Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Barcoded Country Definitives - why? Who will be able to buy them?

Royal Mail have made it known that the Country Definitives will be invalidated along with the Machins and others, withdrawn, and replaced by new stamps with a datamatrix code.  These are to be issued (according to an earlier blog comment) on 11th August. 

UPDATE AT FOOT OF BLOG.

Given the invalidation announcement, this comes as no surprise.  But who actually uses them, and where are they actually available to buy?

Many people have asked, but this is prompted by the latest in a series of emails from one of our readers.  In the latest he writes:

On the Antrim coast, I have tried three post offices today, and not a single regional was to be had. To be fair, they all knew what I was talking about, but had not had them in stock for some time.

Six months ago, he reported from Scotland:

At Aberfeldy post office I was flabbergasted to discover that they had NO regionals in their counter books.

I was told that not only do they not get any, but if they try to order them, they get sent Machins instead. “You’ll have to go to Pitlochry” I was told. So, next time at the shops in Pitlochry I took myself off to the “main” post office (still just a counter in a mini market as far as I’m concerned). There he was able to show me lions and saltires but definitely no tartans or thistles. And this is no accident. The same was true later at Banchory.

He and others have reported similarly in the past and I have had similar experience.

Mock-up of Scotland
1st class stamp
with German-size
datamatrix code.

So I asked the Post Office social media team about availability, and received this reply:

The country definitives are available to all branches in the representative areas to order in.  The issue most of the time with this scenario is that branches stop ordering these stamps regularly, as there is little to no demand for them, and branches can go months, even years, without being asked for them so stop replenishing stock. 

It is, however, easy enough for the branch to order some in if a customer wants them and they don't have any in their stock.

To which I replied:

So basically it is a catch-22 situation. 

If the stamps are out of stock they can't be offered, and so customers don't know about them. They don't know so they don't ask, so there is no demand, so branches don't re-order. So they can't be offered. 

Couple this with the fact that they are gummed rather than self-adhesive (which users prefer, we're told - largely because they buy deifnitives most, and few special stamps either, then there won't be much demand. Despite this they are being replaced with equivalent stamps with datamatrix codes, still on ordinary gum because it's cheaper. 

So my correspondent who says that they are only issued for collectors is correct!

According to my contact within Royal Mail the same process of consultation between the two companies which led to the abolition of the Special Delivery and Signed For stamps last autumn has led to the continuation of country definitives.  

That is to say, Post Office Ltd and/or the branches said that they did not want the premium services stamps (which so many users have said were useful to them) but they do have demand for the Country Definitives. 

We accept that, in any organisation, what users and customers want may not be convenient or economical to any organisation (which is why products disappear from supermarket shelves), but the implication of this is really surprising.

It suggests that somewhere in each (or at least a majority) of the countries there is sufficient demand from social and business users to warrant the product of 12 totally new stamps in (I presume) a new larger size for these users to apply to their mail instead of the ordinary definitive or any other gummed stamp.  I accept that there are probably some patriotic and nationalistic people who want to use traditional symbols for the country (or in Northern Ireland fields rocks and some linen), but I'd like to see some evidence.

If anybody has time and expertise in putting forward a Freedom of Information Act enquiry on where these stamps are sold, I'd be pleased to publish the results.  There's no need to survey the offices - just where the central distribution point sends them.

UPDATE 14 July.  This morning several readers mentioned that the new stamps were available to pre-order on the Royal Mail website.  Indeed I took a screenshot to show here.    Because I had pointed out earlier that the mock-up picture of the presentation pack appeared to show U-shaped slits on what were said to be gummed stamps (although we were told yesterday that they are self-adhesive) a revised picture of the pack was sent out at 9am - along with a reminder that the embargo date for stamps already available to pre-order was (still) the issue date of 11 August.  It took four hours for a further email to be sent with the 'news' that the embargo was lifted. 

So here is the mock-up image we were sent a while back. 

