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Michael Sefi, Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection,
gives Maynard Sundman Lecture at the National Postal Museum

Michael Sefi at NPM Michael Sefi, Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, gave the Maynard Sundman Lecture at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Postal Museum in Washington, DC on October 16, 2004. The museum is currently hosting an exhibit, “The Queen’s Own: Stamps That Changed the World,” that contains material from the collection. The Duke of York visited the exhibit earlier this year.

Sefi was Deputy Keeper when Wilson Hulme, Curator of Philately, and Allen Kane, Museum Director, first travelled to London to discuss the possibility of an exhibit at the NPM. Sefi became the primary person responsible for the exhibit, and he continued that role after he became Keeper in early 2003. Hulme noted Sefi’s professionalism, attention to detail, and many hours of hard work during his introduction to the lecture.

(Before the exhibit opened, Hulme gave a talk about the museum to The Royal Philatelic Society of London.)

Sefi discussed some of the history of the Royal Philatelic Collection and showed slides of some of the key items. The items relating to Great Britain included:

Sefi talked a little about his work on the collection. Even though he has two assistants, there are an endless number of tasks to be done. Mounting exhibits such as the one in the Smithsonian takes a lot of time. New material is always coming in to the collection. Old material remains to be mounted an written up — current efforts center around material from the reign of King George VI (1936-1952). Finally, conservation efforts are being made to preserve the material, much of which is over 100 years old.

(On the day before the talk, I interviewed Sefi on behalf of the Great Britain Collectors Club. The interview is here on the GBCC web site. ) (Posted October 24, 2004). top

History of Royal Philatelic Collection published

Front of The Queen's Stamps Earlier this year, Nicholas Courtney’s wonderful book, The Queen’s Stamps — The Authorized History of the Royal Philatelic Collection, was published. The story of this remarkable collection should be of interest to all stamp collectors.

Although Courtney (shown giving a lecture at the National Postal Museum earlier this year) is not a philatelist, he did a masterful job in recording the history of the collection. After a brief discussion of the postal reforms of the 1840 era and the birth of the postage stamp, he proceeds to a chronological story of the Royal Philatelic Collection.

The story starts with Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria. Alfred was the first serious philatelist in the royal family, and he encouraged his nephew, Prince George (later King George V), to become a philatelist. Prince George formed his own collection. Prince Alfred eventually was forced to sell his collection (he needed the money) to his older brother, Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward VII), who in turn gave it to his son, Prince George. Prince George merged that collection into his own, which later became the Royal Philatelic Collection.

On the recommendation of his uncle, Prince George hired John A. Tilleard, a well-known philatelist, to act as philatelic advisor and later Philatelist to the King. The two worked together for almost 20 years to build the Royal Philatelic Collection. Tilleard died in 1913, and Edward Bacon was appointed curator of what was then called the King’s Philatelic Collection. Bacon’s write-ups can be seen on the album pages shown in the National Postal Museum’s exhibit “The Queen’s Own.”

Bacon survived the King and continued to serve during the short reign of King Edward VIII and the beginning of the reign of King George VI. However, he was getting old and his heart was not in his work after the death of King George V, so in 1938 he arranged to be succeeded by Sir John Wilson, a Scot who was President of the Royal Philatelic Society, London. Bacon passed away soon after.

Wilson was appointed Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection and immediately began to deal with the new environment of a non-collector King. He made an important decision that the stamps of the reign of King George VI should be kept separate from those of the prior reign; this way the albums organized by Bacon would not need to be rearranged. King George V's collection was kept in red binders, and, after discussion with the new King, Bacon started keeping George VI material in blue binders.

Wilson also wrote and published an official history and catalog of the red collection, a large, luxurious book called The Royal Philatelic Collection. It was published in 1952 and is well worth seeing. Considering the technology of the time, the full-color reproductions of stamps and other items from the collection is very impressive.

Back of The Queen's Stamps With the approval of the King, Wilson began sending parts of the collection abroad for display. The King believed such activity promoted international goodwill and gave pleasure to the viewers. The first such display went to Switzerland, the only country to which his father had sent an exhibit. This was soon followed by a showing in New York at CIPEX in 1947, in Paris in 1949, in Australia in 1950 and in Canada in 1951. The CIPEX exhibit was the only occasion prior to the current NPM exhibit that parts of the collection have been shown in the United States.

Wilson continued well into the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and retired in 1969. He was succeeded by Sir John Marriott. Marriott in turn was followed by Charles Goodwyn in 1995 and Michael Sefi in 2003.

