Monday 25 March 2024

Post Horizon System Postage Labels

Three years ago Gareth Clark, Post Office Ltd's Strategic Platform Modernisation Director wrote about the way forward for the Horizon system, both in the wake of the Post Office Scandal and the fact that it was beyond aging and still creaking and bug-prone (although this was not mentioned at the time).  (Unfortunately the link to the original article is no longer accessible but it is in the Wayback Archive.)

From that earlier article, the "planned timelines for rolling out the new system are:

  • Late 2021: A pilot and very small version of the new system will be tested in selected new branches
  • 2022 and 2023: We will run pilots in branches to test the new system with different product groups and to understand how it works, ensuring we design and build with postmasters, for postmasters
  • 2023 to 2025: The new system will start to become available to branches, ultimately replacing the current system in its entirety."

I've not heard anything about development of a new system since then: the media and Computer Weekly have rightly been concentrating on the effects of the old system and delving into its predecessor, Capture.

So it is with some surprise that I found some examples of output from a new system in my inbox last week, including payment labels from a live trial which was taking place on one counter position at Aldwych Post Office six weeks ago.

Aldwych trial Post Horizon postage label Special Delivery by 9am 12/02/24

Aldwych trial Post Horizon postage label Special Delivery by 1pm 12/02/24

Aldwych trial Post Horizon postage label 2nd class Large Letter 12/02/24

Aldwych trial Post Horizon postage label 2nd class Signed For Large Letter 12/02/24

As you can see this last one has evidence of processing through Mount Pleasant Mail Centre and the Track & Trace webpage shows evidence of deliveries, the first being the 9am, and the second showing the other three items.

Collaboration with Royal Mail

Although the computer system is a Post Office Ltd project the postage system must at least be approved by Royal Mail and I shall be making enquiries about this.  The original discredited Horizon system was developed when POL and Royal Mail were still part of the same organisation and so when the, first white and then pictorial, labels were introduced they were a Royal Mail product.  

As can be seen, these are back to a plain white label, with the King's head and service indicator at the lower right being printed at the same time as all the other detail.  

I don't know whether this is a temporary arrangement for the trial, or if Royal Mail have decided that printing the very many double ended labels is an unnecessary expense and that these will suffice - after all a lot of postage - even generated by Royal Mail systems - does not show the monarch's head (Click and Drop, Tracked24/48 etc.)

Although it is acknowledged that the Horizon system needs to be changed, it is obvious that even an in-house system designed to serve "11,500 branches, outreaches and mobile vans" and the call centre will take many years and cost a great deal of money.  

If anybody visits Aldwych I would be delighted to receive a sample letter, and if anybody hears anything about extension of the trial or changes please let me know.

Monday 18 March 2024

More on pre-printed King Charles stamps on Direct Mail (PPI)

We in the UK hear a lot about 'non-doms' in the media and from politicians and tax campaigners.  If you are not aware of this don't worry, this is just a play on words, because here we have what is, as far as I can recall, the first 'non-denom'.  An NVI in the truest sense!

Apparently this is the latest mailshot 'To The Occupier' from the Salvation Army and the picture was sent to me today by DR, who says a number of his friends have received them.  

I don't think we have seen one like this before, nor from the previous reign (though your memory may be better than mine!).

Non-denominated 2nd class green PPI King Charles III definitive on Salvation Army mailshot.

UPDATE 23 April 2024

My thanks to Jon on Stampboards for showing this amazingly poor example of the 2nd class King Charles PPI - it should, of course, be green.

Mailshot from Leaders of Great Britain (LCGB) of London, events organisers, with very poorly printed 2nd class King Charles III imprinted stamp.

Friday 15 March 2024

Royal Mail Tracked® - a new service coming to a Post Office near you.

A new service was shown in this year's new Postal Rates leaflet. Referred to in the main heading as UK Tracked, but branded as Royal Mail Tracked® this offers yet another level of protection/tracking for mail within the UK. It also seems to offer a better option for posting packages to customers!

