When Is A “Used” Stamp Not A “Used” Stamp?

I have a firm belief that Philately involves three compomnent parts. There is the Stamp Collector. There is the Stamp Dealer. There is the Post Office. Inevitably there is a degree of tension. But Philately works best when there is mutual respect and even co-operation.

Post Office …Stamp Dealers…Stamp Collectors. We need each other.

It used to be so much easier. Few people take up Stamp Collecting as a hobby. It used to be a rite of passage for many schoolchildren (mostly boys) in the years after the Second World War. For a minority, it was a hobby which would endure a lifetime.

There used to be more Stamp Dealers in the major cities and towns. London, for example had many stamp shops located around The Strand and Leicester Square. While some stamp shops…not just in London….were rather unfriendly places in the 1970s and 1980s, personal relationships were built up and advice freely offered. Now as many Stamp Shops have closed, there are anonymous dealers operating on the Internet. There is no “personal touch”.

And there is the Post Office. And the Philatelic Branch within it. Once motivated primarily by “public service”, the Post Office around the world is increasingly motivated by “profit” and…some would argue…”greed”.

We ….Collector, Dealer, and Post Office…seem to have lost the ability or even inclination …to work together.

I collect Irish stamps. I have had only one difficult moment in nearly forty years of relationship wiith the Philatelic Bureau in Dublin…and frankly it was mostly my fault. Needless to say, I also built up a relationship with one or two postal clerks in small Irish villages. I quickly learned that some Post Office staff regarded Collectors as harmless, slightly eccentric  people and other Post Office staff considered Collectors as irritating time wasters.

The “trick” is to spot the difference.

I also collect “Northern Ireland Regional Stamps” and other “Irish-themed” Stamps and from 1970 to 2000, this meant occasional trips to the Philatelic Shop in the main Post Office in Belfast. It was a small part of the Post Office, selling philatelic accessories as well as British stamps (kept for one year after issue). It also kept Stamp Collectors well away from the main business in a very busy city centre Post Office. I expect that the clerk who was told “this week you are in the Philatelic Shop” might well have felt he/she had drawn the “short straw”. Generally speaking, it was not very busy except on “First Day of Issue” Day and the peculiar requests of the middle-aged men over-crowding the small unit.

I was not collecting stamps from 2001 until 2012. This means I recently bought a lot of Norn Iron “pictorial definitives” issued during those years and some required posting to get that “used” postmark. Not as easy as it seems.

A few weeks ago, I posted fourteen stamps to myself….seven envelopes with two stamps on each. All were delivered the next day but only eight stamps had postmarks which were usable.

What can I do? Well, “Royal Mail” has a “help line”. So on Thursday I phoned it and spoke to a slightly bewildered lady, who advised that I just put the three unfranked envelopes back in a mail box. They might get post-marked. They might not. But she could think of nothing else.

Frankly I dont think this is good advice. I was hoping for something more “definitive” ( no pun intended). I dont entirely blame the lady on the “help line”. These days few, Post Office staff encounter Stamp Collectors….in all our weirdness. If an answer to  a query is not readily available on the computer screen, nobody seems capable of coming up with an answer.

For what its worth, the staff in the local “big town” Post Office agreed with me that it was bad advice from the “help line” but they had no answer either only that I should probably do what the “help line” said I should do. So I re-posted the three covers on Friday.

Just after re-posting, I met a friend who is a postman. He said re-posting was a bad idea as the bosses in the sorting office will assume it was a lazy postman, who re-posted them. His solution…go to my local (village post office). The clerk will handstamp them. After all she handstamps for the postmen when they collect mail.

Yesterday…Saturday, the three covers were delivered. No additional markings. Just exactly as I had re-posted them.

So last night, I made an “official complaint”. I am NOT the kinda consumer who makes complaints. I need some kinda clarity. It should not be about the kindness of strangers …individuals in the Post Office who are going to go one step beyond what is strictly necessary.

Yes I am a Stamp Collector…rare in 2015… and let’s be honest here…stamps are notcutting edge technology. But there might just be something that can be done for the weirdos. If the Royal Mail Philatelic Bureau is centralised in Edinburgh and new issues are on sale as Presentation Packs in selected bigger offices, then surely there has to be a “cancellation” facility.

The Complaints Section at “Royal Mail” have sent me an acknowledgement and tomorrow morning, Monday, my complaint will be given to one of their case workers, who will let me have a reply in two working days. I dont envy the case worker.

What exactly is the answer? Best answer would be that I am advised to contact a local sorting office/mail centre and I can leave new issues on covers directly with the office.




About John

Dia Duit! Hello. My name is John. I am retired. I live in Ireland. I am on a five year mission to visit every city, town, village and place of historic and scenic interest in Ireland.
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