In the November 24 issue of Linn's Stamp News, editor Michael Baadke (a Machin collector, by the way) raises an alarm about Royal Mail's addition of security slits to non-denominated Machins. The purpose of the slits is to make it impossible to remove a stamp once it has been attached to an envelope, thereby preventing fraudulent re-use.
Sadly, it is also likely to prevent a collector from soaking off and saving the stamp.
Baadke is concerned that this will discourage new and casual collectors who get a lot of their stamps from envelopes.
This has been a big topic recently here in the US. Last year the USPS gave printers the permission to use self-adhesive paper without a water soluble layer, making the stamps nearly impossible to soak off. The USPS claims that soakable paper is becoming harder to find and therefore more expensive. Many collectors are very unhappy about this and are saying that it deals a serious blow to the hobby.
Baadke asks, "Is it really possible that the British also plan to thwart stamp soaking, the one simple activity that leads an individual directly to becoming a stamp collector - and a Royal Mail stamp customer?"
I think Baadke's concern in the case of Royal Mail is a bit overdone, especially at this time. First, we won't really know about the soakability and savability of these stamps until they appear in February (though we can probably assume the worst). Second, at the moment it is limited to non-denominated Machins, which are probably only of secondary interest to beginning and casual collectors (though Baadke mentions that the Machins are "immensely popular").
This is of more concern to serious collectors of used Machins. There are quite a few of these, at least in the US, but certainly not enough to be of concern to Royal Mail. Since Royal Mail is accepting the added expense of creating the slits, they must perceive a net savings from the reduction in re-use.
An interesting question is whether Royal Mail will extend the slits to denominated Machins. Nothing has been announced, and perhaps they are waiting to see how well this works out on the non-denominated ones. Conversely, maybe the usage of denominated Machins is so small now that it won't be necessary to add the slits.
Baadke makes an interesting point in passing. He notes that the slits may "make canceling stamps irrelevant." If the stamp cannot be lifted from the envelope and reused, why bother canceling it at all? And if this is indeed Royal Mail's plan, that would make the slits a form of precancel. I wonder if the catalogs would list them that way.
Two other things are worth mentioning.
Royal Mail has stated that the stamps will be printed with "an iridescent ink with a security pattern on the darker background color around the Queen's head." I suspect Royal Mail means overprinted with the ink, in a manner similar to the way the high values are overprinted with Iriodin ink, but we will have to see.
The other part of the announcement that has gotten little attention is that the water-activated versions of these Machins are being replaced with self-adhesives. (I'm not sure if this is only for sheet stamps or for coils as well.) Could this be the beginning of the end of water-activated British stamps?