Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Final Countdown

So, we are finally hearing of detailed government plans for the privatisation of the Royal Mail, with a target date within the next twelve months. Their determination to go ahead -despite operating profits of £403 million in the twelve months to March 2013 and widespread opposition to the plans - appears to have little purpose than sustaining political dogma. The proposal to offer 10% of shares to Royal mail staff is not sweet enough to prevent an opposition campaign by the Communication Workers Union and Federation of Sub Postmasters which suggests industrial action and strikes are not too far away.

One has to be sympathetic to Queen Elizabeth's situation in this, her coronation jubilee year. Having to offer a prepared speech to parliament that will effectively remove her relationship with the institution. What if she had been able to write her own presentation? Maybe it would look something like this:

"....The government will be selling off my mail service, which has served the country very well since it was first made available to my public by my ancestor, Charles I in 1635. Although today I have no real say in what the clowns in my government do, it seems a shame to disband an institution that has long served my people from Land's End to John O'Groats. It will not be the same when it is owned by a bunch of greedy investment bankers, for they only care about profits and not service. Indeed, some of the people, living in remote parts of my country may end up without a mail service at all. Sadly this is the price they must pay so that the greedy rich can enhance their investment portfolios. I am sad that this current group of political idiots think so little for the services provided for my people and so much for the wealth of their rich friends. If only I were Henry VIII......"

Monday, 3 September 2012

Not so sweet Charity

Like most people, I take the calculated risk.. though I don't see myself as a gambler in any significant way. Occasionally I am tempted to "invest" in the national lottery, but usually when the jackpot prize reaches such a high total that the realistic chance of winning is least likely! 
Postcard with a cynical view of the
purpose of lottery income
A few weeks ago I made such an investment, and having missed the prize drawn on TV, logged onto the national lottery website to confirm that I hadn't won anything.
The homepage was densely decorated with images of Olympic and paralympic athletes, similar to those that have appeared on the recent issues of gold medal winner stamps, alongside claims that the national lottery had provided the funding that has supported British athletes to reach personal goals and national glory.  It led me to think how these athletes were funded before the lottery was launched on 19th November 1994? For many, as is still the case, it was sponsorship. For some it was sports charities and for many there was nothing!

GB's first charity overprint
For many countries, a charity surcharge on postage stamps has funded support for a wide range of national "good causes" and relieved underprivelege and disadvantage. Switzerland, as a good example, have produced these semi postal stamps for close to a 100 years as "pro juventute" and "pro patria" issues and their use is widely supported by the general public who use them on regular mail. In contrast, Great Britain did not issue a semi postal stamp until as late as 1975 and it failed miserably at the first attempt. It is commonly found on first day covers, but rarely on other items. Stamp collectors protested that it was nothing more than a "Philatelic Tax". Another attempt was made with the 1989 Christmas stamps asking a surcharge of just one penny on postage rates from 15 to 37pence, but still the public chose not to support it and the Royal Mail abandoned the project pointing out it was not economical to collect the surcharge and pass it on to the charities.

So, I presume there must be a traditional and cultural aspect to charity, and overstepping the rules and boundaries clearly unsettle the public. Street collections, telethons and subscriptions are fine for the UK. Service surcharges are not! The national lottery though, does not easily fit the sentiment of charity . I don't think people consider that in placing a stake they are making a donation to charity. It's a gamble with a view to becoming wealthy and the benefit to others is secondary to this.

Another "philatelic" form of fund raising is the obligatory postal tax. With this system all mail send during a specific period requires the addition of a postal tax stamp. I am most familiar with this on mail from Yugoslavia, and is a practise continued by some of the states that have acceded from it. The tax is normally the equates to a third of the regular postage rate and usually applies only to domestic mail. Obligatory stamps have been used to support the Red Cross / Crescent, children's charities, Olympic teams, cultural and sporting events and national disasters. I would think that introducing this system to the UK would probably cause a huge rebellion!

Yugoslavia stationery card franked with definitive stamps and an obligatory tax stamp
to fund the Olympic team for Barcelona '92. The franking is 60"old dinars" and the tax stamp
2 "new dinars" (10 old = 1 new) - roughly an additional 33%
I've just discovered that the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in the USA have purchased the childhood stamp collection of John Lennon, reputedly at a cost of $35,000. It consists of an old "Mercury Album" sparsely filled with stamps of insignificant interest and value. My collection would sell for much less but would entertain for months. Such is the added value of celebrity! You can see the album at:
The British Postal Museum and Archive hold the teenage collection of Freddie Mercury (former lead singer with "Queen"). Like every true rock band, the collection regularly goes on tour. A look at just a few pages would suggest Freddie was a much more advanced collector than his Beatles counterpart.

