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.

Friday, 10 February 2012

All Around the World

My dad was a big fan of the American "crooner" Bing Crosby. I can remember my childhood sunday mornings being filled with the resonance of his warbling, forced through the speakers of our "Dansette" record player. An element of "Bing" trivia that is etched in my memory is that his song Around the World was top of the charts on the day that I was born. So what has this got to do with stamp collecting, you ask. Well.. it links to a cover that I received a few days ago as a result of my ventures into the Postcrossing Forum.

Round the World Cover UK > Canada > Hong Kong > UK

There is a thread on the forum that links together three members from different countries into a group. Each member sends a cover to another member of the group who then applies stamps over the address, readdresses the cover to the next member and posts it on. The same process is applied by the next member and it is returned to the original sender. This makes for an interesting cover with stamps from three different countries. If the members are strategically placed, the cover effectively travels a complete circumnavigation of the globe, or ...Around the World!

Another recent addition to my postcard collection is a super reproduction of a patriotic poster from 1920's Poland. I think that this period of art history is particularly exciting. Many European countries, inspired from their liberation from the chains of imperialism, needed to demonstrate their new identity using the contemporary styles of art nouveau and art deco. It has given birth to some of my favourite stamp designs emanating from the studio's of artists such as the Czech, Alfons Mucha, and the enigmatic Ivan Vavpotic in Yugoslavia. All contain huge amounts of nationalist and patriotic symbolism together with images and details of landscapes and landmarks. Very powerful designs, but still presenting a degree of homage to the cultural dominance of their former Austrian masters. Sadly the crude and limited printing processes, often resulting from wartime damage and destruction, do little to enhance the superb quality of these designs.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

High with her head!

Contrary to the information given, I was able to get a set of the "House of Windsor" stamps by asking a work colleague to buy some when they visited another post office. However feelings were still running high so I made a visit to the Royal Mail Opinion Forum, an online feedback facility operated by the Royal Mail, to offer my thoughts on improving the quality of service. Whilst there I checked out a few other threads and came across a comment that suggested that to use the Machin definitive stamps upside down was an insult to the Queen and therefore an act of treason. Although we have abolished the death penalty in the UK, High Treason is still a just cause for the abolition to be revoked. I felt an urgent need to explore this, just in case I become distracted when franking letters and inadvertantly sign my own death warrant! Fact or myth?

I have a couple of postcards in my collection which portray "The Language of Stamps". This is a proposal that the placement of stamps on a postal item can be used to convey amorous messages to the recipient. These cards portray a stamp image which clearly shows the monarch upturned on their head with a caption "I am not free" - not, "off with your head". I did a few google searches to find out more and discovered ( on a football supporters site) the comment "...placing a postage stamp that bears a picture of the monarch upside down indicates treason and carries a life sentence..."  So, at least the death sentence has been commuted. I must get legal advice. 

Today we have our first really heavy snowfall of the season. As I write this blog, the snow has stopped falling but there are a several inches of fluffy white stuff on the ground. Some airports have been closed and cars have been abandoned at the side of the road - the traditional British response to snowy weather.  Last year when we had persistent heavy snow, I went three days without a delivery of mail - fingers crossed that the temperature rises tomorrow. By some strange (if not "spooky") coincidence, as the snow began to fall this morning, I received a beautiful postcard from Japan depicting a woman walking in the snow. It is titled "Kunisada: Evening Snow" from the series of eight scenes of Edo. Having had to make a short trip to the shops in the snow, I can appreciate and sympathise with the woman in the illustration.