Besides the history of the people involved with the Royal Philatelic Collection, Courtney’s book records the philatelic and social history as well. For example, the collection contains a complete set of preliminary Palestine stamps, issued in 1920 pending the mandate to formalize the British administration. Britain’s representative in Palestine, the High Commissioner of Jerusalem, was the Rt. Hon Sir Herbert Louis Samuel, who had been Postmaster General in Britain from 1910 through 1916. Samuel made sure that the King received all the stamps of Palestine, as well as proofs, rejected proofs, errors and other relevant material.

Although I have little interest in British Commonwealth stamps, I found the stories of the people and events behind the stamps quite interesting and a good refresher of nineteenth and early twentieth century events. The combination of this history with the story of the collection makes The Queen’s Stamps fascinating reading from beginning to end. There are a number of full-color illustrations of items in the collection, plus photos of members of the royal family and the Keepers of the collection. The 1855 photo of Prince Albert Edward and Prince Alfred as young me is a real gem. The ten color trials of the large 2 Machin on the back cover of the dust jacket (shown at right and also reproduced in the book) are a nice bonus. (Posted October 24, 2004). top

Introduction to the Stamps of Great Britain published

Book cover

The book I wrote with my friend and colleage, David Alderfer, has been published by Amos Press, the publisher of Linn’s Stamp News. It is now out of print.

David and I began to write the monthly Great Britain column for Linn’s in April, 1992. After several years, the book editor asked us to compile our columns into a book. This took a lot longer and was a lot more work than we originally anticipated. First, we had to rewrite the columns so that they flowed together. Second, we had to fill in some of the gaps in order to have complete coverage of various topics, especially in the Machin area. Third, we had to bring the text up to date. In the process of these rewrites, we added many new illustrations, bringing the total to over 300.

As its title indicates, the book serves as an introduction to Great Britain philately. However, many topics are treated in depth, and we believe that even experienced collectors will find new and useful information throughout the book. It has been nearly 20 years since the last book that provided an overview of British philately, so this book fills a void in British philatelic literature.

The book has a preface and ten chapters. Below is a partial list of topics in each chapter.

I am particularly proud of several columns and sets of columns that we did. These were all incorporated into the book.

It was a long road, but we believe the final result was worth the effort, and we are grateful to the editors at Linn’s for sticking with the project and making it happen. (Posted October 2, 2004). top

Royal Mail (re)introduces savings stamps

In a move indicative of a shrinking economy, Royal Mail reintroduced savings stamps on August 16. Savings stamps, in which the Post Office acts as a kind of bank, were first introduced in the 1880s and were phased out in the 1960s.

In the current plan, savings stamps are available for £5 each and are collected on cards of 20. The cards can be redeemed (even if not full) for any of the British Post Office’s services. These services include payment of utility bills, council tax, car tax, TV license, postal products and services, travel services (including foreign currency), and even food in retail outlets.

The stamps may not be redeemed for cash. The Post Office pays no interest, but also charges no fees, apparently differentiating itself from similar privately-managed services.

Royal Mail claims that many adults want more control over household budgeting. Saving money, via these stamps, allows consumers to plan their expenditures and avoid having to face a big bill without the ability to pay it. The Post Office commissioned a study earlier this year in which a total of 50% of adults struggle at least occasionally to pay their bills, and 7% say they always struggle.

What’s in it for Royal Mail? There’s the “float,” the ability to user their customer’s money between the time the stamp is bought and the time the card is redeemed. Perhaps more importantly, it may drive more traffic to the Post Office and encourage customers to use the services offered.

There is no indication in Royal Mail’s press release of the design of the savings stamp. Note: The Post Office™ Ltd. is one of the three operating companies of the Royal Mail Group plc. (Posted October 2, 2004). top

Scott Catalogue Editor lambastes Royal Mail

Puzzling Smilers sheet cropped

The “Catalogue Column” is one of my favorite parts of Scott Stamp Monthly. It is always interesting to see what conundrum is confounding the catalog editors.

When I turned to the column in the September, 2004 issue, I was surprised to see a large illustration of a pane of British stamps along with the alliterative headline, “Surprise stamp search stalls at the source.”

The pane is not a usual one. It contains ten stamps and ten labels surrounded by a large margin picturing an assortment of classic British stamps (from the Victorian era through the 1962 Silver Wedding Anniversary issue, though oddly not including a Penny Black or Twopenny Blue) and the text “Collect British Stamps” at the top and “The Hobby of Kings” at the bottom.

