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The nature and purpose of philately - the study of the carriage of mail and postal history in which the adhesive postage stamp makes quite a late entry - has produced a vast body of literature: books, monographs, studies, reports and articles. 

On these pages we will show a selection of excerpts or articles that have caught our attention: some old, some new, and with a strong element of serendipity. 



The word ‘philately’ is from the French. Georges Herpin, a philatelic writer, first used the term ‘philatélie’ in 1864.

At that time the study other terms were being used for the study of postage stamps and postal history derived from the French word for stamps - “timbres de poste”: these included timbromanie, timbromania", "timbrophily" and "timbrology".

Herpin stated that now that stamps had been collected and studied for the previous six or seven years and a better name was required for the new hobby. He used the Greek root word ‘phil’ or ‘philo’ meaning an attraction or an affinity, and ateleia, meaning "exempt from duties and taxes" to form a new term - "philatelie".

His proposition for this construction was that the introduction of postage stamps meant that the receipt of letters was now free of charge, whereas before the creation of postage stamps it was normal for postal charges to be paid by the recipient of a letter.

There was opposition to acceptance of this new term, ‘philatélie’, most notably from Dr. Jacques Amable Legrand (who used the pseudonym of Dr. Magnus). He was one of the founders in 1875 of the Francaise de Timbrologie, one of the most important philatelic institutions in France, and served as its first secretary. He preferred ‘timbrology’. But Herpin won the support of another famous French philatelist Arthur Maury and the term was adopted by the Société.

The French term became philately in English. Although philately and stamp collecting were often used interchangeably, 'philately' became increasingly used to distinguish ‘philatelists’ who were students of postage stamps, postal history, covers, cards and other postal material, from people who ‘collected stamps’.


There are many areas of philatelic research and study but here are four of the main areas. 

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Before the introduction of universal rates (in 1840 in the UK) the cost of postage was based on many factors such as weight, distance, route, and method of carriage - and could be pre-paid or paid on delivery. The marks associated with these calculations are a rich area of study.

This picture is taken from the Royal Mail (UK) website which updates the frequent changes to  current rates.



Postage stamps are produced by a variety of printing methods. The aesthetics of the design have to be balanced against the need to protect against fraud, and clarity for postal workers. Design and print errors, together with colour variations are another area of study.

This picture is taken from the Smithsonian Museum (USA) a web-site with a wealth of information:

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Postage tamps have been produced on a variety of materials - mainly on paper  but plastic, wood, and even thin metals have been used. Print technologies have evolved from intaglio to photogravure, monochrome to colour, and these provide an area of study.

This picture is taken from Stamboards we-site; a fascinating site for information and blogs.



Initially mail was marked by hand by postal authorities using manuscript and handstamps As the volume of mail increased due to universal postage rates and use of adhesive stamps cancellations became automated, and sometimes illustrated opening another area for study.

This picture is taken from the Colombes Philatelie web-site which contains a wealth of detail on marcophilie.


An ever expanding field of study

This definition gradually expanded and “Traditional philately” is now generally taken to include:

  • The processes used in stamp design

  • The types of paper used and how these were made

  • The method of printing (engraving, lithography, typography etc.)

  • The types of gum or adhesives used

  • The method of separating stamps (imperforated, types of perforation, rouletting)

  • Overprints or other additional marks added later

  • Any security markings, or perforated initials. ("perfins")

  • Postmarks, cancellations and other marks associated with postal services

  • Postal rates and regulations

  • Postal stationery

  • The study of forgeries, fakes, and reproductions

Other forms of study have since developed as specialisms in their own right, such as; thematic philately, aerophilately, revenue philately; astrophilately (mail associated with space exploration and usage) and maximaphily (picture post card complete with a postage stamp on the same theme and a relevant cancellation).

 Postcards are also now included in the philatelic canon when the study of the printing and publishing of the postcard is included in addition to the subject of the picture and its design.