"...It's a kinda magic!..."


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Elvis has left the Post Office...

It's always nice to receive some item through the post that has attracted instructional markings from the postal services during its journey. Today's post included an uprated, but underpaid, inland letter card from India - illustrated below. Being 4,50 rupees short of the correct postage rate it was withdrawn by a postal official who applied a rubber handstamp which denoted the deficiency and required the item to be RETURNED TO SENDER. An additional requirement being that the sender repost it with the additional postage required for the correct rate.
Inland letter card from India with Indira Ghandi imprint

It appears that the instruction was cancelled and the letter card sent on it's way without the required rate of 15 rupees. The "Return to Sender" element of the handstamp had me thinking of immediately of Elvis Presley whose song of the same title was a huge hit in the early 1960's and is probably the most famous of all songs with a postal theme in it's lyrics. Then came the many postally related songs can you think of?  Well...there was the Carpenters with "Please Mr. Postman" (which I think was originally a Beatles song)...and...and. A quick "google" produced little information. Ella Fitzgerald sang "Air Mail Special" and there was an Indy pop band by the name of "The Postal Service" who were active around 2005. So, its over to you for more suggestions!

The Victorians, for whom the postal service became a national obcession, produced lots of postally related songs: "The Postbox Polka"; "The Postman's knock" and "The Royal Mail Galop" appear to have been popular songs and tunes of their time.

"The Postman's Story" (illustrated left) was a ballad that told of drowning on a sea voyage to America and very little to do with the postal service. It tells of an old man awaiting his postman to deliver a letter from his son who was lost at sea. However the use of the postman illustration on the sheet music proved a positive marketing ploy and it appears to have sold well as a result.

Back to the postal markings topic and perhaps the most iconic of markings is the pointing finger used by the US Postal Service of which I have a few examples in my collection and must sort one out to illustrate in a future posting.

Finally, on the subject of postal delivery workers, there is a wonderful award winning short film about an Indian rural delivery postman. If you haven't seen it yet, its a must! The link is here:

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Where's Wenlock?

I received a cover from my friend Adeline a few days ago. It carried the set of four stamps issued by Singapore to commemorate the 30th Olympiad in London, attractively mounted and cancelled with a neat circular datestamp. What really drew my attention though, was that all four stamps depict the games mascot, "Wenlock". Who? you might ask. "Wenlock" I say, the official games mascot...haven't you heard of she, er it?
Singapore 2012 Olympic stamps on registered cover

Wenlock was selected as the official mascot in December 2009, so he/she/it has been around for a few years - opportunity enough to achieve some degree of familiarity with the public I would have what happened?  One of the design criteria was to create something that would "...connect young people with the power of the games and in doing so inspire them to choose sport..." but they seem to have developed the stuff of nightmares. A metallic cyclops wearing a flashing London taxi cute...
If you are inspired to find out more about "Wenlock" and his paralympic counterpart "Mandeville", they have their own website, a best kept secret at:

I have recently been pondering on the impact of hyperinflation. No, it's nothing to do with the current lack of growth in the UK economy or the recent increases in UK postage rates.. but the result of a bet! 
Within a philatelic forum to which I subscribe, one member bet another 100 million 1993 Yugoslav dinars. A small fortune you may think, but in reality just enough to post a few letters. It brough to mind one of my favourite covers of all time.
1993 Yugoslavia hyperinflation cover

It was posted on the afternoon of 26th November 1993 in Belgrade. Stamps to the value of 211,660 dinars were attached and the postal clerk added a label to the value 163,340 dinars making up the postage rate of 375,000 dinars. What the postal clerk did not apply was the new postal rate that became applicable that morning, a revised rate that should have cost the sender 5,620,000 dinars. He thus made a saving of 5,245,000 dinars.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Party's over....