The pane sent to Scott Publications had two each of the 2004 Occasions stamps (Scott 2178-82) that contain cartoon-style drawings of envelopes in various humorous settings. A photographically-cropped portion of another version of the pane, this one containing the 1991 Greetings stamps (also known as Smilers) is shown above. Click the image above to see the full pane (500kb).

The format of these sheets is similar to that of the “Smilers” panes with labels that can be personalized. The “Smilers” panes usually have 20 stamps and 20 labels, but there have been a few panes of 10 stamps and 10 labels like this one.

This pane was brought to the attention of Martin J. Frankevicz, one of the Scott Catalogue editors, by a stamp dealer, Ed Davidson. Davidson asked whether Scott would list this sheet. The question was not whether the stamps were genuine, but rather if the pane met Scott’s listing criteria.

The criterion in question is that an item cannot be listed if it is “distributed by the issuing government only to a limited group, such as a stamp club, philatelic exhibition or a single stamp dealer, and later brought to market at inflated prices.”

Frankevicz reviewed the press releases that Scott had received from Royal Mail but found no mention of this pane. He also searched Royal Mail’s web site with no success. He then attempted to contact Royal Mail by email. His query about this pane, along with an unrelated query, went unanswered. A second request also was not answered. Finally, after working through the press office, he got a reply that no information was available.

He contacted an unnamed “noted expert on British stamps” who told him that the pictured pane was apparently sold only to the organizers of the Stampex stamp show in London. They broke up the sheets into stamp plus label pairs that were given away to attendees. The remaining sheets found their way into the philatelic market. (This brings up the question, why did Stampex request such elaborate sheets if their plan was to tear out the stamps and throw the illustrated margin away?)

Frankevicz doesn’t say specifically what Scott’s decision is on the pane, but he strongly implies that the pane will be mentioned in a footnote and will not merit a listing.

He goes on to criticize Royal Mail for being so unresponsive, and he notes that the British stamp expert confirms that others have had similar frustrations in dealing with Royal Mail recently.

As an editor of a worldwide catalog, Frankevicz has to deal with many postal administrations. Unfortunately, Royal Mail is not the only one that is unresponsive. He mentions New Zealand Post and South Africa Post as two others that have frustrated him. On the other hand, Australia Post is very prompt in providing helpful information.

Frankevicz concludes, “Basic information about stamp issues that have already been released should not have the same level of security given to nuclear missile codes, and philatelic journalists, catalog editors — and stamp collectors — should not have to beg repeatedly for it.” Amen.

Update: I corresponded with Martin Frankevicz about these panes. He received an email from Allan Grant, proprietor of Rushstamps, a big U.K. stamp dealer. Grant says that these panes were arranged by a group of dealers, of which he was one. His firm sells all of them, along with the regularly issued sheets. Recent ones have moved away from the stamp collecting theme and feature Spider-Man and X-Men. (These mimic similar sheets that were officially issued by Australia Post.) Frankevicz confirmed that these panes will will be footnoted in the catalog. (Posted July 24, 2004, updated September 9, 2004). top

Microsoft creates Penny Black project to deter spam

You wouldn’t expect to find an image of a Penny Black on Microsoft’s web site, but it is there on the page describing what they call the Penny Black project.

Microsoft, like everyone else, is trying to find a way to eliminate spam, the unsolicited (and usually fraudulent) commercial email that is clogging up the internet. Dealing with spam is expensive for the recipients, and Microsoft points out the parallel with pre-1840 mail that was also paid for by the recipient.

Microsoft’s proposal, in a nutshell, is that the sender of an email message must pay a small, upfront cost in order to send the email, just like we must buy a postage stamp to send a letter. Other proposals suggest a small monetary cost, such as one-quarter of a cent (that might be called the Farthing project), but Microsoft suggests a certain amount of computation effort that is evidenced by the solution of a complex mathematical problem.

You and I might have to wait an extra second or two to send an email message, but a spammer who sends millions of messages per day would need banks of costly computers to pay for the privilege of sending junk email.

The idea is not likely to take hold, but it is no doubt a beneficial contribution to the overall anti-spam effort. If you’d like to read more, and see the (blurry but four-margin) Penny Black, go to http://research.microsoft.com/research/sv/PennyBlack/. (Posted September 12, 2004). top

Last update: March 3, 2011   Macintosh!
Copyright © 2004 by Larry Rosenblum