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?

Unintentional use of large typeface

You hope like mad that one day you'll come across a sheet of stamps that gets miscut or something. Funny that the only example I have encountered is the 2014 SG Concise Catalogue! The page just happens to be one of the tables that attempts to list the venues where Post And Go overprints were available.

It is actually quite a useful bookmark, being close to the Machin section and the pages I most frequently look at. 

I also have to smile at the repeated paragraph in the Post & Go section. Beneath each issue prior to Freshwater Life there is the

 ... are known printed unintentionally from Wincor machines with the second typeface variety resulting from software glitches causing a reversion to the large type face... 

sentence. The more I read that the less sense it makes. Aren't these just varieties that could have been included as FS49g, FS21ai or something? It would have been good to see these listed and I rather think they might have occupied less space than that ruddy paragraph at the end of each section. Not exactly the classiest editing either. Surely it would have been far more presentable just to have a general note to that effect in the introduction.

August 02, 2014

The little boy in the village test - Part 2

In my last article I tried to explain why I would not be collecting or listing quite a large range of Post And Go issues - the ones that I really don't feel have ever been 'available' to anyone other than the people who sell them.

Now I am extending that still further, from the limited issue Machin definitive Post And Gos to the overprints that, by and large, were also only available at exhibitions and fairs. The same logic works for them. I never actually liked them anyway as it seemed that commercial organisations were getting space on stamps. I have nothing against Stampex, The BPMA and the like but simply don't see why they need to promote themselves on what I had thought were British definitive issues. That, of course, is where I had gone wrong. They aren't definitive issues. They are specialist labels that happen to be printed on similar backing to the stamps available to the public and whilst they can be used postally they really never seem to be. I mean, there are few enough of any Post And Gos on our post these days as it is, never mind the chances of encountering one of these with an overprint as well.

Mr Gibbons says that overprints were only available from those limited outlets but I am not so sure about that. I believe there may be one or two that have been more freely available to the public and it is important that we don't chuck out the valid collection babies with the specialist bath water.

I am going to have a bit of a job figuring out which to keep in the list and may remove all to start with and re-introduce any deserving cases when I get to know about them from my research. I know there are some real experts out there and maybe they might like to help. Clearly whoever has been advising Mr Gibbons knows his stuff but I feel he might have advised a little more carefully on one or two items, even if they were not likely to get far out in the wild. They might have reached my little boy in the village. His Granny might just have happened to buy one from a machine somewhere.

OK, point taken, let us assume, please, that Granny is not a Stampex fan.

So most of my overprint listings are going to disappear from the sheet and end up on Ebay in a week or so, along with the 'scarce' Machin types too.

Now, you're wondering. What on Earth is he going to do about the pictorial issues?

Well, I had previously abandoned the silly Presentation Packs. While they had specially printed versions that no-one is ever going to use on a letter and which are just going to stay in a plastic envelope then they seem no more than an advert. If anything, the Post Office should be giving these to us collectors, maybe when we buy a real set or something. But they are definitely pointless. There may be some examples where real labels, the same as those available to buy, are in the packs and they can stay. I haven't thought yet which might be in this category, if any!

Now I have to accept that the 'normal' ones are pretty much like the commemorative or special issues we've all got used to seeing. I gave up collecting them many years ago and really have not missed anything. Looking at the prices, too, there appears to be nothing of much value either, many sets from recent years being available at less than face value if you look hard too! The only real interest I had in the pretty ones was the variation in font styles that existed and the fact that some came with Worldwide 40g or whatever. Because they didn't commemorate anything they fooled me into regarding them as a bit 'definitive'. I had often written in years gone by about what might replace Machins and pretty stamps like these illustrations seemed likely candidates. So when they appeared I was a bit taken in. Now I just see them as labels with six different pictures on. Heavens! Remember the days when we felt we needed to have each value with each denomination. Mr Alan still supplies these as they are, indeed, different. I even got some for a couple of issues but at £77 for each set - and there were, of course, two types - that was way out of order. I think now what else I could have bought with £154. A really nice old Victorian stamp. Some mint early high values. All kind of lovely - and much safer as investment - stuff too.