The most recent addition recognised as part of philately is the new ‘open class’ philately where philatelic content is blended with non-philatelic material and ephemera to further a study. This opens opportunities to engage with research into local and social history. 

All these branches of philately are represented in the membership and activities of the Kingston and District Philatelic Society, as is the traditional ‘stamp collecting’.

For more detail see the pages on this site under “Annual Competition”.

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by Anirudh Sethi

There are many books on philately / stamp collecting / and the possibility both offer for investment. 

This is an unusual book which appears to have been written in the 1980's with a few additions made in 2019/2020. The examples used are mainly of stamps of the USA, although there are also some useful insights into the stamps of India.

Now available on Kindle (which means some illustrations are missing) it provides a good general overview of market factors which affect the value of postage stamps.  The emphasis is on informing the new collector / investor but it contains insights which may inform even experienced collectors. 

One very consistent theme is the importance of condition to the market value of a stamp, and the ways in this may be assessed. 

A second useful theme is the potentially misleading use of prices stated in catalogues as indicating the likely value of a stamp, and why this is the case.  

Here are a couple of extracts:

Getting started in stamps as an investment is unlike the securities market, and yet, it shares enough similarities to be considered for a diversification of one's investment capital. Before getting started it is important to differentiate stamp investing from the multiple participants who are in it as a hobby. Philately is overwhelmingly focused on these participants and looks almost with disdain on those who participate in it as investors. This is understandable if one ignores how the Internet has changed matters."

"Since the Internet, the possibilities for stamp investing have changed dramatically. In terms of buying, the auction process has exploded. Not a week goes by without an auction taking place somewhere in the world.  In fact E bay which has become a major player in the sale of stamps, is a perpetual auction for many of its offerings, albeit few of which would qualify as investment buys."

"condition, rarity and desirability are crucial to a stamp's likelihood of giving a financial return"

The book emphasises what might make an "investment buy".  Superb quality, rarity, market attractiveness, (note the term 'desirability' - some very rare stamps are not as valuable as those of which more copies are known because of this emotional factor) of  focus and integrity of a collection, research and knowledge etc. 


The section on grading is informative, and whilst mainly aimed at new collectors has some useful reminders for the more experienced. Definitions of stamps by Poor, Fair, Good, very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine and now Superb seem to make sense at a general level of understanding. But as the author points out it is the vendor not the purchaser who assesses the grade and the distinctions are ambiguous - especially when factors such age, usage, storage, type of printing, type of ink, quality of original paper, local climate, availability and desirability are factored in. 

Most collectors would use 'Very Good' as the minimum grade they would accept in their collections - unless they want to fill a space and a better quality is unaffordable? Or unobtainable? Or needed to complete a story? Or unless they are a thematic collector and the faults are invisible to the naked eye? etc. After all the 1c Magenta British Guiana stamp (just sold for over $8.3 million would be ranked as "Poor" in terms of condition. 


A problem in collecting stamps as an investment is that they are extremely perishable, and liable to damage even by expert collectors. ( Jack Shamash's comments in his book on George V and his collection points out in Chapter 13 that Sir Edward Bacon - an eminent philatelist - often did not remove old hinges when remounting a stamp and this accumulation damaged several stamps).

The section on faults in Sethi's book is therefore of of interest, not least because of the illustration of how many stamps are 'repaired' (thins  filled in, re-gummed, re-perforated, creases removed etc: and how to spot such restoration. Caveat Emptor. 

The article by Vincent Green further down this page on his experience in spotting faults when a novice in the stamp trade provides further  illustration of the dark arts that are present in the collection of stamps, especially valuable stamps. 


As a general rule stamps bought for investment need to be "Very Fine"; for very rare stamps to have a known provenance and certificate of expertisation;  and crucially are likely to be desirable in the market at a time when a sale might need to be made.

The traditional markets of investment grade stamps and postal history mainly (the 'classics' of the 19th Century), are referenced; but so are the newer markets based upon topic and theme. If nothing else this book is a timely reminder that philately continues to change and develop, and therefore values and the identification of investment opportunities also have to adapt. 


