Thursday 10 February 2022

Thoughts on Royal Mail's Invalidation of Definitive and Christmas stamps - no 1

Royal Mail's invalidation of definitive and Christmas stamps

1990 2nd class dark blue

1. What does it mean for me, and do I do now?

I'm sure these are questions that many collectors and dealers will be asking themselves. I know I am. I don't have all the answers – Royal Mail don't have all the questions yet, let alone the answers!

Where shall we start?

I'm starting from the assumptions that these will be invalidated:

All Machin definitives since 1971, and £1 values before that;

All Christmas stamps after 2005 when definitive-size started;

Commemoratives, Post and Go*, and Country Definitives≠ will not be invalidated.

Those assumptions leave plenty of grey areas, such as the Long To Reign MS which includes one single definitive and four larger commorative stamps, the Wildings both national and regional, and the greetings/smilers definitive-sized stamps sold in booklets of 6. There are many more.

≠We also don't know about the country definitives for sure. 

Update * Another Royal Mail source has told a reader that Post and Go will no longer be produced, which must include the SSK versions.

What will dealers do?

I believe that many dealers will continue as before, but may rationalise their stocks, trading-in the over-stocks for new stamps. But some older dealers who were contemplating retirement and wondering which other dealer would want their stockholdings may use this as a reason to retire sooner, disposing of much of their stock to Royal Mail on trade-in.*

Much depends on Royal Mail's plans and how the grey area stamps are dealt with.

What is the impact for collectors?

Most collectors who have been collecting for many years must have, at some time, thought long-term, and about the eventual disposal of their collections. With nobody in the family interested, they would have been hoping eventually to sell their nest-egg collection, whilst knowing that they would probably not receive as much as they hoped, for anything more than the really choice items, if any. They will now be reassessing their options for the future.

As with dealers, the older ones may well decide to stop collectiong mint defintives, booklets, etc, trading in their collections to Royal Mail. *

Newer collectors and those for whom this does not represent a threat should be looking to add to and complete their collections as quickly as possible, while the stocks are still there to be bought. Never was “when it's gone, it's gone” truer.

*The dealers who trade in a lot of stock for new barcoded stamps will then posses more of those than they can use and they are likely to sell many as postage, at a discount.

Similarly trading-in collectors will be left with surplus valid stamps which they can't use. The only option is to sell them below face value for postage.

1st class black 1989

Cost and Value

When the first 2nd class blue and 1st class black stamps were released in 1989, they cost 14p & 19p respectively. These are currently 'worth' 66p & 85p in postal value. That (or the new tariff rates) will be what they get back on trade-in – but that will be in stamps of which there will be a surplus.

The other option for dealers is to satisfy the requirements of the continuing collectors by selling these older stamps which may be missing from those collections. Selling below current postal value may not seem attractive, until you realise that they may have to sell their new valid stamps at a discount, for postage (because they aren't dealing any more, or certainly don't need that quantity).

It makes more sense, therefore, to sell older stamps for a smaller profit at a discount to the previous selling price, realising ready cash. Offering a discount for larger purchases and time to pay in instalments could be quite an attractive propostion for both collector and dealer.

Next steps

If you are a collector, it is time to sort your collection and check all packets and stock-books for mint duplicates, or for gaps in your collection.

If you are a dealer it is certainly time to stocktake and work out what is most likely to be in demand, to fill those collector gaps.

The stamp trade will be highlighting the grey areas with Royal Mail, to establish the future validity or otherwise of those stamps. When we get clarification it will be reported.

If you are going to carry on collecting, look out for dealer special offers. 


Berlin Airlift book of 4, 1999, with cylinder numbers SG HB17.

More 'thoughts' coming soon - meanwhile this post is closed for comments.  I'll put a post up now that the details have been announced and all comments can go there.  Thank you for your patience.


  1. Ian said "All Christmas stamps after 2005 when definitive-size started;"

    Why definitive size? I was assuming Christmas NVI would be invalidated so back to 2000.

    Good point about the Greetings/Smilers which exist both as larger NVI from the '90s and as definitive size from the 2000s.

  2. You say "add to and complete their collections as quickly as possible, while the stocks are still there to be bought", and I've heard others talk like this is the end for Machin collecting, but I really don't think this is to be the case, unless we choose to make that a reality by our own actions. Two points come to mind. Firstly, the day that the Queen reaches her natural end cannot be that far away given her advanced age and that was always going to be a point at which a major change to the definitive collector would occur, just has it has done on each previous occasion when the monarch changed. I have always assumed that Royal Mail would take that as the opportunity to invalidate what went before, the fact that its a little sooner makes minimal difference. The second point is that these invalidations have happened before, notable in the later reign of Queen Victoria. Did collectors abruptly sell off their collections....of course not.
    I think what we will see is a transition from the value of a basic Machin stamp being driven by postal value to one driven by actual scarcity. Thus the collector of mainstream 'by the book' items could well see an effective devaluation, but anyone with the scarcer/rarer items will start to see an increase in value, ultimately driven (at the end of the Queen's reign) by Machins becoming a closed group, just like Wildings, Mackennals, Downey Heads, etc.

    Now is not the time to panic, but if you're holding large stocks of stamps for postage, then you just need to plan how to manage those. For example, I was using up 1970s commemoratives for postage, but I've switched to work through the Machins first for the time being.

    1. Scott, I agree with much of what you have written, but there are big differences between now, and even 1972 when pre-decimal stamps were invalidated and certainly from the time when earlier reigns were invalidated.

