January 24, 2018

Watch 'Royal Mail'- an HBO series coming soon.

What on Earth is going on these days at the Ministry of We Decide What Goes On Stamps? After a mass of Star Wars promotion we now get a Game of Thrones promotion with almost every philatelic item being thrown into the mix. A little old lady was quite perplexed when Counter staff gave her a book of 1st Class stamps recently that bore a completely different image to one of the Queen as she had expected. Now she will have to figure out what something that looks like a wheatsheaf is doing on there.

Remarkable as the HBO Series may be, is this really a suitable topic for a British stamp issue? I suppose we have had several authors depicted, some even having their own series, and Pink Floyd, David Bowie and several others have been there, representing today's music industry so the devotion of an issue and many extras to another successful piece of art has to be seen as being consistent in some respects.

My feeling is, however, that issues that depict such recent, indeed current in this instance, work are more promotional material, for which one presumes Royal Mail receive hefty chunks of money which defrays the cost of production and, when taken with what one assumes will be good sales across the world to fans of the product, the coffers remain adequate for the provision of tedious stuff like delivering letters to us here in Britain.

I ceased collecting what used to be called Commemorative issues way back in the 1980s when the frequency and size of issues seemed to increase and I began to think that some issues were being released purely for collectors to collect. Even in those days you would see few used on envelopes or parcels and the 'prestige' books remain unopened (and largely unread) to this day.

Anyway, there's a book of six 1st Class Game of Thrones stamps which, of course, is nothing to do with Machins but it serves as an introduction to the few new ones that we will feel obliged to acquire from the prestige book.

In there you will find a 5p Ash Pink, 20p green and £1.17 orange with M17L MPIL codes. I do wonder somewhat whether, if I were to start collecting now then I would ignore the prestige booklet Machins. I would have to have one or two of the early ones which people did, actually, buy and use but that is all. The others will forever only be seen in panes like this one or in parts cut out for individual items for supply by dealers. I believe one could, quite simply, delete all of them from collections and it wouldn't matter. If people wished to collect prestige books then that is perfectly fine by me but the Machins in them now leave me slightly cold and a touch annoyed that I have had to spend so much to get them. 

You will also notice a 2nd Northern Ireland Regional in there, by the way. That is the first NI stamp from Cartor.

Now, to the real stamps.

The 2p now gets security printed backing, as does the 10p. Both are MAIL M17L codes by De La Rue.

The security printing may not be at all clear in this illustration but it is there!

We also get a 5p Ash Pink 2 band in quite a darker shade of one of ash or pink than before.

So there are three genuine new Machins for your album, at least.

December 21, 2017

Yet more Star Wars

Star Wars again. Now I am sure that it is a great film series and I do recognise the important British contribution to it but I find the extraordinary output from the Royal Mail to celebrate, promote and generally support what is essentially a commercial venture making profits for someone far away slightly surprising.

I remember the days when there were frowns and threats of dismissal merely for suggesting that someone who might be alive at the time appears on a stamp along with Her Majesty. I suppose these fellows are not alive. All most odd but never mind.

The prestige booklet has the traditional Machin pane which provides us with the three new stamps shown: A 1st Class in (oddly) an old shade of red M17L MPIL, a 2nd Class bright blue M17L MPIL and a £1.40 pale grey M17L MPIL.

Also turning up this month is a 1st Class Royal Mail red with a 16 code! M16L MAIL sheet issue that you might have thought had been issued already but it hasn't.

There is also a 1st Class Royal Mail red M17L MSIL from a Walsall booklet. This is the first with the new type of security printing on the backing paper.

I may have forgotten to mention two other new 1st Class issues recently. A 1st Class Royal Mail red M17L MCIL and another M17L MTIL from the Concrete and Clay Star Wars booklet and Walsall books of 12 respectively.

As I have said before, I shall not be bothering with the variations where the security printing is the other way up. There are limits . . .

Not the most exciting of times, I'm afraid. Although I am not seeking to have a renewal of those crazy inflation rates of the past, the combined effect of NVI issues and few rate changes has led to very few new stamps of late. Remarkably, just yesterday I was in a queue at a Post Office when a lady was saying that she was unable to buy second class stamps anywhere. I suggested that the chap behind the counter make up the amount with whatever he might have in stock by way of definitives. "I don't keep any", he announced. It seems that they do everything that's required now with the Horizon label machine. That explains a lot!

Perhaps now we collectors are not only the sole purchasers of Royal Mail's 'special issue' output but also their good old standard definitives too. It really does feel like the time has come to draw this series to a close.

August 26, 2017

More M17L and that's about it.


There hasn't been much to get excited about in August. Some more 17 codes have emerged, the MBIL and MTIL 2nd Class stamps and an MBIL 1st Class which I thought we'd had earlier but obviously not.

Royal Mail's Signed For service must be proving popular as there has been an M17L version of that now too. Although I use the service almost every day, Towcester and Greens Norton Post Offices just slap on the computer printed labels. I don't mind particularly as I cannot really ask clients to send me back the wrapping!

