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A Christmas gift from Royal Mail — a £1.12 commemorative

2003 XMAS 1.12 stamp The 2003 Christmas issue, picturing six stunning ice sculptures, includes a £1.12 value. This value pays the rate for letters between 20g and 40g to Zone 2. This is the first time that a stamp paying that rate has been included in a set of commemoratives.

In addition to the stamps themselves, there are two folded sheetlets (called stamp books), one of 12 first-class stamps and one of 24 second-class. There are two Smilers sheets of 20 for those two denominations, as well as the usual presentation pack.

The inflation of the size and price of a set of commemoratives has been going on for many years. British commemoratives settled into a pattern of sets of four stamps in the 1960s, though there were occasional longer ones. The number four was suitable for issues that showed one image from each of the four major countries of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Five-stamp sets started appearing regularly in the 1980s and became frequent in the 1990s. Six-stamp sets started appearing a couple of years ago.

The highest value of a commemorative set used to be the one paying one of the overseas rates for a letter up to 10g. In 1995, some sets started appearing with stamps paying the rate for letters between 10g and 20g. Now, we have the rate for 20g to 40g letters (along with a stamp for the 10g to 20g rate). Do you get the impression that collectors are being taken for a (sleigh) ride? (Posted October 3, 2003.) top


Queen’s stamps to be displayed at Washington 2006

Michael Sefi, Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, has announced that a selection from the Queen’s collection will be on display at the Washington 2006 international philatelic exhibition. It is likely that the exhibit will concentrate on classics from the British Caribbean. There is no word yet on whether any material from Great Britain will be included. (Posted October 3, 2003.) top


Bigger and better than ever, the third edition of The Complete Deegam Machin Handbook is here!

Title page of Deegam Handbook Making a good thing even better, and a big book even bigger, Douglas Myall has released the third edition of The Complete Deegam Machin Handbook. The new edition covers all Machins issued up to July 1, 2003 and is aimed at the collection and identification of single stamps. (For a brief commentary on Machin reference works, see Machin FAQ #9.)

This comprehensive work has nearly doubled in size to 1272 pages in two volumes, supplied in two binders. The first volume, 776 pages in length, contains 13 chapters and 12 appendices full of technical information and methods for identifying any single Machin stamp. The chapters begin with an introduction and explanation of postal rates during the Machin era and then continue with topics such as colors, printing processes, papers and gums, luminescence and perforations. Later chapters delve into more technical topics such as the direction of printing, variations in phosphor bars (the nearly invisible overprints used to aid the sorting machinery), variations in the head and numerals, and the country (regional) issues.

The appendices cover coil rolls, booklet pane layouts, self-adhesives, cylinder and plate blocks, training stamps, perfins, and se-tenant pairs. Appendix 7 has 24 pages and is titled, “How to identify unknown Machins.” Two other appendices cover foreign stamps that have the Machin portrait and other British definitives that do not include the Machin head.

The 496-page second volume contains the lists. These are organized into sections: pre-decimals, decimal low values, decimal high values, the 1840 anniversary issue of 1989, and non-denominated stamps (non-value indicators). Within each section, the stamps are organized by denomination, and within denomination, the major varieties are listed chronologically. My personal opinion is that this is the best organization scheme available because the reader can always find the right listing area for any stamp. Other catalogs require the reader to identify the perforation type, the printing method, or the paper and gum before being able to find the listing.

Since this is a handbook, not a catalog, it does not contain prices. However, new to this edition is a valuation guide, giving an estimate of the scarcity and value of each stamp. Accompanying this is an explanation of how the philatelic market works with regards to Machins.

Buyers of the Handbook can keep it up to date with Deegam Reports and Supplements. These will be available free via email and for nominal cost for postal mail.

The Handbook is available from John Deering, a British dealer specializing in Machins. The cost is £59 plus postage and packing. To place an order or for more information, contact John at or via postal mail at “The Machins,” PO Box 2, South Molton, Devon, EX36 4YZ, England, U.K. Collectors in the United States can also purchase it at JET Stamps. Contact them at (Posted July 17, 2003.) top


Gravure versions of Machin high values due July 1

Engraved £1.50 Machin Gravure £1.50 Machin The current recess-printed (engraved) high value definitives will be replaced by gravure versions. The official date of issue is July 1, though post offices will not get them until supplies of the engraved versions are used up. They will be the same design as the rest of the Machin definitives; they will have colors that are in the Jeffery Matthews color palette (instead of the approximations used for the current stamps); and they will be overprinted with Iriodin ink like the current £1, yielding the same shiny varnish on the surface. The £1.50 engraved Machin is shown at the far left and the gravure version to the right of it. The full set of four is shown in the Virtual Machin Album.