      1. There were far more collectors on all of those occasions. I doubt anybody could forsee, even in 1971 when some older collectors decided not to collect decimal stamps, that we would be in a position where the number of collectors was declining year on year. [We needn't go into the myriad of reasons for that, but it is a fact.]

      2. In earlier times you could guarantee that if you had a nice collection, especially of unmounted mint stamps, that you would be able to sell them for a reasonable amount to a another collector, though more likely to a dealer. I suggest that a majority of (but not all) serious collectors of modern mint GB, especially definitives, have good collections reasonably complete (in as much detail as they want it to be) save for a few more expensive items.

      3. Those people would have, until recently, felt the same: that their nest egg would realise a reasonable amount, partly supported by the current face value (which supports the catalogue price). Sell a collection of modern GB to a dealer now and you will get a percentage not of catalogue value, but face value because if nothing else the dealer sells the commoner items for postage.

      4. This decision knocks that system into a cocked hat: it's no longer sustainable and, as you say, the value of Machin stamps will be set by scarcity rather than postage value. After the swap-period is over, dealers will treat Machins issued last year in the same way as pre-decimal. Your £2.25 could no longer be used as payment for a package, so it's value is minimal.

      5. My suggestion that collectors should fill their gaps while they can is based partly on my own decisions, but other dealers have expressed similar views. When you get to 70, while the business is enjoyable, this is an opportunity to retire more easily than trying to dispose of business assets in the trade. 'Better' stamps will be kept, or sold to other dealers, stockholding of commoner stamps will be stripped. Word in the trade is that overseas dealers (who don't have the option of using themselves) are gathering their stocks together to be returned as soon as the doors open.

      It IS too early to panic, but there is no harm at all in identifying what your collection needs and sourcing those stamps. It's a buyer's market.

    2. How will the people at Royal Mail who will be running the exchange scheme be able to differentiate between a genuine stamp with say straight edges and a forgery in all the formats and versions that have been produced so far??! They generally don't appear to know the difference and I think that the sellers of forgeries will be rubbing their hands at this opportunity to exchange worthless bits of paper for genuine stamps. The scale of this is going to be huge and I am sure they will not have the experience or time to check every stamp in every packet that is returned for forgeries, even if they knew what they were looking for!!
      Also how long will it be before the first data matrix barcoded forgery stamps are produced and sold on ebay. The sellers will still get the sale on ebay, but whoever uses them, probably the unsuspecting public, will be surcharged when they are thrown out of the system when the barcode on the stamp does not work!

    3. As for your first point, Royal Mail will have guidance! I know some of the steps they have already taken steps to improve their identification process to eliminate just what you point out.

      As regards the future forgeries, that will remain a potential problem.

    4. A forgery will most likely be based upon a genuine stamp, and it is therefore entirely within the realm of possibility that the forgery will be used before the genuine stamp! How does that take anybody any further forward?

  3. PC: Thank you for your comment, but the subject is not one that I can or want to go into in this discussion. Many people have discussed it, over the years, and it is just not easy to do.

    Email me if you like.

  4. I’m so glad I decided to collect Machins, booklets and Smilers Sheets!

    Given that I'm heading rapidly towards 70 myself, this should probably prompt me to think about disposal of my collection either now or in the very near future. I’m therefore grateful for Ian’s guidance above.

    It's tough to second guess what will happen to the market. Will the return of stock from dealers and collectors generate some scarcity? If so, I might as well keep my collections. If I trade in only booklets and Smilers sheets, I’ll still end up with more stamps than I can use and have to sell the excess for a discount and lose money anyway.

    I also wonder how well Royal Mail will handle the exchange program and how many envelopes of returned stamps will get lost in the deluge leaving owners to claim on Royal Mail – assuming they’ve used Special Delivery and not Freepost!

    Decisions, decisions. I’ll wait and see what happens in March. If nothing else it would be good to have some clarity on Christmas stamps and non-Machin definitives in the meantime.

  5. It's a shame the UK has left the EU because otherwise Royal Mail could seek assistance from La Poste who seem to be able to accept stamps with denominations in both Francs and Euros without detriment to the service they provide!

  6. As a collector of mint machins I accepted from the outset that at some stage the face value of the stamps in my collection would be invalidated. However, I still face a dilemma.

    Recently I started to collect single machin definitives with the colour name tab attached. Most of the denominations I am looking for are readily available, but that is not the case for issues from 2009/10/11. Some are available as part of a cylinder block, but there is no incentive to buy more soon to be invalidated stamps than I need.

    I have no doubt that there are plenty of the items I want in dealers’ and collectors’ stocks, but as part of complete sheets of stamps. My concern is that there will be a reluctance to sell individual stamps if it would jeopardise the exchange of sheets / cylinder blocks with the Royal Mail.

    The sad part of this is that the Royal Mail will simply destroy all returned stamps and sought-after stamps will disappear.

    1. There should be no reluctance to sell individual stamps - indeed dealers have a chance to sell maybe 1 where they won't sell 6. Royal Mail will swap like for like on what is offered. Send in 5 x 1st class stamps from a cylinder block, get 5 x 1st class stamps in exchange.

    2. You say "Royal Mail will swap like for like on what is offered" but what happens if you send in values of stamps that don't match current denominations? The vast majority of Machins out there under £1 are not 1p, 2p, 5p, 10, 20p and 50p, and a similar situation applies to the many values over £1.

  7. Loughboroughlad31 March 2022 at 08:39

    Well this is exciting, I have packaged up a good mix of stamps that are going to RM today. I've sent £1000 worth of stamps as documented on the RM swap out form, mixed between 1st/2nd/E/regionals/low values/booklets so excited to see what happens

    1. £1000 worth just to a FREEPOST address ?