This is my brief (sorry, it was meant to be, but you know what it’s like, one thought leads to another and then another and before you know where you are, you have almost written a book) introduction to Great British Stamp collecting.
I hope that you find at least some of it interesting. If not, never mind, you will probably only waste a half hour of your life reading it.
I have tried to be as accurate as possible, so hopefully there are no real major mistakes. A few comments are my personal opinions, but mostly it is I believe factual. But hey, I’m not quite perfect, so if you know that something is wrong, please let me know via the feedback form.
It is broken down into sections and you probably arrived here after reading one of my brief introductions on one of the Index pages of the site. You will find that each section is broken down into these same brief intros. Therefore if you want to find out only about Presentation Packs, then please scroll down to that section.
The first sections deal with the basic reigns. Later sections give some info on more specific areas of collecting mainly under Elizabeth 2 where there are many sub sections of collecting available, PHQ cards and Traffic Light Gutter Pairs for example.
Ask most people what the first Stamp ever issued in the World was and most will answer the Great British Penny Black. Go onto most general knowledge based websites, same answer. This is actually only half true and depends on how you define the question, as the 2d Blue was issued on the same day.
The 6 May 1840 was where it all started for stamp collectors. Again this is only a half truth. If you have large pockets you can actually find earlier posted stamps, but let us start at the beginning.
In the beginning
The first unrecognized postmen were in fact the Romans. They brought messengers with them when they invaded Britain. The messenger system was expanded over the centuries, at first used solely by The King. Sheriffs, Bailiffs and Noble men started to use them as well. As trade grew and Cities and Town’s expanded, so did the messenger system of communication. In fact many of our road networks and Inns of today owe their existence to the delivery of letters.
In the early 1600’s the State took control of all messenger services and banned private carriers. Could this have been the first Monopoly? The Post Office has remained solely Government owned ever since! Charles I created what was the start of the Post Office as we know it in 1635 and made delivering of documents and letters available to all subjects. Though in reality, only a very small proportion of the population could read and write.
In 1657 Oliver Cromwell established the General Post Office. There were many developments over the next 200 years, but this is an area that is covered by what is termed Pre Stamp Postal History.
In 1837, Rowland Hill publishes Post Office Reform and so begins the development of the postal system we know of today. 1839 and the Postage Act is passed, whereby the Treasury is given until October 1840 to make arrangements for the introduction of a universal penny postage system.
Great British Queen Victoria Stamps Issued 1840 to 1900
To give you an idea of how amazing the postal system was in those days, many letters exist where only the person’s name and town were put onto the envelope and they still arrived.
As it was the Royal mail, Queen Victoria’s head was used on the stamps. The practice of using the reigning monarchs’ head or image is still used today for all GB stamps and as long as this is the case, the Universal Postal Union agreed that Great British stamps do not need to have our Country name on them. We are the only country in the world not to have our name on. So, if you find a stamp with no country name, then it is British. One little interesting point here though, don’t be fooled by stamps bearing the name Victoria. Stamp dealers are always being told by people that they have a GB stamp they have found and that it must be British, as it has the name Victoria printed on it. The Victoria actually refers to the Australian State of Victoria!
Great British Line Engraved Stamps Issued 1840-1879
January 1840 and the Uniform Penny Post is officially introduced. This means that a letter weighing up to one ounce can for the first time be sent anywhere in the Country for one penny if pre paid or two pence, if paid for upon receipt. The reality of this is not quite true, as many houses had to pay extra due to their location. 6 May 1840 and the Penny Black and 2d Blue are officially introduced. However, there are earlier dates known of the use of the Penny Black. The earliest being 1 May 1840.
So, we go back to the general knowledge question at the top of this article. If the question is – What was the first stamp issued in the world, then the answer is both the Penny Black and the 2d Blue. But if the question is what Stamp was the first one ever used, the answer is indeed the Penny Black. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ and have this question as my Million Pounds one.
The first stamps issued used the printing process known as Line Engraved. Plates were engraved by highly skilled engravers. Ink was applied to the plate and the excess wiped off. Paper was then pressed onto the plate, forcing the paper into the recessed areas, thus leaving the inked part of the plate transferred to the stamp. When you consider that 240 stamps were printed from each plate and it is almost impossible, if not impossible to tell what plate the stamp came from by purely looking at the engraving. There are ways to tell for most stamps, but this is a very skilled part of collecting and has been made easier for collectors of today, only by people who spent years and years researching. Most of us use these reference works. Actually, this is how I can write all this.
If you look at my line Engraved section of the site, you will see that the first plate used for the Penny stamp was obviously plate 1 (actually 1a and 1b) and the last was plate 225.
Plates were replaced as they wore out. A few were not used at all, mainly as they failed quality control.
