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.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

More registered PS envelopes

I've been sent a number of images of covers which may be of interest to readers, while I sort out what of mine to show first.

RW has sent some more registered postal stationery envelopes which he picked up in the 1970's, both of which refelct an absence of the normal Registered Label.

The first is from a sub-office in Barrow-in-Furness, and has a manuscript 'Barrow 9' on a 'mute' label with the roll number of 13.  These labels are most often seen used from Field Post Offices, where the FPO datestamp is used in the blank area - which must be why the label is larger than regular ones.

Incidentally this is a good example of the solo use of a ½p stamp used to make-up the (20+3p) 23p envelope after the 1st class letter rate increase.

The second cover shows a civilian use copying the FPO use for a mute label, used at Bolton and Bury 30 Jan 79 - possibly the sorting office as it shows both place-names.  If it were a sub-office or even a head post office, one would expect the counter date-stamp to be used.

Both these are examples of postal history which will be of especial interest to collectors in or studying the area - 'County' societies and study groups exist.  If you saved this sort of thing and no longer want it, they are the people who might be interested.

If these were short-lived situations it is quite possible that they went unnoticed locally at the time, and providing this cover will add to the body of postal history and philatelic knowledge for that area.

UPDATE 17 February 2021.  My thanks to MikeM for sending a part cover from the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately the stamp and date part is missing, but the label is endorsed 'Shanklin 3'.   Mike thinks this dates from after 1959 based on the text on the reverse.

Speical Delivery, Registration, the 10d drab, and use-up time!

My thanks to MC for providing three more images of covers in his collection, each of them with something special about it.

The first is a Special Delivery cover from Ilkeston in Derbyshire to North Ferriby in Yorkshire in 1968.  In those days Special Delivery meant Special - not like today where it combines Registration with a timed next-day delivery service.

According to the Great Britain Philatelic Society website:
"Under this Service Letters and Parcels are forwarded by Mail in the regular course of post to any Express Delivery Office in the Kingdom, and on arrival there are sent out for delivery by Special Messenger."
The term Express being replaced by Special in 1938.


The fee for Special Delivery was 3s (shillings), paid here by the pair of 1/6d stamps.   Back in the day, it was quite likely that the first delivery to this company was so early that no special effort was required by the delivery office and this accompanied the first normal delivery.

Postage is paid by the 10d drab/stone definitive, for the fourth step, 6 - 8 ounces.  Unfortunately this is only a part-front, but for very large packets that is often the case.

Second is a registered airmail cover also using the 10d drab, this time x 3 with additional 9d green & 2d brown definitives.  This makes a total of 3s5d

Although this is an airmail envelope, it was not sent by airmail, as RAF Rissington is in Gloucestershire.  I suspect the serviceman sending his insurance premium to Royal Insurance had these envelopes left over from a recent overseas posting and saw no reason not to use them.

The postmark is LITTLE RISSINGTON RAF / CHELTENHAM GLOS although the text is so crammed into the space that if it was incomplete you might read it as 'RAF SO'.  The 1st class letter rate was 5d for the first 4 ounces. and 9d for 4-6 ounces, with the basic registration fee of 3s. Although there were higher registration fees, none would make the rate except the maximum of 3s9d with no postage paid!

UPDATE: oh, the shame of it. No excuse, but it took an American to point out my error (thanks Gary). I mis-read my notes of the fees, and copied that to the total postage.  The postage on this is only 3/5d, so basic letter rate plus basic registration.

The final cover is registered airmail, this time to Canada, from London.  In fact from Trafalgar Square B.O. in London.  And by the type of envelope I would suggest it was sent by Stanley Gibbons or possibly one of the many other stamp dealers in The Strand area.  The giveaway is the mixed pre- and post-decimal day definitives including the 8d red which was replaced by the blue in January 1969 just six months after it was issued.   The date on this item is January 1972.

There are 10 x 8d red definitives, = 80d = 6/8d = 33½p.  With the 1½p stamp making a total of 35p, this covers the 20p registration fee and 15p postage for the second step 1 ounce rate.

In discussions about whether a cover is commercial or (blatantly) philatelic, this falls between the two.  It is clearly commercial if it is a dealer sending stamps to a customer.  The stamps are 'out of time' in that their usage is three years after they ceased to be sold at the post office.

But a month later they would have been truly 'out of time' and invalidated for postal purposes, so it made sense for the sender to use up what were probably large stocks of a stamp which most collectors at the time already had from when it was first issued.

So it is a mixed franking, commercial, 'just-in-time' cover, and a good example to have in a collection if only to tell the story of how, within weeks, the stamps could not have been used.

There's much more to come, but for now, that's all on the Machin front.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Registered Postal Stationery Envelopes and labels (or not)

This is a subject that I may well make into an online display, since I already have many pages which I have shown to our local club.  

Whilst the pre-war rates were interesting, and foreign usage especially ripe for various combinations of adhesives depending on weight and insured value, one of the best periods is the 1970s, as I am of the opinion - until proved otherwise - that many of the envelopes used in that period of rapid inflation in postal rates, were never used at post offices without the addition of adhesives because the rate had increased before they could use them.

And in some cases, uprated stock was further uprated, especially in 1975 when the postage rates increased twice.   But that's for later. 

Tonight I'm showing an ordinary registered stationery envelope sent by a reader (RW).  It's a basic 23p envelope, officially uprated by ½p when the letter rate increased.  First issued in 1971 the 23p covered the 20p registration fee and 3p 1st class letter rate.  On 10 September 1973 the letter rate increased to 3½p hence the addition.  That rate lasted until June 1974.