This service did not start on 2 April as suggested by the rates leaflet. See new post for more news.

A recap

Existing services are UK Guaranteed, branded as Special Delivery with 9am and 1pm and Saturday Guarantees, with various optional levels of compensation, and weights starting at 100g.  Minimum price will be £7.95 from 2 April 2024.

The other current service is UK Signed which we all know as Royal Mail Signed For. Many members of the public think that as this has a barcode it can be tracked, but the original branding described it exactly - Recorded Delivery.  Nothing more, nothing less - a signature on delivery (probably).  This mail is handled in just the same way as UK Standard 1st & 2nd class mail and is subject to just the same delays. There is no penalty for not delivering within the regulator's targets and so no pressure on delivery office managers to get delivery done.

Minimum price for 1st class is £3.05 (Large £3.80), 2nd class £2.55 (Large £3.25): from 2 April compensation is reducing from £50 to £20.

New Service

Royal Mail Tracked provides photo-proof of delivery and compensation up to £150.   Currently this service is only available with online postage, although once paid online labels can be printed at Post Offices.   Labels like this are produced

The Tracked24 service provides

    •    Tracking to delivery point
    •    Photo on delivery
    •    SMS or email notifications to recipients
    •    Next working day delivery aim
    •    Compensation cover up to £150
    •    Change your delivery options before delivery is attempted

Tracked48 aims to deliver in 2-3 working days, but otherwise the same services.

This is the service which will now be available at Post Offices on demand.  At this stage branches don't know much about it but it seems that whilst normally Horizon labels will be used (and a new code, perhaps?), it will also be possible to prepay in stamps before you leave home!

There is no rate for letters (although letters may be sent at the Large Letter rate) the lowest price is £3.50 for a Large Letter up to 750g for Tracked24 and £2.70 for Tracked48.  The signed option costs more.

So how does this compare with existing services?

The cheapest way to send a letter will still be under a pound at 85p (2nd class) and £1.35 (1st class).  

But for dealers sending out orders, or collectors sending (say) first day covers to the postmarking centres or selling on online platforms, this could be a much better option than Royal Mail Signed For.  EBay, for example, prefer items to be tracked - and Signed For doesn't involve tracking.

If a signature is not obtained every time, or is so illegible as not to indicate who actually signed for the package, then what use is Signed For?

Prices for 750 grammes (I have compared Tracked48 with 2nd class and Tracked 24 with 1st.):

2nd class: standard - £2.70;  signed for - £4.40;  Tracked48 - £2.70;   Tracked48 with signature - £4.40.

1st class:  standard - £3.50;  signed for - £5.20;  Tracked24 - £3.50;   Tracked24 with signature - £5.20.

So rather than send packages by 1st class Signed For (when we don't actually need a signature) we can send them by Tracked48 for 80p less or Tracked24 for the same amount as standard post. 

Yes, you can get your 750g mail Tracked without paying any extra!   

A basic 2nd class Signed For letter at £2.55 is only 15p less than Tracked48 without signature. Similarly a 100g 1st class Signed For Large Letter at £3.80 is 60p less than Tracked 48 with signature but much more than Tracked 48 without.

If tracking is preferable to a signature then 15p is a reasonable price to pay.

Impact on Services

Services will only be impacted if people take advantage of this new option - and if I have understood everything correctly!

Post Office branches will deal with more over the counter work than previously. Even if you take Standard Letters into branch to get a certificate of posting, that has go to be quicker than Tracked processing.

Royal Mail Deliveries are already suffering and workers on the coal face say that tracked parcels are prioritised over ordinary letters (which includes Signed For).  Corporate management deny that this is policy but the fact remains that it is happening.   So if we send Tracked24/48 they will have even more to prioritise.  

