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New Machins in 2009 prestige booklets

Treasures pane
Treasures of the Archives

This year, for better or worse, can be called the Year of the Prestige Booklet. Prestige booklets are high-priced, oversize booklets that contain several panes of stamps plus numerous colorful interleaves. They are aimed at collectors, either those that collect the stamps within them or those who are not stamp collectors but are interested in the subject of the booklet.

The British Post Office started issuing prestige booklets in 1972 (with a very similar predecessor in 1969). An article about prestige booklets in general can be found on the philatelic database, and Roy Simpson pictures nearly all of the British prestige booklets on his site.

The early prestige booklets contained only Machin definitives. Later booklets added commemoratives and pictorial regionals. Of interest to stamp collectors who specialize in the Machins were varieties that were found only in prestige booklets. The very first prestige booklet included a 1/2p Machin with a single, phosphor band on the left side of the stamp. No other 1/2p stamps with a single left band were ever issued, so this has become a scarce stamp.

Many subsequent prestige booklets also contained unique Machin varieties, but the practice eventually ended and the booklets became less interesting to collectors of single stamps. (Of course, they remained important to collectors of booklet panes and complete booklets.)

One reason for the lack of varieties in prestige booklets was Royal Mail’s decision in 1997 to require that all Machins be produced by gravure. Previously, some printers used lithography, especially for short production runs such as prestige booklets. Litho-printed Machins were some of the varieties found only in prestige booklets. Royal Mail’s 1997 requirement ended that practice. (The reason for the requirement was that gravure stamps are harder to counterfeit accurately than lithographed ones.)

However, ten years later, Royal Mail reversed itself. The power of the almighty dollar pound outweighed the fear of counterfeits. Royal Mail again permitted Machins to be printed by lithography when it made economic sense. I wrote more about this on the Machin Mania blog.

During the first year of the new policy, only one new Machin appeared, the first-class gold Machin printed by lithography. (If you consider stamp printers, then there were actually two new Machins, since the first-class gold was printed by De La Rue in the James Bond booklet issued on January 8 and then by Walsall in the RAF Uniforms booklet issued on September 18.)

Then, this year, le déluge. Not only has Royal Mail issued four (!!!) prestige booklets (a record number that I hope, without much optimism, will not be repeated), but each booklet has at least one new Machin printed by lithography. There are a total of nine Machins newly printed by lithography. Other Machins are new if you consider characteristics such as the printer or phosphor bands.

The table below lists all 13 Machins that appear in the four booklets. The new characteristics of each Machin are listed. Those that are entirely new litho printings are noted in bold. For those that have been printed by lithography before, the characteristics that make the stamp new are listed. I noted the shade differences for the 5p and 16p because they are especially striking. Nearly all of the other Machins have shade differences as well, as noted by Ian Billings in several posts on his blog: Darwin, Design, and Treasures and Uniforms.

The details of the booklets are:

Denomination Color Booklet Printer New characteristics
16p Pink Design Cartor First litho printing, noticeably different shade
50p Light Grey Design Cartor First litho printing
5p Ash Pink Darwin De La Rue First litho printing, noticeably different shade
10p Light Tan Darwin De La Rue Litho printing, first with EME cylinder, by De La Rue
48p Amethyst (also
called Rhododendron)
Darwin De La Rue First litho printing
1st (1840 Anniversary) Black Treasures Cartor First litho printing
20p (1840 Anniversary) Black Treasures Cartor Litho printing, first with phosphor bands,
elliptical perforations, perf 15x14, by Cartor
17p Olive Green Treasures Cartor First litho printing
22p Stone Treasures Cartor First litho printing
62p Red Treasures Cartor First litho printing
1p Dark Maroon Uniforms Cartor Litho printing, first by Cartor
17p Olive Green Uniforms Cartor Litho printing, slight shade difference from the one in the Treasures booklet
90p Ultramarine Uniforms Cartor First litho printing

One of the Machin booklet panes is shown above, the other four are below.

