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  1. Millennium series trimmed back
  2. USPS parodies British stamps
  3. Embossed Machins ... and more
  4. New non-denominated stamp for the pan-European rate
  5. Recess-printed Machins have returned
  6. The House of Questa installs state of the art printing capabilities
  7. GBCC members to represent U.S. at Stamp Show 2000
  8. National Postal Museum closed
  9. Alice turns 133!
  10. Bye, bye Britannia
  11. The end of the Machins - in Scotland!
  12. If you own a Machin forgery, the British Post office considers you a criminal

Millennium series trimmed back

When Britain’s three-year millennium series was first announced, it was going to include 144 commemoratives over the three years, 1999-2001. As such, it would be the only subject featured on commemorative stamps during those three years.

After that original announcement, though, the emphasis was placed on the first two of those years. The 1999 schedule, which has now been fully described, notes events of the past thousand years, while the 48 stamps to be issued in the year 2000 will mark the various celebrations being held around the country. The 48 stamps for 2001 were to be a look at the coming millennium.

Without fanfare, the plan for 2001 has changed. According to a recent article in Stamp Collector, presumably based on a Royal Mail press release, the millennium issue for 2001 has been reduced to four stamps, instead of 48. The total series will then be a nice, round 100 stamps.

This makes a lot of sense. It is hard to envision 48 stamps marking events that have not yet occurred, especially when there are famous people, events and animals all waiting to be illustrated on stamps to be sold to collectors. Congrats to Royal Mail for getting their act together. (Posted December 18, 1998.) top

USPS parodies British stamps

When the US Alfred Hitchcock stamp was issued on August 3, 1998, it featured an unannounced surprise - a die cut caricature silhouette in the upper left hand corner. Writing in the December 14, 1998 issue of Linn’s Stamp News, George Amick notes that this was intended to be a parody of the Queen’s head images on British commemoratives.

Terrence McCaffrey, head of stamp design for USPS told Amick, “As a nice little touch, because he was a former British subject ... we decided to do a little spoof on the Royal Mail’s Queen’s portraits in the corner of the stamp. So we put his little caricature, which everybody identifies, up in the corner. It’s sort of an inside joke. Most of the general public doesn’t know what the Royal Mail’s stamp designs look like, so whether or not anyone will pick up on it we don’t know. But we thought it would be fun to do.”

Richard Sheaff, art director, designer and typographer of the Hitchcock stamp, on the diecut silhouette said, “I thought it would be fun to put it there, because it was neat and just as a way of kind of having fun with the British if you will, the Queen’s silhouette, because he was a British citizen.”

Details about this stamp, and all other 1998 U.S. issues, will appear in the 1998 edition of Linn’s Stamp Yearbook, written by Amick. It will be released sometime in 1999.

On a closing note, I would add that the USPS should remember the old adage about people who live in glass houses. Regardless, I doubt that Royal Mail would stoop so low as to parody Bugs Bunny or Bright Eyes. (Posted December 12, 1998 and updated December 23, 1998. Thanks to George Amick for providing the quotes - you read them here first.) top

Embossed Machins ... and more

The second prestige booklet to promote Stamp Show 2000 is titled “Profile on Print” and sells for £7.54. Issued on February 16, 1999, it includes five panes of Machins produced by five different printing processes by five different printers:
  Process Content Printer
Pane 1 Gravure 8 x 1st class + label De La Rue
Pane 2 Embossed 4 x 1st class NVI (self-adhesive, 41mm x 30mm) Walsall
Pane 3 Intaglio 4 x 1st class NVI (41mm x 30mm) (engraved by Czeslaw Slania) Enschede
Pane 4 Letterpress 4 x 1st class NVI (41mm x 30mm) Harrison (now De La Rue)
Pane 5 Lithography 9 x 1st class NVI Questa

See them all and more at the Virtual Machin Album

(Posted December 12, 1998, as noted in the Machin Collectors Club Newsletter. Revised February 18, 1999.) top

New non-denominated stamp for the pan-European rate

Nondenominated E Machin On January 19, 1999, a new non-denominated Machin definitive stamp was issued to pay the pan-European minimum letter rate.

In Great Britain, non-denominated stamps are known as non-value indicators, or NVIs. These stamps indicate the service being paid for rather than the amount of postage paid. They were introduced for domestic mail in 1989 with markings ‘1st’ or ‘2nd’ to denote the class of service desired.