If I was asked three months ago for my opinion of the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics, I would probably have replied with cynicism a few negative expletives. However, from the perspective of the first day in seventeen that Olympic sporting events have been absent from the TV screen, I feel a little deflated and that something is missing from my daily life.
The 29 gold medals that Team GB have won at the games has left my pockets empty of cash. I doubt even that the Royal Mail could have foreseen such a large medal haul when they promoted the Gold Medal Winner stamps that the public would take such an interest. If you are not aware of these stamps, the Royal Mail pledged to issue a 1st class stamp illustrating a GB gold medal winning Olympian or team and have them on sale by noon on the day following their success. They were issued in sheets of six stamps and initially sold thus, but Royal Mail later relented and informed post offices that they could be sold singly - possibly to take advantage of the interest and demand. The stamp issue quickly became synonymous with a gold medal win...TV presenters greeting winners with "'ll be appearing on a stamp tomorrow!.." and such like.
Met by many philatelists (myself included) with suggestions that the stamps sacrificed quality in favour of a quick profit, I would now conclude that although a "gimmick", they have stimulated an interest in stamp collecting, that if sustained, could create a huge legacy the hobby in general..and weren't the games all about "legacy" ? It will be interesting to see what the final sales figures will be, but some of the stamps quickly sold out at my local retail outlet in Dudley - one of 500 nationwide. The first to sell out was the Bradley Wiggins stamp, my candidate for the Gold Medal Winner's Gold Medal Winner!

The most popular of the Gold Medal Winner stamps?

You may be aware, from earlier postings, that I have been just a little bit critical of the philatelic service at my local post office in Dudley. Such has been the impact of these stamps that they have transformed the attitude of the counter clerk selling them...he has started his own collection!

It will be interesting to see in the weeks to come what philatelic souvenirs will surface and be paraded around like the flags at the opening ceremony. At the moment, my cherished item is a sheet of the Jessica Ennis stamps on cover with first day "flag" postmark and oval cachet from the Olympic Park Office.

Jessica Ennis Gold Medal Winner sheet with interesting cachet

The cachet on the cover is interesting, in that it differs from the one applied to the "smiler" sheet folder on sale at the Olympic village. It is known to have been used to cancel stamps on official mail at the village, though it's status is at present unconfirmed... unless someone has the knowledge? Below is a comparison between the two cachets.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sneaky goings on at the Royal Mail?

Hi followers! Sorry it has been such a long time since my last posting but life has not yet furnished me with that lottery win that will permit me to become a full time blogger!
Having a little more time than usual I will try and get up to date on the most important matters postal over the past few months, starting with.....the shocking increase in postal charges.
On 30th April, UK inland postal charges increased from 46p to 60p (a rise of 30%) for first class mail and from 36p to 50p (a rise of 39%) for second class postings. International prices fared slightly better with more modest increases between 25 - 28%. It seems that Royal Mail - or the government - had bullied the regulator Ofcom into abandoning the prescribed price limits with threats that the universal service, making daily deliveries to every address in the UK, was at risk.

Will Royal Mail profit from entering the loans and morgages market

Within two months of the rate increase, before it had any impact on revenues, the Royal Mail announces yearly profits of £211 million, a 400% increase on the previous year and earning a nice bonus of £371,000 for Chief Executive Moya Greene. Royal Mail had, over this period shed 4,000 jobs at a cost of over £70 million in redundancy and other payments. Economics is not my strong point, but something doesn't seem right here! Recent announcement have included planned reductions in collection times from some of the 115,000 postboxes nationwide and that TNT, the Dutch postal carrier, is undertaking trials with end-to-end deliveries in the London. This all suggests to me that there is some cost-cutting and 'fattening up' taking place in preparation for a large scale privatisation of the mail service. Watch this space....

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Local Hero

It's not often that there is a local interest in GB stamp issues, which is why I felt compelled to inform readers of the recent Dudley postmark in a previous blog.  A not so obvious local connection appeared in one of the recent Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubillee sheetlet stamps which should also afford a mention.
Harry Ecclestone
Harry Ecclestone (1923 - 2010) was the Bank of England's first full time banknote designer - a position that was created for him in 1967. He was born in Coseley and spent his early years living in a house less than 200 metres from my own. From the age of 11 he began to take classes at Bilston, studying under the master etchers Raymond Cowern and Andrew Freeth. He later enrolled at the Birmingham college of art, but his promising start was interrupted by four years' service in the Royal Navy during the second world war. He returned to study at the engraving school of the Royal College of Art from 1947 to 1951. Harry designed the first fully pictorial banknotes, which featured the Queen on one side and notable historic figures on the reverse, a trend borrowed from foreign notes. His design for the £5 series D note (featuring the Duke of Wellington on the reverse) is featured on one of the first class stamps in the sheet.

Queen Elizabeth II engraved by Harry Ecclestone

I took the opportunity to produce my own cover for the Newcomen stamp from recent Great Britons series, employing the Dudley postmark. This features a view of the working replica of a Newcomen steam engine at the Black Country Living Museum. It may be a long tome before we see another Dudley pictorial postmark.