The first three values will retain their current colors, though matched to the Matthews standard: £1.50 terracotta, £2 slate blue and £3 purple. The £5 stamp, currently dark brown, will change to grey blue, a color most recently used for the 40p issued in 2000. The Iriodin ink affected the dark brown color, so it was changed.

Using recess printing, or intaglio, for high value stamps was a British tradition from the mid-nineteenth century until 1977. During the early Elizabethan period, the recess-printed Castle high values accompanied the gravure-printed Wilding low values. Even high value commemoratives were engraved; for example, the 1964 Shakespeare issue had four low values printed by gravure and a 2/6 high value that was engraved.

When the Machins were introduced, high value engraved Machins were issued in 1969, followed by decimal versions in 1970. These continued in use until 1977, when they were replaced by large, gravure printed high values with the Machin design.

The use of engraving returned in 1988 with the new high value Castles. These went through several printings and remained in use until 1999, when they were replaced with the small-size, engraved Machin high values.

The switch to gravure is probably the result of several factors. As part of its consolidation of the Harrison and Sons and the House of Questa printing facilities, De La Rue has apparently decided to discontinue the use of intaglio for postage stamps. (It will still be used to produce passports and travellers’ checks.) I suspect their decision is the result of reduced demand for recess-printed stamps, and this in turn is the result of the higher cost of these stamps compared to gravure and lithographed (offset) stamps.

Writing in the December, 2003 issue of Scott Stamp Monthly, James Mackay notes that most parcels are now franked with self-adhesive postal service indicators (like postage meters in the United States). These are generated by a computer that is linked to a scale so that the correct amount of postage can be computed. As a result, very few high value postage stamps are used and most post offices have sufficient stocks of the engraved versions. The public probably will not see the new gravure values any time soon, if at all.

Update: Mackay’s prediction turned out to be true. These new high values were withdrawn from general sale on April 1, 2004.

The shrinking of the high values to small size ended the tradition of having a larger size for high values, and now the tradition of using recess-printing will end for the second, and probably last, time. (Posted July 7, 2003. Updated January 1, 2004 and May 3, 2004. Some of the information here comes from Douglas Myall’s excellent article about De La Rue in the July, 2003 issue of the British Philatelic Bulletin.) top


The new universal stamps are Britain’s first airmails

Universal stamp for Europe Universal stamp for worldwide

With much fanfare, on March 27, 2003, Royal Mail introduced, “universal stamps to make life infinitely easier.” More specifically, they are intended to make life easier for patrons buying stamps for international posting. Whether they really do this, and whether these stamps are really universal, are subjects I’ll discuss a little later.

The stamps feature the Machin portrait of the Queen, though smaller than on the current definitives. The portrait itself is colored — light blue for the Europe stamp and red for the worldwide one — against the white background of the stamp. The colors are from the current range used for Machins known as the Jeffery Matthews palette.

On the right is a vertical stripe of red and blue half-chevrons indicating airmail service. On the bottom, on a white background, are the words “up to 40 grams”. At the upper left, the word “Europe” appears on one stamp and the word “Worldwide” on the other.

Inside of Universal stamp booklet

The European universal stamps sold for 52p when issued and increased to 53p when the rate increased on May 8. The Worldwide universal stamp still sells for its initial cost of £1.12.

The stamps are self-adhesive and will have two phosphor bars in the usual pattern of one on each side. They are printed by Walsall Security Printers and sold in booklets of four along with four airmail etiquettes that should also be used on the letters. The stamps are sold as singles only to collectors in the form of a presentation pack.

Since they were issued specifically for airmail, Scott has listed them as numbers C1 and C2. There will be a footnote after the other Machin listings (the ‘MH’ numbers) directing readers to these stamps.

First class non-denominated stampUnderstanding the reason for these stamps requires reviewing a bit of history about non-denominated stamps. Royal Mail first issued non-denominated stamps, called “non-value indicators,” or NVIs, in 1989. Instead of a denomination, these stamps have indicators, such as ‘1st,’ that show the service paid for. An example of a first class NVI is shown at left, and another is shown in the Virtual Machin Album.

