Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Double-Zero Machin


These unusual Machins have caused a bit of a stir since they first appeared a few months ago. Certainly, they are not valid postage stamps, but it's not obvious at first what they are.

Of course, Douglas Myall has the answer. They were produced by De La Rue Security Print, the current primary printer of Machins. They were sent to other printers of Machins, including Joh. Enschede of The Netherlands and Walsall Security Printers in the U.K., for use in color matching. It is used during printing by comparing these labels with the stamps coming off the press.

Douglas Myall tells me that even though the printers get their inks from a specialist company (that presumably creates exactly the right color), it is possible for the color to change slightly during printing. The comparison of the printed stamps with these 00p samples is done by eye. There is some tolerance allowed, which is why there are shade differences in many of the issued Machins.

These zero-value labels (for that's what they are - they aren't really stamps since they don't serve as a receipt for the prepayment of postal services) were created after Royal Mail had De La Rue standardize on a dull (does not fluoresce) paper known as RMS.

The dark green color of this 00p Machin is used for the 2p Machin. There are two different printings of the dark green 2p Machin on RMS paper, one introduced in 2005 and one in 2006. The 2006 printing is usually called an "enhanced engraving." That's a story for another time, but the bottom line is that for some values, and the 2p is one of them, the shade of the "enhanced" stamp differs noticeably from its predecessor. The 2005 printing is cylinder D1 and the 2006 is cylinder D2.

With my untrained eyes, I compared this 00p Machin with the 2p Machins printed by De La Rue in 2005 and 2006. The 00p is not an exact match to either of the two actual stamps, but it appears to be closer to the D1 than the D2. This supports my theory (and it is just a theory) that the reason this group came onto the market is that it is the color group from the 2005 printings, and they were made obsolete by the 2006 printings. (We have to wonder if De La Rue created another set of these in 2006. Let's hope we find out someday.)

I would guess that the difference I see between the 00p and the D1 stamp is within Royal Mail's tolerance.

When these labels first appeared, they fetched up to £400 each. However, the supplies started to appear in dealers' stocks and the price settled to about £95 each.

Recently, Douglas Myall told me that Royal Mail has told dealers that these labels are considered Royal Mail property, should not be sold, and may be reclaimed by Royal Mail. I don't think, however, that individual collectors who purchased them are likely to be bothered. (At least I hope not!)

Finally, a question. Why bother? Why create a separate cylinder (or multiple cylinders) to print these labels? Why not just use actual stamps? Even if those stamps were to be distributed to the public, the loss of revenue would not be too great.

I have one possible answer, which is that these labels don't have phosphor bands, and maybe they are better for comparison for that reason. But is that enough of a reason to justify the expense? Or is there another reason?

--Larry

Update December 27: Douglas Myall notes that he has seen these zero-value labels in 34 different colors and speculates that there could be as many as four more. However, one of the four he mentions is ruby, which was not used until mid-2007 and probably wasn't yet developed when these labels were created in 2005.

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