Friday, 23 December 2011

Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Stamp Catalogue Southern & Central Africa

I have been much anticipating the publication of the Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Catalogue covering Southern and Central Africa if only to see what the editor has made of the issues of Mozambique since the country joined The Commonwealth on 2 November 1995 and also to see how he was faring with making sense of the issues of Malawi over the past few years. As regards the latter, issues up to the European Union Projects set of 18 January 2011 are included with one or two omissions - the European Union miniature sheet which will follow no doubt, the 2nd SAPOA set featuring wild animals, originally scheduled for release in 2007 but seemingly delayed until 2010 and the Rotary stamps from ordinary sheets issued in 2005, the catalogue continues only to feature the miniature sheet for that issue. I remember that several people made bids of 2 - 300 US dollars on E Bay for the set of protected butterflies issued in 2007 and Gibbons now price the set at a mere £6.75p - somebody who spent such a lot of money on them must be feeling a little sick right now!
As regards Mozambique, the editor has had a brilliant stab at trying to make some sense of what the Mozambique Post Office is said to have produced since 1998. Many of the known surcharges have not yet been given catalogue numbers but at least lists of the various surcharge types are provided in the catalogue although they are a little difficult to find among the large number of foreign-agency produced stamps which were released from 1999 to 2004. The lists show that an enormous number of different surcharges were produced from 1997 to 2006 - so far 51 different stamps are identified - and the thought of attempting to obtain a fraction of these for one's collection is a daunting thought and no doubt there will be more for the editor to add to the list - I have several surcharged stamps which do not seem to be known to the editor and some of which I have illustrated in previous blogs so those alone increase the number of these items from the catalogue's current total of 51.
The dimensions of the catalogue make it much more user-friendly than many of the other earlier supplements to The Commonwealth Catalogue and the editor is to be congratulated on his work in producing this excellent book given the minefield that one or two of the included countries have posed. In particular I am especially pleased that he has consigned most of the 100's of thematic stamps produced by Mozambique since 2007 to an appendix, I only wish that he would retrospectively do the same with those produced from 1999 to 2004 but I suppose that having "catalogued" them it is rather difficult to "uncatalogue" them. Perhaps having appendicised about 147 different issues from Mozambique covering the period 2007 - 10 the editor may feel a little more able to similarly deal with a few other Commonwealth countries where the crimes of excessive issue are carried out if not quite to the extent that Mozambique has been guilty of. However the editor certainly showed double standards when he recently announced in Gibbons Stamp Monthly that he would continue to include in the Gibbons Catalogue any "prestige" booklets issued by Royal Mail in the future which are sold for above face value despite that completely contravening Gibbons' own rules for inclusion of stamps in the catalogue.
On that subject, and thinking about the future privatisation of Royal Mail, I think the Catalogue editor should begin to include stamps produced by other mail companies which have international validity and which therefore can not be dismissed as mere "locals" (though a similar status for the stamps produced by the Indian States did not prevent their inclusion in the Commonwealth Catalogue). The prime example of such stamps in Britain are those produced in booklets of 5 and freely available in various outlets, often at places of a high degree of tourist interest, by Universal Mail United Kingdom. Nearly all of the items produced have been available for use on international postcards although two booklets, each of 5 stamps and depicting the Union Jack, were issued in October 2008 and September 2009 respectively for use on letters being sent abroad. In July 2011, six more booklets were produced; of these three, each containing five different designs, were produced on behalf of "Historic Scotland", there are 2 (each with 5 different designs) which depict the Union Jack and British Historic Royal Palaces, and there is one (again containing 5 stamps) which depicts showing different famous road signs - Abbey Road, Oxford Road, Piccadily Circus, Trafalgar Square and Baker Street. These are tremendous items for the tourist trade; they are very interesting and colourful and are highly collectable and make great souvenirs for visitors to Britain. And from the philatelic point of view, must be seen as real stamps, freely available to the public for use on international mail and in consequence they demand inclusion in a catalogue of postage stamps.

The first Universal Mail United Kingdom booklet, no. UK0001, issued in October 2008. Note the inscription at the upper edge of the booklet saying "London Day 1st Edition Souvenir stamps".

One of the 2011 "Historic Scotland" booklets, no. UK0030, issued in 2011.

The road signs booklet, no. UK0034, issued in July 2011.

Finally, a little gem of post office worker vandalism - a cover I recently received with a "Post & Go" label from the 16 September 2011 birds (IV) set used as the stamp and lightly cancelled but then vandalised by a postal worker who drew a thick black line with a felt tip marker pen right across the stamp just to make sure you knew it had been cancelled and to ruin any pleasure that a stamp collector would have had from obtaining such a neat little cover. Honestly, who'd be a stamp collector? You have to be quite mad or at least a severe obsessive-compulsive with the patience of Job.

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