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BPMA hosts exhibit (real and web) of David Gentleman’s work

Christmas 1989 stamps designed by David Gentleman

The British Postal Museum & Archive has a small exhibit space in the reading room in its current temporary quarters in London. (The BPMA will move to its own larger quarters in Swindon, about 80 miles west of London, in 2012-13.) The exhibit changes annually in May, and the new exhibit features the work of David Gentleman.

For those of you who, like me, are geographically distant from London, the BPMA has posted an online version of the exhibit and has made available a free pdf document describing Gentleman’s work and his contribution to British stamp design.

In addition to designing 103 stamps for the British Post Office, Gentleman was responsible for many design innovations. Most notably, he worked with then-Postmaster General Anthony Wedgwood Benn, to reduce the size of the Queen’s portrait on stamps to a small cameo, thereby permitting improved stamp designs. (Benn, a republican, wanted to remove the Queen’s portrait altogether, and Gentleman submitted a number of designs with alternate identifiers, including the British coat of arms and the words “Great Britain.” However, the Queen wouldn’t go that far, though she did agree to the cameo.)

Many of his Queen-less designs, and other suggestions for improving British postage stamps, were incorporated in an album, part of which is being shown in the display and is featured in the free document mentioned above. Now referred to as “The Gentleman Album,” it’s a seminal part of the history of British stamps. (Posted May 7, 2009.) top

The first day cover above includes the five stamps designed by David Gentleman for Christmas, 1989. The stamps celebrate the 800th anniversary of Ely Cathedral. The cachet (envelope illustration) was also done by Gentleman. The text reads: Ely Cathedral — For eight hundred Christmases, it has presided over the Fens. Four of the stamps are semi-postals with denominations like “20+1”; this means that the stamp cost one penny more than the amount of postage, with the penny going to charity.

The cover below is a five-stamp se-tenant (attached) strip of five stamps issued in 1980 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world’s first passenger-carrying railway. The cachet was also done by Gentleman. The text reads: The Revised Rocket — King of the British rails, the proud Rocket, modified and battered by use, finally retired to the London Science Museum.

Liverpool and Manchester Railway stamps designed by Gentleman

New Machins and Regionals for rate increase

The April 6 rate increase requires several new definitive stamps, though fewer than in the past few years. The new stamps will be issued March 31 and are described below.

Description Color Phosphor Printer Service
17p Machin Olive green 2 bands De La Rue Make-up rate between second-class letters and large letters
22p Machin Stone 2 bands De La Rue Make-up rate between first-class letters and large letters
54p Machin Rust 2 bands De La Rue Worldwide surface mail to 20g (first step) and postcards
Returned to circulation, same cylinder as previously
62p Machin Red 2 bands De La Rue Worldwide airmail to 10g (first step) and postcards
90p Machin Ultramarine 2 bands De La Rue Worldwide airmail 10g to 20g (second step)
56p Pictorial Regionals Multicolor 2 bands De La Rue Europe airmail postcards and letters to 20g (first step)
90p Pictorial Regionals Multicolor 2 bands De La Rue Worldwide airmail 20g to 40g (second step)

17p Machin The 54p rust Machin was issued on March 27, 2007. It was no longer needed after the April, 2008 rate increase, but it remained on sale to stamp collectors. It will now be returned to general circulation. The original cylinder was retained, so the new stamps printed in January of this year are identical to the previous ones.

The new 22p stone is a deeper shade than prior issues of this color, the most recent being the 68p issued on July 4, 2002.

As I noted last year, Royal Mail always provides several denominations of Machins to pay the difference between two common rates. For example, the 22p Machin can be added to a first-class Machin (39p for regular letters) to pay the first-class large-letter rate. The table below shows the current make-up rate stamps available.

Rate Pair Make-up Rate Stamp Date Issued
Second-class letters (30p) to first-class letters (39p) 9p Orange Original April 5, 2005
Reprint April 1, 2008
First-class letters (39p) to first-class large letters (61p) 22p Stone March 31, 2009
Second-class letters (30p) to second-class large letters (47p) 17p Olive Green
pictured above
March 31, 2009

(Posted May 7, 2009.) top


Royal Mail, slow down!

Slow down, baby, now you’re movin’ way too fast.

Those words were written and sung by Larry Williams in 1958 and covered by The Beatles six years later. Fifty years after the song was first heard, the words were probably haunting Royal Mail.

