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Counterfeit Machins appear

A report in Gibbons Stamp Monthly indicates that thousands of fake first-class stamps have been sold to customers recently in the Wolverhampton area. Wolverhampton is located in northwest England near Birmingham. Persons who are caught using the stamps must pay a fine of £1 plus a surcharge to retrieve their mail.

The description of the stamps has not been made public, but presumably it is the current first-class gold Machin as seen in the souvenir sheet pictured below. It should not be long before some get into the hands of stamp collectors, and then we should know much more about the stamps.

Last month it was announced that £140,000 of counterfeit stamps were seized after a raid on a property in the same general area. It has not been stated if the stamps in use are similar to the ones seized.

Two Machin forgeries are known, and copies are in collectors’ hands. The first is a copy of the 24p rust Machin that appeared in 1993. This is a very poor reproduction and is easy to distinguish from the genuine stamp. A forgery of the second-class non-denominated (NVI) Machin appeared the next year, and this stamp is very close to the real thing. (Posted August 28, 2005.) top

Jeffery Matthews returns to stamp design

WW II Victory   London 1980 souvenir sheet

Jeffery Matthews, MBE has returned to active duty for Royal Mail. He designed a souvenir sheet issued on July 5 to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The souvenir sheet is a collage of previously used designs. At the top center is a new version of the 1995 Peace and Freedom stamp showing a floodlit St Paul’s Cathedral. The only change to the stamp is the denomination. Originally it had a face value of 25p; now it is a non-denominated stamp for first-class mail. The other five stamps are the current first-class gold Machin definitive.

The background is an enlarged version of the 19p Peace and Freedom stamp showing British troops in Paris at the liberation of France. Both of the Peace and Freedom stamps were designed by John Gorham.

This is the third souvenir sheet that Matthews has designed for Royal Mail. His first was a special issue for the London 1980 international stamp show. He designed the 50p stamp featured in the sheet and the sheet itself. The sheet sold for 75p, with the extra 25p going to the show.

His second souvenir sheet, which was his previous design for Royal Mail, was an exhibition souvenir for The Stamp Show 2000. It consisted of eight Machins, in colors that Matthews developed, as well as two labels, one showing a coat of arms and the other showing an artist’s palette with Matthews’ monogram. (Posted August 28, 2005.) top

Complete Deegam Machin Handbook now available on CD-ROM

Note: The following is an edited version of comments that appeared in the July, 2005 edition of the Great Britain Collectors Club Chronicle.

The Deegam Handbook Many times I have wished that I could wave a magic wand and have my whole philatelic library digitized and stored on my computer. Of course, I love the feel of a book in my hands and would never give that up, but having the ability to search quickly through all my references for a particular topic would be invaluable.

I doubt I will live to see such a day, but at least we’re starting to see electronic versions of new works. Scott has been publishing its catalogues on CD-ROM for several years in a rather simplistic manner and at a price that doesn’t pass the savings in paper and postage costs to buyers. This year is the first time that Scott is offering a discount to CD-ROM buyers, but the discount is quite small.

The 2005 Catalogue of Great Britain Errors by Tom Pierron, reviewed in the GBCC section of this site, is now available as an electronic book, or ebook, at a significant reduction in cost over the paper version.

Nothing is more certain in the high tech game than progress, however, and we Machin Maniacs can be thankful that Douglas Myall has taken the lead in electronic publishing and put Scott to shame on several counts. He has put the The Completed Deegam Machin Handbook on CD-ROM and recently made it available to collectors. You can read why it is the best Machin reference book here.

4p Machins shown in the Deegam Handbook The CD has a number of advantages compared to the print version. All stamps are illustrated in color with accurate reproduction, so it is now possible to use the Handbook to distinguish between similar colors such as turquoise and cobalt blue, which were both used for the 4p. The image at left shows how those two colors are pictured in the Handbook. In addition, the Handbook pages can be printed as desired.

