Illustrated Machin Decimal Stamp Booklets. .


Pictorial Booklets of Great Britain. Part 1.

With Walter Owen.

The end of an era

The demise of pictorial stamp book covers.

"In January 1996 Royal Mail will introduce a new style machine vended book cover, the design of which will integrate the machine books into Royal Mail's corporate image. The outside cover will have a red background, Royal Mail corporate logo, the price of the book and a list of contents. The inside cover will carry relevant postal information. New £1 and £2 books containing four or eight 25p definitive stamps, printed by Questa with two phosphor bands (blue fluor) will be available from the Bureau and Post Office Counters philatelic outlets from 16 January. The new books will be available from vending machines as supplies of the books with pictorial cover designs are used up. The introduction of pictorial stamp book covers was announced by the Postmaster General, Edward Short (now Lord Glenamara) when he opened Stampex in March 1968. The first book - 10s showing David Livingstone (Fig 1) was issued on 25 March, followed by 6s (Kingfisher) on 4 June, 4s 6d (Cutty Sark) on 1 July and 5s (Ightham Mote) on 27 November. Pictorial covers for the machine books started in February 1971 (Fig 2). Pictorial covers for counter books were discontinued in 1988, superseded by the red 'window' books."

'British Philatelic Bulletin - December 1995'


The subjects illustrated on the booklet covers were many and varied, with such diverse topics as ships, birds, famous people, buildings, canals, aircraft, motor vehicles and more. In this and later articles I will look at the covers and try to match the themes used in a sort of 'Mix and Match', starting here with Postal History.

On May 6th, 1981, the British Post Office issued the first in a series of booklets with pictorial covers illustrating 'Postal History'. These booklets seemed to be an ideal way of combining stamps, booklets and postal history into one collection/exhibit which may be of interest to more people than any one of the subjects on its own. The cover of number 1 in the series showed a 1d black, which was also issued on May 6th , but in 1840.

Booklet number 7 of that series was issued on February 16th 1983 and illustrates a 'twopenny blue' and also a 'Bishop Mark' which was introduced by the Postmaster General, Henry Bishop, in 1661. (Fig 3)

Costing £1.43 the booklet contained a mixed value pane of 10 Machin definitive stamps, 6 at 15½p, two band phosphor (first class) and 4 at 12½p, one phosphor band at left on two stamps and at right on two (second class). (Fig 4)

These booklets were issued with the binding selvedge to the right and to the left. On this copy the selvedge is at the right and it shows the ink cylinder numbers B4/B2 and the phosphor cylinder B50. The phosphor cylinder is plainly visible under ultraviolet light but it is usually possible to see it by holding the booklet at an angle to the light and using a magnifying glass. Although I may seem to be taking this booklet out of sequence, the Bishop Mark is the earliest mark on the series so I am using it first.

Bishop Mark

The first type of British postmark was introduced in 1661, at the London Chief Office, in Bishopgate Street, while Henry Bishop was Postmaster General from June 1660 till April 1663.

When refuting charges of delays in the post, he claimed:-

"A stamp is invented, that is putt upon every letter shewing the day of the moneth that every letter comes to this office, so that no letter Carryer may dare to detayne a letter from post to post ; which, before was usual."

The Bishop marks varied in size and in lettering and they remained in general use until 1787 with survivals into 1788. The original Bishop mark consisted of a small circle, bisected horizontally, with the month abbreviated in the upper half and the day of the month in the lower half. The lettering became sans serif later, the month being transferred to the lower semi-circle. The letter illustrated was sent from London to Thomas Heron Esq, Chilham Castle, Kent, is dated April 2nd 1782 and bears not one but three examples of the Bishop Mark for 2 AP, two on the front and one on the reverse. (Fig 5)

The red circular FREE marking was used for the Parliamentary Franking System. The origin of this system was a decree by the Council of State in 1652, by which correspondence to and from Members of Parliament and of certain State Officials was permitted to pass free through the post. The first type in use had the letter F larger than the other letters but later all the letters were the same size as in this example. There were other changes in style of marking including the introduction of dated 'Free' stamps in 1791 and the system lasted until January 1840, when the Uniform Penny Postage was introduced.

Twopenny Blue.

Also issued on May 6th 1840 the twopenny blue is a complex issue. The 1840 - 1854 and the 1850 - 1864 series were imperforate, had letters in the lower corners only, had a small crown or a large crown watermark and did not have plate numbers in the design. There were different types and to complicate matters further, different alphabet types used for the lettering. The 1858 - 1880 series were perforated, had letters in all four corners and had plate numbers incorporated into the design. Not a field to be entered into lightly! Unless you have a lot already or have bottomless pockets, cost alone would prohibit forming a reasonable collection. Fig 6 shows a pair of imperforate twopenny blue stamps with small crown watermark and letters in the bottom corners only - lettered J A J B. Being imperforate the Post Office official would have had to cut the stamps from the sheet with scissors, and, usually being busy, would not take too much care.

In this case, part of the next row of stamps are seen at the bottom. Guess why there is a 'premium' charged for good four margined examples of this type of item?.

For this article I have used the type of mark and the stamp illustrated on the cover. For a greater challenge I could try to find a Bishop Mark of 17 AP as illustrated and a twopenny blue with the corner letters R I. Great Britain is only one of many countries to issue booklets with illustrated covers. How about looking at one of your own booklets, find a topic that appeals and follow it up in this way. Who knows, it may lead to a whole new interest, philatelic or otherwise.


British Philatelic Bulletin.
Stoneham catalogue of British Stamps.

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine, April 2000.
Copyright EARS Leisurewrite 1996.

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