Line engraved issues are all many collectors collect. This is because the area of what can be collected is vast. Just to give you a brief idea:
- First you have the Penny Black, plates 1a through to 11 (11 being very scarce as it only had a short life).
- 2d Blue, plates 1 to 15.
- Penny Reds plates 1b through to 225.
- ½d Reds – Plates 1 to 20
- 1½d Reds – Plates 1 and 3.
All with 240 stamps to a sheet (½d had 480, as they were only half the size), each stamp with different check letters at least in the bottom two corners (this, along with the watermark were security measures against fakes. Top left was AA working across the AL, then down to the T row).
So, to have a truly complete collection of line engraved GB stamps, you would be talking about 60,000+ stamps!
Then you have the postmarks. Red Maltese Cross at first, then Black, then Town cancels etc. Postmarks as we call them today were not called that at first. They were actually obliterators and were meant to do just that, obliterate the stamp to stop it being used again. Many collectors specialize in collecting postmarks from this period.
At first the sheets of stamps were imperf, with no perforations and all the stamps had to be cut out using scissors. Postal workers were meant to take care when cutting them out and insure that they cut in the margins surrounding each stamp. In practice though, this was not done very often, hence 4 clear margin stamps commanding a price premium. The Penny Black was soon replaced by the Penny Red as it was decided that Black was not really a suitable colour and that it was not difficult to find stamps that could be used again as the postmark failed to show up clearly enough. Perforations were developed to aid in the tearing of the sheet. Roulettes were tested at first and early trials using both these methods are scarce if not rare and again command a premium. At first there were no plate markings on any stamps and collectors have to use certain characteristics found only on a particular stamp to aid plating. In 1858 the plate numbers were for the first time incorporated into the design of the 2d Blue values. It wasn’t for another 6 years, in 1864 that visible plate numbers were used for the Penny red. An example of what to look for is shown below.
With the Introduction of this issue, SG 43/44, came the first Visible Plate Numbers. All Previous Issues can only have the Plate Number determined by Certain Characteristic Markings etc. In this Issue, the Plate Numbers can generally be clearly seen either with the Naked Eye or a Reasonable Magnifier. You can see the numbers 189 Vertically at Both the Left and Right hand Sides.
Interesting fact (at least I think it is): Many non collectors when finding out that I am a GB stamp dealer, say ” I bet you haven’t got a Penny Black” and are amazed when I tell them, that I have at least 100 in stock at any one time. It is only when I explain that they are actually very common and that a basic one with faults can sell for £20 or less. This is because over 60 million were issued in less than a year. With the introduction of the Penny Postage rate, suddenly most people could afford to write letters. Therefore for example, you no longer had to spend a day visiting your granny in the next town, you wrote to her. In fact, the Penny Post could be regarded as a catalyst that helped with the literacy of the lower classes’ as they were so called then.
Why are they so common, how comes so many survived until today? Well, believe it or not, we mostly have Businesses, solicitors, Government dept’s and Banks to thank for this and not forgetting the Second World War. I’ll explain. Businesses, Solicitors, Government Dept’s and Banks had to keep stacks and stacks of letters and documents etc. These were all filed away in achieves or vaults. Now the best example is to think of the City of London. Hundreds and hundreds of these cramped into a small area and what happens – The Germans bomb the place. Buildings burn, get bomb damaged and low and behold, there are all these letters etc floating about. Well, a hell of a lot of it went walkies! And thousands upon thousands of Penny blacks come onto the market, along with a lot of other stuff as well.
Unfortunately, the vast majority were torn off their covers, as Postal History wasn’t really the in thing at the time. God knows what gems were lost forever when this happened.
When I first started in this business, I met a dealer who used to be a Fire Warden in the City during the war. The stories he told, God bless him, he’s dead now, but it certainly helped him start in the stamp business. And when a Post Office got hit- jackpot!
Of course a lot of private material survived by being kept by the recipient. Much in the same way that we today will put a letter away for safe keeping, possibly to read once in awhile.
Another little story concerning early Line engraved stamps is why so many have pin holes through them. The most common reason for the Imperf issues is that the Postal worker would have to cut the stamps from the sheets. This could be quite time consuming, especially if there was a queue waiting, so a lot of workers cut them prior to opening and then to keep them all safe, put them onto a thread using a pin.
Another is that to entertain Children, they were encouraged to make a Snake chain using stamps, not so bad in later years when the 1d Lilac had been issued, but in 1841, imagine what would have been used to make a nice Red, Black and Blue snake!
A few other little snippets of information:
- 1843 the first Christmas card is posted.
- 1852 and the first ever post box is trialed in Jersey.
- 1870 the first Postcard is issued.