Unlike similar United States stamps, British NVIs retain the ability to pay for the indicated service, regardless of rate changes. A 1st class NVI purchased in 1989 for 19 pence may still be used today to mail a letter, even though the current rate is 26p.

The validity of NVIs was extended to all international mail in 1995.

The concept is now being extended to the pan-European minimum letter rate which is currently 30p. The new stamp will remain valid to pay for that service indefinitely. (The rate rose to 34p on October 25, 1999, with the price of the ‘E’ stamp increasing to match.)

The stamp has the usual Machin design, with a capital letter ‘E’ as the service indicator. It is printed in the standard dark blue color, last used for the 17p stamp and second class NVI issued in 1990. (Posted November 21, 1998. Thanks to Douglas Myall for the information. Revised February 18, 1999.) top

Recess-printed Machins have returned

£1.50 Engraved Machin New high-value recess-printed Machins were issued on March 9, 1999. They have the same values as the previous high-values picturing castles: £1.50 terracotta, £2 blue, £3 purple, and £5 brown. The Castle high values will be retired.

They were printed in intaglio (recess) by Enschedé of Holland and engraved by Czeslaw Slania. Unusually for British high-values, they are the same size as the current low-value Machins.

Royal Mail explains the change by saying that they wish to have “a consistent image across Royal Mail stamps on permanent sale, that is, stamps whose primary purpose is as a method of payment for posting rather than collecting.”

The first high-value Machins issued in 1969 were recess printed. They were replaced in 1970 by decimal versions. Large Machins printed by photogravure were issued in 1977, and these were succeeded by the Castles in 1988. Click on the image to see all four values in the Virtual Machin Album and click here to read more about Machin high values. (Posted November 21, 1998, updated February 5, 1999. Thanks to Douglas Myall for the initial information.) top

The House of Questa installs state of the art printing capabilities

The House of Questa has been printing British stamps for about 20 years. Originally a three-man partnership, it was taken over by Waddingtons in 1983, although the Questa name was retained. This company was in turn bought in 1996 by MDC Communications Corporation, a Canadian company that also owns Ashton Potter Canada and Ashton Potter USA. The three printing groups operate as separate business entities, together producing billions of stamps per year.

(In 2002, The House of Questa was sold again to printer De La Rue.)

In a recent article in the British Philatelic Bulletin, Douglas Myall described improvements in printing quality at The House of Questa. Questa has traditionally produced stamps by lithography, and they have now introduced a new, improved process known as ‘Superlitho.’ In addition, Questa has added a state of the art gravure process as well.

Superlitho can achieve a printing resolution of 850 lines per inch, much higher than the usual 350lpi of older processes. As a result, much additional detail can be seen in stamps printed by this method. (An image will be posted here when available.)

The capability of Superlitho printing is also being used to increase the security of stamps. The date and copyright notice can now be printed in extremely small type. Any prospective forger of one of these stamps would find it difficult to reproduce the notices accurately, and without the text the forgery would be easily spotted.

This security feature may not prove popular with collectors, however, who like to use the printed date to help identify the stamp and locate it in a catalog. Now collectors will have to be armed with a strong magnifier to see some of the dates on British stamps.

In the past, Questa did not have the capability to produce stamps using the gravure process. Recently Royal Mail has standardized on gravure as its preferred method for printing definitive stamps, since gravure is considered to be a more secure process.

Because of their inability to produce stamps by gravure, Questa has produced few definitive stamps over the past few years. They produced a few varieties of booklets, including the £1 and £2 machine-vended booklets, and a few other items.

Questa’s management has decided to rectify this situation and has invested £3 million in a new gravure press. The press can print up to nine colors simultaneously and has a perforator capable of creating the ellipical perforations required on definitive stamps.

Questa minisheet

As with Superlitho, the new gravure press can print at a higher resolution than earlier models. Questa expects to achieve 500lpi, compared to the previous limit of approximately 350lpi. However, since Royal Mail prefers to make all definitives indistinguishable regardless of printer, it is likely that Questa will continue to use the lower resolution for Machins.

Pictured here is a special ‘souvenir sheet’ printed on the new gravure press. It consists of four unadopted designs for recent special issues. It is printed at the normal 300lpi resolution specified by Royal Mail, and eight colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, black, beige, blue, gold, and silver) were used.

Questa will start printing definitives on the new press, and the first Questa booklets with gravure stamps are expected to be issued on December 1, 1998. (Posted October 30, 1998.)


