1998 News 1999 News 2000 News 2001 News 2002 News 2003 News
2004 News 2006 News 2007 News 2008 News 2009 News 2010 News


British Postal Museum and Archive goes public

I love the sound of that name. Especially the word “museum.” Say it again with me … The British Postal MUSEUM and Archive.

The Postal Heritage Trust is the private charitable organization, formed in March 2004, that received a donation of the collections of the former National Postal Museum and took responsibility for managing the Royal Mail Archive. The group chose “The British Postal Museum and Archive” as its public identity to clearly explain who they are and what they do. Their tag line is “Our history through the post,” and let’s hope that lasts longer than Royal Mail’s recent tag line “the real network.”

The BPMA has a new web site at www.postalheritage.org.uk where you can find out what’s going on, see some exhibits, and sign up for a free email newsletter. An online catalog of their collections is available on the site.

The BPMA is currently located at a small site at Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London, with much material stored in other places. Freeling House has a small exhibit space, and the current (summer 2005) exhibit is the story of Victorian stamps from the 1840 Penny Black to the 1887 Jubilee issue, the last of Queen Victoria’s reign.

The BPMA is looking for a site for a new facility that will include a museum. The current best possibility is a building on the site of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, a few miles east of Greenwich. Not the most convenient to get to, but I suspect there just aren’t any practical possibilities in downtown London, although they are considering a small central London outlet, perhaps to contain a shop and small exhibition center.

In a show of extremely good taste, and to provide a connection with postal history, the BPMA has chosen the Matthews color palette, now used as the color range for the Machin definitives, as its color scheme.

The BPMA has also developed a handstamp and a cacheted envelope, shown below with a cancel on the first day of use, May 6, 2005. May 6 is celebrated as National Stamp Day, since it is the anniversary of the first day of use of the Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp.

BPMA First Day Cover

The handstamp features the new BPMA logo, along with a motif at the bottom taken from the border of the Penny Black. Shown below is a publicity card for the BPMA that was enclosed in the first day of use cover. It pictures, of course, an unused Penny Black.

BPMA FDC Stuffer

If you would like to support the BPMA, you can become a Friend of the BPMA. Friends will receive the paper newsletter quarterly as well as the semi-annual postal history journal, Cross Post. Yes, this is the organization that used to be the Friends of the National Postal Museum. Membership is £20 per year. Contact Avice Harms, Membership Secretary, Friends of BPMA, 13 Amethyst Ave, Davis Estate, Chatham, U.K. ME5 9TX. (Posted June 3, 2005.) top

GB stamps and covers in top 50

In May, 2005, Linn’s Stamp News published a list of the top 50 stamps and covers based on auction realizations. The prices are in US dollars and do not include any private sales. Four Great Britain stamps and covers are included in the list.

(Posted May 31, 2005.) top

New and revised Machins for rate increase

A series of events have come together to trigger the release of several new and revised Machins, along with two versions of pictorial regionals.

The events in question are a rate increase on April 7, the inability of De La Rue to meet printing requirements, and a poor choice of a Machin color last year.

Here’s a list of the upcoming new Machins and pictorial regionals. For the reissues, the changed characteristic is noted in bold.

Description Color Phosphor Printer Issue Date Service
9p Machin Orange 2 bands De La Rue April 5 Second class to first class makeup
New Jeffery Matthews color
35p Machin Lime Green 1 center band Enschedé April 5 Second class 60g to 100g (second step)
Reissue of 2004 stamp in new color
46p Machin Old Gold 2 bands De La Rue April 5 First class 60g to 100g (second step)
42p Pictorial
Multicolor 2 bands Walsall April 5 Europe airmail postcards and letters to 20g
35p Machin Lime Green 1 center band De La Rue April 26 Second class 60g to 100g (second step)
42p Pictorial
Multicolor 2 bands De La Rue May 10 -
Northern Ireland
on July 26
Europe airmail postcards and letters to 20g

9p orange Machin Okay, now let’s take the events, one at a time.