- 1873 Women are allowed to work for the Post Office.
- 1874 Married women were banned from working for the Post Office and if a single woman got married, she had to resign. This practice remained in force for over 70 years!
- 1912 The Post Office acquires full control of the Telephone system.
- 1918 The standard cost of sending a letter is raised from 1d to 1½d due to rising costs, thus ending the Penny Post which had been in existence since 1840. I’ll save you the math, it’s 78 years!
- 2006 Royal Mail introduces ‘pricing in proportion’. This is the most significant change in postage procedures since the introduction of the penny post. Mail is charged according to both weight and the size.
Great British Embossed Stamps Issued 1847-1854
Only 3 values were issued in the Embossed series and were all imperforate. They had a very short life span. The most notably thing with these stamps is that they were printed one at a time. This resulted in most stamps touching the design of the next stamp, if not overlapping it. In many cases, when you see a row or block of these stamps, the alignment is terrible. This is the reason that these stamps are catalogued so highly. The price is based on a stamp with clear margins and these are scarce. There are many collectors who have been duped into paying way over the odds for these stamps, simply because they have no understanding of what the catalogue price is based on. Because the stamps were of an Octagonal design with a white border, many were cut to shape, thus removing this border and these are worth only a fraction of the value of cut square stamps.
Care should be taken when buying the 6d value. As the die for this stamp was later used in producing the pre paid embossed envelopes. Many envelopes were cut and the stamp sold as being the Embossed 6d value. These have very little value when sold by their true identity.
Great British Surface Printed Stamps Issued 1855-1900
As the Embossed issues were so unsatisfactory, it was decided to produce stamps using the Surface Printed method. The contract for the production of these stamps with values of 2d and above was given to Thomas De La Rue. The Line Engraved issues below 2d continued to be printed by Perkins, Bacon and Co. until 1880. After 1880 De La Rue printed all GB stamps until the latter part of Edward 7th reign.
In this printing process, the technique is basically the reverse of Line Engraved whereby the recessed parts of the plate transfer varying amounts or no ink to the paper depending on how deep the recess is cut.
The Surface Printed issues of Victoria are wonderful. During this time, many different values and Colours were produced. Many of the stamps can be collected with different plate numbers. The only sad thing for collectors is that so few used stamps escaped the dreaded obliterator. Most of the lower values are therefore heavily used, as all stamps were supposed to be literally obliterated and the cancels in use for most of this period were the Bar type which did the job rather well. This is why during this period, stamps sold as fine used are nothing like as fine as later issues when the CDS (Circular Date Stamp) came into use more. Some did escape, some, when two or more stamps were applied to the envelope and the postal clerk either couldn’t be bothered or forgot to cancel each stamp separately. Sometimes you will see pairs, strips or blocks with only one cancel and these are sold at a premium and are described as Contrary to regulations.
The most common source of Very Fine Used stamps (CDS) from this period though is from Telegraph receipts or Post Office in house accounting.
Most of the high value stamps of Victoria (2/6 and above) were used in this way. Very few high values, particularly the £5 Orange (SG 133/137), were ever stuck on envelopes and postally used. Some values, notably the 1 shilling Green value (SG 115/17) plates 5, 6 and 7 are far more common with lovely CDS postmarks than they are with bar cancels. This is because a great many were used on telegraph forms in the Stock Exchange.
In 1898 some of these forms came into the stamp market and it was discovered that some of the stamps were skillful forgeries. They had gone undetected for 20+ years and the person responsible was never discovered. This would have been a very lucrative venture at the time. As the clerk who did it, would have been able to pocket 1 shilling every time he applied one of the fakes instead of the real stamp.
In 1883/4 the Lilac and Green issues were introduced. The green values were not good news for collectors of used stamps, as the ink is fugitive and can easily wash out in water when soaking off paper.
This fugitive green ink was used for some later issues as well and fine coloured used copies are difficult to find.
The final series of stamps of Queen Victoria’s reign are without doubt the best in my opinion. The Jubilee issues are the first GB stamps where two colours were applied to some values. They are quite simply beautiful!
They are known as the Jubilee issue simply because they started to appear in the same year as her 50th anniversary of the accession to the throne in 1887.
They were not produced to celebrate this fact, so cannot be regarded as the first commemorative issue.
2 major errors on stamps occurred in the reign of Victoria, there are others, but these 2 stand out.
The first is the OP-PC error instead of CP-PC on 1½d Reds plate 1 (SG 51/52). Issued in October 1870 and continued for 4 years, it was not discovered by anyone until 1894. Amazing, as the error occurs on every sheet of Plate 1.
The second is LH-FL instead of LH-HL on the 2½d Rosy Mauve (SG 140).