I feel sorry for the people who don't get their mail when they should: we have absolutely no trouble locally - if I can send an order to Skye on Friday and have the cheque on Tuesday, then it couldn't be any better.

But UKTracked is certainly going to be worth considering from now on.

UPDATE 15 July 2024  'Harry' reports that these services have now gone live at all post offices in WHSmith branches.  There is no option to prepay in stamps neither the whole nor part of the cost.  This is a photo of the screen with the 'Pre-paid' button greyed out.

Horizon screen when Tracked 24/48 being purchased - no option to prepay in stamps.

Thursday 7 March 2024

March 2024 slogan postmarks and other interesting postal markings.

The March slogan programme can properly be said to have started on 29 February because that was the only date of use for the St David's Day slogan, to be delivered on 1 March, but applied to both 1st and 2nd class mail.

We have no intimation that it was translated into Welsh for delivery to Welsh addresses, although that would have been logical!

St David's
Friday 1st March

Thanks to JE for one example for each layout shown here, from Preston (Lancashire and South Lakes) and Edinburgh Mail Centres.

St David's Day slogan Edinburgh Mail Centre 29-02-2024 unnecessarily on PPI mail

St David's Day slogan Lancashire and South Lakes (Preston Mail Centre) 29/02/2024

Thanks also to RS for this one from Medway showing use of one of January's Spice Girls stamps.

St David's Day slogan Medway Mail Centre 29-02-2024

We understand that there will be a similar slogan for St Patrick's Day delivered on 16 March (to be used on 15 March only) the day itself being a Sunday. St George's and  St Andrew's days will probably follow later in the year.

From 1st March we would expect the temporary British Heart Foundation RevivR slogan to be used, with the next 'special' being (as mentioned in February) the International Women's Day slogan which will be used in both formats on 5 & 6 March only, with the aim of 'doormat delivery' (for 1st class letters) on 6 & 7 March, 'the day' being on 8 March.  

Here's Royal Mail's publicity photograph for the #IWD slogan - the Mail Centre date of 8 March is wrong:

International Women's Day slogan paste-up.

 International Women's Day
8 March 2024

Here's the first one I've been sent, by RL, notable for three reasons.  1 - it is very clear; 2 - it was used the day before the dates I was given;  3 - the stamp is no longer valid but wasn't surcharged.  Used at Cumbria Dumfries & Galloway on 05/03/2024.   It will also be added to my Postal History blog.

International Women's Day slogan Cumbria Dumfries & Gallowy 05/03/2024

From 8 March the 'original' default British Heart Foundation slogan should be used.... and here is an exaample from Plymouth and Cornwall Mail Centre on 09/03/2024

Original British Heart Foundation slogan re-used Plymouth and Cornwall 09/03/2024

As we were advised, a slogan was used for St Patrick's Day on 15 March for delivery on 16th. Monday is a holiday in Ireland.  Two examples, from Medway Mail Centre 15-03-2024 and Lancashire and South Lakes (Preston Mail Centre) 15/03/2024.  Thanks to JE for these.  Expect the BHF slogan again after this.

St Patrick's
Sunday 17th March

St Patrick's Day slogan Lancashire and South Lakes 15/03/2024
St Patrick's Day slogan Medway Mail Centre 15-03-2024

And it is appropriate that we have this one from Northern Ireland Mail Centre, Belfast: thanks to BW for this one.

St Patrick's Day slogan Northern Ireland Mail Centre 15/03/2024

UPDATE 9 April

The last slogan sent to us is the default British Heart Foundation slogan (original) applied in reverse on a square envelope.  Thanks to MM for this from Tyneside NE/SR Mail Centre 25/03/2024.


Default British Heart Foundation slogan in reversed format from Tyneside MC 25/03/2024


Here's a Revenue Protection mark that I haven't seen before.  I believe it may have been applied in Carlisle mail centre as the letter travelled between Cumbria and Dorset.  This is early March 2024.

