September 13, 2013

Stamp Collecting After Privatisation: First Thoughts

Will forthcoming changes at Royal Mail affect stamp collecting? That's the question being asked and I have to admit that it hadn't occurred to me that there was any change to stamps coming but I guess I do need to think about that now. I'd just seen it as a change in contracts for parcels in the main but I guess it could be much more dramatic.

Privatisation will mean that neither the Government nor HM The Queen need have any say in the services being offered by what is presently called Royal Mail. I should imagine that there would be some pretty strict conditions laid down if the trading name Royal Mail were to continue to be used by one or other of the private enterprises taking over. That would, I should hope, mean controls over how the monarch's head is utilised, advertising associations (she may well not wish to be shown aside a Big Brother advert, for instance) and with security features embedded in printing of labels to ensure that forged items do not flourish and impact adversely upon our Head of State's reputation for trust and reliability.

Use of the phrase stamp collecting does rather assume that there will be labels of some sort to collect, of course. Whatever the method of purchasing delivery, one would expect that there will be a continuing need for some sort of label to confirm that delivery has been paid for. There has been an increased use of Horizon labels and PostAndGo labels taking the place of what we normally think of as stamps and I think it is fair to say that the big gold things have not endeared themselves to a new generation of collectors. The fact that they feature a massive Machin head has, however, kept a degree of interest amongst dedicated followers of Machin like myself and I am anxiously trying to maintain a complete collection of each type issued.

The PostAndGo labels are not as widely seen, being available at a comparatively limited number of offices still and, of course, people still have the normal choice of definitives and special issues at Post Office counters and books of NVIs at many outlets.

They are definitely more likely to get a wider following as they look quite cute and come in sets and appeal to young and old collectors alike. If they continue, that is.

There are masses of special issues each year - this year's topics being as diverse as Dr Who and the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Bertram Mackennal. I have always had doubts about how many of these ever actually reach envelopes or packages, though. I suppose they are collected but some new organisation should be able to continue to churn out sets every month or so and they'll continue to be bought. I don't think special issue collectors are, in the main, that bothered about the Queen's head either. So special issues should be a nice little way of making a few shillings for the new people and need have nothing to do with postal services really.

What will be affected will be the collection of definitive stamps. I see a continuing market for Horizon or PostAndGo type labels, with or without the Queen's head - so they will be bouyant whatever happens, albeit in a modest size, mostly quite specialist market. So too should the pictorial definitives be as collectible, not that there are very many anyway. Some readers may never have seen this, for instance!

It is the Machins that this will eventually be all about. This internationally praised and much-loved series started in 1967 and, even to the surprise of some of its biggest fans, is still going strong 46 years on.

If the service continues with permission granted for continued use of the Queen's head (whether or not called Royal Mail) then all will be well. There could, indeed, be a decided increase in sales for a while as there will be lots of publicity, new rates and, possibly, new printings with all the fun and games that that will imply! To many collectors like me, that would be a wonderful time. I remember missing all the rapid rate changes in 1989-90, the double head 150th anniversary of the Penny Black issues and lots of stamps in books with all sorts of variations of straight cut edges, printers, gums and so on. It took ages to track all the variants down some years later so I will be one of many determined not to miss a thing this time!

Even if there are several competing firms within the new delivery service, and a choice for customers as to how they get a letter from here to there with all the different styles and types of labels to evidence the process, I would think that the very diversity will have some appeal - even if, for my own part, I would be inclined merely to stick to the Machins.

What would I do if the Queen's head were to go, though? Well, that would end the Machin series and there would be a great deal of philatelic weeping and wailing but it has to occur at some point so 2013 is a good as any, I suppose. Much depends on what replaces these stamps. I will almost certainly start with whatever is produced and many others will too, just in case they prove valuable, short-lived or meet any one of many criteria for apparent monetary gain and the satisfying feeling that gives (even if we never have even the remotest chance of selling any!)

Something well-designed will appeal and be collectible again and probably appeal and sell quite widely. I see British scenes being a theme - there was a great set of stamps issued recently in an A-Z of Britain which was beautifully produced and would be very popular. I doubt that many will have seen them - a reissue would save a lot on design fees too.

For me, something not well designed will also be collectible. I really quite look forward to getting hold of the early efforts at getting labels right that some of the new service providers will be doing. I hope they make mistakes, spell things wrong, change fonts, gum, paper, printer...

So, it would seem, and it has only been after scribbling all this that it is clear; I will continue to collect and the changes will, if anything, have me and thousands like me spending more than ever. For a while, at least.