Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Ultra-modern Postal History: the transition period 2023 onwards

The first definitive (NVI and £2.20) stamps bearing the likeness of King Charles III were issued on 4 April 2023 and are detailed in our 'new stamps' blog.

As His Majesty had stressed that there should be no waste arising from his succession, to minimise any environmental impact, existing stocks of definitive stamps that feature Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth would continue to be distributed and remain valid for use. 

Although further valued stamps were issued in August these have not, at the time of writing, been seen in Post Office branches after the day of issue.  Stamps supplied in the Royal Mail Swapout scheme (exchanging now invalid Machin and Country definitives) have only been Queen Elizabeth stamps.

This can clearly only continue while stocks of Queen Elizabeth stamps remain available in Post Office stores and at Royal Mail's warehouse.  Before long we will see non-philatelic examples of mail with postage paid by King Charles stamps - or a mixture of those and Queen Elizabeth stamps.  

Here is an example of a packet sent to Canada by the International Signed service, costing £11.20 with postage paid by 11 x £1 and a single 20p Queen Elizabeth stamp.

November 2023 International Signed 101-250g letter sent to Canada, with £11.20 in Datamatrix Machins all properly cancelled at Petersfield, Hampshire.

Unfortunately for collectors of Postal History, current practice at Post Offices is to use Horizon labels for postage on this sort of post.  So this was more than likely sent by a dealer or collector.  

Mixed frankings

Mixed frankings have, in the past, been eagerly collected.  There will always be philatelic examples produced by collectors and dealers, but as supplies of some QE values are exhausted other values may continue to be available.  

Here's one I sent earlier(!), in May 2023 when old-style Machin stamps were still valid.  I sent this to the USA with a mix of old Machins (to use them up) and a few datamatrix stamps. It's a bit messy because the Norwich Mail Centre decided to cancel the stamps which had already been cancelled at the Post Office Counter.  

The rate for the up to 100g letter was £4.20 (£3.62 old plus 58p new).  The King Charles low-value stamps had not been issued at this time.

Under 100g letter sent by International Standard mail to the USA; postage of £4.20 paid by £3.62 still-valid old Machin and 58p new datamatrix stamps.

However, as with early First Flight covers (many sent by the leading dealer Francis J Field) this sort of thing may not exist if it was not for dealers and collectors.

I'll use this post to add more covers, both inland and international, with any of the new stamps and especially either mix of old and new.

Please email and tell me what you have and I'll ask for a scan if it's useful.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Proactive methods to avoid surcharged or delayed mail

I recently found a cover from America with a label on the reverse which I showed in our regular blog.  It was applied to incoming mail to remind the UK recipient of the correct postage rates if they sent a reply.

Royal Mail rates reminder label, USA or Canada 2001

In that blog I asked if anybody had any others, and I am grateful to a couple of readers who sent me copies of other examples, which I will show in chronological order.  Remember these are always applied to the reverse of the cover.

From the website of the Great Britain Philatelic Society*

On 20th October 1986 a concessionary rate for members of the EEC (EU from 1993) had been introduced for all-up mail – the lowest weight step letter rate (up to 20g) became equal to the minimum inland first class rate. The distinction was retained for European airmail in 1991 but the rates became equal again in 1998.

This label was introduced as a reminder that the EU rate no longer applied and that the basic rate for all letters to Europe mail was 30p from 6 April 1998.

26p first class rate no longer valid to Europe (including the Republic of Ireland), the rate now being 30p.

One price of 30p for Europe up to 20g - this applies to the Republic of Ireland.


Rates changed twice in 1999 but we don't have any labels for that period.  The next change was from 27 April 2000 when another range of labels was put into use.  I don't know when these were introduced nor why there are two different styles

Replying to anywhere in Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, now 36p for 20g.

Replying to USA or Canada 10g 45p, 20g 65p  (from 27.4.2000).

Replying to Australia or New Zealand, now 65p for up to 20g (no mention of 45p for 10g).

A vertical format was used for some labels for the rate from 2 July 2001 and the label has a number - OE1060, but the previous "Don't guess it"style continued.

If replying, Airmail rates to the Republic of Ireland are 20g - 37p (from 2.7.2001)

If replying to the Republic of Ireland 20g 37p, 40g 52p (from 2.7.2001)

The rates were changed again from 4 July 2002 and the vertical format continued, form number OE1061.

If replying, airmail rates to US & Canada are 10g 47p, 20g 68p etc (from 4.7.2002)

My thanks to SC for the vertical Ireland label, and MM for the rest.  I think I have some somewhere, and if you have any of these or similar reminder labels, please send images to the address at top right.


* Postage rates and many other resources are available free on the website of the Great Britain Philatelic Society.  But there is much more available to members only, so why not join?

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Barcoded country definitive use - show us yours!

As we all know, country definitive stamp usage was not high before the invalidation of the gummed ones and introduction of the barcoded self-adhesive ones. There was anecdotal evidence last year that the new ones were proving more popular.

