Tuesday 19 December 2023

Review of the Year 2023

Where has this year gone?

The first half of the year, and to a lesser extent the second half, was dominated by the decision by Royal Mail to invalidate ordinary Machin and Country definitives from 31 July.

From my point of view, I had already decided to sell as much of my stock as possible to people who might not have these stamps in their collections. As I had really only been selling the security stamps (Gibbons' 'U' numbers) this involved a lot of time sorting and identifying the previous two versions of decimal Machins, the original and those with elliptical perforations.

And I found a lot more than I expected to, in various stock books 'for later sorting' or in packets, boxes, and presentation packs. As I prepared Stock lists of stamps for sale I was also able to share – for the benefit of newer collectors – key information about the phosphor arrangements on booklet stamps from the 1970s & 1980s.

So while the first half of the year was largely writing about the system, and answering questions - here, by email, on social media, and even phone calls - the rest of the year has involved sorting more stamps to send in to the Swapout scheme, and to make up into lists for sale.


The surcharge for using a non-barcoded stamp started at £1.10 (which was the then 1st class postage rate) but in October a new range of charges was introduced pushing this charge up to £2.50 (the previous rate for unpaid letters), with the rate for using a counterfeit stamp or no postage at all rising from £2.50 to £5 (£7 for small parcels). The rates for insufficient postage remained at £1.50 for letters and £3.50 for small parcels.

With the invalidation, counterfeit stamps - about which more later - and simple error, the scope for postal history collections is wide.

Postage rates

Tariff changes came as usual at the beginning of April with a 15+% rise in the cost of a basic 1st class letter and therefore of many of the collectible stamps. The Worldwide 20 g letter rate was abolished meaning that the £2.20 stamp now covered letters up to 100g anywhere in the world. This eliminated the need for anything other than a £2.20 airmail stamp – which was issued, along with all the King Charles NVIs, the day after the rate increase.

A second tariff change took effect from 2 October affecting inland post, with the £1.25 rate for a basic 1st class letter being 31% higher than in April 2022. It will need only a 7p increase in 2023 to produce a rate double than in effect from March 2020. 

A new reign, part 2

Last year, I discussed what portrait would apepar on the first King Charles definitives, preferring the banknote full-face portrait over the coin profile.  Royal Mail duly used the unflattering profile – used without the sculptor's input – from the coins prepared by the Royal Mint for the first stamps issued

The second wave, the make-up values from 1p to £5 was issued at the end of August – with the £3 value being dropped from the range. Royal Mail confirmed that there would be no £2.20 country definitives as there were a lot of old stamps to use.

Following His Majesty's line that there was to be no waste and stocks of old stamps were to be used to exhaustion, it took many months for the first definitives of the new reign to appear apart from on the date of issue.

The need for a new portrait to appear on other products was discussed but so far only the Horizon label (in one location) and digital stamps for PPIs have appeared.

Commemorative or Special stamps ...

...  followed the pattern of previous years with many issues extolling the virtues of internationally

famous television, film, and game (etc) brands. The 'Coronation' issue was a big disappointment with only a miniature sheet being issued: if one of them had been issued as a single stamp in sheets it would have seen wider use. As if the programme wasn't full enough RM saw fit to have two Music Giants issues in one year.

An innovation was to produce stamps with face values without an equivalent postage rate: sadly, rather than produce a few lower-make-up-values, stamps were issued with £1 and £2 denominations (the latter actually paying the little-used worldwide surface rate).


Barely a year goes by without a Prestige Stamp Book being issued with an error, whether it's missing or duplicated panes or covers, or mis-cuts.  This year it was miscuts on the X-Men booklet and on the Shirley Bassey booklet - which was also inverted.  We were also sent some pictures of errors from the 1990s.

But Royal Mail – and it's printer International Security Printers – was plagued by other errors through the year.  The River Wildlife 1st class stamps were issued with a single central phosphor band, and a reprint was necessary. Royal Mail offered to replace the wrongly-printed stamps with reprints!