Design Classics pane   Darwin pane
Design Classics   200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin
Treasures pane   Uniforms pane
Treasures of the Archives   Royal Navy Uniforms

(Posted September 18, 2009.) top

Her Majesty’s Stamps online exhibit

Last year, the Canadian Museum of Civilization presented an exhibit of over 400 items from the Royal Philatelic Collection. It was the largest exhibit so far of items from the Collection, eclipsing the exhibit at the U.S. National Postal Museum in 2004.

The items have long since been packed up and returned to London, but the Museum has made them all available in an online exhibit. Many pages feature items from the start of the postage stamp era in 1840. Unfortunately, many of the images are small.

There is also a brief video of Michael Sefi, Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, explaining the effort involved in setting up the exhibit. (Posted February 22, 2010.) top

Super-secure Machins

Postal fraud is as old as the postal service itself. The postal reforms in Britain that culminated with penny postage and the development of postage stamps and postal stationery were in large part an effort to fight fraud as well as a reduction in the cost of postage. You can read about some of the fraud here (scroll down until you see section 10 near the bottom of the page).

Much effort was expended in the 19th century to prevent fraud by the counterfeiting or re-use of postage stamps. Today, Royal Mail is still fighting these same battles, now with new technology.

On February 17, 2009, Royal Mail introduced new versions of 10 Machins, all of which have three new security features:

New 5 pound super-secure Machin

The image above has been graphically altered to show the overprints. The iridescent ink is printed over the background and denomination, with the words “ROYAL MAIL” reversed out in parallel wavy lines.

On the portrait, it is the words “ROYAL MAIL” that are overprinted. The letters over the portrait are smaller and closer together. They are horizontal over the Queen’s face and cheek, but over the rest of the portrait they are angled and stretched to follow the contour of the portrait.

The stamps issued in the new format are:

The high values were issued even though they were withdrawn from general sale in most locations in 2004.

The ten stamps are shown below, with their color names.

2nd class large super-secure Machin 2nd class super-secure Machin 1t class super-secure Machin 1st class large super-secure Machin
50p super-secure Machin £1 super-secure Machin £1.50 super-secure Machin £2 super-secure Machin
  £3 super-secure Machin £5 super-secure Machin  

(Posted March 4, 2010.) top

Super-secure Machins have hidden codes

A few weeks after the appearance of the new super-secure Machins, collectors were stunned by an announcement by Machin specialist Douglas Myall.

The non-denominated stamps had been issued in several formats - sheet stamps, booklets of various sizes, and business sheets. Myall announced that the stamps issued in all formats except sheet stamps had a hidden code included in the security overprint.

The code is part of the “ROYAL MAIL” iridescent ink overprint. On each stamp, in the upper right corner, one letter is changed to identify the format. The code letter is a mnemonic for the format; for example, the code ‘S’ is used for booklets of six stamps.

The codes were placed on the stamps to help Royal Mail identify and solve quality problems that might occur with the introduction of the new security technologies. If a problem remained undetected until after the stamps were used on mail, it would be difficult to know which format the defective stamps came from.

No code was added to stamps issued in the standard sheets of 50 sold in post offices, but all other formats have a code as shown in the table below.

Format Stamp Size Service Indicators Hidden Code
Business Sheet of 100 Regular 1st and 2nd ROYAL MBIL
Business Sheet of 50 Large 1st and 2nd ROYBL MAIL
Custom Booklets Regular 1st ROYAL MCIL
Booklets of Four Large 1st and 2nd FOYAL MAIL
Booklets of Six Regular 1st ROYAL MSIL
Booklets of Twelve Regular 1st and 2nd ROYAL MTIL
Coils (Rolls) Regular 1st and 2nd ROYAL MRIL

Note: Hidden code for booklet of six corrected on March 23.

With a little trial and effort in Photoshop™, I was able to alter stamp images to show the codes clearly. This is much easier to do with the blue stamps than the gold ones. The image on the left is from the booklet of twelve, showing the code ‘T’, and the image on the right is from the booklet of four showing the code ‘F’.

Security Machin showing code T Security Machin showing code F
(Posted March 4, 2010.) top

Last update: March 23, 2010   Macintosh!
Copyright © 2009 by Larry Rosenblum
All stamps and philatelic items Copyright © Royal Mail