Stamps from machines

Great Britain

Stamps from Machines

by Eunice Shanahan

Booklets & Coils

From about 1906 the British Post Office has issued stamps that could be obtained from machines - an 'after-hours' service. During these 90 years there have been many changes.

The scope is large but just a few of these items can add interest to a basic collection of definitive stamps.

It has been a period of experimentation in many ways. The different machines which were tried demanded different formats for production of stamps, and various sizes and shapes for the booklets - this naturally affected the contents and layout, including interesting combination of stamps - for instance in se-tenant panes of different value stamps in the booklets.

Booklets for sale from machines were available from about 1935, and although such stamps can also be difficult to identify, different values se-tenant in blocks of four or six, with stitch marks in the margins would be obvious pointers. Others would be watermark varieties, cylinder numbers, advertisement panes etc.

booklet pane with 3 stamps and 3 labels

I have obtained photographs from the Post Office which show the printing layout of stamps to be used in booklet form.

part of photo showing printing layout for the 1937 booklet, illustrating why half the stamps would have an inverted watermark - (Photo courtesy the British Post Office)

The booklet covers are now much more interesting, they began as plain unglazed, unprinted card,

then printed with the value and contents

and have progressed to multicoloured pictorial series in sets.

The first of these pictorials were for the l0pence book showing postboxes.

The series showed the different design of the postboxes, coupled with an image of the clothing being worn at the time that particular box was in use. This one was an example of London's first pillar box in use in 1855;

The contents of the booklets were changed for many reasons - different machines used to deliver the booklets - new postal rates - mechanisation - (involving the application of phosphor lines etc.), or changes to meet specific demands. For instance, in 1963 a booklet was produced to be sold at various holiday resorts in Britain which contained only the stamps for the current postcard rate. More recently the stamps have been printed with no actual value inscribed on them - only the word '1st' or '2nd' and the colour indicating that the stamps are for first class or for second class postal service within Great Britain.

Engineers who serviced the machines were supplied with dummy booklets.

Coil stamps.

Originally the rolls were made up from sheet printings, so that each sheet was joined every 20th stamp with stamp paper. As the sheets were of 12 x 20 stamps, the sheets were fed vertically into a cutting machine, which automatically threaded them onto 12 separate rolls. This image was taken from a small book published by the stamp printers, Harrison and Sons Ltd to explain the process of printing and producing stamps in sheets, booklets and coils.

The image clearly shows,in the forefront, the way the stamps are fed onto the 12 reel spindles.

It can be difficult to identify coil stamps, but there are some that are unmistakable. For example :

a) This is the most obvious - if the stamp is still attached to the coil leader (sometimes called the roll wrapper), or a plain end-paper.

b) joined pairs. Originally the rolls were made up from rows of the printed sheets, joined by the margin paper. This join would be between horizontal stamps for the Poko machines but between two vertical stamps for the Multipost and Kermode machines - this join is visible on the back of the two joined stamps. Click here to see an image

c) a complete, unjoined strip of 21 stamps, these must have come from a roll, as the sheets are printed in panes of 240 stamps - 12 x 20.

d) sideways watermark

e) a se-tenant combination a part of the multivalue coil stamps which would not be se-tenant in those values anywhere else.

The coil leaders, joins and ends, all varied for the different machines in which they were used. The two illustrated here, are totally different. Firstly, the original Post Office machine was a Kermode, and so the rolls were simply called Kermode rolls.

Fig.2 the Kermode coil leader.

The number of stamps in the roll was originally either 500 or 1000, but it became obvious that for accounting purposes, it was more sensible to use the multiple of 240 - the number of pence (1d's) in one pound. So, from 1925 the rolls were all made up of either 480, 960 or 1920 stamps.

The coil leader was for roll identification and instruction. The second one is that of GeorgeVI.

Coil leader - George VI.

The wrapper was usually the same colour as the stamp, in this case the green 1/2d. Reading from the left, the printing marks are:

5 Positional row number, printers reference to show the row of the sheets from which the roll was made up.

sideways writing Printer's name: Harrison & Sons Limited London and High Wycombe
(Y) Stock Letter - identifies the type of roll.

1920 The number of stamps in the roll.

1/2d The denomination of the stamp.

Delivery Lower end first ... instructions for installation in the machine.

£4 Total value of roll for costing.

It was sealed with official tape and red sealing wax, applied by the Post Office Supply Department and only removed when the roll was installed in the machine. The first stamp of the roll was attached to this leader.

They were also issued with coils containing labels instead of the postage stamps.

Originally, the coil testing labels were a green background with a shaded paler centre, which resembled a poached egg, but this was later replaced with labels bearing the words 'FOR TESTING PURPOSES ONLY'


I have examples of labels in green, three shades of grey, and perforated vertically, or horizontally.

I have also managed to obtain a coil leader for one of these testing rolls.

Test coil leader

Also, for something really different, I have a pair of the experimental test labels which were printed in red instead of grey, and consisted of pairs of stamps, imperf between the two, so that they were the size of a commemorative stamp.

commemorative coil test stamps, imperforate between the two stamps (enlarged image).

They were issued to test the stamps produced in coil form for the 1957 World Scout Jubilee Jamboree set of stamps. I believe that to this date, this is the only commemorative stamp to have been issued as a coil stamp.

Coil stamps have been issued right up to and including the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and with the changes in postal rates there has been a range of different stamps issued in coils. These early Machin issues for instance:-
The multi-value coil of 5 stamps for 1/-, was so designed that even if the machine malfunctioned, whichever stamp it started with, the five stamps produced by the machine (2x2d, 1xld, 1x3d and 1x4d) would still total 12d or 1/-.

multi-value se-tenant coil 2d, 2d, 3d, 1d, 4d

I do not pretend to be an expert-- just a collector who likes to have some different items in my collection.

We have more detailed information about the booklets on a separate section of our website, click on this link

Bibliography : Stanley Gibbons Catalogues, Stoneham Catalogue, "British Stamp Booklets", by Jean Alexander and Leonard F. Newbury published by the G.P.B.S. which are invaluable

'STAMPS OF GREAT BRITAIN ISSUED IN ROLLS AND THE MACHINES WHICH USE THEM" by C.M. Langston and H.C. Corless, M.B.E. This is an extract from my article first published in the Australian Stamp Monthly magazine, in March, 1991.

Copyright 1998 By EARS Leisurewrite

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