Saturday 27 May 2023

Too many, too often, too much!

As a dealer I receive new stamps well ahead of the issue date.  This is to enable me to prepare orders ready to send at the appropriate time and send covers to handstamp centres in time to have them back by or soon after the issue date.

Today I received supplies of the last of the Windrush stamps - which isn't even issued until 22 June - and I haven't yet prepared the Warhammer (8 June) stamps.   I wouldn't be surprised to have the River Wildlife (5 July) very soon.  It's just relentless.

This reminds me of decisions we took 15 years ago, when we stopped producing our own series of limited run first day covers and then, a year later, all Royal Mail covers and (PHQ) stamp cards.

Long-standing readers who were customers may remember that I wrote:

We have been encouraged by the support we have received from many customers in this venture, but changes in our circumstances and the increasing volume of new issues by Royal Mail mean that this can no longer continue.  There is simply not the time to do justice to the product, and it is better to stop - or at least reduce our output - rather than let quality suffer.

In 2003 we produced 39 covers in 30 designs.  In 2004 this increased to 49 covers in 43 designs, 2005 had 50 covers in 36 designs, 2006 shot up to 70 covers in 45 designs and this year we have 73 covers in 49 designs!  And that doesn't include the definitive and country stamps and others which we do only on Royal Mail covers.  

Often we have stacks of three different issues as 'work in progress' waiting for all covers to be returned from the handstamp centres before orders can finally be sent to you. 

Cover production has been difficult when copyright issues got in the way - Lord of the Rings, The Beatles, and Harry Potter were problematic, James Bond also presents difficulties, and we have been told that, for the Rescue at Sea set next March, the RNLI are unwilling to allow any of their lifeboats to appear on covers!   What should be easy is becoming very difficult - this side of the business is no longer as much fun as it was when we started.

 A year later, we pulled the plug on new commemoratives altogether.

However with ever more stamps being issued by Royal Mail, often in close succession, our cut-back did not produce the hoped-for benefits – principally freeing up time to ensure that our e-commerce site kept pace with the new issues, and permitting the addition of more of our older stock of worldwide stamps, postcards, first day covers and postal history, whilst at the same time allowing me to get back to the actual hobby of philately for which the new issues have allowed precious little time over the last few years.

Last year I wrote, “We will continue for all new special stamps and definitives to service Royal Mail first day covers and PHQ cards (stamp cards) with any available postmark” and this we have done. In fact I would have cut back further last year, but our loyal band of customers have supported us over several years and I believe that loyalty works both ways. Some of you are accustomed to deciding at the last minute – once they are published on our site – which postmarks you want on your FDCs or PHQ cards. Some of you don't collect every new issue, so a basic standing order service would not serve your needs. In fact the very flexibility which you value so much is what takes time!   

But with effect from the end of this year, we will not service first day covers or PHQ cards to order.

And we found another cover dealer who could satisfy our customers - or at least those of them who decided to continue, as many had reached similar conclusions and decided to stop.

At the same time Royal Mail decided to introduce security features to their definitives, which filled the gap and took up time that I was hoping to use for other matters, and we all know how complex that got - but very interesting.  Real hunting some times!

But I do wonder how long the current Royal Mail policy will continue. 

The customer base must have fallen a long way - who now can afford to buy everything that is produced?  Royal Mail is not making it economically worthwhile for Post Office Ltd to sell stamps.  Large users, including dealers and auction houses whose mail is collected by the mail centre (rather than being posted at a post office) are being told that they can only use signed for and special delivery services if they buy postage online - which means that they cannot use the stamps that they got back from the swapout scheme.

At the same time Royal Mail has produced £2 and other commemoratives to encourage use on parcels - but they won't be properly postmarked unless they are taken to a post office (and even that is hit and miss).

The invalidation of older definitives has meant big changes to collector and dealer habits.  Dealers are reporting that trade in newer issues is way down, and interest in earlier periods is picking up, but not enough to fill the void.  

The average age of dealers marches along with the age of collectors.  Expect to see more retiring (to some extent) when they have finished with the swap-out process and managed to find someone to take on their stock. 

Philately is not dead

There are still plenty of stamps - old and new - to be studied, and some very interesting things to find. But times are a-changing.


  1. When will Royal Mail revert to doing 1-4 stamp issues? I couldn't identify whether most modern stamps are genuine or spoofs from looking at them.

  2. I agree. Whilst not a collector I have used first day postcards to stay in touch with family and friends for forty years. I am giving up because they are too many issues and the prices of these are too high. As a casual purchaser finding a Post Office on the day with stock is also very difficult.

    I think the current policy is designed to put an end to the hobby.


  3. If Royal Mail continue to print silly old fashioned sticky labels that can easily be reproduced then the business will soon implode . As always it won't be the decision makers that suffer .

    1. More news on 'easily reproduced' coming soon!

  4. Hopefully we will get a CIII 1st Large Business Sheet from China before the RM print


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