I believe that there have also been some changes in which way up, or which comes first, in the large and small text on the backing paper. As I have written about previously, this really does not interest me and it seems all too easy for anyone to create their own anyway. That effectively means that the only examples that will be recognised as different in years to come will be those that have other sections of the sheet or booklet attached. So if you think that one of these variations is going to be particularly valuable on account of its short life then you'll need to make sure it has sufficient extra bits to be identified as such.

Anyone searching for Machins in the recent issues of the British Philatelic Bulletin will have been very disappointed. July's Bulletin had no Machin stamps at all and August had just a couple on covers that were not the topic of an article anyway.

August 10, 2017

5p yellow-olive. Or am I seeing things?

Just spotted these in a stockbook someone sent me. 5p yellow-olive? I don't remember that. In fact I have no record of it in my lists either. Two phosphor bands. Similar print to the 5p lake shown  and colour very similar to the 6p. Have I missed something? Am I going slightly mad?

No obvious signs elsewhere on the strip of discoloration by acid or something, although that has to be my first thought as to what has produced these. A print of the 5p in the 6p colour would be extraordinary.

June 29, 2017

Let's get some of these stamps on the mail

This miniature sheet was also issued as part of the Machin 50th Anniversary but, for some reason, I didn't get a copy from Edinburgh. Not sure why but a supplier has sent me two so it may have been just as well!

This shows a few of the various different styles used for the definitive, all but the 4d being perforated and able to be used for real, not that more than half a dozen ever will be, I suspect*.

To my eye they all seem to have broader white margins than the originals. It is nice to see the first self-adhesive honoured here, albeit now with gum! The PIP 1st gold is there, I am sure, purely to annoy me as I have written so often in the past of how I find it a dreadful design and I really had not wanted to be reminded of it. But that's life. The 1st red is also unique in having the code M17L MMIL.

The sheet contains another example of the rather splendid, if a touch showy, £1 very shiny gold. I cannot detect any difference between this and the four in the prestige booklet but no doubt there are differences if you are into fluor and phosphor glow. I cannot ven see the phosphor bars at all!

So here, too, are the entries from the prestige booklet:

£1 very shiny gold

1st gold PIP, 20p 150th Anniversary style (no codes) and 1st Royal Mail red M17L MPIL

5p brown pink, 20p green (no codes) and £1 ruby, M17L MPIL

1st black with ellipses

50p grey no code

1p cerise no code

Getting back to normal issues now, there are a further four with 17 codes:

2p deep green DLR 2 bands M17L MAIL

1p crimson DLR 2 bands M17L MAIL

1st Royal Mail red Walsall M17L MSIL Type I backing

1st Large Royal Mail red Walsall M17L MFIL type II backing
*The sheet I started with above costs just £3.85 which is the total face value of the decimal stamps. If you can get this at a Post Office then I urge you to do so - in fact buy lots and use these on your mail. Well, stick the 1st PIP on some bills or something that is likely to be destroyed shortly after arrival but the rest may eventually land in some child's collection here or there.

I suspect that my local Post Office in Towcester, despite being redecorated recently and re-opening today (the 1970s shelving had had its day really), will not have these so I may have to spend some money and get a supply from Edinburgh. It'll be well worth it, though, if a few do get through to someone else who will care for them and someone new may, perhaps, be inspired to treasure Machins for another 50 years.

June 05, 2017

Machin @ 50


50 years ago today, these three stamps were issued, the start of a long and fascinating list of Machin definitives still going today.

I was still 14 and 3/1d was quite a lot to fork out in those days, especially as I would have had a first day cover and some tipped examples too, requiring about 10/- if not a shade more. This was also the day that I met my dear old friend Mr Vincent. He would walk from the Booksellers Retreat to Kings Langley Post Office. That was a fair trip for someone in their 70s too but there he could count on a carefully positioned postmark being applied to all his collector friends' envelopes and a few attached to a white sheet to be supplied as used copies.

To mark the occasion Royal Mail have produced a fine prestige book - two in fact but I can only afford the one without the silver medallion and display case. I am pretty sure the stamps will be the same.

There is also a simple booklet of 6 1st Class red and some quite attractive Post And Go stamps in Machin style and in six shades that are inspired by the original definitives. As they stand they are certainly nice to look at but they'll just be the usual pack issued by Royal Mail that are unlikely ever to see real envelopes or parcel paper. If each shade is supplied, however, to machines across the nation then there will be quite a few to collect as in the case of the pictorial issues. If they start adding overprints then I fear for the credit-worthiness of those who still feel obliged to collect them. I may have to pick up a set of these on this special occasion but I'll stick to the simple 1st Class values.

There is a rather less attractive set of stamps (also included in the prestige book) which display the design of the definitive at various points but these stamps don't work for me. The booklet has an excellent and well laid-out and illustrated timeline but this set looks bland and I can't see it being that popular.