Some avenues for philatelic exploration

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This cover was one of many shown by Michael Pitt-Payne in his display to the Society in May 2021

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This cover was shown by Roger Niven in a short display made to the Twickenham Society in April 2021

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This sheet is from the display on "Insurance" made by Brian Sole to the Society in May 2021

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These items are from a display on maritime telegraphs made to the Society in November 2019


Not all philatelists (and stamp collectors) wish to take part in competitions. But some do, and find the discipline is a useful way to learn more about their chosen areas of interest: and a way of sharing their knowledge with others. 

The K&PDS classes for competition

Our annual competition groups these various areas of study into five classes which Members are encouraged to enter; but participation is not essential!

Class 1 (The Millenium Trophy) for postal history including aerophilately

Class 2 (the Harmer Bowl) for traditional philately including postal stationery and revenues

Class 3 (The Stanley Gibbons Cup) for thematic philately

Class 4 (The Thames Trophy) for open class philately

Class 5 (The Kay Horowicz Shield) for picture postcard philately.

We have had to postpone our competitions this year because of the Covid restrictions but we are hopeful of a return to 'normal' service in our 2021 / 2022 season - and may perhaps include an on-line entry class? 


Richard Lehmann writing in Forbes Magazine in May 2017

"This month I have done a study of new stamp issuance by the philatelic agencies worldwide in order to determine whether the flood of such issuance is a help or a hindrance.  What is clear to us all is that stamp issuance since 1950 has been more about marketing to collectors than issuing stamps for postal need.  While the Internet has seriously reduced the use of traditional mail, new stamp issuance for such purpose has increased 2.4 times the historical average for all active countries.  And the rate of issuance is accelerating.  In fact, looking at the issuance volume for 202 current active issuers, an astounding 88.7% of their issuance has taken place since 1950.  Now you know why the Scott Catalogue for 2017 will come out in 12 volumes.  While some may say, so what, there are serious unintended consequences.


It also adds the risk that stamp collecting will suffer the fate that befell lighthouse model collectors.  That market collapsed when new issuance volume overtook the number of collectors and raised their level of disgust to a breaking point.  While stamp collecting is a much broader market and will not fall as rapidly, the basic economic principal is the same; make too much of a product and the price and demand declines – even more so if the product is discretionary.


and a fascinating table of new issues in the month he researched. 

This article and other blogs by Richard Lehmann - all written from a 'stamp investment' point of view (and from a mainly USA perspective) may interest some of our members? A link is shown below.



This is the summary page of the W4 report by a group of renowned philatelists.

The full report may be viewed online; the link is shown below. 


Philately cannot surely limit itself to postage stamps and postal stationery and the history of their use, but must, in order to survive, also embrace the mundane. Although there is mechanised sorting and cancelling is done in increasingly fewer mail centres, the delivery of mail is still done by human beings. Hence annotations and instructions which adorn some covers will still be of interest. It needs a museum dedicated to telling the story of postal services to ensure that knowledge about modern changes is preserved (does the British Postal Museum fulfil this function?). Then as far as possible collectors of both traditional and new kinds of material will be able to benefit. If no one documents such material, we fear that exceptional collectors not following traditional directions will be “a voice crying in the wilderness”. Collectors will have to face listing what they find and passing on their knowledge. Philately follows the Post or the Mail. Philately starts with collecting and reaches its acme in understanding.

 Is philately really in decline? We do not know and are brave enough to say so. We ask our audience to tell us. Is the nature of many stamp collectors changing, in that they are becoming more introspective, and missing out on the social and collaborative benefits of membership of an organized Society? If so what steps might be possible to reverse this trend? Do we need to reverse it, or is it just the evolution of collecting fashions? Remember when Postal History was not fashionable? And Revenue collecting derided?

 New stamp-like postal stationery is now being used by companies. Most have a second-class Machin franking, but pictorials have been seen. This stationery is allied with an imprint identifying the contract, typically for a charity. We understand that the rules for introduction of such stationery are laid out on the Royal Mail website. This material seems to be more appealing to the collector. See Journal of the Postal Stationery Society which has recorded its appearance.