Another little project I started a short while ago, obtaining postmarks from non UK countries, has met with more success. I have now received a cover from the USA with a pictorial postmark commemorating a pioneering airmail flight. I had sent a self addressed cover to the postmaster at Wilmington N.C. requesting the illustrated handstamp. Not only did the postmaster oblige, and apply a clear merk, but the envelope was sent under seperate protective cover provided and paid for by the Wilmington Philatelic Society. Three cheers for them!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Ups...and Downs... of Stamp Collecting

Despite the wide ranging publicity from the Royal Mail for the forthcoming stamp issues, their colleagues in the Post Office fail to rise to the occasion with what is now becoming their regular response of apathy and ignorance. Today's experience at Dudley Post Office was to be told that the set of six "House of Windsor" stamps was only available by purchasing a presentation pack with a 50p premium on the face value. When challenged I am told that "they" had not delivered any sheets of stamps! I suspect they were still in the storeroom and couldn't be bothered to take them out for the last hour of "service". The counter clerk would have happily sold me as many copies of the Diamond jubilee sheet - not issued until next week - until his manager intervened. I was just seconds away from a pre release cover!!! Another letter of complaint is on its way to the customer care team. I only hope they read the contents of this one before sending out the standard letter of apology (with no promise of action).

Better news on the postmark front. This week's bulletin lists a forthcoming Dudley pictorial postmark for the Briton's of Distinction issue - the first Dudley postmark for a couple of years. It will be associated with the Thomas Newcomen stamp. There is a working replica of a Newcomen steam engine at the local Black Country Living Museum. These engines were used to pump water from the mines during the eighteenth and nineteenth century and were once a familiar part of the landscape. If this sort of thing "floats your boat" then you might want to have a look at the BCLM website:  It will mean a trip down to the museum shop in the the next week to buy up any postcards they have of the engine. I think it will make anice maximum card.

The Newcomen Engine at BCLM & Dudley postmark

My GB postal stationery collection is about to experience a severe examination and assessment, at the hands of by my recent 99p bargain acquisition from eBay entitled "Postal Stationery of Great Britain" by T. Brightmore. It is a 74 page listing of all stationery envelopes, cards, aerogrammes, letter cards, and letter sheets. My initial enthusiasm will no doubt suffer deflation when I come to realise how little I have in relation to what has been produced!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Jubilee Joy

As February makes its appearance, it is time to start sorting the pennies and tokens I have at my disposal. A busy and expensive time for the GB collector! In the next few days there is the House of Windsor issue - set of stamps and miniature sheet at a mere £6.90p. This is followed next week by the Diamond Jubilee sheet which by comparison is a snip at £2.76p, but sure to be a popular souvenir to be tucked away for the grandchildren. One would think that in celebrating 60 years on the throne, the stamps on the sheet might just show a hint of a smile from Her Majesty.
Although it is free admission to the exhibition, I still have to find my train fare to London (ticket prices just increased by an average 8%) for "Stampex". The second day of the event sees the release of more stamps in the Great Briton's series which comprises ten first class stamps, grand total £4.60p. The third day will see endless queues for the "post & go" machines dispensing the set of six sheep breeds labels - collectors strip of each value being £5.40p. I must be baaaa..rmy

One note of joy as we enter the Jubilee season. I recently bought a small collection of about 15 covers very cheaply on ebay (£1.70p including postage). I bid because the collection contained some early German covers and stationery cards which are one of my little passions at the moment. Amongst the covers was a registered item from New Zealand with some nice 1953 Coronation stamps cancelled with a commemorative postmark.  Very attractive, even with the 2d stamp having a smudged postmark.

The reverse even had a London arrival postmark with a slogan "Long Live the Queen" (and to be true to the oath she has lived long!). The cover had been opened along the top and did not appear to have any letter or stiffener inside... but just to make sure... Surprise, surprise! tucked away in the corner of the envelope was an unmounted mint set of the GB 1953 Coronation issue - valued by Messrs Stanley Gibbons Ltd., at £16 sterling!
The lessons to be learnt from this tale are: (i) stamp collectors are strange and often forgetful folk and (ii) never judge a cover by what is placed on the outside.

Thank you, your majesty!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Here be Dragons!

A few mythical creatures have been flying through my letterbox over the past couple of weeks, signifying the start of Chinese New Year - The Year of the Dragon! Following on from the Australian stationery envelope recorded below, the most recent addition to my collection was an illustrated cover from Canada.

Canada 2012 Year of the Dragon stamp

Nothing in the way of a special stamp from the UK, though an over - priced "smiler" sheet has been produced with a variety of stylised dragon design labels and street scenes of celebrations. Shame the Royal Mail couldn't have used some Welsh dragon definitives instead of the fireworks greetings stamp. How come Wales have taken up a mythical creature for it's national symbol? ....and a red one at that.