Revenue Protection 'tick'-mark possibly applied at Carlisle Mail Centre March 2024

An earlier cover to the same address last year was surcharged, incorrectly.  See section 3 on this blog post.

Here are two postmarks from across the Irish Sea.  The stamps were cancelled with An Post's self-inking datestamp at Port an Chalaidh, known in English as Ferrybank, and part of Waterford (Port Láirge).  At the Portlaoise Mails Centre their ink-jet slogan was applied.  Portlaoise is about 55 miles north of Wateford in a central area. Ireland has only three Mails Centres, the other two being in Athlone and Dublin.

Portlaoise Mails Centre slogan 29 2 24 'Send from the ♥︎'

Port an Chalaidh Port Láirge self-inking datestamp 29.2.24


If you have any other slogans used this month, or any other interesting postal markings from any period or place, please send them to the email address in the top right of this blog.  Thank you.

Remember, all postmarks appearing in March will be added to this post, so check here before you spend time scanning and emailing.  I'll try to add new ones as quickly as possible.

Tuesday 5 March 2024

The Age of Dinosaurs - set and miniature sheet: 12 March 2024

Ten years ago Royal Mail issued a set of stamps that had been postponed from 2012. The postponement was mainly because of the volume of stamps from the Olympics with the unexpected extras from the Paralympics. 

Originally coinciding with the centenary of the publication Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dinosaur thriller, The Lost World, the 2013 issue date was then close to the BBC/20thC Fox movie production Walking With Dinosaurs.

2013 Dinosaurs set used on commercial covers.

In the write-up for that issue Royal Mail referred to the "strong regional connection with Dorset due mainly to discoveries by pioneering fossil hunter Mary Anning".  Few people outside Dorset and  palaeontology have even heard of Mary Anning, but this time Royal Mail make her the focus of the issue.

Dinosaurs 2024, two pairs of 1st class stamps

Royal Mail's write-up:

"The Mesozoic Era, or the ‘Age of the Dinosaurs’ as it is commonly known, lasted from 252 to 66 million years ago and comprises, in order from oldest to youngest, the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. During most of this time, from the Late Triassic onwards, a group of reptiles known as dinosaurs dominated the land. Other non-dinosaur reptiles also thrived during this period, including marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, as well as the flying pterosaurs.

Fossilised remains help us to unearth the secrets of these incredible creatures, and one of the greatest fossil hunters of the 19th century was Mary Anning. Anning lived during a time when it was fashionable for wealthy Georgians to visit seaside towns to acquire fossils to add to their cabinets of curiosities. It was also when palaeontology was becoming recognised as a branch of the natural sciences. Anning spent her life unearthing ‘curios’ from the fossil-rich cliffs near her home in Lyme Regis, Dorset, to sell to tourists and scientific collectors alike, and made many important discoveries.

A fascination with prehistoric life continues today. Palaeontologists study all fossilised past life, including corals, fishes, mammals and plants, in addition to prehistoric reptiles. Fossils can help us not only to learn about the lives of these species, but to understand what the Earth was like in the past.

The set has once again been prepared in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in London, this time using scientists from six different palaeontological disciplines.

The new designs by digital illustrator Joshua Dunlop combine scientific accuracy with artistic brilliance in a captivating homage to the wonders of palaeontology, appealing to both stamp enthusiasts and dinosaur fans alike."

Details of the dinosaurs on the stamps are a the foot of the post.

Dinosaurs 2024, two pairs of £2 stamps

"The Miniature Sheet...

... is a tribute to Mary Anning who was one of the first professional fossil hunters.

Her discoveries of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and pterosaurs on the Dorset coast, near her home in Lyme Regis, paved the way for modern palaeontology and contributed to the understanding of prehistoric life on Earth. 

Each of her discoveries are presented within picture frames in the miniature sheet with captions written in microtext which can be read under a magnifying glass."