Barcoded country definitive 2nd class, 1st class and £1.85 stamps for Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England, issued 11 August 2022

As you can see the datamatrix codes have been printed in similar colours to some of the stamps, which all seems a bit of a waste of time and effort.  Whilst black would probably not have worked, some of these are so close to black to be almost indistinguishable at a distance (and at speed).  It remains to be seen what they look like in practice and I shall provide some images in due course.

The sheet layout is the same as the valued Machin stamps, that is sheets of 25, with each stamp 39 x 30 mm.   As you will see from the sheet, the plate/cylinder numbers are 'C' indicating Cartor although the designation we have is the old generic one of ISP. 

Mocked-up sheet of 25 1st class Scotland stamps with datamatrix code.

A single presentation pack with overlapping stamps because they are too big, and four first day covers will also be available.  The latter are illustrated with new photos, representing the first change since country definitive FDCs were introduced*.  (They can be seen on the Commonwealth Stamps Opinion blog.)  *My thanks to Robert who points out that these are not new; looking back I find that the new designs were introduced in 2017.

Akcnowledgments: the designs are the same so you can read the designer details in a cataogue or in older Philatelic Bulletins.   There is no change to any of the first day postmarks which remain as they have been since 1999/2001.

From the changes we have been sent it would seem that there are no U-shaped security die-cuts in these stamps, and it seems likely that there will be no iridescent printing to indicate the year of printing. We haven't seen them yet.

UPDATE 17 August: Answering my own question - who will be able to buy them? - I have been in Wales.  The post office at Church Stoke (just across the Shropshire border) where I posted some of the new Wales stamps, hadn't seen them and didn't know of them.

At Montgomery the post office was closed due to a Covid outbreak, so no luck there.

At Much Wenlock in Shropshire, where the post office is in the Spar mini-market and which is identified as a 'Local', I was told that they did not expect to be getting any England stamps because they didn't get any special stamps.  I protested that they were not 'special' just alternative!  I was told that they were at nearby Broseley.  

The biggest surprise (in the comments below) is that at the 'Philatelic' office in Cambridge city centre, the manager professed not to know of the existence of any of the new country definitives.




Thank you for sharing your stories about availability (or otherwise) of country definitives. Do let us know your experience with the new ones which should, in theory, be available from all post offices in the respective countries.



71 comments:

  1. Just received my order advice note from RM these stamps will be issued on 18th August 2022 @ £14.37

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    1. That includes the 45p service charge - 4 each 2nd, 1st & £1.85. Date is interesting though.

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    2. I think you have made a typo on my advise note it states 11th August as the issue date.
      I to wonder about how widespread the stocking of these are have never heard of an English office stocking the English version.

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    3. Malcolm I apologise it is the 11th I read it wrongly

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  2. Passing Person5 July 2022 at 12:31

    My order advice note states 12 August 2022.

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  3. Passing Person5 July 2022 at 12:32

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. My Advice note clearly states 11th August as the issue date

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    1. What's the narrative for this please? Often it is in code, but does it say Barcoded Country Definitives?

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    2. My Advice note description is just 2022 Country Definitives Stamp Set

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  5. I think Freedom of Information Act enquiries finished with Royal Mail when it was privatised but might still be possible with the Post Office.
    As a postman fifteen to five years ago I saw very few Country stamps, likewise Special delivery and Signed For ones.
    Only two changes of design since 1958 doesn't show much commitment to them.

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    1. Still applies to POL, which is why it is relevant. They have a page on their corporate website.

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    2. Re Mudgie's last sentence: there has only been ONE change of design in UK definitives since 1958,so I'm not sure you can use the number of design changes as evidence for commitment (or lack of it)

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    3. John, we're referring to Country Definitives, so there have been two changes; Wilding to Machin, Machin to Pictorial. But I'm not sure I understand Mudgie's comment about commitment.

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    4. Ian, sorry if my point was unclear. What I meant was that there had been fewer design changes in the UK definitives than in the Country definitives since 1958, and as I don't think there is evidence of a lack of commitment to Machins at RM, I don't think the number of design changes can be used as evidence of lack of commitment to a product. Hope that makes more sense.

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    5. Yes, John, I understand your point now. Of course the Machin has stated because HMQ doesn't want it changed.

