Paquebot is an international agreement about Ship Mail that was developed in the days when international travel was all done by sea. Most journeys took at least several days so it was usual that the travelers onboard would want to write and send letters. Delivering mail posted at sea required co-operation from all different international postal services so they had to set up a system. It was agreed that, while in the open sea (neutral territory), each ship is territory of the country that owns her. Therefore a letter written on a British ship can use a British stamp, even when the British ship is far away from her home country. When the ship reaches a port, the officer is able to pass the mail to the local post office whatever the country and the mail will be delivered without any extra charge. In the 1890s, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) introduced "Paquebot" postmarks which had a common datestamp and the word “Paquebot” written by hand or stamped on to the envelope. Of course, this has very interesting implications for cover collectors.
[QM2 Cover] Paquebot postmarks are not only evidence that a cover has been carried onboard a ship and posted at sea. They are also very collectable postmarks in their own right. Unfortunately, when we tried to arrange Paquebot postmarks in 2004, we were told by Royal Mail and Cunard that although the principals of sending mail by ship remain the same, Paquebot postmarks are no longer in use. This QM2 cover with “posted at sea” cachet tries to recapture the feel of the Paquebot covers.
A block of stamps and pictures that make up a page of a Prestige Stamp Booklet or normal Stamp Book.
This refers to when a sheet of stamps has a line of small holes at the edges to make it easier to tear the stamps out the sheet without damaging the rest. Perforations are something of a tradition. Even recent self-adhesive stamps have had perforations for decoration although they do not need to be separated as they peel individually from backing paper. Perforations are a very important part of a cover’s condition. Most of our stamps arrive from Royal Mail in sheets of 25 or 50 and so one of our team has to separate all the stamps ready to be stuck on the cover. This can be a nerve-wracking job when you first start!
This was a new way of automatic letter sorting tested in the 1960s. Phosphor is a type of coating that was put on the stamps and could be recognised by machines. During the experimental period in the mid-1960s, commemorative stamps were issued two formats: with phosphor bands (phos) and without (non-phos). These days all stamps have phosphor coating (if it is missing it would count as an error). To see the phosphor you need to hold up any recent Royal Mail stamp to the light. The phosphor appears as dull strips on the stamp.
These are postcards that feature an enlargement of each stamp in a set. The British Post Office was one of the first to publish these cards. This led to the name ("PHQ" is short for Post Office Head Quarters). Early PHQ cards are very elusive to find as they were produced in such small numbers.
PHQ cards can be bought mint or with stamps and postmarks. The latter is a fantastic and unusual way of collecting new postmarks. From January 2004 to December 2007, we offered a PHQ Card service for each new issue set of stamps, where we stuck the matching stamp on each PHQ card (either on the front or the back) and arranged for it to get the most relevant and complimentary postmark available. We produced these sets in small numbers and some popular issues such as Lord of the Rings from February 2004, seem impossible to find these days. We sold out at the time. We stopped this service in 2007 to focus on our covers and stamp sheets and we have very few PHQ sets left in stock - but if you're after anything in particular, it is always worth asking us!
[Woodland Animals] This Woodland Animals PHQ card set shows a complete set of cards, with the stamps and postmarks on the back. You’ll see that the stamp matches the picture on the card and the postmark is relevant (eg. A badger postmark on badger card).
Miniature sheets on PHQ cards are a tricky one. The face value of the miniature sheet is the same as all the stamps in the set. This means that a single miniature sheet PHQ card costs the same as the entire matching set of cards. Because of this, we did not offer miniature sheet PHQ cards to start with. The first miniature sheet PHQ card we ever produced was for the 2004 Father Christmas issue and from then on, we produced miniature sheet cards by request only so they are very rare indeed.
Our holy grail of PHQ card sets are from the Classic Locomotives issue in January 2004 and as mentioned, the Lord of the Rings issue from February 2004. If you have any you want to sell, please email Betty.
PHQ Cards are also known as Stamp Cards or Maxi Cards/Maximum cards.
This is a special stamp used to collect a fee where a letter does not have enough postage on it to get it delivered. Getting these, especially the high values, can be tricky as you need to send it, without a stamp, from somewhere where you know an exact amount will be owed to delivery. Cover dealers have even been known to post covers from abroad to try and get the right postage due stamp.
These are cards or envelopes with the stamp already printed on them.
The postmark is one of the most important features of a cover. Stamps are cancelled by a postmark, which shows they have been used and can’t be re-used to send a letter. The postmark also shows the date and place where the item was posted. On a cover, the postmark should touch each stamp and link them to the envelope.
[Red Cross West Willow] Postmarks came to the foreground in the early 1960s, when collectors started to demand more interesting cancellations on their first day covers. For the Red Cross issue in 1963, a special Florence Nightingale cover was posted at her birthplace, West Wellow, which is now worth around £90-£100. The Botanical Conference issue of 1964 featured primroses on the stamps, so one cover dealer posted his covers at Primrose Valley. This kind of relevant postmark made a cover worth often ten times more than the same cover with a standard postmark issued by the Philatelic Bureau at Edinburgh (a place with no connection to the stamps).
These days anyone – cover dealers, organisations or even individuals - can sponsor a Royal Mail postmark. They need to design the postmark, get it approved by Royal Mail and then pay a fee. The postmark then becomes the property of Royal Mail and anyone is allowed to use it on their covers. This means that to a certain extent, most cover producers “borrow” other people’s postmarks. However, to be official”, a postmark has to be on the cover produced by the organisation that sponsored the postmark in the first place. All our official postmarks are designed by Cath Buckingham.
Royal Mail is very strict about postmarking. As well as meticulously checking all postmark designs before approving them, the Handstamp Centres (which is where postmarks get applied) will not postmark covers that arrive after the date on the postmark. Cover producers have to meet the deadline!
Pictorial postmarks are also known as Special Handstamps.
This is a new stamp postmarked on a date before it is officially issued. For every recent issue there is probably a cover somewhere in the country with an early date and these are worth a small premium.
Prestige Stamp Booklets or PSBs
This refers to a souvenir booklet that includes blocks or pages of stamps along with informational pages and illustrations. These are colourful and high quality. Some cover collectors like to specialise in PSB covers, where each whole pane is carefully torn out of the booklet, stuck on a cover and postmarked on the day of issue, producing a set of covers. Our PSB sets are usually produced in small numbers and make a very interesting niche in the collecting world. An example is this PSB set produced for the Jane Eyre issue in March 2005.