the Government.

    ReplyDelete

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