Could we interest younger philatelists to collect items which have come through the post, but which are not adorned with distinctive postage stamps? Where there are - supplies, lists, explanations, summer’s junk mail, some bulk mail. Rarity may provide an attractive span for collecting.

Are there sufficient activities available to instruct newcomers in the essentials of philately, and enable them to learn how to develop a collection? Are collectors, for example, encouraged to document ANY new discovery, so that the knowledge of it is not lost to posterity. How can new collectors find out about journals that are available? Are they taught that Auction Catalogues can often be an ideal adjunct to a reference book on a subject?

The Report by W4.  “A small group of philatelists designated W4. It represents the current view of the group W4 (Woking, Walton, Weybridge and Waterloo) is a small Surrey-based think-tank, established in September 2012 to discuss all matters relating to Philately and Postal History. It was founded by the late Professor Derek Diamond and Gavin Fryer, and consists of approximately 10 members. Membership is by invitation. This paper has resulted from a suggestion by the late Dr. David Stotter (a former member) that the group should make a positive contribution to the world of philately. This paper represents the current view of the group.

The membership of the group in 2018 was :- Michael Lockton (Chairman); David Beech MBE; Dr. Christopher Board OBE; Gavin Fryer RDP; Commodore John Keegan OBE, RN; Bernard Lardner; John Lea; Dr. Patrick Reid; Brian Sole.

 All current and former members of the group are or were Fellows or Members of the Royal Philatelic Society London.

View the full report at

© Copyright 2018 W4 Group However, the copyright will be waived in the event of full publication with acknowledgement


Changing the direction of philately?

The continued development of the Internet, improved connectivity and broadband, cheaper tablets and PC's was already having an impact upon the philatelic world. This has been accelerated by the restrictions on face to face events, meetings, and auctions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The 'new normal' after the pandemic eases will (hopefully!) see a return to face to face gatherings but it is also likely that many people will continue with some of the on-line activities they have come to adopt over the last eighteen months. 

Several introductory guides have been written (some paradoxically available in printed form) such as the very simple "first steps" guide by Luxman Perera - available on Kindle. 

These cover such basics as how to choose a device, get on-line, and progress to buying or selling stamps on-line, or engage in chat rooms or with blogs and podcasts. 

A parallel set of skills on appropriate software for capturing images or displaying philatelic material may be found from a variety of sources - or as is the case in our Kingston Society by just joining in one of our on-line meeting, 'having a go' and benefiting from the support and advice of fellow members. 

We still have a lot to learn but we are getting better! 

Below are illustrations of some of the major ways our hobby is adapting to theopportunities 

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The ability to buy (or sell) stamps through auctions and from dealers providing on-line services continues to grow apace. E Bay and Delcampe are probably the current major players for general auctions, and increasingly collectors are using dealers whom they trust and to whom they can return faulty or mis-described items.

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This picture is taken from the front cover of the France and Colonies Society Journal - and shows the participants in a  recent Zoom meeting. Kingston and District regularly attracts attendances of between 15 and 20 members; a nice number to have a chat with.

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Michael Cortese and Charles Epting are continuing their very popular series of H.R Harmer sponsored interviews with philatelists from around the world. but a quick search of the Internet will present many other interesting podcasts: as will YouTube.



As many of us become more adept as using software such as PowerPoint, and at capturing images on smart phones and scanners the opportunity to present displays on-line becomes easier - and has also proved a good way of recording a collection. The quality of entries in the latest "All About Stamps" one sheet competition (see the July 2021 Issue of "Stamp Collector" attests to the growing ease and familiarity many of us now feel in using this medium for our own collections.


Extracts from “Why I collect stamps” by Ayn Rand.  Published in the Minkus Stamp Journal, Vol. VI, No. 2 - 1971.

