Saturday, 19 March 2011
Adding Insult to Injury
The Royal Mail announcement for the William Morris & Co issue on May 5 was recently published. That issue will include the second prestige booklet of the year. For the first time, Royal Mail will charge a premium over the face value of the stamps. The booklet will sell for £9.99 compared to face value of £9.04.
The history of prestige booklets is well-known to regular readers and experienced Machin collectors, but I'll provide a simplified review here. A prestige booklet is a large, colorful booklet, generally with four panes of stamps and several pictorial interleaves. Today, it generally accompanies an issue of commemorative (or special) stamps.
The booklet is primarily aimed at people who are buying the postal products because of their interest in the subject. It is not generally (or perhaps ever) purchased by someone who is just looking for stamps to frank a letter or parcel.
The booklet generally contains stamps that are in some way different from other issues, which means that anyone who wants a complete collection of British stamps needs at least some stamps from the booklet.
At least one pane in each booklet contains Machins, so many Machin collectors will require stamps from the booklet. The Machin pane from the Morris and Co booklet is shown above. It contains a three different Machins and a total of eight.
Collectors of Machin singles will need one each of the 5p, 10p and 50p, so if they buy the booklet, they will pay nearly £10 for 65p worth of stamps.
Collectors in the UK can, of course, use the other stamps on mail. Some of us outside the UK can also find uses for the stamps. However, these booklets are a costly inconvenience at a minimum.
Collectors can, of course, buy the stamps from a dealer. Dealers, however, have to cover their costs so generally the price of these individual stamps is relatively high.
To get back to the title of this post, the "insult" has gotten worse recently as Royal Mail has been issuing four of these overpriced booklets each year. And now they are adding "injury" by charging a premium over the value of the stamps.
On his page describing these stamps, Ian Billings of Norvick Philatelics valiantly mixes his metaphors and says that this premium price reminds him of the sound of a golden goose being shot in the foot.
But I wonder. We Machin collectors are a dedicated lot, and this premium, though annoying and insulting, probably won't be enough to deter too many of us. Others who buy the stamps, booklet, presentation pack, first day cover, stamp cards, etc. etc. because they are interested in Morris and Co and/or the thematic subjects of textiles and crafts are probably not going to be deterred by an extra pound. So I think Royal Mail will get away with this crime.
There is, however, one ray of hope. In 1993, Royal Mail announced that the Beatrix Potter prestige booklet would be sold at a premium over face value and even put the inflated price of £6.00 on the cover of the booklet. There were so many complaints that Royal Mail revised their plans and sold the booklet at the value of the stamps inside, £5.64.
But times change, and Royal Mail is desperate for revenue (even after the huge rate increase this year). I think this premium price will remain.
Royal Mail's issuing and pricing policies aside, there is one very noteworthy aspect to the stamps. From the image above, it appears that they will be self-adhesive. (Royal Mail didn't say whether they will be or not, but it certainly looks that way.)
This probably results from the fact that all other Machins are now self-adhesive - regular (non-prestige) booklets have been that way for a decade, and sheet stamps have been converted over the last couple of years. Only some water-activated gum coil stamps remain, presumably to be used in automated vending machines.
This year's first prestige booklet, the World Wildlife Fund issued on March 22, had Machins with water-activated gum. However, my guess is that all future prestige booklets will have self-adhesives. We will see.
Incidentally, Royal Mail's image shows no security slits and no security overprint. (It also shows colors that are not likely to be accurate.) Assuming the stamps are self-adhesive, they will almost certainly have the security slits.
The sheet version of the 50p stamps has the security overprint, but the 5p and 10p do not. Will Royal Mail do the same in this booklet?