The letter was posted from Yeovil to a holiday camp in Paignton, presumably containing a deposit in banknotes for a holiday booking - not everybody had a bank account, and cash payments were common 50 years ago.

The Goldcroft sub-postoffice used registration labels captioned Yeovil, with the branch identification the numeral 5*.  But apparently Goldcroft's supply of labels had been exhausted and not replenished (hard to believe), or lost!  So the postmaster improvised in manuscript, and recorded the letter in the ledger as usual.


Fifty years ago, while many people rescued the mail from their office, few kept the envelopes intact - they did it mainly to collect the stamps.

* More about this on the Somerset Postal History Blog.

We don't know how long this situation at Goldcroft lasted, nor how many registered letters were sent.  But what we do have is a rescued cover with a story behind it.  Whilst manuscript registration 'labels' are relatively common in many African countries and some islands in the West Indies, this is the first I have seen in the UK.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Huge Special Delivery cover and small printed papers

As part of my de-cluttering exercise in Norvic Towers I've been emptying the attic.  Not the best place to store stamps or postal history, and of course I don't.  Which doesn't mean that I don't find things there!

Special Delivery.
When my wife and I received this stamps were the last thing on my mind - it contained a card for our wedding!   At that time I still thought postal history was something that the grey-haired old men exhibited at major shows and won medals for.  I collected stamps, but although I liked my Saudi Arabia and Scandinavian stamps on cover those are other stories, and I wasn't too concerned about GB.  So it was put away with a lot of other cards etc and memorabilia from the time.

From early September 1976 this is prepaid at 78½p for the inland Special Delivery rate. 

According to the very excellent GBPS website the SD fee was 60p from 29 September 1975 to 19 August 1979.  Postage is 18½p which represents the 4th step, or 151-200g First Class from 7 June 1976 to 12 June 1977.

Only when you see the whole thing, do you appreciate that the weight - for a massive greetings card in cardboard sleeve - was probably correct:

It's approximately 20 x 14 inches (520 x 370mm).  It's fair to say that my late aunt and uncle were quite extravagant and making a point.

You will notice that I have taken a liberty with the Special Delivery label!  The cover was badly foxed, damaged, and far too big to store or show sensibly, so I cut it down.  We know it was posted from Essex to Somerset, and even though one of the 20p stamps is damaged, it is still a good piece to have.

OHMS Newspaper Wrappers

The second half of today's post is illustrated by two newspaper wrappers sent (one at least in 1968) from Edinburgh to Germany, both paying the lowest (2 ounce) printed paper reduced rate of 2d.

My thanks to MC for allowing me to show these gems - I'm really quite envious of a 2d rate, and of the ½d block used on their own.

One is stamped with a 2d Machin definitive and the other with a block of 4 x ½d Machins.

What is especially interesting for me is the original source of these. Although attributed by the return address to the Registrar-General in Edinburgh, the wrappers - sent to the Federal German Ministry of Health - originated at Her Majesty's Stationery Office printing works in Annandale Street, Edinburgh - the site has since been redeveloped.

I can tell this by the H M / S O perfins - perforated initials in the stamps:

Under the 2d stamp is the Official Paid mark, which wasn't valid for sending outside the UK, so stamps were used.  Two copies of (I suppose) a Bulletin from the Registrar, were sent in each wrapper.  (2 CPS - CPS may well refer to the title but I don't know what it is.).

The HMSO in-house perfin machine was set up long before the Machins were issued - at least as early as 1949.  The machine possibly had two settings; one was for small definitives - sheets of 12 columns across.  The other was for large definitives, possibly the Wilding Castles.   So on the decimal low value Machins - only 10 columns across - the sheet margins were also perforated.  But the high value Machins were also used, mainly on overseas parcels of books or other publications.  In this case the sheets were folded in half vertically along the gutter, so not only is the gutter perfinned, but the stamps on one side are perfinned normally, and on the other side they are reversed, which makes an interesting pair.


Although I did have some of these I have passed them on to somebody who will appreciated them more - although I have kept a couple of covers.

If you collect perfins, you can still find these occasionally in dealers' 'back of the book' stock, and look out also for their predecessors from 1922-1949. This design mimicked the watermark widely used in security printing, and also appeared on many of the stationery and office equipment items, such as rulers.  Unfortunately the authorities pointed out that use of the Crown on the stamps was not permitted, so the design was changed.  

The Board of Trade also fell foul of this ruling but that department didn't use any alternative.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Insured letter puzzle - 1989 to Germany

I promised that I would be doing so more on this blog soon, and I'm starting by showing a puzzle sent to me by a reader, MC.

Royal Mail introduced registered envelopes in 1878 and the last produced that showed a value was in 1984.  From 1986 envelopes with NVI indicia were issued, in two main sizes, G H and K, but within these first two there were 5 different variants!  And that was only the first NVI design as shown below.

Sent from Edinburgh to Germany on 13 November 1989.  This is prepaid for the minimum postage and registration fee within the UK, but between 1986 and 1998 there was also a concessionary reduced minimum rate for EEC destinations, equal to the basic first class inland letter rate. It applied to all-up mail to 1991 and airmail thereafter.  This means that no extra postage was necessary on this letter to Germany, provided it was under 60 g in weight.

But what about the insurance?  According to the GBPS website postage rate pages (open free to non-members) the fee for insurance over £150 and up to £300 was £1.80 - yet there is no sign of any extra postage.

It beats me how letters which must be handed over the counter at a Post Office ever get processed with insufficient postage.

I don't have any ideas - other than the obvious one that somebody made a mistake - there's no obvious sign of missing stamps.

Does anybody else have any idea?