“I am often asked why people like stamp collecting. So widespread a hobby can obviously have many different motives. I can answer only in regard to my own motives, which I have observed also in some of the stamp collectors I have met.

The pleasure lies in a certain special way of using one's mind. Stamp collecting is a hobby for busy, purposeful, ambitious people ... because, in pattern, it has the essential elements of a career, but transposed to a clearly delimited, intensely private world.

A career requires the ability to sustain a purpose over a long period of time, through many separate steps, choices, decisions, adding up to a steady progression toward a goal. Purposeful people cannot rest by doing nothing nor can they feel at home in the role of passive spectators. They seldom find pleasure in single occasions, such as a party or a show or even a vacation, a pleasure that ends right then and there, with no further consequences.

The minds of such people require continuity, integration, a sense of moving forward. They are accustomed to working long-range; to them, the present is part of and a means to the future; a short-range event or activity that leads nowhere is an unnatural strain on them, an irritating interruption or a source of painful boredom.

Yet they need relaxation and rest from their constant, single-tracked drive. What they need is another track, but for the same train, that is, a change of subject, but using part of the same method of mental functioning.

Stamp collecting fulfils that need. It establishes a wide context of its own, interesting enough to hold one's attention and to switch one's mind temporarily away from exhausting problems or burdens.

In stamp collecting, one experiences the rare pleasure of independent action without irrelevant burdens or impositions. Nobody can interfere with one's collection, nobody need be considered or questioned or worried about. The choices, the work, the responsibility - and the enjoyment - are one's own. So is the great sense of freedom and privacy.

For this very reason, when one deals with people as a stamp collector, it is on a cheerful, benevolent basis. People cannot interfere, but they can be very helpful and generous. There is a sense of "brotherhood" among stamp collectors, of a kind which is very unusual today; the brotherhood of holding the same values, one seldom meets a person with whom one has any interest in common; most people today do not actually value or enjoy anything. Stamp collectors have a wide latitude of individual preferences, but the basic principles of the hobby are objective and clear-cut. A stamp collector would not reject the one-cent British Guiana on the grounds that it is unique ... and he would not exchange it for a dozen German Inflation stamps on the grounds that these were more fashionable since more people used them.

The pursuit of the unique, the unusual, the different, the rare is the motive power of stamp collecting. It endows the hobby with the suspense and excitement of a treasure hunt; even on the more modest levels of collecting, where the treasure may be simply an unexpected gift from a friend, which fills the one blank spot, completing a set.


In collecting, there is no such thing as too many stamps: the more one gets, the more one wants. The sense of action, of movement, of progression is wonderful; and habit-forming


When one turns to stamps, one enters a special world by a process resembling a response to art: one deals with an isolated and stressed aspect of existence; and one experiences the sense of a clean, orderly, peaceful, sunlit world.

When one turns to stamps, one enters a special world by a process resembling a response to art: one deals with an isolated and stressed aspect of existence ... and one experiences the sense of a clean, orderly, peaceful, sunlit world. Its rules and boundaries are strictly delimited; the rest is up to one's individual choice. But one does not choose blindly, one deals with firm, intelligible, changeless things. There is constant change in the world of stamps, and constant motion, and a brilliant flow of colour, and a spectacular display of human imagination; but there is no change in the nature and purpose of stamps. Nobody tries to claim, as people do in other fields, that a wilted scrap of lettuce from his garbage can is a superior kind of stamp. It is not the place for whims, it is not a world for those who like the chaos of undefinable, shifting, whirling, drippy emotions. It is a world for orderly, rational minds.”


An article from Sandafayre "the Stamp People" by Vincent Green

January 2019

As a child I would spend several weeks during the Summer holidays in Bournemouth, a large and reasonably well- heeled seaside town on the south coast of England. My grandparents lived there so as a holiday destination it fulfilled several family requirements at once, but it was also, alongside the City of Bristol, one of the stronger areas for stamp dealers outside of London. In fact the great Robson Lowe had part of his business there including an auction house.