So I am going to continue listing the pretty issues - those that are available generally, that is. Most of them are, I believe. It is the Flags and Robins that have complicated geneology but I'll figure it out eventually. I don't want to collect them myself, though, so my collection of all kind of weird and wonderful items - some with huge fonts and missing text but mostly just fairly boring - will be on Ebay soon too. That includes the 72 items I mentioned and also there are 30 Birds III with the wrong font I which I paid nearly £300 for. Good grief. Some nice items coming  for those of you in that Specialist pen in the field!

That will leave me with just the public issue Machins and one or two others. A modest collection but, to be quite honest, that's all these particular Post And Gos are going to be - a modest collection of items available for a while before something more permanent comes along.

I might have been inclined to think that the new NCR type Post And Gos would be that new something. However, Mr Gibbons doesn't mention them. That may be because they were issued too late for his catalogue. I personally think he hadn't decided at the time so just took the easy option! Mr Alan has placed his cards firmly on the table, though. "They're not stamps," he says. Apparently that's because they can only be supplied one at a time and have to be used straightaway. I reckon they're much more like a 'stamp' to the little boy in the village than any of those hundreds of pounds worth of Wincor, or was it Hytech, font style 2 with short phosphor and value overlapping the picture that came from one machine on a Tuesday in a room on the third floor of a building in York.

I am quite surprised that neither Mr Alan nor Mr Gibbon are supporting the NCR invasion. As I see it, machines are being enthusiastically installed at more and more Post Offices and they are, of anything, the most likely to be actually seen on some post. They replace the white printed labels type which I agree were never stamps as such. Interestingly, I have seen piles of the big gold Horizon labels. They have been very successful and if these NCR labels were to be used for the Horizon purposes too then that would be very interesting.

It is difficult when there could be so many values available but isn't that part of the fun of collecting? Dealers could do well supplying the full range for those who go for the easy route of collecting by standing order. Who knows, maybe Tallents House will beat them all to it! I detected some surprise at their issue of a 'Collectors' Pack' with five examples of them, describing them as Post And Gos in the write-up.

So I shall be listing these as best I can, with limited awareness of what is coming out and when but I'll try to get some information. Offers of help gratefully welcomed!

While I am on the subject of collecting stamps I have been feeling for some time now like one of those old people that collects decorated plates and gets a new one every month on standing order. They cost far more than she'll ever get back and they're never going to be used as plates. I may have cut out the special issues but I still get the Prestige books. I have always been taken in by these splendidly produced little booklets and would rush to see what was in that Machin definitive pane. I seldom noticed what else was in the book. For a while, these books were quite desirable and fetched good prices. After the first one or two, though, few of the stamps got used and more recently that became highly unlikely when they were priced at a figure higher than the sum of their contents. These books are the old lady's plates. They look lovely, can be quite interesting but the only reason I have been getting them is to have examples of those two or three variations of definitives or Regional issues that they contain. I know they'll never see the light of a postal day but the completeness drug is difficult to quit. What I need to do, I think, is keep the pane but use or the rest or sell them. Once a book's content might be predominantly Machin definitives, with several panes, but now it is usually just the single pane with special issues occupying most of the panes. So where before it might have made sense to keep the whole book - because it comprised just the panes I wanted to keep and because it had a significant value intact - now I am not so sure that is the case. One or two will always be a bit special but many may struggle on the open market to return face value. So I may just as well keep the ones I need for the definitive completeness and sell the rest.

Looking at most of the output for us collectors now, we really are being regarded by the marketing boys as the little old ladies with plates rather than the little boy in the village. We'll take without much question whatever comes out, stick it in a box, an album or wherever things go nowadays and not think a great deal more about it. The only real stamps are the definitives and a few special issues that get issued at post office counters or put in books that people buy day to day and that eventually get stuck on envelopes and packages. Like the normal definitives, some Post And Gos, some NCRs, even Horizon labels - the things the little boy in the village will want. The rest is pure income generation. We all need to wise up a bit.