I thought it would be useful to record non-philatelic use of these stamps in an attempt to get all of the 2nd & 1st class ones, at least, and find out how long it took to get the set of 8.  If I can get international use of any, including the airmail rate, then I'll add that.

These were issued on 11 August 2022, so this first use is over 12 months after issue.  If you have earlier ones that are not philatelically inspired, please send images and an explanation.

This new post is prompted by the receipt by my mother from my cousin of the first one I have seen, the 1st class Wales used from Ceredigion and postmarked Chester & N Wales 08/09/2023.

1st class Wales barcoded country definitive used in September 2023.

Update 5 October:

My thanks to JF for sending this clipping of a 2nd class Northern Ireland barcoded stamp used locally on 2 October 2023.

2nd class Northern Ireland barcoded country definitive used October 2023.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

In the post after the Machin and Country definitives invalidation on 31 July 2023

My plan in this post is to show how Royal Mail treat items posted with the postage paid entirely or partly with recently invalidated stamps.  We know that a further unofficial grace period seems to have been granted in some areas for mail to work through the pipeline.  Given the staff shortages and resultant processing and delivery delays, this seems a wise move.

My plan at this stage is to show 

- examples of mail which should have been surcharged as it bears invalid stamps, but which has not;

- examples of mail correctly surcharged;

- examples of mail incorrectly surcharged (though not that which only has forged stamps on).

1. Mail which should have been surcharged.

a. Here's a 1st class Northen Ireland stamp (self-adhesive from a Smilers Sheet) used on 16 August in the Bristol Mail Centre area to Devon. (Thanks to RW).

Invalid 1st class Northern Ireland stamp posted 16 August 2023 not surcharged (should have been £1.10).


 b. My thanks to CP for sending this example of a 1st class Machin, processed by North & West Yorkshire Mail Centre on 9 August 2023.  Whilst one can understand the machine-processing of the Northern Ireland stamp above, hand-cancelling seems to suggest either that the message hasn't quite got through, or that some mail is going through because nobody can be bothered to apply the rules. 

Invalid 1st class Machin cancelled North & West Yorkshire 9 August 2023.

c. PA (see also section 2) sent this picture of a 2nd class letter posted with pairs of 10p & 20p barcoded stamps but with a cylinder block of Northern Ireland 2½p Machin regionals - which are no longer valid.  This was posted at the Castle Hedingham (Essex) Post Office on 1 August 2023 and processed through the SE Anglia Mail Centre in Chelmsford.

Combination cover with barcoded Machins and invalid Northern Ireland country stamps, with no surcharging, posted 1 August 2023.

d. This selection was not only accepted at the Post Office counter (sent by the Signed For service) but accepted all the way through the system and delivered without surcharge. (Branch and addressee details not known.)  I don't know the details but there is potentially £8.38 of postage here (only £4.63 valid) neither of which makes a valid postage rate.

Scottish Parliament sheet containing invalid country definitives accepted at the Post Office and delivered without surcharge. (Date believed to be August 2023).

e. (4 October)  This letter posted to Canada at a Southampton branch office has only the Machin World 20g rate stamp, and was not surcharged at Southampton mail centre - although we have seen other examples from Southampton MC which valid stamps which have been incorrectly surcharged.

Worldwide 20g stamp sent from Southampton to Canada 11 September 2023 but not surcharged.

2. Mail which has been correctly surcharged

a. My thanks to PA who provided the first example of a correctly surcharged letter posted via Gatwick Mail Centre on 10 August 2023, which has a new type of yellow 'Fee to Pay' label, inscribed 'Stamp No Longer Valid for Postage'. 

Stamp No Longer Valid for Postage 'Fee to Pay' £1.10 label on 1st class Machin definitive posted Gatwick 16 August 2023





3. Mail which has been incorrectly surcharged.

a. Some confusion in southern England (Southampton Mail Centre?) where this letter to the Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society was similarly surcharged to 2a above, but with a valid 1st class Penny Black stamp - which was a commemorative, unlike the double-head stamps which are no longer valid.

1st class Penny Black stamp deemed invalid and £1.10 surcharge raised.

b. I sent this to a dealer in Birmingham on 11 August, returning the genuine Children's tv stamps that I borrowed for comparison with the forgeries.

Using a valid Decimal Wilding from the Diamond Jubilee PSB (nobody wanted these, they all wanted the Machin), not only was it surcharged it took 19 days to arrive at the conclusion that it was no longer valid!

Norvic outbound cover with 1st class (1/-) Wilding declared invalid by Birmingham Mal Centre.

c. It seems that the line at some offices is 'when in doubt surcharge it' judging by this from Sheffield Mail Centre which is wrong on all coounts.

2007 Wembley Lion 1st class definitive declared invalid and incorrectly surcharged at Sheffield or Mount Pleasant Mail Centres 8 August 2023.

d. (October 4). Another example of an incorrectly surcharged letter, this one stamped with a 1st class 1d red Smilers stamp.

1st class Penny Red Smilers stamp incorrectly surcharged either at South East Anglia or Mount Pleasant Mail Centres, 8 September 2023.



