A few months ago, the first edition of a presentation pack catalog was published. This was produced by a dealer, Packs & Cards, located in the town of Fleet, about 40 miles southwest of London. Their web site is www.packsandcards.com.
Presentation packs usually do not get much attention in the philatelic world, but once in a while they are noteworthy. A presentation pack consists of a folded card with information and illustrations relating to the stamps, a stock card with the mint stamps, and a clear plastic sleeve. The stock card is tucked into the information card such that when the information card is folded, the stamps are visible along with the title panel of the card. In recent years, special issue stamps are mounted on the information card itself, rather than a separate stock card, though definitives are still produced the old way.
The first packs, now called Forerunners, were created in 1960 and were simply envelopes containing Wilding definitives. These are rare and expensive. The first pack in the current format was created for the 1964 Shakespeare issue, and it was very successful, selling over 100,000 copies. Royal Mail has created a pack for all new stamps since 1976.
There are two sizes of packs. The packs from 1964 to 1981 are roughly 6 1/2 inches wide and 4 1/4 inches tall when closed. Most of the packs open horizontally, but some are vertical. Starting in 1982, the packs were enlarged to 8 1/2 inches wide by 4 1/2 inches tall, and all open vertically.
A lot of effort no doubt goes into the design and development of the packs. There is now a machine that automatically stuffs the stamps into the packs, so the number of packs sold must be high enough to justify the development and operation of the machine. (see note below)
Presentation pack have been listed in some stamp catalogs, including Gibbons' Concise, the Stoneham, and the Machin Collectors Club Catalogue. However, this new catalog is the first solely devoted to officially packaged stamps. Besides presentation packs, the catalog includes almost everything issued by Royal Mail in a package. Such items include year packs (containing all special issues for a specific year), year books, annual miniature sheet collection packs, and reproduction packs (containing reproductions of classic issues such as the Penny Black). Also included are format packs, which are packages of a single stamp in a specific format such as a gutter pair or cylinder block, or occasionally a miniature sheet. Some privately produced packs are listed as well.
The catalog has an introduction, a description of the numbering scheme, a brief history of presentation packs, and a description of the different categories of packs.
The catalog shows the number of packs sold through 1979, at which time the British Post Office stopped publishing that information. The largest selling pack to that time was 1979 Christmas, of which over 400,000 were sold. In an article in the May 2014 issue of the Philatelic Bulletin, it is stated that Tallents House sells 1.3 million presentation packs each year. That's an average of around 100,000 per pack.
The catalog also includes prices, which the editors state “are a guide to the price you might expect to pay for each item in good, clean, undamaged condition.” Packs & Cards included its own price list with the catalog, and not surprisingly, its selling prices are lower than catalog prices, sometimes substantially so. The 1964 Shakespeare pack is listed at £24 but Packs & Cards sells it at £14.50. Rushstamps, who sells packs, also has lower prices than the catalog.
As with most catalogs, it is the relative prices that are more interesting. The difference between £14.50 and £24 is not very consequential. What’s more striking is that the 1964 Forth Road Bridge pack, issued a few months later, catalogs for £375.
This is explained by the quantity issued. The Shakespeare issue was very popular, and many packs were sold as noted above. Only 11,450 of the Forth Road Bridge pack were sold, so it is much scarcer today.
Other pricing anomalies show up. Most of the packs of the 1990s and 2000s are cataloged under £10, but the 2001 Nobel Prizes and 2002 Bridges of London are £24 each. More well known is the Welsh version of the Princess Diana pack (created because she was the Princess of Wales), which lists for £55.
The Machin pack shown here is also interesting. It is the second pack to include these particular high values. The first was issued in 1977 at the time the stamps were issued. This pack is in the older, small format and is fairly common, listed at £18. This revised pack was issued in 1987, only a year before those stamps were replaced by the high value Castles. Apparently, only a few people bought the pack at that time, but now it is in great demand. The catalog shows it at £160, Packs & Cards sells it at £110, and prices on eBay are over £100.
This catalog is a useful addition to the literature about modern British stamps. I look forward to future editions.
*Note: Robert Bostock, writing in The Bookmark Journal (publication of the Modern British Philatelic Circle), recently noted that many of the stamps in the presentation pack are creased by the machine that inserts them. This renders the stamp worthless philatelically. He has had difficulty in getting those stamps replaced with undamaged copies. Ian Billings also wrote about this on his blog when he discussed the new catalog.