During those delightful summers Bournemouth would host a large stamp fair. Proper booths housed dealers from all over the country including many of the biggest names in the business. I would wander around this event gazing at the beautiful and expensive stamps, my meagre pocket- money burning a hole in my pocket.

These were not the first stamp experts I had seen in action. My first and favourite stamp shop was in the Criterion Arcade in Bournemouth, I’d spotted an Ascension miniature sheet in the window which depicted mountains joined together in a single range across several stamps and had convinced my father to buy it for me. The chap in the shop, who many years later I interviewed for a job, was always welcoming despite my paltry spending power.

But it was that big stamp show where I first saw those dealers inspecting stamps and I recall mimicking some of this behaviour without really knowing what I was looking for!

I was eventually shown how to ‘look’ at stamps when at the ripe old age of 15 I began working at a stamp shop every Saturday. Some things cannot be taught as visual memory must be built over time and it’s only when a stamp appears different in comparison to all the others you’ve seen that you know you’ve ‘got it’. Perhaps the margins are too big for that particular issue or the colour is a bit strange, or perhaps the postmark is not of the type usually encountered on that stamp. Like many other areas in life, there’s nothing like experience!

However there is a definite skill in properly inspecting stamps beyond deciding if the basic appearance appeals to your eye. My old boss Ken Sandford (who named the firm) gave me my first lesson when he took a mint stamp from an approval book I was filling with stamps:

Boss “Tell me about the condition of this stamp”

Me “Errm, looks OK”

Boss “Is this stamp clean? Does it have blemishes?”

Me “No, it looks like a nice stamp”

Boss “We’ll see young man, we’ll see. Does it have all it’s perforation teeth?”

Me “Yes!”

Boss “Is it creased?”

Using my tweezers I tilt it toward the window, shining the light along the flat, smooth gummed surface “Perfect, no creasing”

Boss “Now do it again but check the front”

I turn the stamp over and tilt it towards the light which danced across the Queens face, I’m expecting to see the same flawless surface yet there is a diagonal crease across the stamp

“Umm, there’s a big crease…”

Boss “Do you know why there is a crease on the front but not on the back?”

I give him a blank look.

Boss “It’s had new gum brushed over the back and it’s hiding the crease”

I flinch, I can feel my face getting hot.

Boss “Now feel the stamp”

I’m imagining some sort of Jedi mind trick.

Boss “Why are you making that strange face?” he picks up the stamp and holding it between both fingers on the flat sides, not the perforated edges, he gently slides it between his forefinger and thumb whilst slightly flexing it “make sure your hands are dry and clean, your fingers are so sensitive that you should feel any imperfections. Now you try”

Just like my boss I hold the stamp in my tweezers and run my fingers over the stamp ever-so slightly flexing it as I go, I do this in several directions and it’s incredible “I can feel that crease!”

Boss “Anything else?”

Me “Yes, there’s a lump too!”

Boss “Correct. It’s had some sort of damage, either a thinned patch or a hole and it’s filled with something” he motions at the stamp again “now hold it to the light”

I hold it to the window but this time to allow the light to pass through the paper. Instead of a watermark there is a darker patch, just where I’d felt that lump “Yes, I see it now”

Boss “Right. Now take that magnifier and look at the design, especially the right- hand frame line”

“Umm.. it’s a bit of a different colour, but you can’t really tell without using the glass”

Boss “Correct, someone has repainted that frame line for some reason, the surface of the stamp was probably damaged and it’s been ‘improved’

I’m really in trouble now, just how damaged is this stamp?

Boss “Now look at the perforations down that side and tell me how they look”

I use the glass again, following my boss’s example I draw the small lens near my eye and anchor it as I move the stamp “they look fine”

Boss “You idiot. Look at the 5th and 6th holes”

I simply didn’t know what he wanted me to see, or say.

He’s getting impatient now and sighs, plainly disappointed with this stupid youngster “they are not perfectly circular holes; someone’s used some sort of tool to deepen the holes and make the perfs look longer!