Perhaps the biggest advantage, though, is the ease of navigation. Bookmarks make it easy to get to any section quickly. Beyond that, there are thousands of links contained in the text. For example, if a particular Machin stamp is derived from a booklet pane, you can simply click on the pane’s number and you are taken to the page on which the pane is described.

There are two types of links — hidden and visible. Visible links appear on the screen with a red underline. Click on the word or phrase that is underlined and information will appear about the word or phrase you clicked on.

Hidden links are so numerous it would be annoying to have all of them indicated with red underlining. You know that you can click on a hidden link when the cursor changes from the full, open hand icon to the pointing index finger icon. A click of the mouse then takes you to the linked page.

The embedded links make the CD version of the Handbook extremely useful. This is an area where Scott falls down. Wouldn't it be nice if every reference to a watermark number had a link back to the corresponding illustration? And how about those common design types, like the Europa issues, for which illustrations only appear in the front of the book? Wouldn't it be nice if each reference to a common design had a link to its illustration?

The Handbook is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh computers, since it consists of Adobe Acrobat files. (I did the beta testing on the Mac.)

An interesting question is whether someone would want the CD version, printed version, or both. For me, the CD is very convenient because I often use the Handbook as a reference when writing an article or an update to this web site. Now I can open the Handbook on my screen with a few clicks and quickly find the information that I want. (It’s not that I’m too lazy to get up and pull the Handbook off the shelf — well, I am lazy but that’s besides the point — more important is that I don’t usually have enough clear work area to open the Handbook and flip through the pages.)

Most of you, of course, are not writers. However, you may find the CD version easier to use when cataloguing your stamps or updating your inventory list or database on your computer.

Finally, there’s the considerably lower cost of the CD version. With the weak dollar, the print version of the Handbook costs around $100, and then there are shipping costs. When all of that is considered, the CD version is only about half the cost of the print version. (Are you listening, Scott?)

The CD price includes airmail postage to the United States. Orders at the price of US $75 may be sent to Douglas Myall at 2 Elizabeth Ave, Bridport, Dorset DT6 5BA England, U.K. Myall accepts only cash, and registered mail is recommended. Payment can also be made using Paypal at the price of £39. The Paypal payment should be sent to deegam@btopenworld.com, and credit cards are accepted. Opening a Paypal account is free.

Myall distributes his periodic updates, the Deegam Reports, in an electronic version at no charge to buyers of the Handbook. When the reports are stored in the same directory as the Handbook, they will have links back to the appropriate pages in the Handbook.

In addition, Myall keeps his master copy of the Handbook updated at all times. Buyers of the CD are eligible for an updated version at half price — at any time and as many times as desired. (The original CD must be returned in order to get the special price, so don’t lose it!) He burns a new CD when he receives the order. No more waiting for a comprehensive supplement to be published to bring the Handbook up to date.

I should mention, though, that Myall has not forgotten the people who are using the paper version. The first supplement to the current edition of the Handbook was published on August 22. The cost is £35 plus postage. Discounts are available to buyers of the CD-ROM and people who bought the print version of the Handbook in 2005. There is also a special offer until December 31, 2005 for people who want to buy the print edition of the basic Handbook and the supplement. Details of these offers are available from Myall at the email address given above.

I can’t overemphasize how reader-friendly all of this is. Myall has made extensive efforts to provide the excellent service and good value to his customers. I can only hope that other publishers follow in his footsteps.

Meanwhile, the Machin Collectors Club has stumbled badly with the latest edition of the Machin Collectors Club Specialized Machins Catalogue. Its organization leaves a lot to be desired, and it suffers from a noticeable lack of editing.

On another front, however, the club has been improving its web site. The club is publishing a basic Machin listing on the site, and they are leaving it open to everyone. This is a very useful addition to the Machin information that is available on the web.

