December 15, 2014

Merry Christmas. A time for feasting and putting things away.

I was thinking, as I set this month's new additions out, how I used to put everything into either an album or a stock book as soon as it arrived. Now I have a quite unbelievable pile of envelopes and black card with stamps beneath clear acetate strips, most just about staying upright but quite a few starting to fall over or, in some worrying cases, out.

I gave up trying to keep the definitives in an album purely because I had found myself having to redo the pages every few months when new values came out. To be fair, that is nothing like the problem it was but the NVIs would be a complete nightmare now, with several hundred 1st and similar quantity of 2nd with the smallest of differences which I may not actually be able to spot myself. I just hope I can still match the various cards to the details sent with them at the time!

It is several years now since I put anything away properly - possibly six or seven - so there is quite a big job that I must do before it all gets completely out of hand! 

Something odd did hit me recently, though. I collect Corgi Toys from the 1956-74 era and, as with stamps, have this desire to get a 'complete' collection; you know, one of each model and also the colour variations too. I take photographs of the new acquisitions and display them on my web site and then advertise them for sale. Well, most of them, that is. Some I really can't see me parting with but most I can happily pack up and send to collectors all over the world. The thing is - I have seen and owned each one and have the 'collection' in photographic or digital form and I am quite happy with that (with, as I said, one or two exceptions). I didn't expect that to happen. I thought I would want to keep every one or, at least, only sell those in poor condition with a view to buying a better one some day.

What changed my attitude, I think, has been the problem of displaying them all satisfactorily. I really do have a huge number, having almost succeeded in getting an example of every one! (There are gaps - some are several hundred pounds and extremely hard to find.) So they have been stored in a box for a year or so and I am getting far more satisfaction from being able to display them digitally on my site and in various articles I write than the large brown cardboard box on the floor could provide. I have since moved them to drawers in an old 1940s tallboy but that's not going to make much difference.

It could be similar now with the more recent stamp collection. Even if I manage to get everything into albums they will be in a box somewhere and not a great deal more accessible than the stamps are now. I am beginning to wonder whether I could even go down the digital route with these? Just store images of all the variants. as I have never been a big fan of the 'need more than a magnifying glass to see' variations, this could almost work for me. I say almost because I would feel I was somehow letting myself down after all these years. The series will end before long and I have such a good collection so far that it would be a shame not to see it through to the end now.

Because part of the joy of collecting is to be able to look through what you have, compare items and be pleased at some of the values, I may well scan each page one day (well, one year as there are a lot already!) and that will enable me to browse nice and easily. But I will still keep the albums, and maybe try and find a nice shelf for them.

So, what's new this month? Not a great deal, to be honest. One interesting Post And Go Machin. The card from the Bureau and a M14L code for the Special Delivery 500g. Boy am I glad I stopped the pictorials and overprints (or whatever term we're going to use as I know, technically, they are not an overprint). I narrowly missed what would have been an absolutely massive bill for:

Machin M13L type IV BPMA Inland Airmail 6 values
Machin M12L type IV BPMA 2 values
Machin undated type IV BPMA 6 values
British Flora 3 with BPMA type IV (8 values, two designs each)
Poppy with BPMA type IV 6 values
Flag with BPMA type IV 
British Flora Presentation Pack issue 4 values
That would have been over £150 and then some 60g values have appeared on Birds II! That would have taken the bill to over £300. Phew.

I could get a really nice and rare Corgi Mini, #249 in rose-red with the Pop Art stickers for that.

Type IIA font Machin definitive Post And Gos on undated background. Quite scarce, most are on dated backgrounds.

Thank you to The Philatelic Bureau for this nice A5 card, their Christmas gift to some of us customers.

With Cartor producing the Smilers Christmas sheets, there will be another version of each of the Chritsmas 1st, 2nd, £1.28 and £1.47 stamps to collect.

Now it won't be obvious but it seems there are some pretty wide variations in the fluor on M13L MSIL 1st class stamps - running from very dull to extremely bright. And because it really isn't that obvious I think I may well be getting rid of these fairly soon. I just can't get too excited. Maybe if I but an ultra violet lamp I might. (The mark on the neck is not on the stamp but must have been on the scanner surface.)

I also have a book of six of the extremely bright fluor ones. That'll definitely be put up for sale!

Quite a pale version of the 2nd Class DLR M14l MAIL issue from September and the 500g Special Delivery stamp has now sold enough to need a reprint with a M14L code. This is an expensive item. I've still yet to see one in actual use.

November 12, 2014

Errors, mistakes and cheating

I was looking at the blue 1st Class and other value printed on the 2nd Class background and this got me thinking about errors generally.