I am now looking at a perfectly attractive mint stamp which turns out to have been creased, re-gummed, repainted, repaired and with enhanced perforations. It’s like the 6 million dollar man but worth less because of all the engineering, not more. My face must be glowing.

Boss “Do you know why I’ve shown you this?”

I’m 15 and really can’t figure out the answer which will cause me the least amount of trouble. Such is the mind of a schoolboy.

Boss “Because you put this stamp in an approval book and we might have sold it to a customer but at least I remembered to check your work. Our job is to protect our customers because they feed us!”

There followed a look which would make Paddington Bear wither and a request that I make him a cup of tea.

He was right about our responsibilities to you, our clients and the reasons that I’ve played out this little episode of my early professional life is to hopefully entertain (I suspect many of you will recall beginning work at a time when your sensitivity to being told-off was not something your boss worried about!) and to also make the point that you should be careful where you buy your stamps from! We’ve been seeing some very badly graded stamps recently, often purchased from online sellers with little knowledge of philately, so stick with the professionals whilst honing your own skills and collecting will remain a pleasure and not a minefield.

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Sandafayre.

From "Philately will get you everywhere"

Published by the Daily Express; the full article is available to read on their web-site at

According to experts at Stanley Gibbons, the world’s biggest dealers, .....the hobby is on the increase and, internationally, there is a veritable boom. Stamps are the third most traded commodity on eBay and prices are going sky high. In the UK the reason for this is partly because the baby boom generation, who took up ­philately at school, are returning to the hobby in their retirement.....

Interestingly, equating collecting with anorak types is a peculiarly ­British association which does not happen elsewhere.

“In India for example, where the stamp market is going through the roof, there is no stigma attached to it,” says Heddle. “Actually, there’s the reverse. There’s a degree of pride in collecting things. The same is true in other European countries such as Italy. I was at a stamp show 18 months ago in Rome and I was gobsmacked by the number of beautifully dressed thirtysomethings coming around, checking out the prices of stamps on their iPads and smart phones and then coming over to buy."

The article,  written by Julie Carpenter was published on 11 Novermber 2011. It contains other interesting observations and quotations from  interviews with industry experts on the international dimensions of stamp collecting, the opportunities (and pitfalls) of stamps as an investment, and emphasises that it is a hobby which people love. 

The extracts from the article above are reproduced by kind permission of The Daily Express.


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January 10, 2010

The increase in postal rates in January 2021 seems to be an appropriate time to briefly describe what is now the longest running series of GB definitive stamps.

In 1964 Arnold Machin (a sculptor and designer) was chosen to design a new Queens head for decimal coinage to be introduced in 1968.  In 1966 the Queen approved his new design for the new stamp definitive issues to be released on 5 June 1967 using sterling currency.

Four years later a decimal currency set of 12 values was released on the 15th February 1971 - ironically coinciding with the national postal strike which took place from 20th January to 7th March 1971.

Since then the ‘Machin’ stamps have remained as the design for the UK definitive issues, changing values and colours as postal rates have risen, and utilising new developments in printing and stamp related technologies. To date there have been some 160 different stamps issued in the 21mm v 24 mm size series.

The issue has therefore seen many variations over this period of more than fifty years in colour, value, gum, phosphor banding, iridescent overprints, perforations, underprinting, and printing methods (Photogravure, Intaglio (Engraved), Typography, Electro-Mechanical Engraving (EME Gravure), and Embossing).

It is estimated that there are over 5,000 such variations. The Deegham Handbook (now issued in a DVD) by Douglas Myall is regarded as the ultimate guide to identifying and cataloguing all Machins. Douglas sadly passed away in January 2019 but his handbook is still available via

In addition, for other countries and regions within the United Kingdom, additional symbols have been added to the basic design (designed by Jeffrey Matthews).

In 1989, as a workaround to the problem of fast-changing postage rates textual inscriptions "1st" and "2nd" to indicate class of service were introduced to replace the numeric value applicable to these rates.