Great British Edward 7 Stamps – Issued 1902 to 1913
At first Printed by De La Rue, then Harrison and Sons and finally Somerset House.
The reign of Edward 7 is notable for collectors in the wonderful diversity of the shades available to collectors. Whilst on the face of it, only 19 stamps were issued during his reign, the fact that three different printers were used, two distinct papers used, two different sizes of perforations and the wonderful variation of shades makes this area another that can form the sole basis of someone’s Specialised Stamp Collection.
Again as with the Jubilee issues, some stamps are bicolour.
As De La Rue had a contract to print stamps until 1909, they printed all GB postage stamps until 1910. The first stamps they produced were on what is termed as Ordinary paper. In 1905 Chalk Surfaced Paper started to be used for some values.
In 1909 the printing contract was up for renewal. The Inland Revenue wanted De La Rue to lower the cost of the contract. Basically, it was getting cheaper to produce stamps and The Revenue wanted a larger cut of the cake. Sorry, but I have to say it. Some things never change!!
De La Rue refused and lost the contract.
Harrison and Sons took over the contract on January 1st 1911. Whilst King Edward had died in May 1910, his stamps were still being used, as the New King George 5th stamps would not be ready for some time. Harrison therefore took over the printing of the single colour stamps of Edward 7th. They couldn’t do the bicoloured ones as they did not have the machinery to do so. Therefore Somerset House produced these. Edward 7th stamps continued to be printed up until as late as 1913.
How to tell which stamp is from which printer? In some cases, it is easy once you know how. Firstly, if the stamp is perforated 15×14 then it must be Harrison. If it is Chalky paper, then apart from the 6d value, it must be De La Rue. It does then get harder and needs experience in determining the shades. There are a few general guides that are very useful for this. An example is the Purples used by both De La Rue and Somerset House for the 1½d, 6d, 9d, 10d and 2/6 values. Most of the Somerset House printings of these values have the purple showing as much Redder than De La Rue printings. To see what I mean, have a look at my Specialised Colour Guide for Edward 7th stamps
Generally stamps printed by De La Rue were of a better quality, certainly over Harrison’s efforts.
The reign of King Edward VII is also known for the recognized start of Stamp Booklets.
Great British Official Stamps – Issued 1882 to 1904
Official Stamps is not really the correct term for these stamps. They should really be called Government Departmental Stamps, as they were produced solely for the use of certain Government Departments. The first Official stamp was produced in 1840 and is known as the VR Black. It was prepared, but never issued. However, as is the case with most prepared Stamps, a few managed to find their way out onto the market. The first issued Officials were in 1882 and were for the Inland Revenue. Before this time all Departments used ordinary Stamps for all their mail. More Government Departments followed, each bearing the name of the department overprinted on the stamp. Only overprinted Stamps are listed By Stanley Gibbons, though other departments did have their own Official stamps perfined, The Board of Trade being one such example. The only general stamps issued were the Government Parcel Stamps as these could be used by any department. Most of the Mint Official stamps were never meant to fall into the hands of Collectors, but as with most stamps, some did. Indeed, two people went to prison for the supply and receipt of Official stamps. Official stamps were withdrawn in 1904.
A main point to consider for collectors of these stamps is that they have been forged on a massive scale. Some are very good, even for an expert to detect; others are crude to say the least. Many inexperienced collectors have been duped into parting with their money for what is in essence a load of junk. So be careful, if a rare official stamp is offered to you for a fraction of its value, then it is probably a fake.
Unfortunately, places such as Ebay are a haven for sellers who knowingly sell fake overprints. Just type ‘Ebay fake overprints’ into Google and you’ll see what I mean. So Be Careful!!
Great British George 5 Stamps – Issued 1911 to 1936
The Reign of King George 5th is really the gem for specialised stamp collectors. There are a huge array of shades (see my links on each Specialised George 5 section for their Specialised Colour Guides), watermark variations and errors for specialist collectors. For me though, the Reign contains the most beautiful stamps ever issued – Seahorses.
The first George 5th stamps were not ready for issue until June 1911, over a year since his accession and then only the ½d and 1d values. It would take yet another year before any of the other values were ready. Hence the reason why some values of Edward 7th continued to be produced until 1913.
The first stamps were the Mackennal (Downey Heads). For what is in essence a set of three stamps (by this I mean clear and easily seen differences), the variations available in shades, errors and watermarks is amazing.
The second series issued were the Royal Cypher. These are the jewel in the crown when it comes to shades for specialists. The range of shades is fantastic. (Please go to my George 5 specialised royal cyphers image page to see what I mean). My listing is per Gibbons specialised Volume 2 and this list can be expanded on beyond that and is by many collectors. A lot of the shade variations were due to a lack of ink during the war period.