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  6. Does anyone know what the sheet layout will be, including the marginal text? A block of 8 used to incude the country name as ell as the cylinder numbers; what would be needed now or is it even possible to get such a block?

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    1. The publicity picture I have seen shows the layout the same as for the valued Machins (ie sheets of 25).

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  7. Surely part of the point here is that each of the nations has their own 1st and 2nd definitives. They are not having to order exotic rates, they sell 1st and 2nd every hour of day. They just don't get sent them.

    There may well be some being sold somewhere, but try finding used on cover from a home nation or even just used. None are to had since about 2015

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    1. Branches are sent Machins by default.

      Customers prefer self-adhesive to gummed, we're told and what are sold are mostly in booklets

      Most social stamp users buy books in supermarkets, newsagents and card shops; why would they go to the PO for a stamp for a letter when they are sold where they buy their groceries (even available for Home Delivery services)?

      There just doesn't appear to be any justification - apart from the politics involved in stopping them.

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  8. I am assuming they are the same size as previous barcoded stamps?

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  9. Does anyone know whether it is only 1st & 2nd class or all values that are being invalidated. Can existing stocks of all values be exchanged for the new ones with datamatrix code under the swop arrangements?

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    1. See https://blog.norphil.co.uk/2022/03/more-thoughts-on-royal-mails-stamp-swap.html where all this has been debated ad nauseum.

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    2. Isn't the new question going to be "If I send in country definitives 1st and 2nd after 11 August - will I get barcoded country definitives or standard barcoded Machins?"

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    3. They should replace like with like.

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    4. Sent my old style regional definitives in after the barcoded replacements came out and today I have received back ordinary purple and green barcoded first and second class ones.

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    5. Well somebody, somewhere, had asked and was told - and it didn't happen. Worth asking the helpline on that. I shall if I have time.

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  10. I thought regionals would be invalidated 31st January with the machins.Am I wrong?

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    1. They will be; what makes you think otherwise?

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    2. Thanks for reply.Why does each set only have 3 values?

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    3. Because the 100g Europe and 20g Worldwide are both £1.85 so there is no need for the fourth stamp. This is the same as the situation last year when only the £1.70 value was issued. (https://blog.norphil.co.uk/2020/12/royal-mails-third-set-of-price.html)

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  11. Your blog barcoded regional definitives who will be able to use them suggests all regionals willl be invalidated and replaced 1th August

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  12. As far as I can tell, the regionals will be lick and stick and will be printed litho. This is interesting because both will be firsts for barcoded stamps.

    I had heard that "extra equipment" (whetever that means) was required to print the barcodes. When the recent prestige book stamps unexpectedly appeared self adhesive and gravure, after being announced as litho, I wondered if this might indicate a problem with using the barcode printing equipment in conjunction with the litho presses. It will be interesting to see if the regionals really do turn out to be litho.

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    1. The 'extra equipment' was discussed in the original 2nd class blue business sheet post and comments. It has to be an add-on because it doesn't use the same printing process as for the stamps.

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  13. Well I want some English ones! For some time the country stamps have only been available in the philatelic offices which were listed by Ian a couple of years ago, eg Colchester & London St James's Park. Most post offices now have not heard of them. I often used to ask for them, then, just at real post offices eg Liskeard, rather than WH Smiths, chemists &c. If I get any I shall reveal where, whether they are self adhesive and if there are any £1.85 ones.

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    1. I've mentioned before... on a business trip to Dundee some years back I asked at a subPO and was told "Naebody ever asked before". I have seen England regionals in my local (South London) but not in the last 10 years. I'll ask next time I look in.

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  14. On the subject of barcode stamps - what has happened to the book of 1st Class Penny Blacks which were earmarked to be released in February?

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    Replies
    1. Unlikely to appear unless the service that was advertised on the inside front cover ever happens.

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  15. I went in on Monday to my local main post office for the Pride stamps (due to unfortunate/unforeseen circumstances, was unable to get them on day of issue), and came away happy. However, I did notice there was a 1st class dragon in the counter stockbook. The nice counter lady said that they had overordered last year... No daffodils though.