Now, we're told that someone at a Post Office put the wrong roll into a machine and a customer with an eye for mistakes produced as many strips as he could, kindly telling the counter staff about their mistake after he had finished. I have some sympathy with the fellow and suspect I may well have done the same myself. Strictly speaking, or not even particularly strictly speaking, that is not the best behaviour. The 'right thing' to do would have been to notify the staff as soon as the first blue surprise emerged. I would say it would be reasonable to keep that. After that then the moral case descends pretty rapidly and viewing this as taking advantage of a situation for personal gain ascends at the same rate.

No harm was done, though, so it's not something I feel needs to be debated at length. These things happen. These things have always happened and we collectors dream of finding something amiss or awry one day in our purchases. The difference in the past, though, was that very, very few errors actually ever made it to anywhere vaguely close to the public. Printed sheets of stamps were produced by firms known for their security processes - many printed banknotes for heaven's sake! - and they all had staff with brown coats and glasses and magnifying glasses who inspected what someone else may well have already inspected. Not a lot got part these people. Even if it did them Post Office staff would spot it and remove sheets from sale most of the time. So errors that made it across the counter were, indeed, very rare and so much more valued.

Now, with Post And Goes, it seems that customers are in control of the process. We pop in some coins or a credit card and out comes whatever happens to be in the machine, for better or worse. It would be quite easy for a member of staff to put the wrong roll in a machine and let a colleague know that they could get some interesting variations from it. I'm not talking about mistakes here but a deliberate action. Something you simply would not have envisaged once upon a time but which I have to say does enter my head now.

I don't know exactly how much these particular strips will be worth in future but they certainly can fetch a good premium on their face value already. I am inclined to believe that this particular instance was a genuine oversight by counter staff but I am similarly inclined to the view that there will be more appearing that will be set up and entirely dishonest.

We won't be able to tell one from the other.

November 06, 2014

1st Class Post And Gos in blue bring some cheer to a boring month

At last, some fun amongst the Post And Gos. I was too late to stop some more annoying overprints coming through the system but those shown here ought to be the last (and are all available for sale). The fun is the quite remarkable printing of the normal 1st Class etc values on blue backing which should be reserved for 2nd Class and 2nd Large. It's easy to see how this arose - someone putting the wrong roll in whatever section of a machine handles the 2nd Class issue - and I am surprised it hasn't happened more often. It is a lovely strip to have, though, and whilst I can see it being repeated it should remain quite a valuable error.

The other strips shown above are a Machin strip with MA13 and the new font and a strange pictorial overprint as well as text for the BPMA Inland Airmail 1934. Heavens that's just an 80th anniversary and of something quite obscure too.

The second class Machins are the first with MA14 date but also the IIA font. More noticeable, though, is a remarkable shift of phosphor up or down the stamps so that there is a massive break bang in the middle! This will have happened when the roll was printed and registration is miles out as the break would normally be positioned very carefully between the stamps. There are quite a few examples of short bands at top or bottom where the registration for phosphor printing has gone a little bit awry but this is really impressive. I don't normally collect phosphor or overprint errors but it seems that these are the first examples of MA14 and that's why I got them. In theory, they could be the 'normal' ones if properly registered stamps don't come along. I doubt that'll be the case, though, so it's nice to have these. The others are the first 2nd Class to have overprints as the obscure 80th gets on to these too. Odd in many ways.

A couple of pictorials with overprints also sneaked through to give my dealer plenty of income for his Christmas shopping. These are pretty but pretty tedious NMRN extensions for Remembrance and Trafalgar Day. I like the idea of using the Poppy label for remembrance at this time but I don't feel it is right to be associated just with The NMRN. few people will know what The NMRN is anyway, I'm afraid. I will have to look it up to get it right and can only recall RN being Royal Navy.

So there endeth the Lesson for Post And Go overprints and pictorials.

Not a great deal more this month: a stamp with a numeric value appears after a long time - the 2p with M14L from De La Rue, a pale red 1st from Walsall business sheets M14L MBIL, a bright red 1st Large from Walsall MA13 MFIL and a 2nd bright blue with an almost illegible M11L MTIL recently discovered.

October 24, 2014

That's it. No more flowers, creatures, flags. Well, maybe flags...

You know, it's when you get stamps like this on an envelope in the morning you realise why we started collecting British stamps in the first place. The 10p and 20p are, perhaps, not in the best colours but it's easy to see at least five colours for each of those denominations and if you are prepared to look a bit more carefully there are a good 50 readily identifiable items to collect with these two alone.

They're proper stamps that you could have bought from a Post Office. OK, now maybe many of us had them sent by the Philatelic Bureau but you got the feeling that they were all issued to post things with and if you wanted you could have got them from the Post Office or waited until they arrived on mail.