The reason for the NVIs was simple. Royal Mail had begun a program of selling stamps through private retailers. Neither Royal Mail nor the retailers wanted the hassle of dealing with obsolete stamps when rates changed. They also didn’t want the burden of having to sell make-up rate stamps to allow customers to use up their existing supply of stamps. These goals were achieved with the establishment of the rule that a NVI stamp would always be valid for the service indicated, regardless of the current rate. In other words, a first class NVI is always valid for sending a first class inland letter, regardless of any rate changes. This is, of course, vastly different than the way the United States Postal Service handles non-denominated stamps.

The first NVIs were issued for first class and second class mail, and they could be used to pay for letters within the first weight step, that is, weighing under 60 grams (a little over two ounces). They could also be used to pay the equivalent amount of postage on heavier letters. For example, the first class rate today is 28p, so a first class NVI may be used to pay 28p worth of postage on any mail.

Front cover of Universal stamp booklet

In 1994, the concept was extended to mail going to Europe. An NVI with an ‘E’ indicator was issued and remains in use today. Like its predecessors, it is valid for letters within the first weight step. The catch is, however, that for European mail, the first weight step is 20 grams (under one ounce), not 60g.

It seems that the mailing public does not grasp this distinction and has a tendency to use the ‘E’ stamp on letters weighing up to 60g. It is this confusion that the new stamps are intended to eliminate.

There was apparently some discussion of having the new stamps good for rates up to 60g, but most letters sent overseas are between 20g and 40g. The new stamps are therefore targeted for letters up to 40g. And while Royal Mail was taking care of mail to Europe, they decided to handle mail to other overseas destinations as well. So the two universal stamps were born.

Do they really “make life infinitely easier”? That’s certainly a question open to debate. The rates for overseas mail have a number of weight steps, and, in the case of non-European mail, two different zones. These new stamps, and the booklets in which they are sold, do little to clarify the situation.

As I noted earlier, there is a 38p rate to Europe for letters under 20g and postcards. This rate can be paid with an ‘E’ stamp, either the Machin or one of the many commemoratives or special stamps issued with that service indicator. There is a handy booklet of six ‘E’ stamps. The new universal stamp pays the rate intended for letters between 20g and 40g. However, looking at this new stamp, it is easy to come to the conclusion that this universal stamp, costing 53p, is required for a postcard or any letter up to 40g.

This impression is reinforced by the statement on the back of the booklet. The text on the back of the booklet reads, “For Airmail letters or cards up to 40g to all European destinations.” There is a similar statement on the back of the worldwide universal stamp booklet.

(A similar situation exists with the booklet of six 68p stamps. The message on the back of the booklet indicates that it is good for letters up to 20g to destinations outside Europe, but there is no mention of the existence of the lower rate for 10g letters or an even cheaper rate for postcards.)

The situation gets even more complex with rates for heavier letters to destinations outside Europe. For light weight letters, there’s a rate of 47p for letters under 10 grams and another of 68p for letters between 10g and 20g. There are Machins for these rates and regionals for the 10g to 20g rate as well.

For letters between 20g and 40g, it becomes more complicated because the world is divided into two zones. Zone 1 includes the Americas, the Middle East, Africa, the Indian sub-continent, most of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. The rate for Zone 1 letters between 20g and 40g is £1.05. The rest of the world is Zone 2 and the rate is £1.12. So not only is there the issue of overpaying for a light letter, but anyone using the universal stamp for a 40g letter to a Zone 1 destination is overpaying by 7p.

How is a customer to know that using the universal stamp on a light weight letter is an overpayment? Did Royal Mail set out to confuse its customers into overpaying for postage? In this day of huge deficits, anything is possible. James Mackay, writing in the December, 2003 issue of Scott Stamp Monthly, says that “mailers now tend to overpay their postage in the mistaken belief that this stamp (the universal worldwide stamps or the £1.12 Christmas commemorative described above) is required for all packets going abroad [outside Europe], up to a limit of 40 grams, unaware that there are cheaper rates…for items that weigh less [than 20 grams].”

But maybe there are other circumstances. With regards to the Zone 1/Zone 2 issue, there were rumors that the rates might be made the same for letters up to 40g, as they are for letters under 20g. It didn't happen on May 8, but maybe it will at the time of the next rate change for international mail.