    I went in today for more Pride stamps, and they had sold out of all the 1st class Pride stamps (but I was after more £1.85, so still came out happy), however, as I was at the same counter as Monday, I was pleased to see yet more dragons in the stockbook.

    I didn't notice any leeks though, but expect they'd have some.

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  16. Every few months I receive bags of envelopes received in the post from my previous employers. Typically I retrieve around 400 British stamps from each batch, and on average about one country definitive per batch - so about 0.25% of all stamps. Most of the country definitives I get are 2nd class Scottish ones. I haven't seen an English or Welsh one for a couple of years. The only reason Royal Mail can have for releasing barcoded versions of these virtually obsolete stamps is to get even more revenue from those GB collectors who still try to keep their collections 'complete'.

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  17. Doug(Enfield) self adhesive and gummed. A lot of post today uses plastic bags and suchlike. I have family who do a bit of eBay etc and use A5 sized plastic bags. Have to use self adhesive otherwise don’t stick! Normally they just go into Tesco to purchase books of stamps for their requirements. You have also noted that many POs are doing a lot of banking services as part of their contractural requirements but staffing not increased. If I go to my PO after say 4pm the queue sometimes comes out of the front door. Getting Cash or banking in money etc can be a bit of a challenge. Also many of you receiving or received Lateral Flow Test Kits for Covid show the return address as Tallents House 21 South Gyle Crescent. It’s a wonder that such boxes are not also used for sending back packs of Exchange stamps!!!!

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  18. I don’t think I was hallucinating but yesterday, 12 July 2022, Royal Mail published online, on the online shop pages, for a brief moment, the new barcoded Country Definitives and they looked like they were self adhesive. Also they were advertised to be available from 11 August 2022. They’ve since reinstated the previous page with the 2021 and 2018 gummed stamps etc. Guessing it was published in error or as a test.Living in Wales, I love to use the Welsh Country Definitives and will try and ask my crown post office to order some. I’m not a huge collector, but have penpals so like to use the international postage value special issue stamps or Country Definitives. Really enjoy reading this blog and info provided on the Norvic Philatelics site. Cheers

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    1. You weren't hallucinating (or I was also!) - I saw them as well. A placeholder for the Birmingham 2022 issue also appeared briefly at much the same time. From previous experience, this seems to be standard procedure - RM making sure that their new pages display correctly before "going live". The Country Definitive page also looked as if were possible to place an order - I wonder what would have happened if I'd tried?

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    2. They have been published on the Royal Mail website.

      https://shop.royalmail.com/special-stamp-issues/definitives/2022-country-definitives-stamp-set

      They are described as self-adhesive.

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    3. Birmingham 2022 now listed for pre-order, issue date 28 July. Country Definitives also listed for pre-order, issue date 11 August. So I would say the pages are now live and the Country Definitives self adhesive.

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    4. The stamps are now available for pre-order. The country tab has been removed. That is, there is no indication whether the stamps is from England, NI, Scotland or Wales. In other aspects they look the same as the April barcoded stamps. Cylinders are C1 so it looks ie Cartor is printing them. You'll need a styrip of 10 to capture all te markings.

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    5. An update ... the country designation now forms part of the value tab: for example, NVIFS for NVI first class Scotland.

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  19. Pages are live 13:37 when I checked and it says they are self adhesive!

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  20. Its a pity that the stamps have to overlap in the presentation pack. They look great though. I wonder how long the £1.85 will be around if we have another price increase this year.

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  21. One oddity on the RM Country Definitives web page at the time of typing is that the old-style Northern Ireland 1st and 2nd are still being offered (though not those for England, Scotland or Wales). I am assuming that this is an oversight rather than something more significant.

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  22. Several of the post offices I frequent here in Scotland have had the Scottish ones most of the time I asked, just not in the last six months. Pity they are going to be so big. I use them for post-crossing and one special stamp and one Scottish one looked good on a postcard but the new stamps take up so much more space I may not bother. I wonder if they will be available on the website? I found it strange that I could order as many country definitives as I liked and get free postage but if I tried to order fifty 2p stamps I had to pay the £6 delivery.