Rate increase: The rate increase on April 7 requires the 9p and 46p Machins being issued on April 5. Royal Mail no longer issues denominated stamps for the basic (first weight step) first and second-class rates; non-denominated stamps (NVI’s) are used for these.

Bad color choice: A 35p Machin was required at the time of last year’s rate increase for the second weight step of second-class mail. At that time, Royal Mail chose to reissue the 35p stamp in dark brown, a color originally used for that value in 1988. I was surprised at that choice of color because, although it is one of the Jeffery Matthews colors, Royal Mail had previously said that the very dark colors would not be used because cancels do not show up well on them. (Cancels that are hard to see may allow the stamp to be reused or may prevent the recipient from seeing the postmark date.)

Apparently, the current decision makers at Royal Mail were not aware of this situation, since there were several other, lighter Matthews colors available. Now they have apparently seen the error of their ways and are reissuing the 35p in lime green.

A new policy has caused a change in the phosphor layout of the 35p to be one central phosphor band instead of two side bands. Ever since the introduction of second-class mail in 1968, a single phosphor band has been used on the stamp paying the basic (up to 60 grams) second-class rate. This allows the sorting machines to separate this mail from first-class mail. However, stamps to pay the second weight step (up to 100g) have had two bands, and these letters presumably did not get separated out. Now, the stamp paying the second weight step will also have a single band. Why it took more than 35 years to make this change is a mystery.

Printer availability: One of the April 5 issues will be printed by Enschedé and another by Walsall. Both of these will be replaced shortly thereafter by De La Rue versions. De La Rue is currently Royal Mail’s preferred contractor for definitives, and it appears that the other printings were done because De La Rue could not meet Royal Mail’s delivery requirements for an April 5 issue date. De La Rue has been busy moving its stamp printing facilities from Byfleet, where it moved them after the purchase of The House of Questa, to Dunstable. (Posted March 25, 2005. Revised May 24, 2005.) top

Royal Mail allows vote on topics for 2007 stamps

Royal Mail is asking its customers, at least those who read the Philatelic Bulletin, what subjects they would like to see on stamps in 2007 and 2008.

In the October 2004 Bulletin, readers were invited to submit subjects to the Stamp Programme Manager (who was not named). To help readers understand the guidelines, Royal Mail’s criteria for special stamp issues and conventions supplementing the criteria were published.

The criteria include the (infamous, in my opinion) sixth one: “To fit in with Royal Mail Group plc's commercial targets for philately.” I interpret that to mean anything goes, so I’m not sure why they bother with the first five.

In the following issue, Royal Mail published a list of about 40 topics that were being considered for 2007 and asked readers to nominate their five favorites from the list. The list spanned a wide range, from topicals such as butterflies and rugby to commemoratives such as the Act of Union (Scotland/England unification in 1704) and Dominion Status of New Zealand (1904) to general historical topics such as The Tudors.

Of note to stamp collectors was a proposal for “Postal Heritage museum,” which may signify that they expect one to open in 2007. There was also a proposal to honor 40 years of Machins. I didn’t vote for that one because I figure there have been enough stamps honoring stamps (the Matthews souvenir sheet in 2000 and the reissued Wildings and pre-decimal castles) already.

I wondered where the Stamp Advisory Committee fit in all this. The October article reminded me that Royal Mail picks the topics, and then the SAC helps select the designs. (Posted January 21, 2005.) top

Walsall puts it all together

Consolidation of companies that print stamps, among other things, has been going on for many years. De La Rue put together what it calls “the world’s largest commercial security printer and papermaker” by buying firms such as Harrison and Sons and The House of Questa.

Not to be left behind, Walsall Print Group, another large U.K. printer, purchased Cartor Security Printing of France in June, 2004 and Courvoisier of Switzerland in 2001. Last year the three firms, presumably still operating somewhat independently, were combined under the banner of “International Security Printers” or ISP.