You know what would make a really cool stamp collection? What we did when we were little - collect used stamps. Now that was collecting. What we do now is just buying. Anyone can do that, especially when you get old and haven't so many other things to pay for.

That's what the little boy in the village should want. Stamps that may cost nothing. Dealers can still supply ones to fill the gaps - and there'll be a lot of those if his mail looks anything like mine.

The Little Boy In The Village Test - Part 1

Type II*

Type III*

Type III

Type II
The first problem the SG Concise Stamp Catalogue presented has been the numbering of PostAndGo font styles. Mr Alan and Connoisseur have 1 to 4 with some 'a's thrown in for good measure and clarity. Mr Gibbons has just I to III with an A thrown in.

Both agree on 1 or I and generally what I had as 2 was SG II and even 2a was IIA so all was going well. But it all goes wrong at 3 or 4. There really are huge differences between the two III styles and I also have doubts about a II as well. Where Mr Alan and Connoisseur will talk about Font type 4, Gibbons just says it's III. So, as I feel I need to reflect the SG Catalogue now to avoid confusing people who have never encountered Connoisseur and I really do want to keep things simple if I possibly can, I have re-done my PostAndGo lists with the SG I, II, IIA and III font types. As, I hope, the wider, lighter style of III is on the wane now and what I used to call 4 is likely to be the most commonly found, I list the wider as III* and the heavier, slightly narrower font as III. There shouldn't be many more requiring a * in future.

The II* is an oddity. I just have the one example as shown above where the font on the coding is much narrower and taller than 'normal' II and it's definitely not 2a or IIA which is so distinct I haven't even bothered to illustrate it above. It is in a previous post anyway.

As it is so different I have to mark that and have just made it II* for now and, hopefully again, I won't need to have too many more odd variations from the Catalogue in future. 

The lists don't yet have SG numbers but that's a task I'm working on this week. It may well be the case, when you read further, that the question of those odd fonts that SG doesn't list turns out to be academic.

I have also rearranged things a bit. I now show a grid with the service indicators for each seemingly different issue. So some have 5 or 6 values in an issue, others may just be the two or three new ones added.

That's the main Machin Post And Gos almost sorted in theory. 

SG don't list the ones issued at Fairs or places like BPMA where they may only have been available to the public in a pretty limited sense. As there's no obvious way someone would know whether an item came from a 'freely available' source or a 'limited' one they do provide a table but it is heavy going both visually and textually and consultation without a stiff drink to hand is not advised.

I have not made any note of where mine originated so I shall have to mark my listing accordingly. It may well be the case that those deemed to be from 'limited' sources get consigned to the 'very specialist' field. At first I tended to rail against that but the last couple of days have moderated my views considerably. Yes, it is lovely to have all these fascinating variations of font and placement and this or that value appearing on this or that backing. However, I shall apply my little boy in the village test to determine whether an item is something that should be listed in a catalogue of stamps he might aim to collect.

Will that little boy in the village ever be likely to see one? Is there a hope in hell that either one could appear on an envelope that drops through his or a neighbour's letter box or that he could cycle down to his local Post Office and buy over the counter or from some device? And by 'device' I don't mean the internet on his phone or a computer where he could buy something from a dealer's site or even mine for that matter.

Those items that are only available at Exhibitions and odd places like that are really only going to be bought by the type of people who go there: usually specialist collectors and dealers. So I am all for them sharing stuff within that specialist circle and by all means advertise their findings but these should not be items that the average collector of stamps should be bothered about. I really doubt whether any actually have been used postally anyway, other than sent on self-addressed envelopes to satisfy some perverse desire to have a used copy (as it would be impossible to get one any other way). My old friend Mr Vincent used to get his First Day Covers 'tipped' at the local Post Office in Kings Langley where the counter staff knew him well and for years applied a circular date stamp very carefully on all the covers he supplied for his colleagues, including me. I did rather think that was cheating a bit but soon gave up on FDCs completely anyway and thought little further of it.

