Wednesday 3 April 2024

Still with Machins: add something different to your collection?

The Machin portrait used on the definitive stamps from 1964 was also used on postal stationery including Envelopes, Postcards, Letter Cards, and Air Letters or Aerogrammes.

Whilst some products continued into the 21st century, Letter Cards were discontinued in 1982 and were replaced by Postnotes.  These were in a similar format to Air Letters but are printed on cream laid paper with text in shades of brown, and two phosphor bands (which are visible in this picture). They were valid up to 60g (although now they would be valid up to 100g).  

I don't know the selling price but the postage rate at the time was 15½p, which rose to 16p in April.

Address panel of basic Postnote

The unfolded size is A4, 210 x 297 mm (excluding the flaps)

1. Unfolded Postnote with text* - a 'Royal Mail' product

I don't know whether Postnotes were sold singly, but they were definitely sold in packs of 5.  

2. Pack of 5 Postnotes - front 1982

Pack of 5 Postnotes - back 1982

A well-known variation to the Postnotes were those sold in a promotion with the Milk Marketing Board (MMB).   There's an article about them here.  Buying fresh cream in pots would enable you to buy a pack of 7 special Postnotes for 84p (12p each) if you sent in two cleaned foil tops!

Unfolded Dairy Postnote with inscription at foot Post notes: a 'Royal Mail' product

The four different 'Dairy' designs on Postnotes - Strawberries, Church, Farm, Milk Churn (my identification names).

3. Dairy Postnotes pack of 7 - 2 each of 3 designs plus one other, 1983.

Dairy Postnotes pack of 7 with small Fresh Cream Recipe Book and Film Processing envelope.

The Welsh aspect

There were three other variants of the Postnotes, all apparently available from some Post Offices in Wales. Two showed buildings in Cardiff - Cardiff Castle and City Hall - while the third promoted the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod.  The exact status of these is uncertain.

4. Postnote promotoing the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod. The internal inscription on this one is Postnotes: a 'Royal Mail' Product with Postnotes all one word, and Product capitalised.

For Sale

1. Single original Postnote - £2.00

2. Pack of 5 original Postnotes (opened) - £9.00

3. Pack of 7 Dairy Postnotes (opened but with additions) - £25.00

3a. Single Dairy Postnote. These designs only: Strawberries, Church and Farm - £3.50 each

3b. Dairy Postnote (Farm) with BPF 68th Congress Norwich 1986 (see below) - £1.50

4. Eisteddfod Postnote - £5.00

3b Dairy 'Farm' Postnote with 1986 British Philatelic Federation 68th Congress Norwich postmark.

I wrote earlier that the Postnotes were based on Air Letters or Aerogrammes.  These were printed on light-weight blue paper in various shades.

Example of 5p Air Letter illustrated with the VC-10 Jet Airliner
The Air Letter had been introduced into the Iraqi postal service in 1933 by the then Inspector General of Posts and Telegraphs, Major Douglas William Gumbley CBE DSO Royal Engineers. The original form, on thin paper sized 124 mm x 99 mm, greyish in colour, with bluelined framing and with the designation legend on the front. It had an embossed effigy of Faisal I of Iraq and was printed by Bradbury Wilkinson.

Lieutenant Colonel R. E. Evans, Royal Engineers, Assistant Director Army Postal Service Middle East Force (MEF), proposed that a lightweight self-sealing letter card that weighed only 1/10 oz (2.8 g) be adopted by the British Army for air mail.  

The private nature of the air letter ensured its popularity among its users and that popularity, with its lightness, brought about its continued use as the civilian air letter (aerogramme). The aerogramme cost 6d to send anywhere in the world from 1943 to 1966, increasing to 9d until 1971.  (Wikipedia)

Normal aerogrammes sold by the Post Office were prepaid postal stationery, but private forms (approved by the PO) with postage paid by adhesive stamps were acceptable. No enclosures were permitted in either.

1948 Olympic Games 6d stamp imprint on Air Letter

The King George VI issues used a 6d purple printed stamp and the 6d Olympic Games stamp in 1948. The first of the new reign used the design of the 2½d Coronation stamp revalued six pence in deep red in 1953. The first definitive design showed the Houses of Parliament and was issued in 1954. Various other imprinted stamps were used, including Christmas, and the long-running VC-10 stamp shown above spanned the conversion to decimalisation, being issued in 9d, 4p, 5p, 6p, 8½p and 10½p values until 1974. 

The Machin head was introduced in 1972 as a 6½p value.  NVI 'stamps' were introduced in 1989.  The last Air Letter was issued in 2007 but they remain valid for postage. By themselves as Air Letters they would need additional stamps, but the NVI ones remain valid at the current international airmail rate of £2.20.  

There is no Air Letter service now: I asked in my post office what would happen if inserts, such as extra pages or a postcard, were included and I was told that the NVI (= £2.20) Air Letters would be valid up to 100g.

Small-format Air Letters as the VC-10 are 150 x 316 mm (excluding flaps), but the 1972 Machin design was the first in 'A4' size, 209 x 294-8 mm.  The final cost in 2011 was 85p according to the Great Britain Philatelic Society website.

1972 6½p value A4 aerogramme

1993 50th Anniversary NVI Postage Paid aerogramme.

The postal stationery catalogue Collect British Postal Stationery records 150 different special issues including this pictorial one issued in 1979 for the Golf Open Championship.

1979 Golf Open Championship aerogramme partly captioned in Gaelic.

I have a number of Air Letters/Aerogrammes for sale, NVIs at less than the current postage rate of £2.50!   Please ask for details or let me know which ones you are interested in.


  1. Comment by White Knight. Thank you for this article. I find this very interesting. I particularly like the Milk Marketing items with the charming illustrations by Norman Battershill, of whom I had not previously heard but who, after resorting to Google, I find seems to have been a prolific artist in the mid-20th century. His art work, including drawings & watercolours, often comes up for sale apparently and is very affordable. Even more affordable I suppose should be these lovely postnotes but I’ve never seen them before and so I suppose they are pretty rare in fine condition and in a complete set are probably desirable and quite costly if one can ever find a set. The illustrations seem to belong to a philatelic age now passed. Very interesting.

    1. There were also the free Forces Aerogrammes. I have some of them.

    2. Robert (RW)
      The other Robert I think they are called Forces Airletters (Blueys) I also have a few. RW

    3. Of course being Freepost, they don't have the monarch's head, so no Machins :-)

  2. Postal stationery is a most interesting aspect of philately and usually neglected by most people. Ppstnotes are a limited aspect but include quite a bit of interest such as two different Machin heads, as can be seen from your illustrations: a rounded, shaded base (seen on the 'ordinary' postnotes) and a flat unshaded base (visible on the Dairy products).

  3. I forgot to add that Norman Battershill should also be known to philatelists as he provided the cover illustrations for several series of folded stamp books in the late 70s and early 80s, such as 10p Farm Buildings and £1, £1.20 and £1.40 Industrial Archaeology.

  4. My father used to get these often and I had not realised that the Royal Mail had done commemorative ones. To me real stamps are more satisfying somehow. There used to be within-the-UK ones which were actually good value for money as the envelopes were the equal of ones bought from stationers and you did not have to use your pretty stamps up, but I have never found them æsthetically pleasing.


Thank you for reading the blog and commenting: please use an identity (name or pseudonym) rather than being Anonymous; it helps us to know which 'anonymous' comments are from the same person to avoid confusion. Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but will be published as soon as possible.