With regards to the existence of lower rates for light letters, Royal Mail could have used the text “20 to 40 grams” rather than “up to 40 grams.” However, maybe there’s a change brewing here, too. The USPS eliminated its half-ounce overseas rate last year and the one ounce rate became the minimum. Maybe Royal Mail is planning the same thing, and the 40g rate will be charged for all letters up to 40 grams. That would be quite a jump for people who send worldwide 10g letters, but it is not out of the range of possibility.

So, back to the two key questions, do these stamps make life infinitely easier and are they universal? They do make life easier for those sending overseas letters weighing between 20g and 40g, since previously there were no single stamps that paid those rates. But “infinitely” easier? I don’t think so.

As far as universal, these are the least universal stamps that Britain has ever issued. Although they can be used on any piece of mail, they are designed for a specific purpose, airmail, and for specific destinations. It is the regular denominated Machins, silent as to their purpose, that are truly universal.

Updates: I discovered in mid-2006 that these stamps are now being called “international one-stop” stamps, rather than universal stamps. A third stamp was issued on April 1, 2004 for worldwide postcards; it is shown in the Designer Machins section of the Virtual Machin Album. The “E” stamps were withdrawn at the same time. For more information about the use of non-denominated stamps in the UK, see the Machin FAQ at MachinMania.com.

In the summer of 2006, the United States Postal Service applied to the Postal Rate Commission for permission to issue a “forever” stamp, a non-denominated stamp that would be valid indefinitely for mailing a first-class letter. In studying this concept, the PRC contacted both Royal Mail and La Poste, the French post office, which also issues non-denominated stamps with indefinite validity. (Posted June 9, 2003. Updated January 1, 2004, March 22, 2004 and August 5, 2006.) top


 

From the GBStamps.com weblog

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Royal Mail issues special mini-sheet for World Rugby Championship

Royal Mail issed a surprise miniature sheet celebrating England's victory in the Rugby World Cup in Australia on November 22. The sheet contains two first-class and two 68p stamps for a face value of £1.92. More information can be found at Royal Mail's website at http://www.royalmail.com/rugby.

England last won the World Cup in 1966. At that time, the post office reissued a previous rugby stamp overprinted with the phrase "England Winners." There was much speculation in the stamp, and as a result, today it is more common than the non-overprinted stamp, especially in used condition.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Tapling collection celebrates 100 years

The Tapling collection has been on display at the British Librarysince 1903, a tremendous milestone and a testament to the foresight of Thomas Keay Tapling and the beneficence of the Library and the Royal Philatelic Society London. A reception to mark the centenary was held on October 2, 2003.

The collection’s relevance is enhanced by the fact that a sizable portion of it is on display at all times at the library, which is open seven days a week and does not charge an admission fee. The British Library is located near St. Pancras Station in London. Tapling made his wealth running the family carpet making business during the Victorian era. He was a member of parliament from 1886-1891 and a first-class cricket player. He started collection stamps at age 10 and amassed a huge collection by the time of his death at 35 years of age in 1891. He bequeathed his collection to the nation.

The Tapling collection is the only major nineteenth century collection that is still intact. It contains a great number of rare items. Perhaps most notable for GB collectors, it includes one of the few known copies of the 1858-79 one penny red, plate 77. It was the first collection to be displayed in vertical sliding drawers, a technique that kept the stamps out of the light when not being viewed and that has been adopted all over the world. It formed the basis of the British Library’s extensive collection, now the greatest publicly held one and conservatively valued at £17 million. For more information on the collection, visit the Library’s web site at http://www.bl.uk/collections/philatelic.

Scott upgrades GB listing in Classic Catalogue

Scott Publishing Co. announced several enhancements to its Great Britain listing in the 2004 Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers. The catalog covers issues through 1952 for GB and Commonwealth countries and through 1940 for other countries. The improvements include:

Information about the full-color catalog can be found at Scott's web site at http://www.amosadvantage.com.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

New catalog of QE II errors published

My friend and colleague David Alderfer informs me that a new, full-color catalog of British QE II errors has recently been published. The 2003 Catalogue of Queen Elizabeth II British Postage Stamp Errors by Tom Pierron Publisher: Bacchic Multimedia List price: £39.95 (US$69.95) It is available at Amazon U.K. (http://www.amazon.co.uk), but check the shipping charges before you order. top



Last update: August 5, 2006   Macintosh!
Copyright © 2003 by Larry Rosenblum