GBCC members to represent U.S. at Stamp Show 2000

Members of the Great Britain Collectors Club will represent the United States at London’s Stamp Show 2000. Ann Triggle, a director, and Michael Dixon are the U.S. commissioners for the show.  They will be responsible for getting exhibits from the U.S. to the show and back home safely. (Posted Sept. 25, 1998) top

National Postal Museum closed

The National Postal Museum at the King Edward Building in London closed to the public on December 24, 1998. The closure was necessitated by the redevelopment of the building.

A new permanent home has not yet been found. Meanwhile, the museum’s collection has been moved to the Post Offices Archives Center in London. Visitors may see the stamp collection by appointment.

It is not expected that the NPM will be settled in its new home in time for the visitors to Stamp Show 2000.

The National Postal Museum and the Post Office Archives have since been combined into Royal Mail Heritage division of Royal Mail Group plc. (Posted Sept. 25, 1998, Updated July 7, 2001 and November 8, 2002.)top

Alice turns 133!

Alice and the red Queen-GB stamp

The world-famous Alice, notable for her journey into Wonderland, turned 133 years old in 1998. More importantly, for those of you who like round numbers, 1998 marks the centenary of the death of Lewis Carroll. Royal Mail marked the Carroll anniversary with a single stamp as shown above, but British artist and philatelist Gerald M. King has been celebrating Alice since she turned 100 in 1965.

Gerald King's label showing a dodo

King has created a set of stamps from Wonderland, showing Alice and all the fantastic creatures she met there. Pictured here is an official seal from the Wonderland Dead Letter Office, appropriately picturing the extinct dodo bird. The image is also appropriate because Carroll’s nickname was “Dodo,” stemming from his stuttered pronunciation of his real last name, Dodgson. For more information on King’s creations, and how you can get some for your own collection, see the 2002 news item about Stamps from Wonderland (Posted July 24, 1998. Updated November 8, 2002.) top

Bye, bye Britannia

According to a report in the July 1998 newsletter of the Machin Collectors Club, the £10 Britannia stamp is not much in demand. Royal Mail is using up its stock of the stamp and will apparently not have any more printed. The oversized stamp with a plethora of security features was issued with much fanfare in March, 1993. At that time, Royal Mail announced that both the public and Post Office staff “have been increasingly vociferous in their demand for a stamp of this value.” Apparently, the voices have quieted down over time.  (Posted July 15, 1998) top

The End of the Machins...in Scotland

To mark the creation of the Scottish Parliament, Royal Mail has announced that new pictorial definitives will replace the regional (country) Machins in Scotland next summer. The Scots will pick the themes following a special BBC Scotland television program to be aired this fall. Once the themes are chosen, Scottish artists and designers will be commisioned to develop the designs. As with all Royal Mail stamps, final approval for the designs rests with the Queen

Stamps will be issued in denominations of 20p, 26p, 37p, and 63p. It is likely that the stamp designs will include a small Queen’s head to serve as the identifier, perhaps the same one used on British commemoratives. They may also include the Scottish lion rampant, currently used on the regional Machins, or perhaps (horrors!) the word “Scotland.” A replacement set of four will be issued when the new Parliament building opens about a year later.

Douglas Myall reports that the national (regular) Machins will continue to be available in Scotland in machine vended booklets. No one has indicated whether 37p, 63p and non-denominated (NVI) Machins will remain on sale in Scotland in the window booklet format.

Linn’s Stamp News (June 19, 1998) reported that monarchists in Scotland were unhappy with the announcement of the new stamps. One Lord is quoted as saying, “It is a great loss to the people of Scotland. It’s rediculous not recognizing centuries of Scottish support for the monarchy.” (Posted June 28, 1998) top

NOTE: Pictorials were issued for Scotland and Wales in 1999. See the news item for details and images.

Possession of a Machin Forgery is a Crime

The Post Office Revenue Protection Squad has put out a warning that anyone having copies of either the 24p chestnut forgery or the 2nd class blue forgery, in either mint or used condition, is guilty of a crime. The forgeries were created in the early 1990’s and were subsequently offered for sale to collectors. There’s no word about the penalty or the requested amnesty for turning in any of these stamps. 

This was reported by the Machin Collectors Club in their June, 1998 newsletter. (Posted June 13, 1998) top

Last Update: March 1, 2008.   Macintosh!
Copyright © 1999 by Larry Rosenblum