US Stamps

Are Post & Go stamps really stamps?

Jul 7, 2015, 6 AM

In 2008, Great Britain’s Royal Mail introduced a new postal product — a self-service, machine-vended label that customers could purchase and use to mail a letter. The base self-adhesive labels are printed on a reel by Walsall Security Printers, a company that also prints regular postage stamps. The base labels have a design as well as phosphor bands and simulated perforations.

At the kiosk, the customer weighs the item to be mailed, selects a service and pays the amount shown. The kiosk thermally prints the service and other information on the label and then vends the label to the customer. The customer attaches the label to the letter and mails it.

Royal Mail calls these labels “Post & Go Stamps.” The initial labels had a design featuring the Machin head, and pictorial designs were added in 2010. Royal Mail has promoted the pictorial labels in the same way as regular postage stamps. They are available to collectors from the British Philatelic Bureau.

As the program has expanded in recent years, the number of varieties has skyrocketed. This is from new designs, new services, changes in postal rates and a large number of errors, many of them short-lived.

These labels are not listed in the Scott catalog. Stanley Gibbons (the dominant catalog publisher in the United Kingdom) lists some but not all of them.

I was curious whether stamp collectors would consider these items to be postage stamps. I noticed that writers in philatelic publications were inconsistent. Some called them stamps; others called them labels or postage labels; and one author referred to them as “label stamps.” There were inconsistencies even within a single issue of a major United Kingdom philatelic magazine.

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I decided to ask Royal Mail what they considered to be a stamp. They replied that a stamp “should include [the] Queen’s head, value, perforation and phosphor.”

Taken literally, that definition is too restrictive. For example, it would exclude a number of Machin definitives that were intentionally issued without phosphor.

However, the spirit of the definition is correct. I interpret it to mean that a postage stamp must meet certain criteria. Since there is no single person or group that determines these criteria, each collector, author and catalog editor must make his own decision.

After several discussions with collectors, I decided on these criteria for a postage stamp:

  1. Issued by the country’s official postal administration.
  2. Issued to be used by the general public as well as businesses and postal staff.
  3. Shows the amount paid or the service paid for.
  4. Shows the originating country name or a symbol indicating the country.
  5. Has the characteristics generally associated with postage stamps of the era in which it is issued, such as phosphor and real or simulated perforations, but may be missing one or more of these characteristics for operational reasons.

On the basis of these criteria, I decided that I agree with Royal Mail: the Post & Go labels are postage stamps. Do you agree? What do you think is the definition of a postage stamp?