Monday, July 15, 2024

Special stamps are so scarce when new, that they should be kept on cover/parcel piece.

Hardly a day passes without somebody writing on social media, stamp forums, in the philatelic press, or as a comment to me, that "nobody uses modern stamps".

What the commenter really means is, "ordinary people don't use modern stamps", because some dealers, some collectors, and many many Postcrossers do.  And whilst even correspondence between dealers and collectors in either direction could be classed as 'commercial' (ie 'in the course of business/commerce') rather than purely philatelic, the numbers are declining year on year.  

One reason is that Post Office Ltd do not allow sales of special stamps at a considerable number of branches, most often those operating out of small shops, with limited secure storage.  Another is the large number of Outreach/Mobile branches, where the postmaster often doesn't take special stamps 'because nobody asks for them'.  The old Catch-22 situation: if nobody knows they exist, they won't ask for them. And of course PO Ltd pay a larger (though still small) commission for the use of labels rather than stamps.

So I thought I would use this post to show some of the special stamps that have been used in the last few years, just to show that some do get used.

1st class Red Arrows stamp used within a month of issue 12 July 2024 (from customer).

Another 1st class Red Arrows stamp used within a month of issue 17 July 2024 (from another customer).

1st class Peppa Pig stamp used within weeks of issue 26 May 2024 (a different customer)

1st class Vikings stamp used a week after issue - 26 February 2024
1st class Weather stamp used a few  weeks after issue 9 March 2024 (customer)

1st class Weather stamp used two weeks after issue17 February 2024

Blackadder 2nd class stamp issued 17 May 2023 and used within the following week.

Blackadder 2nd class stamp used December 2023 (issued May 2023)

1st class Robin Hood stamp used 14 April 2023, the day after issue (collector/contributor)

A selection of others recently acquired and not in any particular order.  Some of these have been supplied, others are mine (click on them to see a larger image):

Only Fools & Horses 1st class issued 16 Feb, used 8 November 2021.

Rupert Bear 2nd class issued September 2020, used July 2021.

2nd class Battle of Tewkesbury (Wars of the Roses) issued May, used December 2021

Rupert Bear 2nd class issued September 2020, used October - greetings card, social.

2nd class Roman Britain issued June 2020, used July 2021 (ebay postcard seller)

Gruffalo 1st class issued October 2019, used January 2020.

So what can we conclude?  Use of modern stamps is scarce - missing from the 2023 issues are Iron Maiden, X-men, Flying Scotsman, Flowers, Coronation MS, Warhammer, Windrush, River Wildife, Discworld, Paddington Baar, Shirley Bassey, and Harry Potter!  

If you receive any, especially from businesses or friends and family, then I would be interested to record them, obscuring addresses.  Given their general scarcity, it would also be useful to record when dealers and other collectors are using new stamps, given the relatively cheap postage deals available.

Scans, rather than photos, please and no more than 200 dpi - smartphone photos are megabytes tooo big!


Wednesday, June 19, 2024

War is a tragedy but can sometimes throw up unexpected postal history

If you tried to send a letter from the UK to Palestine at the present time you would find it rejected at the PO counter (I hope) or returned if you dropped it into a postbox as the service is currently suspended.  

Likewise mail to Israel experiences delays due to disrupted flights.  Mail to both Russia and Ukraine is still being despatched but is subject to delay, while there has been no service to Crimea or the Donbass regions since 2014.

On the other hand, the United States Postal Service suspended sendings to both Russia and Belarus in March 2022.  

SH has sent pictures of a cover shared with him by a Postcrosser.  The letter was addressed from the UK to Belarus but mis-sorted to the United States.  Normally such mis-sorts would simply be re-routed to the correct destination.  But in this case there is no US-Belarus service, so the item was returned to sender, suitably endorsed.  

A great item to add to a collection of postal history of the UK, US or Belarus, Russia or Ukraine!

UK - Belarus letter mid-2024 returned to sender after mis-sorting to the USA. Yellow USPS 'Unable to Forward' label.