1993 saw the introduction of both self-adhesive and elliptical perforations on the lower vertical sides of the stamps, the latter as a security measure.

Given the longevity of this stamp issue the Post Office has become increasingly concerned at the loss of revenue through forgeries, or the re-use of stamps that have escaped cancellation when being processed by machine.

The elliptical perforations are both difficult to print (by a forger) and make it almost impossible to remove used (but unfranked) stamps from covers without damage.

Other security features include a tiny change to the background printing of "ROYAL MAIL" where one letter is replaced to identify the source of the stamp. For example, instead of "ROYAL MAIL" in one place in the upper right of the stamp is printed "FOYAL MAIL" to indicate that that stamp came from a booklet of four stamps.

These security codes evolved further in the year 2010 when a year code was included as well; e.g. MBIL/M11L means that the stamp came from a Business Sheet in 2011.

The other source codes are as follows: 

 MCIL- From Custom Retail Books with four Machins and two Special or Commemorative Stamps, 

MFIL- From Books of Four, 

MPIL- From Prestige Books, 

MRIL- From Coil Stamps in Rolls, 

MSIL- From Books of Six, 

MTIL- From Books of Twelve, and

No source codes at all for Machin Stamps from Counter Sheets, though these do carry year codes.

Another security code was introduced in 2016 with all self-adhesive stamps having a Security background printing in Grey of "ROYAL MAIL".

These variations in code add another level of complexity for would be forgers, and also allows the Post Office to speedily identify the source of any problems in production.

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January 10, 2010


The January 2021 increase in postage continues a recent trend of annual increases. The Post Office argues that a general reduction in mail, consequent upon E mail and the growth of social media, makes it more expensive to maintain universal delivery next day throughout the UK.

Together with machine paid labels (instead of postage stamps), and the recent trend in postal sorting offices cancelling stamps by pen, it reduces the number of stamps seen on an everyday basis by potential collectors (especially young ones), and the number of fine CDS copies.

The following is a brief list of the increase in UK letter rates since 1980:

Year                Weight                         First Class       Second Class

1980                up to 60g                     12p                  10p

1985                                                    17p                  12p

1990                                                    22p                  17p

1995                                                    25p                  19p

2000                                                    27p                  19p

2005                                                    30p                  21p

2010                up to 100g                   41p                  32p

2015                                                    63p                  54p

2019                                                    70p                  61p


85p                   66p

An article and detailed table of rate changes between 1980 and 2012 may be found on the Guardian web-site at


By Brian J.  Birch (2018)

This extraordinary work is available on-line, although there are bound copies in selected libraries, such as in Abchurch Street in the library of the Royal Philatelic Society. 

The best way to describe the scope and scale of this reference work is to quote from the forward:

The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion is essentially a Bibliography of Bibliographies arranged according to subject. It was originally laid out as an aid to philatelic bibliophiles but it quickly became evident that the information requirements of the bibliophile virtually coincided with those of the librarian. Accordingly, the order of the contents has been revised so that subjects of co-incident interest occupy the initial part of the work whereas items primarily of interest to the bibliophile (e.g. Section 6, The Philatelic Literature Business) are placed to its rear. An essential feature of a work of this nature is that it is both flexible and open-ended. It must be flexible enough to allow new subjects to be introduced into its body or for existing sections to be sub-divided to facilitate its clarity and enhance its usefulness.

In addition, it must accommodate articles and data which have been overlooked or not even published yet. As it has now developed, the purpose of this document is to be a compilation of references which will guide bibliophiles to the primary sources of philatelic information and thus aid their researches.

In addition, the Section on Library aids is intended to assist in interpreting the information obtained.

This stupendous compilation of references to philatelic literature, and its authors, is an invaluable source for those engaged in philatelic research.

As a footnote it is pleasing to see that the Kingston and District Philatelic Society has its own reference - to the production of a Golden Jubilee booklet and catalogue in 1977, marking the Society's jubilee in the same year as the Queen's Silver Jubilee. (Page 268). 

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