Royal Mail’s Christmas stamps, released on November 3, appear to set a new template for seasonal special issues in the era of data matrix codes.
After a transitional issue last year, when a set of eight comprised a mix of coded and non-coded stamps in different formats (some of them available only in booklets), the 2022 set has just six stamps, all coded and all in the same format.
With only two airmail rates required once again, this is the smallest Christmas set since 2008. It is also, of course, the first to be entirely digitally coded, and the second in succession to be entirely self-adhesive.
The colour of the digital codes match those of the equivalent definitives issued in April, and so, to an extent, do the multicoloured designs themselves. This implies that the advent of digital coding will have a long-term influence on the colours of Christmas issues, even though it did not affect the colours of the regional definitives issued in August.
For the fourth year in succession, the designs feature scenes from the nativity story, so the long-standing policy of alternating religious and secular images now seems to be dead and buried.
The stamps are illustrated by Katie Ponder, who is known for using hand-made textures and collage as a base for developing digital art. This gives them what Royal Mail describes as ‘a fresh and contemporary feel but with references to art deco, which add a timeless quality to the classic nativity story’.
The overall design credit goes to Baxter & Bailey, and the stamps were printed in gravure by Cartor Security Printers in self-adhesive sheets of 50.
The set of six is also available in a self-adhesive miniature sheet, with a border showing the star of Bethlehem.
2nd class ANNUNCIATION The angel Gabriel reveals to Mary that she will bear a son.
2nd Large JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, Mary riding on a donkey.
1st class HOLY FAMILY Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus, lying in a manger.
1st Large ANGEL A winged angel in golden robes looks down on the nativity.
£1.85 ANGEL AND SHEPHERDS The angel appears to shepherds, tending their flocks at night.
£2.55 MAGI Three wise men follow the star to Bethlehem, carrying gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh
ADDITIONAL PRODUCTS To avoid duplication, the presentation pack includes the sheet stamps only, not the miniature sheet. The text was written by Rev Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, exploring the relationship between timing and eternity.
First day covers come with a choice of a Tallents House postmark or one from Bethlehem, Llandeilo. Stamp cards are available as usual.
PRICES Set of 6 stamps £8.53 Miniature sheet £8.53 Presentation pack £9.45 First day cover (stamps) £10.90 First day cover (mini sheet) £10.90 Stamp cards £3.15
VERDICT COMMEMORATIVE WORTH 5/5 Christmas stamps are a tradition going back more than 50 years, to 1966, now entrenched in British culture
QUALITY OF DESIGN 3/5 The illustrations are bold, classy and colourful, if highly stylised
WOW FACTOR 2/5 With echoes of the 2021 and 2019 sets, this issue confirms that it’s hard to present the nativity story in an original way