Dinosaurs miniature sheet publicity picture showing drawn-in perforations

Dinosaurs miniature sheet scan

The stamps individually

One of the 19th century’s greatest fossil hunters, Mary Anning made a series of incredible discoveries that helped the scientific community to better understand the remarkable creatures that inhabited Earth’s ancient seas and skies.

A complete fossilised juvenile skeleton of the marine reptile with coprolite remains inside the rib cage. Purchased from Mary Anning c.1835.

A near-complete Jurassic fish fossil, showing scale patterning and delicate fin structures. Collected by Mary Anning c.1829.

A near-complete fossilised juvenile skeleton of the marine reptile lacking parts of the tail. Collected by Mary Anning in 1830.

Technical Details

The 50 x 30 mm stamps were printed by Cartor Security Printers in lithography on gummed paper, perf 14. The design was by The Chase, with illustrations by Joshua Dunlop.

The 180 x 74 mm miniature sheet was printed by Cartor Security Printers in lithography on self-adhesive paper.  The Mary Anning and Dapedium stamps are 27 x 37 mm perf 14.  The Ichthyosaur is 27 x 27 mm perf 14.  The Pleiosaur is 35 mm square perf 14½.


Set of 8, miniature sheet, presentation pack, stamp cards, first day covers x2, press sheet of 12 miniature sheets (ediiton of 200 at £60 each).  T-Rex coin cover, framed set, framed T-Rex print.

Write-up of Sheet Stamps

1st - Tyrannosaurus was a fierce predator that belonged to a group of dinosaurs known as theropods. One of the largest meat-eating animals ever to live on land, Tyrannosaurus lived during the Late Cretaceous Period between 68 and 66 million years ago. The first known specimen was discovered in 1900 in Wyoming, USA.

1st - Triceratops was one of the biggest horned dinosaurs. It lived around 68 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period, alongside the likes of Tyrannosaurus. Triceratops weighed about 5 tonnes and measured up to 9m in length – its head alone was about as long as a person. It had a curved, bony frill jutting out over its neck and a hard beak at the end of its nose. The word Triceratops means ‘three-horned face’ – a reference to its impressive horns, which may have been used in defence against large meat eaters.

1st - Coloborhynchus was a type of pterosaur, a group of extinct flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era. Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to achieve flight over 220 million years ago and included the largest flying creatures of all time. Coloborhynchus lived during the Early Cretaceous Period and was one of the earliest pterosaurs to be discovered.

1st - Iguanodon was a large ornithopod that lived during the Early Cretaceous Period between 125 and 110 million years ago. Reaching a length of about 10m, it was a very large dinosaur – longer than both Triceratops and Stegosaurus – and a herbivore that probably ate around 30kg of plants every day. It is thought that Iguanodon probably walked on both two and four legs. It was one of the most successful dinosaurs, with remains having been found in many parts of Europe. Iguanodon had a large thumb spike, which was probably used to fend off predators. It also had a very long finger that it used to gather food.

£2 - Stegosaurus belongs to a group of dinosaurs known as stegosaurs, which are defined by the bony armour plates or spines that extend along the back in two parallel rows. Despite being one of the most recognisable dinosaurs, we know relatively little about it, as remains of Stegosaurus are rare.

£2 - Diplodocus. One of the longest dinosaurs ever to have existed, Diplodocus was a long-necked prehistoric creature belonging to a group of dinosaurs called sauropods. It lived 150 million years ago at the end of the Jurassic Period. Reaching up to 27m in length, Diplodocus was a giant, weighing around 20 tonnes – as much as three male African elephants. It may have used its long neck to reach the tops of tall trees and its comb-like teeth to rake leaves into its mouth.