The UK's contribution to the Year of the Dragon

This would have been an ideal opportunity to reissue the dragon stamp from the mythical creatures set issued a couple of years ago - a more worthy contribution to the vast array of dragon stamps that will be flooding the market.

I undertook a little research into the celebration of this event and found that the Chinese take nine days holiday to see the new year in. UK government take note! I discovered that I am a "Rooster" (though sometimes referred to as the "Cockerel" or maybe the less flattering "Chicken") and this gave me some very positive personality traits, such as 'hardworking', 'strong willed' and confident. The article then went on to offer such adjectives as 'well organised' and 'good time keeper' so wrong!!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Are the Olympics becoming a soap opera?

As we hit 2012, the Royal Mail have begun their bombardment of the unsuspecting public with a wide range of collectibles with which to decorate their loft space for many years to come. The Olympic and Paralympic "definitives" hit the post offices on 5th January, to be followed by commemorative "coin covers", pin badges, key rings etc. etc. etc...
The dilemma they now face is how they will manage the marketing of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee stamps in Olympic year? The resolution has been to send out an edict to postmasters that they should withdraw the Olympic and Paralympic "definitives" from sale at the end of January - prior to the issue of the Diamond Jubilee issue - to be reissued at some point in the summer!  

A recent press release from Royal Mail announces that they have created a new E20 postcode district to cover the Olympic Park. Key venues will have their own postcode, and the Olympic Stadium will be E20 2ST. The aim of the new district will be to help the Docklands delivery office sort the mail for delivery at the site during and after the games. A new pictorial postmark featuring the Olympic Stadium, available for the whole year is inscribed with the new E20 postcode district. When I entered the E20 postcode in the Post Office branch finder on their website, I was directed to an area north west of Lancaster, about 250 miles from the Olympic Park. Oh well... still six months to get it right! 
Why E20 when there is no E19? The highest eastern postcode district prior to the introduction was E18. Maybe they are planning a "Ghost Town". Another interesting point about the E20 postcode district is that it was allocated to the fictitious " London Borough of Walford" which features in the long running (far too long in my opinion) BBC TV soap opera Eastenders. I wonder if the Olympics will follow the script?  


Following the Australian stationery envelope I received the other day, today's post brought me an attractive aerogramme from Malaysia featuring cultural dances. Sent by my friend Adeline, a native of Singapore, who has been "on tour" around Penang. What a nicer way to send a message!

2003 issue aerogramme Malaysian Cultural Dances


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

New Year, New Start!

"...He that thinks he can afford to be negligent is not far from being poor..." (Samuel Johnson)
I started this blog six months ago with the best of intentions - in fact I made three pledges, which to be fair I think I have continued to uphold. Sadly I have been distracted,(I will not dwell upon this) but now I return with greater determination to broadcast and entertain the world!
Today I received an Australian airmail envelope celebrating the lunar New Year, the year of the Dragon. A New Year > New Year resolutions > "I will maintain a blog!"

Australia 2012 Year of the Dragon post paid international envelope

I must admit to having an admiration for postal stationery - a real 'no - nonsense' approach to correspondence. No fiddling about looking for stamps, researching the postal rates and licking stamps. Write your message, seal the envelope and put it in the postbox. Bish..bash..bosh!

Also in today's post was a nice first day cover from my friend Douglas in Taiwan. Chungwa Post (the Taiwan equivalent to Royal Mail) have celebrated the New Year with the first in a series of definitive stamps featuring indigenous berry plants. The first issue comprises Kiwi fruit (Kiwi: a bird native to New Zealand?), Miracle berry (surely a somewhat extravagant claim), American black nightshade (a recent immigrant?) and the Potato Tree (surely "spuds" grow underground). Who comes up with these names?

Taiwan Berries part 1 FDC uprated with ATM

I'm hoping that the Royal Mail have made a New Year resolution not to apply their "signature required" handstamps and labels across the stamps. A little care and effort can make a world of difference.