With the exception of the prestige books, I can't think of any Machin stamps that were issued mainly for collectors to collect. That's why I have stayed with them all these years. I was there at the start in June 1967 and will only stop when they do. I soon realised that the commemorative, or special issues as they are now called, were becoming more items for income generation for the Post Office than anything else and that collection stopped in the late 1970s. I am still suspicious of the prestige books but they have been sufficiently few and far between to accept and some have been really attractive and interesting items too. For the most part I could have lived without them, though, and I was much happier when their contents comprised solely Machins!

Some special issues have been impressive and you only have to look at the one illustrated here to see a great example of stamp design. It's a superb photograph, of course, but can you think of any other stamp that has nothing, nothing else, on it except Her Majestyand digits for its face value? These are almost definitive! 

So what's this post all about? It's all very nice reminiscing about the past and everyone can moan about something to do with current stamps. I don't know if it was the £171 bill for this month's Post and Go variations. It might have been but I think it was that envelope that convinced me to cancel all except simple Machin future Post and Go issues. No overprints. No flowers, creatures or flags. I did think twice about flags as they do have a certain definitive feel about them but that might have allowed in some other potential 'definitives' too. 

I almost said "No more Post & Gos at all" but came back from that brink. The Machins are likely to have status similar to the Framas in future and may even become the more often used if expansion of machine installations continues apace. For now, though, if you're a 'stamp' collector, it is actually the gold Horizon labels you'll see most of! I can see a case for these Post & Go labels to merge with the Horizon labels one day, and then there's the new NCR developments too. It all sounds a bit sad for the little 'normal' stamps but that's really where my heart and interest still lies. They're the ones I intend to keep collecting and researching as best I can and they'll be a lot cheaper too. I hope.

The one very strange conclusion I have had from the Post & Go experience so far is that it is the used items that I feel could, ultimately, prove to be the best to collect. I have seen just one on my post but I do see them advertised quite cheaply. The mint items, which people demand receipts for as well nowadays, are largely just obtained by dealers for collectors and there's a sort of unhealthy spiral going on there which, whilst no-one can blame dealers for meeting the demand, I do feel that the pictorial and overprinted issues, especially those only available at exhibitions for a few days if you're lucky, are like some Sunday Magazine offer aimed at the same market at porcelain birds or bronze Harry Potter figurines.

So I wish you all good luck with keeping up with the pictorial Post & Gos and all those strange overprints. I really won't miss them in the slightest and all my stock of them is for sale if you're interested.

October 02, 2014

British Flora II and more overprints


You'll see that I still didn't get round to cancelling the overprints. I really did mean to and now I really must. The First Word War Centenary is a fine cause, though, and one of the overprints that I actually don't mind. Unfortunately, good cause as it may be, The National Museum of the Royal Navy joins the list of organisations getting their name on these things and that means I have two more strips to sell.

With Scotland voting on the matter of independence at the time these were issued, it looks as though Royal Mail were playing a very careful game with the insert card on their Symbolic Flowers presentation pack!

These are pretty stamps and the poppy, of course, will be particularly visible during the rest of the year. Interestingly, British Flora III is coming out in little more than a month's time on 13 November. Not only does that give Flora II quite a short production span but I see that there will be just four designs. The presentation pack features 2nd Class 2nd Large, 1st Class and 1st Large which seems reasonable enough but I suspect they'll be in machines distributing the other four denominations too.


As if The NMRN wasn't enough, PhilKorea 2014 comes on dated and undated stock so that's a third strip I don't need.

Finally, the only item likely to last in my collection - a strip of the six denominations in font type IV for the Machin Post and Gos. Without any overprint. Even that's not giving me the thrill that I used to get when new definitives arrived in tiny envelopes. I am seriously thinking about not just cancelling overprints but the whole damn lot of Post and Gos. Ever since they first appeared I believe I have had just one on an envelope delivered here, and that was from a dealer. 

And another font for Post and Gos!

Right, pay attention. There is another Post and Go font. I am calling it type IV for the time being as I have already used up III* and the idea was that the one with the * would soon disappear and I could carry on calling everything just III but it hasn't worked out that way.

Below are the III* fonts on current issues from NCR machines:

Now here are the new, narrower fonts from Royal Mail Series B machines that I'm calling type IV:

For comparison, here's the one I thought would stick around which I called type III without an asterisk.

Stanley Gibbons Catalogue will probably just call all these Type III, of course. I am really hoping that we are just going to see types III* and IV on the same labels and not further variations. 