£2 - Megalosaurus was one of three species (along with Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus) that led palaeontologist and anatomist Sir Richard Owen to coin the term ‘Dinosauria’ back in 1842, when he realised that all three creatures shared common characteristics and were their own distinct group of reptiles. His paper sparked a fascination with dinosaurs that continues today. It was William Buckland, a clergyman and palaeontologist, who, in 1824, named the creature Megalosaurus, which means ‘great lizard’. This was the first scientific description ever produced of what became known as a dinosaur. Megalosaurus was a large theropod that roamed what is now England during the Middle Jurassic Period between 170 and 155 million years ago. Growing up to 9m long, it was one of the largest predators of the Middle Jurassic.

£2 - Cryptoclidus was a type of plesiosaur – a group of extinct marine reptiles that existed from the Middle Triassic to the Late Cretaceous Periods. Some species reached 15m in length, although most were between 3m and 5m long. Plesiosaurs have been described as looking like a ‘snake threaded through a turtle’. Their limbs were large, well-developed paddles and it is thought that Cryptoclidus flapped these up and down in a similar way to a turtle. Plesiosaurs would have been found across the world, including in what is now Argentina, USA, Australia, France, Germany, China and Morocco. Many fossils have been found of Cryptoclidus, particularly from the Oxford Clay Formation in the UK, making it one of the best understood of all plesiosaurs.

Saturday 2 March 2024

Sales of Invalidated stamps - New NVI, airmail, double-head list

I wrote in January that this exercise was nearing its end.   The final list is a wrap-up of stamps in categories not included in the other lists.

The new list is List 12 - NVIs and miscellaneous. It tidies all the loose ends not covered by the X-, Y,- and U-numbered stamps. It extends to the double-headed (Queen Victoria) stamps including those with numerical face values, and the airmail stamps. 

This apparently simple set of 5 was printed by three printers, using two processes and two different perforation gauges.  At the time these were issued Royal Mail was trying various types of booklet production and whilst some books of 4/10 were normally perforated, some were guillotined (ie imperforate) on the two long sides, and some on three sides, producing stamps with one edge or two adjacent edges imperforate. 

So to the basic SG Concise listing of 13 can be added 20 perforation varieties. Later there were 20p and 1st class printings with elliptical perforations, so there are another 5 there.  Quite attractive are se-tenant pairs with top and bottom, or left and right imperforate.  (This type of collecting is very popular in Sweden.)

The list includes many stamps with either blue or yellow phosphor, and several different 1st & 2nd class coils, some available in strips of up to 20 (although folded at 5s).  

List 12 also includes the short-lived Pricing in Proportion stamps of 2006, and the five airmail NVIs including these two.

Some of these are also available in complete booklets and exist with many misplaced phosphor bands.

Also listed are three different 'Boots' labels.


The full list

List 1 Booklets for sale v13

List 2 Prestige Booklets v3 

List 3 Regional Machin definitives (not yet updated)

List 5 Pictorial Country definitives (not yet updated)

List 7 Machin X-list for sale v4 (updated 26 January)

List 8 Machin Y-list for sale v4 (updated 26 January)

List 9 Security Machins for sale 

List 10 - Smilers Sheets and singles for sale

List 11 - Castle High Values 1988-1997.

NEW: List 12 - NVIs, airmail, PIP and miscellaneous. (2 March 2024)

Some stocks are already lower than shown on these lists because I have returned to Royal Mail some hundreds of stamps, mainly where the quantities I had were excessive.  I've also broken up some Prestige Books - all those have been available here for long enough for anybody who needed them.

If the quantity is shown as zero 0 or - for sheet stamps, then please do not ask for these as we do not have any stock.  Zero quantities for booklet stamps may be sourced from booklets - please ask.

The next stocks I shall weed will be Regional and Country stamps (Lists 3 and 5) because there is very little interest in those now.   

If anybody would like a bulk lot of low-value stamps for crafting or other artistic purposes please contact me by email.  

Similarly if anybody would like any empty PSB books, or the gummed part of some panes, please also contact me.  There are some for which I have dozens, and I would gladly send them.