Sunday, March 02, 2008

Royal Mail's ups and downs

From the British magazines (Gibbons Stamp Monthly et Stamp Magazine), I read their reader's bad comments on Royal Mail's politic of the stamp. In a minimalist vision, the postal company seems to consider machine stamps printed at the postal counter to be sufficient for all franking, definitives Machins may be acceptable because some clients want to frank their mail themselves. Illustrated stamps, Countries definitives (with symbols of the four parts of the United Kingdom) and special stamps must be bought, collected, worshipped and unused, please.

On the philatelic stand at the London Stampex (27 February - 1 March 2008), I had the opportunity to see the two faces of the coin (that can happen in France?).

First, there were two types of counters on the stand: retail and philatelic. The first one sold quickly to collectors who saw the wished products on the walls : special issues, minisheets, "presentation packs" (the stamps with a cardboard note on the topic), and other luxuous objects such as books with a silver reproduction of the stamp (not for franking).

The philatelic counters announced clearly what the game is with panels: each philatelist could ask whatever he wanted to see for an hour... ?!!

The time I asked for advice to a very polite gentleman of the Royal Mail who was directing visitors and to queue at the retail counter, I discovered the activities taken place at philatelics: to cut and buy piece of definitive stamp sheets, cut how exactly they wanted, from any printer they wanted, in any form they wanted. At that moment, a man was asking for Countries sheets "without dot" by De La Rue. And, scissors in hand, he cut the sheet margin and detached the stamps he needed (the British mode seems to be a 45° cutting and a 6 or 8 stamp block).

If i believe that some members of the SO.CO.DA.MI., a French association specialised in following the printing process of French stamps, would appreciate such a service in France instead of hoping for kind employees in post offices and informators at the Périgueux postal printer plant, I wonder where went the pleasure of research. The Royal Mail succeeded to make an important financial income from a philatelic activity which would nerve any impatient postal clercks used to adhesive stamp machine, quick to print, quick to stick.

All this in a reciproc curtuous manner, with some humour and money went to the royal postal purse until the unaskable question was asked... Of course, I am the asker :)

As a rock in the shoe, I just bought three special series in their natural version, not in presentation packs like my huge French accent would have hint. But, worse, I want to put them all on mail. Here is come, of course, previsibly, inevitably, the question :

how much is the letter rate to France?

If you saw James Cameron's movie Titanic, you have an idea of the situation I put the crew of the Philatelic Service Ship Royal Mail stuck by an iceberg in the bay of Islington. The two women who were servicing me did not have the slightest idea... One of their masculine colleague remembered only the interior rate, but can approximate with the help of the Scout Centenary stamps the minimum I shouldn't use.

Visibly, the British philatelic service has difficulties to imagine that its stamps can be used on mail.

Greatness of the service, politeness and beauty of some issues: I bought the six stamp World of Invention series by press illustrator Peter Till, the six stamp Scout Centenary series by Gez Fry, and the 2006 and 2007 Lest We Forget minisheets. All to send my touristic postcards and letters to family and friends (not for the Great War rememberance I keep for collecting).

Not so great: with each of these four issues, you can't frank your mail without losing money. Six stamps with face value for 3 to 6 differents national or international rates. A saling staff that can't help you know how many penny Machins to buy. I frank with all stamps 48 pence and above (I noted the rate before travelling).

Finally, these salewomen did help me to find the European rate: go ask it in a post office... wonderful, Post Office will be the next story.

P.S. : a nuance, the Royal Mail issued special series with 1st class stamps only but they didn't interested me (see the « Great Britain 2007 » pages on the WADP Numbering System website).

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