September 01, 2014

Some more 14 date codes and Korean memorabilia

We'll kick off with something very innocuous- the latest 6 x 1st booklet in the nice 4+2 format and its 1st red M14L MCIL definitives. These are not new - the Buckingham Palace and Commonwealth Games booklets had these too.

A bit quieter on the Post And Go front for me with just the two standard Philakorea overprints (which will go straight on sale as they hold no interest for me whatsoever) and an MA14 date Machin which is new and something I will hang on to.

The Philakorea overprint sort of sums up the good and bad about these things. It is delightfully amateur in that no-one seems to have bothered to check whether all the text will fit in the space to the left and that I find appealing but not enough because I then think "Who on Earth will ever see these in the first place?" Mad collectors who have time and inclination to go to South Korea to talk stamps. And dealers to buy a bundle of stuff to sell back to collectors. I simply don't see the point of them other than some event memorabilia and wish I hadn't added to the coffers of intermediaries with these two strips but I hadn't cancelled my Post And Go overprint orders in time. At least North Korea doesn't benefit.

Back to Machin definitives as we used to know them again and some strips with M13L MRIL are available. You'll most likely encounter singles on mass mailing where stamps are used. There's a number printed on the reverse of the backing every 10th stamp so it's usually a good idea to get two of these strips or, I suppose, just the two singles are sufficient.

MA14 codes now on the MBIL, MFIL 1st Large and MFIL 2nd Large stamps.

1st red M14L MBIL and MSIL, M13L MRIL and 2nd blue M14L MBIL singles.

Finally they must have used up all the 100g Special Delivery stamps, despite the gold Horizon onslaught behind the counter! Here is an M14L version of what has been MA10 to date.

August 03, 2014

Something a stamp collector would collect

This is a Collectors' Pack prepared by The Post Office in 2009. It contains specially printed versions of the then new Post&Go labels. They're really quite different from the actual labels - check out the code inscription on the real ones below for a start.

The specially produced pack, though, is the most expensive Post&Go item in the 2014 SG Concise Catalogue. That doesn't seem right to me - you'd think the real ones which someone had to go and get from a machine somewhere would be a lot more valuable than something akin to a decorative plate that you could get on-line or, I suppose more likely then, with a phone call.

It is odd too that the Philatelic Bureau didn't (and still don't) supply real labels - ones that might stand some chance of being used in a postal way. (Whether we do or not is up to us. I like mint stuff because it's nice and clean and easy to see which variety it is and also I can get missing ones for gaps much more easily but I have a lot of respect for those who collect used items and am beginning to think that their collections, even with the inevitable gaps it will have unless they've been sending stuff to themselves, are rather more honest.) Even I do little to acquire my issues these days - they all come on standing orders although I have to say I still have a huge amount of work to do to file them and record them somehow but I haven't made much effort to find them in the first place.

So with all this in mind it is odd that several dealers and Mr Gibbons himself have announced that the Open Value labels are not stamps and they'll neither be stocking nor including them in catalogues.

To my mind these are far more like the stamps of old that I had to go to a Post Office to buy. I am still a bit confused as to why we have both the Post&Gos with service indicators spelt out in a large font as well as these. I am guessing these will slowly replace the others as I understand that the machines can dispense a much bigger range than the few in the current form.

Unless I have missed something, the only difference between the two would be that the new style have to be used on the day they're issued whereas the others can be hoarded for years and used at some point in the future. Ah! Is that a pertinent factor for dealers? If the items have no validity for post a few hours after being dispensed then a dealer's stock value has no bottom floor. There will always be someone who'll buy mint 'stamps' - and as time passes rate increases should ensure that even offering a discount on face value need not mean making a loss - but the only people who can determine a price for the new items are us collectors. (I am taking the collectors' side here as I'm not much of a dealer really) No-one wants to be in our hands! Imagine: we could all decide that some issue is very tedious and not wish to pay more than a few pence for them but get very excited over another and the dealers will have no idea what to expect.

Well, maybe they should. Careful observation of the market should give the smart ones a good idea of what is likely to be in demand and where shortages might mean decent prices can apply. Take the extraordinarily short period when the items illustrated were available. A few days after these were printed the rates rose to 53p and 62p and you won't see either rate again in those colours unless something very strange happens like predictions of negative inflation prove correct but then we'll have more problems than whether dealers should list these items to worry about.

At least in writing this I have envisaged some vaguely reasonable explanation for why some dealers don't want to stock these things but I do still dispute this business of whether or not they are 'stamps'. They may not satisfy some old definition but as far as I'm concerned they're something a stamp collector would collect. and if what a stamp collector collects isn't stamps then we need a different name. But we'll still collect them, whatever they're called. How about notstamps?