The MCC catalogue, as well as other supplies useful to a Machin collector, can be purchased on the site. Some Machin stamps are also offered for sale. (Posted August 28, 2005.) top

Jumping on the Ol****c bandwagon

Great Britain, and Londoners in particular, were very pleased when London was chosen as the site for the 2012 Summer Ol****cs. In the race for a gold medal in the time-honored event of raising revenue from collectors, Royal Mail announced a commemorative souvenir sheet to be issued barely a month after the announcement was made.

To achieve this record-setting speed, and to save designer’s fees, Royal Mail is reusing the designs of the 1996 sports stamps, with a minor text modification to note the current event and a change to the standard non-denominated stamps for first-class service. (This is the second souvenir sheet of the year that is made up of previous designs.)

Of note is the fact that neither the promotional flyer nor Royal Mail’s web site uses the word “Olympics.” The same goes for the stamps. The phrases of choice seem to be “host city” and “prestigious games ceremony.”

The press release however does use the magic word and offers this explanation:

At the time of designing and printing, Royal Mail was unable to use the word Olympics, the rings or the ribbons associated with the London bid due to Intellectual Property issues.

So how does the International Olympic Committee get intellectual property control of a word in use for more than 100 years? A word that appears in the dictionary as a common noun? And does that control extend even to publicity flyers and web site announcements? What a sad world this has become. (Posted August 28, 2005.) top

Booklets making a comeback?

Booklets, and booklet collecting, have a long, proud tradition in Great Britain. Well, perhaps I should say “had.”

Britain’s first booklet appeared in 1904 during the reign of King Edward VII. Within a few years, booklets were a popular and convenient format for postal patrons. Collectors enjoyed the fact that covers and interleaves changed frequently, and stamps in the booklets contained varieties such as inverted and sideways watermarks. With the introduction of phosphor bands to facilitate automation, booklets became the source of many stamps with unique patterns of bands.

Interest in British booklets was high enough to sustain a club devoted solely to booklets issued after decimalization on February 15, 1971. The Great Britain Decimal Stamp Book Study Circle made a name for itself with its high quality journal and catalog.

The fun lasted more than 90 years but began to taper off towards the end of the last century. The arrival of self-adhesive stamps in booklets was a convenience for mailers but turned off some collectors. A popular booklet format containing two commemoratives and four definitive stamps was abruptly discontinued. Some formats were confusing — is a folded sheet of 20 self-adhesive stamps a booklet? Finally, there was a lack of interesting varieties to interest collectors.

The popularity of booklet collecting diminished. As a result, the GBDSBSC recently announced a merger with another society. (The general trend of declining club membership no doubt also played a part.)

However, booklets and booklet collection aren’t down and out. Some recent actions by Royal Mail may breathe some life into the area. Advertisements have been added to some booklets containing six first-class stamps, creating new varieties at reasonable cost.

Smilers featuring David and Larry Of perhaps more interest is a totally new booklet format. Royal Mail is changing its Smilers stamps. “Smilers” is the term that is used for special sheets of 10 or 20 stamps that can have individual photographs printed in a label adjacent to each stamp. Until now, the stamps have been commemorative size and the labels have been smaller, as you can see in the accompanying image of a portion of a Smilers sheet with an adjacent picture of me and my good friend and colleague, David Alderfer. (That’s me on the left; not a very flattering picture, but they didn’t offer me do-overs.) It was taken at Stamp Show 2000 in London.

Recently Royal Mail announced that the Smilers stamps will be the same size as definitives and the label size will be correspondingly larger.

What has all this got to do with booklets? On October 4, Royal Mail will issue a booklet containing six new Smilers stamps in the new definitive size. Images will include a flower, a Union Jack, a teddy bear and a stylized “Love.” It’s a very colorful booklet and will, I think, be popular.

It may be a one-off, but if it is the start of a new series, it could rekindle some amount of interest in booklet collecting. We will have to wait and see. Incidentally, Royal Mail is calling these stamps “pictorial definitives,” but I would agree with Douglas Myall that these are much more like the Occasions stamps from which the designs are derived and not like definitives at all.

