Sailing our First Day Covers

The life of a cover producer. What could be easier? Stick on the stamps, postmark it, finished. Only it doesn’t always go that way. Tony Buckingham, the man behind the UK’s top cover publishers – and the creators of the best selling Cunard range – explains.

“Let me tell you about producing covers. I won’t go into the more mundane disasters: printers going bankrupt half-way through printing your envelopes, works burning down, covers successfully printed and then sent to the wrong address. No, first let’s start at the beginning.

The Envelope

The first part of creating a cover is designing then printing the envelope. They arrive from the printers ‘flatpacked’ like Ikea furniture. We have to carefully fold each one and stick it into shape with glue before inserting the stiffening card.

If you are working with an organisation, there is always the chance that someone will change their minds after you’ve printed the envelopes and made them up! One time, we had to destroy several boxes after all the work because the featured artist decided he didn’t like the colours anymore. Even though he’d approved it beforehand.

Sticking the Stamps

Next stage: stick the stamps onto the envelope. how hard can that be? But our covers are collectables and will be kept as family heirlooms. Collectors want their stamps stuck on straight and with perfect edges or ‘perforations’. Badly stuck stamps don’t help the future value.

The Postmark

Postmarks are what make or break a First Day Cover. It was in the 1960s that connected postmarks became the hallmark of a desirable FDC. For the Red Cross issue in 1963, a special Florence Nightingale cover was posted at West Wallow, her birthplace.

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Covers for the Botanical Conference issue of 1964 postmarked at Primrose Valley are sought after because there were primroses on the stamps. But in the race to get a good postmark, so many things can go wrong. We had our covers postmarked upside down, so badly done you couldn’t do anything with them, and of course regularly with the wrong postmark all together.

Getting Autographs

Nearly every cover we produce has a signed edition. Our signatures are always genuine; we never ever use facsimiles or autopens. But organising signed covers is a challenge. Judging by helpful suggestions I get from our collectors, all we need to do is ask The Queen, the Pope, Tom Hanks, David Beckham etc and they will jump to it. Regrettably, this is seldom the case! I have raised over £1million for different charities through signed covers during my career, something that is entirely thanks to the generosity of thousands of celebrities let alone win their trust when there are so many charlatans out there taking advantage.

Commemorative Maritime Covers

Covers have been carried by ships since Victorian times, with illustrated maiden voyage covers starting in the 1930s with the Queen Mary, you could fill an album with these alone.

The various illustrations, ships’ postmarks and unusual countries they are posted in all make them very collectable. My tips would be to look for good condition and over time you will learn which are unusual illustrations. A good start could be to build up a collection of Cunard Maiden Voyage Covers, which are stocked in the bookshops on all three ships[at time of publishing], together with a range of other collectable subjects.

What a Carry On!

I love to make covers extra special and more collectable by arranging for them to travel. Our Cunard covers are far more travelled than I am in fact. But carrying covers is probably the biggest reason for my head of grey hair!

Trains have broken down, mail coaches have got lost, a fishing boat sunk (luckily before our covers were aboard), fog has caused havoc with helicopters and boxes of covers have fallen off a train.

This is just an overview of the pitfalls of cover producing. It is fun, scary and stressful, but at the end of the day, I love it so much that even when I got a chance to retire, I couldn’t resist starting up again”.

[Article originally published in ‘Cunarder’ March 2014]

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