The stamps applied to first day covers of the second tranche of King Charles Definitives were found to have no security cuts; Royal Mail did not admit it was an error (although it clearly was) and no reprint was necessary because the stamps were not made available to anybody in mint condition. In other words, there was no operational effect, so they didn't change them.

The third error of the year to escape scrutiny (I understand that others were caught with closer scrutiny after the first two) was the appearance of a sheet of 2nd class Christmas stamp with no datamatrix code. Unfortunately these were publicised by the postmaster who found them before issue and as yet none have appeared for sale either to the public or from dealers. 


Forgeries of many new stamps were reported regularly, including the datamatrix Machins (not just the NVIs but the airmail values), and the country defintives.  I can't make up my mind whether the forgers are producing some stamps to sell to collectors, or for use as postage, because the next to appear were the 1st and 2nd class Aardman Animations stamps and many Christmas stamps. 

After that the Classic Children's TV (Bob the Builder, Postman Pat etc) and other commemoratives appeared, along with Smilers Sheets!  It's been suggested that this is because there is no doubt that these are valid, as only the Machins and Country definitives were invalidated. Whether this is true or not, who knows.

I have seen, but haven't had occasion to report yet, the forging of the limited use stamps issued by Universal Mail UK.

I was asked to contribute to several radio programmes and newspaper articles; I provided the journalists concerned with ample information but declined to go on air. (Jeremy Vine? - no thanks!)

Post and Go

Stalwart reporters continued to provide information for everybody else on what was happening both at

museums and branch self-service kiosks. My thanks to Malcolm, Trevor, Chris, Stuart, Robert, and Anonymous contributors.

The shock news from Royal Mail in September that Post and Go was to end was tempered by the confirmation that this did not apply to Post Office branches, where at least the machines are likely to be used by people actually sending mail (when the machines are functioning, that is).

Three years ago I reported on a Post Office initiative to introduce the Next Generationof Self-Service machines. Nothing moves quickly, and while some machines may have been trialled, there is no sign of a wholesale replacement of the existing NCR machines.

Tariff changes usually affect Post and Go stamps if only to increase the cost! This year the redundant Worldwide 20g designation was still in use many months after the weight step was eliminated.

Slogan postmarks. 

In 2022 we recorded 26 different slogans.  By my count there have been only 18 reported in 2023 – and that includes the Wales and Northern Ireland variants of the NHS75 slogan. Adding interest, though, has been spotting late usages, with the Windrush and Coronation slogans seeing isolated use months after they originally appeared.   A few other interesting postmarks and postal markings have been reported.


Only two occasions led to Royal Mail's street postboxes being decorated.  The first was the Coronation, and the second was Christmas.

Royal Mail Operations and Philatelic Services.

Following a cyber attack at the beginning of the year, Royal Mail suspended all international mailings as they could not provide customs information to destination postal authorities, or use the internationally linked track and trace system. But fortunately the industrial action which caused them so many problems in 2022 was stopped after agreement of some sort was reached between the company and the union.

In 2022 those problems prevented Royal Mail from attending Autumn Stampex. No such problems prevented their attendance in 2023, however, they simply decided not to go. “following a strategic review”.


The Post Office Horizon IT Scandal

The Statutory Inquiry into this scandal continues. That, and Freedom of Information Requests have

produced some shocking headlines in mos of the mainstream media. The role of inhouse and external lawyers has drawn comment from academics and other lawyers and is likely to lead to action from their professional bodies/regulators.

More and more evidence from Post Office prosecutors points to the possibility of charges for perverting the course of justice. 2024 will continue to be interesting.  (And more still, since I drafted that!)

Mr Bates v The Post Office: an ITV drama series begins its run on 1 January at 9pm, and will be available on ITVX. Staring Toby Jones as Alan Bates, and Will Mellor as Lee Castleton, the series continues with three more episodes on consecutive evenings, and on 4 January an ITV documentary will be aired at 10.45pm. “People watching may need to remind themselves that the story is based on fact not fiction.”

The Business and the Blog

In August the number of page views on this blog passed 6 million. One of our readers pointed out that it was 3.3 million in January 2019 and 5.5 million in November 2022.