Block Cypher was next, mostly the same designs and values as the royal cypher set, but with a different watermark. Again there are some nice shade variations available.
The Photogravure series completes the low value definitive issues.
The most significant thing about George 5th reign as far as stamp collecting is concerned, is that it contained the first Great British Commemorative issue, The 1924 Wembley Exhibition. This was followed a little over a year later by the 1925 set and a further two commemorative sets were issued later. Only 4 sets in 11 years, now there’s a thought!
It also saw the introduction of the first Postage Due stamps. Please see section below for more details on these.
One final thing about George 5th that must be mentioned is that he was an avid stamp collector. This was to such an extent that it really is down to his enthusiasm that the Royal Philatelic Collection of Great Britain and the Commonwealth is without doubt by far the best collection of its kind in the world.
Great British Postage Due Stamps – Issued 1914 to 1994
Up until the introduction of the Postage Due Stamps a handstamp was applied to the envelope to indicate a fee payable by the receiver. This was needed in cases where the item had insufficient postage paid or in many cases, none at all. In 1914 a set of Postage Due stamps were issued and these were then applied to the cover or package to indicate the amount of payment required. A later Postage Due set was issued with a new higher value, but with Block Cypher watermark replacing the Royal Cypher one.
Every Reign since King George V has had at least one set of Postage Due stamps issued, the last issue being in 1994, when it was decided to revert back to a To Pay Handstamp.
Large used blocks can be found of most values, these were used to indicate various forms of duty that needed to be paid, for example import duty.
Great British Edward 8 Stamps – Issued 1936
The shortest Reign for British Stamp issues. Amazingly there are more Postage Due Stamps than there are Postage Stamps in this Reign, even if you include the Inverted Watermarks as well. Only the four most commonly used stamps were produced. The stamps themselves are to say the least very bland, almost as though no one could be bothered to make any effort compared to what had gone before. Maybe the King wanted a return to the simplistic look of the early Line Engraved stamps. If so, then they failed miserably in my opinion.
Great British George 6 Stamps – Issued 1937 to 1951
A least a little more effort went into the designs for George 6th compared to his brother Edward 8th. All the definitive values over 4d lasted in their original designs throughout his reign. The lower values however had two changes, firstly during the War, when the original colours were used, but in a lighter shade so as to save on ink and then again in 1950/51 when the colours were changed. The tradition of producing beautiful high value stamps continued with both the Arms High Value Set and the later 1951 set. Following on the success of the George 5th Commemorative issues, the Post Office issued the first Coronation GB Commemorative stamp. Actually, we have only had one more ever issued. This stamp was immensely popular selling over 388 million copies, hence the reason why it is so cheap to buy today. 1940 celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Postage stamp and to commemorate this Royal Mail issued a set of stamps depicting both Victoria and George 6th. There were several commemorative sets issued over a short period in the latter part of his reign. As it turned out, this was only a small taste of the things to come.
Great British Commemorative Stamps – Issued 1924 to Date
Great British Commemorative Stamps are as the name implies issued to commemorate something. The first set was issued in 1924 for the Wembley Exhibition and issues have continued every since, firstly, very occasionally (4 issues over an 11 year period) to more modern times, where 10+ is the norm for each year. Commemorative sets contain from between one and 10 stamps showing various images related to the chosen theme.
Unlike definitive issues that can have a varied issued life span depending on the need for a particular value, commemorative sets are only available for one year after their initial issue, or until the available stock runs out. After one year’s availability Royal Mail removes any unsold stock. In 1978 Royal Mail issued its first Miniature Sheet in support of raising funds for the 1980 London International Stamp Exhibition.
Two further sheets were issued in 1979 and 1980 for the same purpose. 1988, 1989 and 1990 saw three more sheets issued in support of Stamp World London 90. A wait of nine years followed before the next sheet, only this time, not issued in support of anything other than Royal Mails coffers. 2005 saw the height of Miniature Sheet Issues with no fewer than nine.
As with most series of something, some Commemorative issues are wonderful, whilst others are in my opinion junk. Some issues have had a great deal of effort put into the design and printing and can be called miniature works of art and are informative as well, whilst others, look as if someone really couldn’t be bothered. Quite a few of the stamps in the various Millennium Series received a lot of criticism for this.
My favourite issue of all time has to be the 1985 Trains Set of five stamps. Not only because they beautiful work’s of art from paintings done by Terence Cuneo, but because Cuneo always drew a Mouse somewhere in his Pictures. You will need very good eyesight to spot them on the stamps, but if you look carefully at the set of PHQ cards, then you should be able to find them.
Most Commemorative Stamps are also available in Presentation Packs and I have done a separate description for these elsewhere on this page. Likewise for First Day Covers, PHQ cards, Traffic Light Gutter Pairs and Smilers Sheets.