A related note about the Smilers stamps: previously, Royal Mail always issued the stamps in generic format, that is, with a preprinted label rather than the personalized photograph, in addition to the personalized version. These were sold at a small premium over face value, giving collectors a chance to purchase them at modest cost. However, the new Smilers will not be offered that way, forcing collectors to order a customized sheet at the cost of £15 for £6 worth of stamps or buying them from a dealer. And what exactly will dealers offer for sale to their customers? (Posted August 28, 2005.) top

USPS to copy Royal Mail?

An article in a recent issue of Linn’s Stamp News indicates that the USPS is thinking of issuing a non-denominated first-class stamp that would retain its validity regardless of subsequent rate changes. Stamps with this characteristic have been used in Great Britain since 1989, and they are now the predominant type of stamp used for several classes of mail. A full explanation of how the British stamps work is given in the Machin Mania FAQ. Other countries have stamps and policies similar to Britain’s.

Like the British stamps, these US “forever” stamps, as the Postal Service is calling them, would be sold for the amount of the first-class, first step (up to 1 ounce) letter rate at the time it was purchased. By remaining valid after a rate increase, customers would not need to add additional postage to mail a letter.

This would undoubtedly be very popular, but the effect on the USPS is unknown. Some revenue would certainly be lost as customers continued to effectively pay the old price for mailing a letter. There would be a corresponding cost decrease, though, as the USPS would have to print, distribute and sell many fewer stamps at the makeup rate, such as the three-cent stamp sold when the rate jumped from 34 cents to 37 cents. Also, the existence of these forever stamps might blunt public criticism when a postal rate increase occurs.

In practice, the USPS has already dabbled in forever stamps. Several semipostal stamps, starting with the Breast Cancer Research stamp, have retained their validity when rates change. A semipostal stamp purchased for 34 cents, plus the charitable contribution, remained valid for mailing a letter even after the rate increased to 37 cents. Technically, however, this was a violation of the rules. The semipostal stamps were supposed to retain their value, not their ability to pay for a service. Someone using a non-denominated stamp purchased for 34 cents was supposed to add an additional three cents of postage after the rate increase. In practice, of course, few people knew the rule, and there was no way to enforce it, so I doubt whether anyone actually followed it.

The forever stamp is still in the early stages of planning, and there is no indication of when, or even if, such a stamp will be issued. If one does, the USPS has Royal Mail, among others, to thank for paving the way. (Posted August 28, 2005.) top

John Lennon’s stamp collection acquired by US NPM

The US National Postal Museum, part of The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., acquired John Lennon’s childhood stamp album from British stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons, according to Linn’s Stamp News.

The album contains about 550 stamps and, perhaps more importantly, some of Lennon’s doodling, including mustaches drawn on images of monarchs including Queen Victoria. The museum will display the album starting in October, to coincide with National Stamp Collecting Month and the 65th anniversary of Lennon’s birth.

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) did not bid on the album, according to Douglas Muir, Curator, Philately. This is a little unfortunate, in my opinion, because it would have been a nice companion to the childhood album of Freddie Mercury, the late leader of the British rock band Queen.

The BPMA’s predecessor, the National Postal Museum, acquired Mercury’s album in 1994 or thereabouts. They displayed it prominently and used it to generate a lot of publicity. Many fans of Queen were thrilled to be able to touch something that belonged to Mercury, who passed away in 1991, so the NPM gave visitors a certificate after they had viewed and touched the album. I did so during my visit in 1995, and my certificate is shown here.

Mercury, who was born Farookh Bulsara, had artistic talent and preferred to create his own arrangement of stamps rather than use a printed album. The NPM created four postcards, each showing a page from the album. Shown here is a page with a group of British stamps neatly arranged to form a design featuring his initial, “F.”

Maybe the US National Postal Museum will be kind enough to lend Lennon’s album to the BPMA when its museum opens in a few years. That would certainly draw attention to the museum. (Posted August 28, 2005.) top

Last update: August 28, 2005   Macintosh!
Copyright © 2005 by Larry Rosenblum