Looking at the 'all-time' statistics, the posts which are of interest outside the philatelic community (and therefore appear on search engine results) attract most visitors overall, with the 2014 new tariff hitting the peak at 51,200 visitors. The Swapout scheme has naturally attracted attention as well. The biggest hit for new issues was for the 2018 programme (11.4k).

Although I haven't reported as often on this blog in the last year, I have taken the opportunity to explore the postal history aspects of modern philately "Modern British Postal History".  I hope regular readers of this blog find the other one interesting.  

As more of you stop collecting new issues of stamps that you don't like, but still visit stamp fairs and clubs, I hope this will encourage you to look inside the box and see what dealers have to offer by way of stamps doing the job they were invented for.  Try and build up  a collection of Machins on cover, solo use.  Not easy, especially all the variants of the security stamps!


We hope all our readers have a happy Christmas holiday whatever religion you follow (if any). 
We think especially of those in the care and health sectors who are working while we are relaxing;  those who are no longer with us, especially those who have passed this year; and we think about those who have died awaiting justice.

We hope that you and your friends and loved ones stay safe and healthy. 

Remember those who are less fortunate than you and if you can help one person - try to make it two!  Don't forget the postal workers who we rely on, and who are working harder while so many of their colleagues are leaving for a less stressful life.


  1. I'm confused by the Post and Go situation. In the latest GSM there is an editorial comment and an article by Douglas Muir which state that use of P&G will cease everywhere (including Post Offices) on 31 December 2023. This is not what has been reported on these pages.

    1. I suspect Gibbons' publishing deadline was before clarification was received from Post Office Ltd. Our information came from the two separate organisations owning the two types of machine. I believe it to be correct.

    2. Hi Ian, Thanks. I was more inclined to believe this blog than SG, so keep up the good work. Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

  2. Ian, once again thanks for the continued flow of information, its most welcome. Seasons greetings to all at Norvic Towers

    1. I'll second that! I've given up buying SGs stamp magazine on the grounds of amount of useful information to me (GB QEII collector) and cost. So, I turn to your blog daily and found much practical information as well as general 'state of the hobby' stuff. You've also been very willing to answer my e-mail questions.

      There is a social side to stamp collecting: it can be solitary but I like to meet other collectors and talk (and learn). It's a pity that, unlike my boyhood, there isn't a stamp shop five minutes away that I could pop into whenever I wanted to and talk to the staff and collectors, and look at the window displays on a Sunday when I was supposed to be at mass...

  3. Thank you for a lovely year's reading. Merry Christmas to all at Norvic Towers!

  4. Ian, may I add my thanks and best wishes to those already posted here (and no doubt those yet to come) to you and your team at Planet Norvic for all the information, insights, assistance and responses that you have provided throughout 2023. I'm sure many of us couldn't manage philatelically without you! Best wishes for a peaceful Christmas and successful New Year.

  5. Ian may I take this opportunity to thank all at Norvic towers a very happy Christmas & thanks for all the stamp info in 2023. On that point I will be disappointed if RM do not celebrate the 200th anniversary of the RNLI in March next year. Happy New Year

  6. As a stamp user in the UK, I'm grateful for all the news Norvic Towers over the years.

    I think my fav. issues of this year are Discworld, River Wildlife, and the Flowers, though I have been reluctant to use the flower stamps! The only issue of stamps I didn't bother with were the Robin Hood ones, the first after the postage rate rise!

    I haven't noted which of this year's stamps I've received on mail, but then most of my penpals live overseas, though even some of the post is neatly postmarked by the USPS, sometimes Royal Mail sprays yet another postmark & slogan all over, and not all that neatly.

    I too would very much like to see a 200th anniversary of the RNLI celebrated on Royal Mail stamps... they'll go nicely for postage on the letters I write using RNLI notecards!

  7. Heath Park Shopper. Thank you again for another valuable year I inormation and much more

  8. Like M above - I'm a stamp user rather than a collector but still I find Ian a great source of news and information and sometimes more reliable then Royal Mail! Merry Christmas to you all...

  9. Hello. I thank you for all the work you put into this blog and wish you a Happy New Year!


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