If you have examples of any of these, or any other interesting post-invalidation covers, please send scans to the email address at the right (under 'About me').  Thanks.

Monday, April 5, 2021

New rate confusion, issue date confusion for 2020/21 tariff changes.

The last 12 months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been difficult for all of us, and for postal operators there were, back in the spring, sudden and immediate difficulties when many countries imposed travel bans leading to an almost complete cessation of airline travel.

Although airfreight was still being carried, a lot of mail is normally carried on commercial passenger flights and this introduced many delays into mail delivery.  Not only that, but postal operators around the world had to pay more for their cargo to be carried.  This, coupled with changes to the Terminal Dues (TD) process forced on UPU members by the USA, meant that tariffs changed, and for Royal Mail, that meant more than one change.

Small Parcel prices were increased effective 1 July as a result of that TD change; this had no effect on letters and no new stamps were issued.

On 31 July Royal Mail announced new rates effective 1 September.  The immediate and most obvious effect for letter writers was a rounding up of the basic letter rates - £1.42 to £1.45, £1.63 and £1.68 to £1.70*,  and £2.42 to £2.50 or £2.55.  

But no new stamps were issued.  This was unfortunate with no 3p, 8p or 13p stamps available and up to three make-up stamps had to be added to the old rate stamps. (*This now covered worldwide letters to 20g and Europe letters to 100g so was a very well-used rate. Fortunately some commemorative stamps were soon issued.)

This was rectified in December when new stamps were issued in readiness for another change on 1st January 2021.  The new stamps included two for large letter rates which came into force on that date, a re-issue of the £2.55 value (a new printing), and a new £1.70 stamp.  These stamps were issued on 23 December, meaning that they could be used for the existing (1 September) rates before the new tariff was in force, although a little late for Christmas!


A customer in Israel sent a scan of this cover for the clean quality of the slogan, which was useful for the slogan postmarks post on our 'Latest News' blog.  

As you can see this is the new £1.70 stamp issued on 23 December, but here it is used on a 20g letter to Israel from Sheffield on 15 December.  So a pre-release by a post office in Sheffield's area - but a stamp which it would have been very useful to have had three months earlier!

It's very difficult to get non-philatelic use of special stamps these days, especially the airmail rates.  Whilst serious postal history collectors like to have them used 'in period' it is very difficult to get agreement from them on just what this means, especially currently.  Is it "before the next stamp of the same or equivalent value is issued"?  Is it a fixed period, such as 2-3 months?  Well with fewer letters being sent abroad in 2020 due to flight cancellations and non-acceptance by the destination country, the period could perhaps be stretched quite a long way.

Stamps marking the End of World War 2 were issued on 8 May 2020, so January 2021 might be considered over-stretching the definition, but this is definite non-philatelic use, again to Israel, in January 2021 - by which time there had been three tariff changes!  This £1.63 rate stamp showing the Rangoon Memorial, Myanmar, passed through the postal system unscathed and unsurcharged from Romford Mail Centre.


Postal History is being made daily.  Look closely at your incoming mail, and anything that friends and relatives offer you.  You never know what you might find!  Happy Hunting.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Mystery parcel piece - where to, and what service?

The piece shown has stamps on to the value of £18.30 and was posted on 7 August 2001.  It probably isn't philatelic, otherwise the stamps would be soaked off and in albums.  So what and why?

Piece of parcel wrapper with £18.30 in postage - 2001.

Fortunately the website of the Great Britain Philatelic Society has a comprehensive (but not yet complete) set of postage rate tables, at least post-war.  

My first thought was that for it to be this expensive it must be a parcel, or overseas sending (or both). A look at the inland parcel rates disproved this.  And a look at the packet and letter airmail rates for all destinations was equally fruitless.

It didn't help that I read the date as 7 AP 01, when it seems in fact to be 7 AU 01 - significant as rates changed in July 2001.

I eventually tracked it down to the exact rate for a Special Delivery letter/packet/parcel between 2kg and 10kg, with minimum compensation of £250.

The whole exercise took less than 20 minutes: yes, postal history is a little time-consuming, but very rewarding.   It would have been more attractive with the SD label and address, but one can't have everything.  It certainly wouldn't have been easy to keep the whole wrapper!

Monday, May 4, 2020

The World's First Postage Stamp - Centenary

This week marks 180 years since the Penny Black was made available, and it's first day of use should have been 6 May 1840.    Now I know very little about Penny Blacks and they certainly don't fall into the category of Modern Postal History, so....?

On my main blog are a number of links to others.  These were all active when originally linked but some writers have fallen by the wayside - but their blogs remain.  So here is a good example of (reasonably) modern postal history from 1940, depicting usages of the Centenary set of 6.

If I can put my hands on them, I'll add some of my covers here later.

Great Britain Philately, written in 2012.

Red X Cover prepared for the 1940 Stamp Centenary Exhibition but used (apparently in 1943) by the Red X Churches Committee, with a red postage paid postmark.