This group offers many printing techniques to its customers. Royal Mail took advantage of this in 2001 when Walsall printed the Nobel Prizes issue that included microprinting, holography, and thermographic and odoriferous inks.

The formation of this group was announced in the press last year. However, a Google search for “International Security Printers” didn’t turn up anything about Walsall. Instead, there’s a site for Wallsall Print Group (choose Low Bandwidth on this page; the other alternative has dead links). Wallsall Print Group includes Wallsall Security Printers, which prints stamps and related products such as first day covers and presentation packs. Courvoisier is mentioned as the branch that handles “more modest volumes” of stamps (what a come-down for the previously well-regarded Swiss firm), but there is nothing about Cartor. And nothing at all about International Security Printers. (Posted January 10, 2005. Thanks to Douglas Myall for some of the information in this article.) top

Rate increase planned for April

Royal Mail has announced a rate increase for April 7, 2005 that will help it prepare for competition that will be allowed in 2006. The basic first-class rate will increase by 2p to 30p; the basic second-class rate will remain unchanged at 21p. The rate to Europe also rises 2p to 42p, and postcards to destinations outside Europe increase by 4p to 47p.

How does an increase help prepare for competition? It will allow Royal Mail to provide higher discounts to businesses. Royal Mail says that today they lose 5p on every first-class letter and 9p on each second-class letter. That loss is subsidized by businesses.

Starting next year, however, the carrying of first class mail will be open to competition. Competitors, of course, needn’t take letters from folks like you and me; they can cherry-pick the more profitable business mail and offer discounts.

More ominous is the fact that Postcomm, the postal regulator, has been keeping Royal Mail’s rates down. This price control ends on March 31, 2006, at which time Royal Mail is free to price its services at or above the cost of doing business. That would mean a first-class rate of at least 33p and second-class of 30p, based on their statement of losing money now on these letters. There are, after all, precedents for huge increases in postal rates — Canada’s basic rate went from 17 cents to 30 cents at the beginning of 1982.

Another situation that could push rates up next year is that Royal Mail’s exemption from VAT (value added tax) could end. Private companies in the mail business will have to pay 17.5% VAT on services, and it is likely that Royal Mail will also have to do that so to avoid having an unfair advantage. That alone would add an additional 5p to the 30p cost of a first-class letter.

Another interesting tidbit is that in April Royal Mail will start offering a discount for franked (postage meter, I presume) and printed postage impression (PPI) mail. The discount starts at 1p for a basic letter and increases with heavier weights. If this type of prepayment is easily available to consumers, it could mean the death of the postage stamp. After all, the Machin high values have already gone the way of the dinosaur.

Finally, Royal Mail cheats quite a bit with a chart that purports to show that the U.K.’s postage rates are among the least expensive in the world. The chart is at the bottom of the announcement. The basic 28p first class rate is shown compared with corresponding rates for European countries, Canada, Japan and the U.S. The U.K. appears to be quite a bargain on this chart.

Royal Mail states, but does not emphasize, that the chart compares rates for a 60g letter. Admittedly, Royal Mail is generous in allowing such a heavy letter to be mailed at the first weight step. Most mail is, of course, much lighter. But that’s the reason for the favorable but misleading comparison.

A 60p letter in the U.S. is at the third weight step, since it is just over two ounces. Today, such a letter would cost 83 cents, which Royal Mail shows as 53p (back when the dollar was worth something). So, indeed, 28p is a bargain compared to 53p, or even 44p, the current equivalent of 83 cents.

But how often do you mail a letter that requires 83 cents? Most letters, of course, go for 37 cents, which even at current exchange rates is only 20p. And our letters can go quite a bit further for that money, all the way from Miami to Juneau or Bangor to Honolulu.

So who does Royal Mail think they are fooling with that chart? (Posted January 10, 2005.) top

Last update: August 28, 2005   Macintosh!
Copyright © 2004 by Larry Rosenblum