Royal Mail do seem to be slowly bringing about the death of the Commemorative issues, as very few Post Offices stock them at all in any format. This would be a great shame for GB collectors, particularly those who only collect the modern era. I’m afraid that I personally find it very difficult to get excited about a new value and coloured Machin stamp!
Great British Smilers Sheets Issued 2000 to Date
I remember walking towards the Royal Mail stand at Earls Court 2000 chatting to another British Stamp dealer. I wanted to buy a few bits from Royal Mail for stock. We got to one of the counters and he asked for 200 of the Stamp Show 2000 sheets. Not knowing what he was talking about and not wanting to seem like an idiot, I just opened my mouth and said “I’ll take 100 as well”. I don’t know what my face looked like when they were plonked on the counter in front of me, but I remember thinking ‘What the hell have I bought this rubbish for, no one is going to want these, they’re too big’ and to cap it all, they cost me more than face value!
Boy, was I wrong! A classic case of a dealer not having a clue. Actually, I wasn’t the only one. Ask any GB dealer and if they are honest, they will all tell you, we didn’t think they would ever take off. That all changed the moment Royal Mail produced the Smilers Album, then everyone seemed to want them.
As can now be seen, the fact that virtually no dealer thought they were going to go anywhere, meant that after the initial issue, very few people brought any of the early sheets in quantity. So the subsequent issues became hot property and started to rise in price fast and I do mean fast. The 2001 Christmas issue is without any doubt the fastest price rising issue ever. Not even back in the daft heydays of the late 70’s and early 80’s did anything rise at such a mind boggling rate for a new issue as this pair did. The 2001 Christmas Pair is just a wonderful story. Everyone who had a Royal Mail account for everything issued was sent the 2000 Christmas Smilers Sheets, A few dealers got some, a lot of these went onto First Day covers, mostly split, as they were too big for one cover. They were then put away. 2001 comes along and low and behold Royal mail have the same sheets again, issued as 2001 Christmas Smilers Sheets. Reaction of most people, ” I don’t want these, I’ve already got them” So they either sent them back or just didn’t bother to order any. Big mistake!
Take a look at the images below, would you have spotted the difference and kept them. Did you? If you did, well done, you made a brilliant Investment. You roughly made a 10,000% profit in 6 years.
This is unique in modern general issued British stamps. Actually I can’t think of any other period it happened either. Unless you know different!
Most People think that there is only one difference on each sheet. Actually there are two.
The 2001 issued pair has the word Smilers added to the top left corner of each sheet and the inscription is Consignia PLC 2001 as opposed to Post Office 2000 for the 2000 issue.
I did one Stampex Show, I can’t remember which one now, but by the end of the show, I was selling both these items for twice as much as I was at the start. It wasn’t profiteering, I’d sold everything that I had and was paying whatever anyone was asking in order to get more in again.
One thing that no dealer ever did predict though is the amazing rise in price of the Christmas 2001 pair. Ever time they went up a bit more, we all thought that’s got to be it, £75, £150, £350, £750 the prices just kept rising and the demand was still there and still is today.
In my blurb about Investment, I mention a Crystal Ball. Now that’s when I wanted one. I first started selling the 2001 Christmas sheets for £35.00, if I had just held on to all of them.
Obviously as with all things, once everyone realised that these Smilers sheets were good, subsequent issues were not as scarce, dealers started to get reasonable stocks in, but it did take a time, as can be seen by the prices of most of the earlier issues.
Errors on Great British Stamps 1840 to Date
Errors or mistakes have occurred on stamps since the beginning. However, major ones on very early material are very rarely seen. Most Line Engraved errors for example tend to be blank areas of print, or in the case of the perforated issues: misperfs. Surface Printed has quite a few Inverted Watermarks.
By major I mean something that is very visual and can easily be seen.
There are only two major errors listed for Queen Victoria issues in the Concise Catalogue. The first is the OP-PC error instead of CP-PC on 1½d Reds plate 1 (SG 51/52). Issued in October 1870 and continued for 4 years, it was not discovered by anyone until 1894. Amazing, as the error occurs on every sheet of Plate 1.
The second is LH-FL instead of LH-HL on the 2½d Rosy Mauve (SG 140).
There are quite a few errors on the Kings issues, but very few of those stand out and hit you in the face. The typical type of errors that are listed in the Concise catalogue for stamps in King George VI reign for example are the Lakes of India and Asia on the 1949 UPU 2½d value, Hardly stunning!
For this, you really have to wait until Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne and there at last in 1961 is the first truly missing colour. The Post Office Savings Bank 2½d Missing Black is not only the first missing colour listed in the Concise catalogue, but it’s one of the best.