The best thing of all, in my opinion, is a pane of 4 £1 stamps in the prestige booklet. They are printed in what looks like gold foil, producing a wonderfully shiny surface on stamps the same size as the 1969 high value issue. I can't imagine postmarks staying long on that surface but I may be wrong. I intend to get hold of a supply of these lovely stamps and use them on parcels for a while. They're too good to leave lying in a book.

The other panes show the different Machin stamp designs over the years, (including the ghastly PIP one which still stands out like a sore thumb!) The centre label is a magnified section of the 50p high value issue in dark grey rather than its original ultramarine.

Another pane has some of the current range but only the £1 has the iridescent code. I remember how I used to write regularly to suggest that (much as I like the range of values as a collector) they should think about issuing just the 1 - 2 - 5 - 10 - 20 - 50 - £1 - £2 - £5 values which would enable all rates to be met with just a small group. The centre pane would seem to be no more than a representation of how 50 now appears in contrast to the first appearance.

 The booklet cover is smart. Reminds me of the slide I created for my talk about Machins to some people in St Albans a little while ago.

May 29, 2017

Heads or Tails? Our Children's Children Won't Give A Toss.

In my previous article, I looked at what I might start calling Heads and Tails - stamps printed on the new security backing paper with text in either direction - suggesting that we could have all sorts of problems if people simply unpeeled mint stamps and stuck them back on the backing paper the other way up.

I couldn't figure out whether this would actually make any difference or not so have just tried it with a 5p that I had lying around.

This is the wrong way up - and would be described by one dealer as Small-Large.

This is how it should have been. It would be described as Large-Small.

So, yes, this simple switch does make a difference and we need all to be aware and not splash out on supposedly 'rare' variations. Personally, I think it could even be a bit of a waste of money to collect the genuine heads or tails issues as they're so easy to create that I don't see our children's children getting at all excited about finding these in the collections they inherit in years to come.

Security Backing Paper Up and Down.

The 20p and 5p have now appeared with M17L MAIL codes, being the De La Rue counter sheet issues.

From Walsall we also have M17L MBIL from Business sheets

and a Walsall 1st red with M17l MTIL from books of twelve.


Two more '16' codes here for the Walsall 1st red M16L MBIL and 2nd blue M16L MTIL

Lastly, something nice and confusing for us all! If you look at the 2nd Class above and 1st Class below you'll see that the security backing text looks a bit different from one to the other. I think that's because one has the text printed upside down in comparison to the other. Because the lines of text are now not only large-small-large but also normal-inverted-normal but either the large or small can be one or the other. So if the paper is printed in one direction it will appear different to that printed in the other. Now, so far, I gather that only one issue has been produced in both ways. That's the Walsall 1st red M16L MSIL from books of six.

One dealer is distinguishing these by asking us to look at the first line of text that is upright and below an inverted line. This will either be large or small text and will be followed by another upright line in either small or large text respectively. So you look down the left edge and the first two lines of upright text will determine the type. This one above is Large-Small. Because the Walsall M16L MSIL first appeared with the older style backing text, where each line was upright, this is even more confusing than I first thought. In fact, I don't seem to have an example of the Small-Large at all so assume that the dealer sent me this one as simply an example of the new security backing paper for the M16L MSIL issue and not, as I had thought, the second type of the new security backing paper.

Before looking through my previous items and finally getting my head around how to detect the difference I had already written to the dealer to say that I really couldn't get excited about this and so please exclude these inverted but not really inverted small-large or large-small things from my standing order. It now looks like they hadn't actually sent me both types anyway. So they'll be thinking I am a bit stupid.

To be honest, I think it is entirely reasonable to be a bit stupid about this. For a start, we're talking about something that really is not easy to detect unless you have a nice fat margin of paper around a mint stamp, and which is not part of the stamp at all but some printing on the paper it is attached to and will, occasionally, be detached from.

How long before someone peels off the stamps and then replaces them the other way up? That would achieve the same result, I think, and be virtually impossible to detect. Yes, the more I think about this, it is nothing like paper types, watermarks, stars printed on the back and all the previous variations we've had to consider and which have been worth collecting. I'm quite glad to have excluded them. For all I know, all the new SBP issues could be found with this alternative text. As it is there's a risk of more year codes for all of them and this could effectively double the numbers again!

I shall consider that a close call.

May 02, 2017

New 17 codes and security backing paper issues

The DLR Special Delivery 100g stamp must be popular as it now gets an M17L code.

So too is the DLR 1st Large Signed For.

The DLR 1st and 2nd Large issues have M17L codes and the new type of backing paper showing a darker print and large -small text.

The Walsall 1st M16L MTIL booklet stamp with the new security backing paper.

DLR 1st and 2nd M17L counter sheet issues with the new sceurity backing paper.

Several of the recently issued new values also have now appeared with the new security backing paper.
The long-lived 10p from DLR now has an M17L code for the counter issue but no printed security backing paper.