On January 1, 2008, a regulation took effect in the European Union that vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes cannot go faster than 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour) for health and safety reasons. Royal Mail, whose trucks generally went 70 mph on the major roads, had to slow down.

In a customer service notice published shortly after the regulation went into effect, Royal Mail announced it was complying with the law. However, it definitely had an effect on Royal Mail’s delivery efforts. Royal Mail noted that it was keeping to its 2pm delivery goal (3pm in rural areas), but in order to do that, more vans were added, more flights were scheduled at night, and additional deliveries were added for some business customers.

I don’t know much about the situation and offer no opinion on the advisability of this rule, but it is just one more obstacle that Royal Mail has had to overcome in recent years. (Posted February 19, 2009.) top


Royal Mail introduces Sustainable Mail

At the same time as the rate increase in April, Royal Mail is introducing a new program called Sustainable Mail. Aimed at bulk mailers, it is designed to help “increase the use of environmentally-friendly materials in mailings while reducing the amount of mail in the waste stream.”

In return for a discount of up to 4.7% (up to 1p per letter), mailers agree to use recyclable materials and follow good business practices such as checking mailing lists against “deceased” and “gone away” files no more than 30 days before the mailing.

It’s not clear to me whether this is something that Royal Mail has been required to do or whether they are just doing an environmental good deed, but in any case, I think Royal Mail should be commended on this program. (Posted February 10, 2009.) top


The big hike: postal rates to increase on April 6

Royal Mail’s annual increase is scheduled for April 6. The old and new rates are shown in the tables below.

Service First Class Second Class
  Old Rate New Rate Old Rate New Rate
Letters, to 100g 36p 39p 27p 30p
Large Letters, to 100g 52p 61p 42p 47p
Large Letters, to 250g 78p 90p 66p 76p
Packets, to 100g £1.14 £1.28 95p £1.08
Packets, to 250g £1.45 £1.62 £1.24 £1.41


Service Old Rate New Rate
Europe airmail, first step up to 20g and postcards 50p 56p
Europe airmail, second step up to 40g 72p 81p
Worldwide airmail, first step up to 10g and postcards 56p 62p
Worldwide airmail, second step up to 20g 81p 90p
Worldwide airmail, third step up to 40g £1.22 £1.35
Worldwide surface mail first step up to 20g and postcards 48p 54p
Worldwide surface mail second step up to 60g 82p 92p
Recorded Delivery (surcharge in addition to postage) 72p 75p
Special Delivery (minimum surcharge) £4.60 £4.95
Airsure (surcharge) £4.20 £4.50
International Signed For (surcharge) £3.50 £3.70
International Reply Coupon   £1.10

The rate increases are huge! I was plugging the numbers into my calculator, and the percentage increase kept going up — 11% … 13% … 17%.

The only postage rate increase (not including services such as Recorded Delivery) in the table that is less than 10% is the basic first-class letter rate, rising 3p to 39p, an increase of 8.3%. The biggest increase is the first weight step for large letters, from 52p to 61p, a whopping 17.3%.

Royal Mail makes its usual argument for the rate increase, saying it is needed to preserve the “one-price-goes-anywhere” service in the face of greater competition and falling mail volume. They note that mail volume could fall between five and seven percent per year. They also note that the rate increase will cost the average U.K. household less than an additional 5p per week, which means that each household sends an average of less than two letters per week. Considering that some of that mail is business-related, like paying bills, it is apparent that U.K. residents don’t send much mail to each other at all.

Every time I read about the need to preserve the single price to any address (a policy that has been in place since 1839), I keep thinking that one of these days, Royal Mail is going to introduce distance-based rates. I suppose I should say “re-introduce.” It would probably be based on zones, but after the introduction of Pricing in Proportion, this would just be another burden on postal customers.

Royal Mail also points out that its delivery services are better than their goals. For example, 93.4% of first-class mail was delivered the next working day, compared to a goal of 93%. They don’t say anything about the closing of many post offices, a policy that has angered many customers.

An article at the British web site ThisIsMoney.co.uk points out the following:

Postal organizations all over the world are struggling to deal with higher costs and lower volumes. These rate increases are unfortunate symptoms of that struggle. (Posted January 23, 2009.) top



Last update: May 9, 2009   Macintosh!
Copyright © 2009 by Larry Rosenblum
All stamps and philatelic items Copyright © Royal Mail