If you think about it, these items only get into the wild when those dealers advertise them for sale. By definition they are often quite rare, available only for a day or two at one particular place. The fact that they are a little different to the normal issue - that change of font or backing or style of layout - that makes them initially seem like something we must have. And, perversely, the less 'available' they were, the rarer they'll be and, guess what, the more expensive they'll be! Oh boy. I must go to some of these Exhibitions and Fairs and buy a bundle of strips which I can then sell at a considerable profit because it genuinely is a scarce variety of a current issue. You can hardly blame dealers, can you? Especially if they take the view that their variant may eventually get into the wild naturally when a particular type of machine is planted all over the country. Then we'll all be kicking ourselves for not buying, even at a hefty price, the very first example of that particular type.

I am almost arguing myself back into saying that they should all be listed. Luckily I recognised what was happening. Yes, one or two of these items that I am saying should be ring-fenced in a field somewhere called Exhibition Issues may be the predecessor to a number you can get down the road on a Saturday morning with the newspaper. OK. I'll live with that. If it is absolutely identical then all that it will be is an earlier print which no-one will really be too bothered about so it won't be discernible or worth any more. If it isn't identical then it stays in the field anyway.

So, in conclusion on this matter, I concur with Mr Gibbons and will cease to collect or list 'limited public availability' Post And Gos. I am happy with those that are only available in a one or two Post Offices or even those pop-up affairs as long as they're in public places but I don't want any more that were only available from a machine in a corner at a Fair or Exhibition, even if public admission was free. Quite how I shall break the news to Mr Alan I haven't thought yet and that may well be beyond his data selection procedures. But there is worse news for him anyway. More about that in the next rant, I mean , post. 

I promise you'll find it fascinating.

August 01, 2014

Summer types

Two Commemorative 4 x 1st +2 format booklets have the 1st red with M14L MCIL so you ought to have one of them. You can always use the other stamps on letters.

MA12 Type 2a

MA13 Type 4

Now if you're still having trouble figuring out which type is which, here are the 2nd Class Post And Gos in Types 2a and 4 with date codes MA12 and MA13 respectively. See - it's quite obvious now isn't it? Yes, but if you're anything like me you'll need to keep checking back when you have a pile in front of you and then there's always the problem that Stanley Gibbons Concise catalogue refers to Type 4 as Type III. At least Mr Alan's 2a is their IIA but I will have to have a word and may well switch to the SG numbers for reasons I'll explain separately.

Anyway, whatever numbers you call them, they're pretty clearly different.

Now, this is neither 2a or 4 is it? Well done - this is Type 2 (or II in SG-speak). They also have MA13 and are the first we've seen with this MA13 / Type 2 combination. The Wincor machines that these come from hadn't at the time been converted to use the dual value Euro 20g / Worldwide 10g which is causing all sorts of problems. I love the dodgy careless positioning of the 60g replacements!

Type 4 no date

Type 4 MA13
This is the first appearance of the new values in Type 4 on both undated backing and MA13 backing. These are from 18 July at the York Stamp Fair.

Type 4 no date
Also from York, 18 July 2014, are these undated Flags with the three new values.

Farm Animals II Type 2 60g value
I suppose there may well be post offices somewhere worth really ancient rolls in their machines which produce odd things like this. If we knew where they were we could do well. The Pigs issue was April 2012 so to find a value not around until two years later is unusual. I am not entirely sure why I have been sent this - it could well be a mistake as I would have expected to get the Worldwide 60g too. I already have those so this is spare. 

De La Rue M14L MAIL
Lastly, something a bit more normal and cheering. the M14L date codes are coming along in modest numbers and this month sees the £1 make an appearance. It's the De La Rue sheet stamp. The recent prestige booklets have had MPIL variations but this is the first MAIL one. It's not meant to be at an angle - that's not so much a new security thing as my scanner device being very difficult to close without disturbing the layout of items on the very smooth and slippery surface below.