Queen Elizabeth II is the period most collectors of errors cover. The variety of errors in Elizabeth is amazing and some are very inexpensive when you consider the figures involved. Missing Colours for example that are all listed in the catalogue, start at about £45.00. Maybe 5 million stamps were produced of one value and out of that five million; only 200 or so exist with the error, that’s not a bad price. Obviously the fewer there are known to exist the higher the value.
Misperfs are another very inexpensive type of error to collect. Even the most spectacular misperf will only cost £100 -150 and they are many that will cost only a few pounds. Missing Phosphors is another very popular area, though these are not visual, they are listed in the Concise catalogue.
Channel Islands and Isle of Man Stamps – Issued 1969 to Date
Guernsey and Jersey were given Postal Administration Independance in 1969 and were followed by the Isle of Man in 1973. In 1983 Guernsey started to issue stamps for use on Alderney as well.
Guernsey and Jersey did Occupation War Time Issues and details of these can be found in the regional section of this site.
Since their Postal administration Independance they have become a very popular collecting area, mainly for issuing superb topical and thematic stamps. They have not been confined to regulations in the same way that Royal Mail have or probably more to the point, in the way that jobs worth’s in Royal Mail insist on sticking to the rules no matter how daft.
A classic example is Fine Used stamps. If you want a Fine Used Commemorative set of British stamps, they rules say that you can’t just take them into a Post Office and have them postmarked. Nor can you order Fine Used stamps from the Bureau. You basically have to have someone post them to you with all the dangers entailed trying to get a nice postmark. The Channel Islands and Isle of Man are not so daft. You can order Fine Used CTO (Cancelled to Order) and that’s what you get. Same for First Day Covers, you can order back issues of any cover as long as it is in stock or the stamps are still on sale. Not so, our Royal Mail. Missed the day of issue, tough!
Most of the topics that have been produced on the Islands stamps are very popular, Flowers, Birds, Planes and Ships to name a few and most issues are very colourful. The Isle of Man also cottoned on to the popularity of The Lord of The Rings trilogy of Films and was the first to have a set issued for Harry Potter, 3 years before our own Royal Mail thought of jumping on the gravy train.
Great British Presentation Packs and Year Books Issued 1960 to Date
Yes, it does say from 1960 and not 1964 as many people think. This is because the first Post Office items of this nature were actually the 1960 Wildings and Regional Packs that are now termed as Forerunner Packs. They along with 2 other slightly later packs were in the form of a sealed Envelope with a clear window. Two versions of each exist, one priced in GBP and the other in US$ for the American market. The high value packs are very scarce and command very high prices, far more than the Forth Road Bridge Pack of 1964. The first pack in the format we know today of a set of stamps with an information card about the stamps, printer and designer in a plastic sleeve (originally these were cellophane, which as many people know, over the years of time have usually degraded to such an extent that the sleeve has shrunk and buckled the pack) was the 1964 Ordinary issue of Shakespeare.
The format now is larger, but the general idea hasn’t changed in over 40 years. The Forth Road Bridge pack issued in the same year is generally regarded the pinnacle of everyone’s Commemorative Presentation Pack collection. Why is this? Simple really, it is the scarcest. If you look at the quantities issued of the early packs, you will see that the first Shakespeare pack was very popular selling in excess of 108,000. Next was Geographical selling fewer than 30,000, next Botanical at just over 16,000 and then we have the FRB pack coming in at 11,450.
Now bear in mind that this was a boom time in stamp collecting, not because of a rise in value, but basically because nearly every kid and a great many adults in the country collected stamps. So, 11,450 is a tiny sales figure. I can only assume that the dwindling sales figures are down to a lot of people deciding that these packs were just a gimmick and didn’t want to pay the extra for them or maybe the Post Office just decided to issue less and once stocks had sold out, that was it. Who knows? Do you?
Anyway after this, figures rose and fell over the next couple of years of about 25,000 to 40,000, then regularly increasing until hitting sales in excess of 100,000 per issue in 1969.
If you look at my price listings for Commemorative Packs, you will see a few gaps from 1965 to 1975 (in 1977 there was no 9p in the Silver Jubilee pack either). This isn’t just because I haven’t got them in stock, but because for some reason the Post Office didn’t issue packs for these issues. In the late 70’s someone cottoned on to these missed packs and produced them as what have become known as Eastbourne Packs.
In 1967 the first Definitive Pack as we know it, was issued. Royal Mail only produces a pack where new stamps are issued. It does not recognize a new printer, paper or gum type as being a new issue, so these are never found in packs. Regional Packs followed a few years later and then a Postage Due Pack joined the fray.