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    1. I have long found it fun to actually buy country stamps from post offices: rather than just buying them from the ether with a mathematical lantern, so from 11th August I shall seek them when I am out and about and tell here where I was able to buy them. Perhaps others here would be kind enough to do the same. then we could get some demand & thus supply going. They are likely to be rare as the design many soon need to be changed: if all the tactless leaks from the royal family are right.

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    2. Available locations would be good, similar to the reports of what's in the machines on the P&G thread. If they're in sheets of 25 then local PO's might be more inclined to order a sheet in perhaps. Might be worth mentioning to any friendly PM we chance upon. Might also be some ex-pat PM's who would like to sell the stamps from their homeland as well!

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  23. So the four 'countries' have kept their own stamps but lost their own Presentation Packs for one that with overlapping stamps looks rather shoddy.
    A rates rise from £1.85 to £1.90 or £1.95 later this year or next might see them losing their own First Day Covers, Royal Mail offering just one FDC carrying four stamps each with an appropriately different postmark, Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.

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    1. There have been single 4-country presentation packs before.

      I don't think they will change, some collectors only collect one country.

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    2. I wasn't aware of four country presentation packs before this one.

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    3. There were individual country packs until 2987, then joint until 1.7.1997, when the Wales with no 'p' stamps were issued.
      The 1998 tariff change was a single pack of 12, and then the pictorial designs were in individual country packs, including packs for single stamps (65p).
      After the white-bordered stamps were issued (in individual packs) the subsquent tariff changes were in single packs (40p, 42p, etc).
      So we haven't had single packs for some time.

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  24. Are you sure the FDC envelope photos have really changed? Not according to the photos on the RM wesite or in 'first'.

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    1. Robert, thank you - you are correct. The new design was introduced in 2017. By that time I didn't produce any FDCs and didn't notice - and I don't think anybody mentioned it at the time (though I'll check!)

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  25. Ian,
    Yours "demonstrate that the datamatrix code is printed by a separate unit, not in litho, in a single colour".
    "Not in litho" but is it known what process is used for the datamatrix code ? Glossy ink raised well above the paper looks like thermography from an old Adana letterpress machine but obviously it can't be that !
    That single colour is darker than the paler stamps but it wouldn't be surprising if a certain darkness is needed by the machines in the Mail Centres.

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    1. It will be the same (sort of) add-on as on the gravure press. The German video linked in the original post may still be there.

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  26. Following an email sent to the swap out team, they confirm that if Country Defintives are sent in after the issue date they will be swapped like for like ie. 2nd & 1st. Other values will be made up to 2nd Class

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    1. 2nd class may not apply in all cases, and you may get non-country for odds according to new T&C from 14 July. See today's changes to the 'More Thoughts' blog post here https://blog.norphil.co.uk/2022/03/more-thoughts-on-royal-mails-stamp-swap.html

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  27. Much scratching of heads and looks of incomprehension when I enquired in Swindon yesterday as to whether they would be stocking the English versions of these from next week. I knew the answer to the question as soon as the special stamp issue calendar was consulted!

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    1. I can't imagine what the conclusion was. It's not a special stamp issue so it won't be on the calendar. All branches should be supplied with all appropriate stamps, although those which generally only have 1st & 2nd Machins will probably not have the airmail value.

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    2. If it is the main branch in Swindon, they often don't even have the make up values in my experience.

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  28. Like so many things with the barcoded stamps there have been unintended consequences. First the books of 8 x 1st and 8 x 2nd are obviously bigger so no longer fit in the credit card size pockets in the average wallet. Now the presentation pack for this issue struggles to fit all the stamps side by side - unless you hide the barcodes which is rather the point of the issue!

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  29. I wonder how available these stamps are in post offices. There were none available on 11 August at Cambridge City post office, which still has a philatelic counter. The manager didn't even know they were being issued.

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  30. Re the comment about backing paper orientation in the more recent blog on this topic, the Wales 1st has now been found with both settings.

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