USPS's fuller explanation of suspension and advice to claim refund of postage paid.

This is the first item I have seen of this sort.  I shall post it on a couple of stamp forums to find out if there are any others - there should be from the USA, but not so many from the UK!

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.



The next stage in Mixed Frankings comes after the invalidation of the old Machin and Country definitives on 31 July 2023.   Now there is the opportunity for a mixture of Queen Elizabeth and King Charles definitives.

When the latter were first issued on 29 August collectors and dealers took the opportunity to create philatelic mixed frankings, but not all post office branches received any significant stocks, in line with the King's instruction that there should be no waste and that the stamps of the previous reign should be used up rather than being wasted.  

At the time of writing there have been no reports of King Charles stamps being supplied in the Swap Out scheme.

It is only now, in December that King Charles definitives are being supplied to post office branches as a matter of course.  PA sent this picture of two covers produced from this situation; his description is below the picture.

Pair of covers from different post office branches with a mix of Queen Elizabeth and King Charles definitive stamps, November 2023. [1] 5p, 20p QE, 50p KC.  [2] 5p, 10p QE, 3 x 20p KC.

"Whilst they might appear philatelic, in fact the Cruden Bay Outreach (lower cover) is as supplied by the P.O. (28 Nov) and  in the case of the Chudleigh one I supplied the 5p and 20p whilst the P.O. added the 50p King (25 Nov)"

Cruden Bay is in Aberdeenshire, and Chudleigh is in Devon.

So that is the start: the King Charles stamps are starting to appear, so check out your local post office branches, especially those that do a lot of business, and please let me know what you find, or receive through the post. 

UPDATE 8 January 2024 - sheet versions of the 2nd class Charles stamps were on sale in my Crown PO in Dereham last week, but not booklets.  I wonder how long it will be before the supermarkets start asking for Charles stamps - they have been known in the past to influence what they are supplied with.

UPDATE 10 June 2024 - Royal Mail decided to stop selling Queen Elizabeth Machin datamatrix  definitives from 1 June, but country definitives continue.   However, Post Office branches and other outlets continue to sell the stamps that they have: King Charles stamps are becoming more common, and the first have now been received from their SwapOut scheme. 

Royal Mail have been strongly criticised by the public and politicians for their policy of raising a £5 surcharge on mail with allegedly counterfeit stamps.  The pressure built up when postmen said that the free stamps they were given at Christmas had been surcharged (they would have been Christmas stamps rather than definitives), as had mail with the stamps people received from the SwapOut according to other reports.

So this - although without any definitives - may be an indication that Revenue Protection are being more careful or checking more.

For full write-up on the 'why' of this mark, see our other blog.

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.

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.

f. (8 March 2024).  Supplied by RL for the postmark to be used on the other blog, this stamp is invalid and should have been surcharged at the (new since October last) rate of £5.00! - £2.50 (up from £1.10), thanks for the correction!  This is the rate for using a non-barcoded stamp.

International Women's Day slogan Cumbria Dumfries & Gallowy 05/03/2024, unsurcharged 2nd class Northern Ireland non-barcode definitive.

g. (15 July 2024!!). Supplied by TH, I at first thought it was just another postmark image, but then I looked again at the stamp!  Yes, it's a 1st class red Machin, used nearly a year after invalidation and not surcharged at all.

1st class invalid red Machin used without surcharge, July 2024.

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

UPDATE 22 December 2023.  Surcharge rates increased from 30 October, which means that this one caught the new rate!  

£2.50 'Stamp no longer valid', surcharge 1 November 2023 at new rate effective 30 October.





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.

e. 8 March 2024.  This is actually a stamp that we sold for postage and the buyer used it to send an order to his buyer.  It was surcharged at the new (post 31 October 2023) rate of £5, refused, and returned but not charged.

Gummed 1st class 'Hello' stamp incorrectly charged as counterfeit at the new rate of £5.



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.