In 1968 and 1969 the Post Office issued German Packs with unsurprisingly, the Text in German, more had German insert cards enclosed. Other languages followed over the next few years. Since then, there have been various Privately Produced Packs.
In 1967 the first Year Pack was issued. They contain all the basic commemorative issues for the year.
1984 saw the issue of the first Year Book and speaking personally, I think this was one of royal mails better ideas. They are lovely books (you can find them in Leather Bound and other format editions, those most are scarce) with a wealth of information and pictures to accompany the stamps. Most of the issues, barring the early ones, due to scarcity and the later issues due to the value of the stamps contained are also very inexpensive for what they are.
Over more recent years a few packs that have been issued have shown an amazing increase in value compared to the pretty stagnant value of most packs issued. Notably and the most famous is probably the Welsh Diana Pack of 1998. Millions of people and I do mean millions, went and bought some stamp related souvenir of Princess Diana when she died. A lot brought the presentation pack, but few realized until too late, that there were actually two versions, English and a Welsh one. Most people got the English one, but very few the Welsh, hence it’s meteoric rise in price at the time.
Another notable pack is the high value Definitive Pack Number 13 issued in 1987. As this pack contained the same £1, £2 and £5 stamps that had previously been issued in pack number 91 in 1977, it isn’t surprising to think that most people just thought this was a con in order to get more money out of the collector (which of course it was) and so didn’t bother with it. Hence the reason this pack now sells for well in excess of One Hundred Pounds.
So, one tip to end this section, if Royal Mail bring out anything new or something that has been re-issued in a new format, buy it, a lot of the time, these are the things that have shown the biggest increase in value.
Great British First day Covers (FDC) Issued 1840 to Date
The first postage stamp FDC was the Penny Black issued on the 6th of May 1840 and is obviously worth a considerable amount of money. Issued is not really the correct term for early First day Covers, as the Covers were not really done by design but by accident in nearly all cases. In a lot of the earlier issues (mostly Queen Victoria) the exact date is unclear so the earliest used date known prevails. Unless you have very deep pockets and can find this material, I wouldn’t bother unless you really want to.
Since then a large percentage of the stamps of GB have had a known First Day of Issue date (FDI).
Condition is a very important part of FDC collecting.
All FDC’s after 1953, except the very rare ones, should in my opinion, always be either typed, printed, label addressed or unaddressed, unless the price is such that it becomes a real bargain.
Before 1970 the general rule would be the higher the catalogue value or the earlier the cover, the more acceptable hand written becomes. Pre 66 hand written FDC’s should be about 50% of the typed addressed price.
The majority of pre 48 FDC’s are hand addressed and are very collectable and are the norm. Typed or unaddressed of this period generally command a premium. Slit or opened tops do lower the value (particularly poorly opened) but this is very much a personal decision as the appearance from the front is seldom affected.
All covers should have the full set of stamps, except rare ones, where sometimes due to price or availability the only option is to get a one stamped cover as a space filler. Make sure all the stamps are postmarked and have not been missed or applied at a later date.
The most common FDC is the one produced by Royal Mail (Post Office as was) for each new issue. Their first cover was for the 1964 Shakespeare issue and barring a few early gaps has been available for every Commemorative issue since. They do not issue different covers for each Definitive issue, preferring to use the same design over a period to cover all releases that they consider to be “new issues”. For this reason there are a great many Definitive based issues that the Royal Mail do not list, but a lot of collectors strive to obtain. There have been a lot of different cover producers over the years, from some individuals to small firms producing very small quantities to large stamp dealers or organizations producing thousands. Some are produced randomly, while others form a series (an example being the save the children fund which ran through the early 70’s). A lot of collectors just collect one producers cover along with the different postmarks available, while others find it a very reasonably cheap way of obtaining all the different Special Handstamps that are available.
The description above is a very brief introduction to Great British First day covers.
Great British Stamps for Investment
People have invested in stamps probably since the first day they were ever issued. Some have made a lot of money out of it, others have lost a lot. If you are considering Stamps as an Investment, then my main bit of advice is learn a bit about stamps first. A lack of knowledge about any investment area can be dangerous. Also, be very careful about where and whom you give your money to.
If you are collecting GB stamps solely for the purpose of hoping for a profitable return at some later date, then you cannot be a general collector. You must be selective.
Many stamps are purely brought and sold solely for their collecting interest and will never return you a profit and collectors are aware of this. They buy them because they want to. If they are lucky, some of their purchases will show them a profit and these will offset the losers.
If you look back over the last 50 years or so, it is the new products or nearly new that tend to show the bigger increases in value. Presentation packs, PHQ Cards, Smilers Sheets and Booklets are examples of this. Before this time it tends to be in general Higher values, Scarce Issues or Shades and Condition that determines what might have a better potential.