Will Postage Labels Be The Death of Stamp Collecting?
The next experiment after the short lived FRAMA labels was the, so called, "Weigh & Pay" machine. These machines issued white postage labels similar to the Horizon labels produced at Post Office counters. By January 2007, trial "Post and Go" machines made by Pitney Bowes and Fujitsu were installed in Belfast, Birmingham and Maidstone. Plain white labels were issued for all types of mail and, later on in 2007, more machines were located in Clapham Common, Bristol, Manchester (Gorton), Doncaster, Sunderland and South Shields.
It was during October 2008 that the Wincor Nixdorf "Post & Go" machines replaced the trial machines and these are now sited in a large number of Post Offices throughout the UK. The machines can currently produce postage labels in two formats. Black and white labels for immediate use and stamp-like labels bearing the distinctive Machin design of the Queen's profile are issued for use at any time. These stamp-like labels were at first known as "Fast Stamps" but this has now been dropped in favour of Post & Go Stamps.
17th September 2010 marked the arrival of the first Post & Go Stamps bearing images. These were issued from machines located in thirty post offices around the UK. The first pictorial Post and Go Stamps featured colour illustrations of garden birds. Because Post and Go Stamps are printed in se-tenant strips of up to five stamps it is possible to make up several different se-tenant strips of the stamps in a different order.
While many collectors will choose to ignore such items because, in their opinion, they're "not real stamps", I see modern UK postage payment methods and labels like Post & Go or self printed Smartstamps, as just another step along the evolutionary timeline of British postal history.
This history started well before 1840 when the first "postage label" was introduced now known as the Penny Black. Before the postage stamp arrived, stampless mail was still being delivered quite efficiently although receivers usually paid the cost according to distance and postal markings - either handstamped or manuscript - indicated mileage, price etc. Postal reform led to the penny postage rate paid by senders and paved the way for mail services to become accessible to all. This in turn spurred on the development of labels - stamps as we call them now - so I don't see why collectors need either fear or resent the arrival of new technologies and change in postage payment methods.
Just like perforations, franking machines, phosphor coated papers and self-adhesive stamps the postal service continues to adapt to modern demands. So I argue that collectors should embrace the changes and also adapt in order to continue telling the story of the postal service via our collections. One day soon - just like postage due stamps for example - I expect the traditional sender applied postage stamp will vanish altogether in favour of more technically efficient labelling and the era of the postage stamp will then form just one significant and complete chapter in Britain's continuing postal history.
Of course many collectors will continue to build collections specialising in the postage stamp era of our postal history but I've no doubt others will still prefer to document the ongoing changes to our postal system for decades and centuries to come by focusing on the items coming through their letter box now rather than then. It is, I would argue, the process of development and change in the postal service - no matter what some collectors think - that makes philately in its many forms such an extraordinary hobby.
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