I was surprised to open the pages of the January 2013 Gibbons Stamp Monthly, a frequently dull but anodyne publication, to find an article printed inside which had a few rather vicious things to say about the CASCO Philatelic Agency. Under the title "Tristan Da Cunha: A Change of Agents Heralds a New Era for Philately", the article is mainly centred around how important a role the author of the piece, Peter Jennings, played in convincing the Tristan Da Cunha Post Office to change its philatelic agents. He highlights how a number of territories have changed the agency they employ from the Crown Agents/CASCO to Pobjoy Mint Ltd starting with the Falkland Islands in 2004 up to 2012 when Tristan Da Cunha and British Virgin Islands followed suit.
The author pinpoints the takeover of the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau by Harry Allen in 2007 as a root of the agency's problems and quotes himself from the time of the take-over, "Will the take-over of the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau - for that in reality is what it is - benefit stamp collectors?" and then goes on to answer his own question, "The answer is an emphatic no! Collectors have only to look through the Tristan da Cunha pages of the latest Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue and see some of the irrelevant and poorly designed and produced stamp issues that would, if they have not done so already, had a negative impact on the number of stamp collectors buying new issues"(it seems the editor should have done a little more work reviewing the grammar in that sentence). He goes on, "Also, little was done to promote the stamps as they were released, and opportunities to get press coverage were lost". This represents a stinging attack on CASCO and suggests that the agency is not up to the job of producing and marketing stamps in this modern era. It is certainly true that their customers seem to have fallen out with them as they now list only a dozen client territories on their website whereas there was a time when the Crown Agents could number their client postal administrations in scores. Personally, while I think it is true that some of the client territories have had a number of sets of stamps produced on their behalf whose subject matter has no real relevance to them, I do think it is quite unfair to say that CASCO stamps have been "poorly designed and produced"; the stamps always seem to be very well printed and frequently very well designed, often in the past by designers which the Pobjoy Mint's stamp producers, Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd. themselves now seem to employ.
Peter Jennings tells us that "the appointment of Pobjoy Mint did not just happen and here for the first time is the inside story of the role I played in helping to bring it about". He goes on to detail how a representative of the Tristan Da Cunha government sought out his opinion about changing Tristan's philatelic agents and how he passed on a written proposal to the representative which included the statement "In my view matters got worse once CASCO took over the account from The Crown Agents Stamps Bureau - the number of stamps issued increased and some of the stamps had little or nothing to do with Tristan da Cunha, which in turn puts stamp collectors off collecting new issues released by the Territory. Neither the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau nor CASCO appeared to put much effort into promoting the stamps of Tristan da Cunha". Strong stuff. I can not recall Gibbons Stamp Monthly being so critical of a philatelic agency before, and I can think of one or two bigger sinners whose stamps continue to be catalogued by the Gibbons Catalogue editor.
One of the suggestions in Jennings' proposals is that the annual face value of Tristan stamps should "not exceed £35, excluding miniature sheets". That seems rather a large amount of money to me. The cost of all stamps (under the direction of CASCO) issued by Tristan in 2007 was £18.20p, in 2008 the total was £23.05p, in 2009 the total was £21.20p, in 2010 the total was £17.90 plus £9.72 for the new definitive series (year total £27.62p), in 2011 the total was £24.65p and in 2012, the total face value has been £24.35. If Tristan Da Cunha follow Jennings' advice, collectors will find themselves spending £10 more per year (plus the cost of miniature sheets which he does not include in his £35 total) on their Tristan purchases. Well done, Mr. Jennings. It seems that from a collector's point of view, CASCO are not such a bad thing after all. Jennings informs us that Pobjoy Mint are planning 6 stamp issues for Tristan next year and in truth the face values revealed seem to be similar to those produced by CASCO. I have praised Pobjoy Mint in the past for their excellent approach to stamp issues so I am sure that the change of philatelic agency for Tristan will be atraumatic for interested stamp collectors.
It is worth seeking out the January 2012 edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly to read this unusually aggressive article and to see an item by Peter Jennings, one of the magazine's regular contributors, which, for once, does not include at least one photograph of himself.
Another territory whose philatelic outlook seems to have changed in the direction of severely limiting new issue output is Dominica which, as far as I am aware, has not issued any commemoratives in 2012. As it is almost Christmas, I depict its most recent commemorative issue which was released on 1 November 2011 - 3 stamps for use on Christmas mail:-