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COLLECTING BRITISH FIRST DAY COVERS

By Mark Sargent of the GBFDCSHOP

NEW WEB SITE ON LINE FOR GB FIRST DAY COVER COLLECTORS

I deal purely in Great British First Day Covers. For those of you already familiar with all the different aspects available to the GB FDC collector the following information is probably of little interest, but to new collectors or those who are undecided about a specific field to pursue, if any, the following maybe useful. The market for good quality covers is very buoyant at present and has been rising for a few years now, as more  people are becoming aware of better quality covers. The demand outweighs the supply in many cases. So, if you just want to collect FDC's for collecting sake with no concern about a possible profit after a few years (in some cases months) then buy whatever you like. Otherwise my advise would be to buy the best you can afford like small quantities issued or those with a good catalogue value (It helps to combine the info. from 2 or more). Also, as you become more experienced ask yourself how often you've seen a certain cover before, if the answer is never, then it could be scarce and very desirable.   

The first postage stamp FDC was the Penny Black issued on the 6th of May 1840 and is obviously worth a considerable amount of money. Since then a large percentage of the stamps of GB have had a known First Day Of Issue date (FDI). In a lot of the earlier issues ( mostly Queen Victoria) the exact date is unclear so the earliest used date known prevails. Unless you have very deep pockets and can find this material, I wouldn't bother unless you really want to. The following sections will explain some of the various postmarks and covers available and why to the untrained eye what appears to be a very similar cover or postmark type can have a vastly different value.  The covers that will appear on the site will range from the cheap and cheerful for a few pounds, through to the very rare for hundreds. something for everyone. The prices reflect what I consider to be the market value, which in  most cases is actually the same price as you would have to pay if you brought it through an auction. In a lot of cases with the rare material, you might have to wait literally years to see it in an auction. Once my customer database has been built up sufficiently and I have the attention of a reasonable amount of collectors (at the moment it's tiny) some covers that do not sell maybe reduced in price until they do sell. 

CONDITION

This is a very important part of FDC collecting. The cover above on the left is a disaster as far as collecting goes. It is poorly hand addressed and the stamps have not been applied straight. it is of such a poor quality that I wouldn't sell it as a cover but would cut it up for the fine used stamps. The one on the right has much more going for it. It is pleasing to look at, yet it is still readily available for a few pounds. Some people like the personal look of covers such as the one on the left, which is fine, but don't expect much of a return on your money. All FDC's after 1970, except the very rare ones, should always be either typed, printed, label addressed or unaddressed, unless the price is such that it becomes a real bargain. Before 1970 the general rule would be the higher the catalogue value or the earlier the cover, the more acceptable hand written becomes. Pre 66 hand written FDC's should be about 50% of the typed addressed price. The majority of pre 48 FDC's are hand addressed and are very collectable and are the norm. Typed or unaddressed of this period generally command a premium. Slit or opened tops do lower the value (particularly poorly opened) but this is very much a personal decision as the appearance from the front is seldom affected. All covers should have the full set of stamps, except rare ones, where sometimes due to price or availability the only option is to get a one stamped cover as a space filler. Make sure all the stamps are postmarked and have not been missed or applied at a later date.

This is one of those exceptions concerning hand written addresses. This is the British Relay TV  Official. It is estimated that only 30 full set covers exist and I know of only two others. One being typed addressed, the other as this. Scott's catalogue value on this cover is 325 and because of it's rarity I wouldn't sell it for less than 275.

TYPES OF POSTMARK

There are 5 basic types of postmarks that are generally of interest to the First Day Cover collector and each is explained as follows:

CDS SLOGAN FIRST DAY OF ISSUE SPECIAL HANDSTAMP METER MARK

COUNTER DATE STAMPS (CDS)

This is the postmark available at every post office counter in the Country. They have the date in the centre and the place name where the post office is located running around the inside edge. Most early FDC's have this postmark or a slogan. Today, in most cases, you have to send an item by Special Delivery to receive this postmark. What makes CDS postmarks interesting is that in some cases the place name can have a relevance to the issued stamps. Examples being 1976 Roses with Rose, Truro CDS; 1983 Fish with The Salmon Leap CDS or any royalty connected issue with Buckingham Palace CDS. The list is endless. In some cases the connection is obvious and depending on the scarcity can be valuable. For example the CDS illustrated, if it were first day would be wonderful on the Philympia issue of 1970 as the exhibition was held there. Current value would be about 3-400 pounds for one in good condition. Many of these types of cover were done by luck rather than judgment, as people did not realise the value or significance that they would obtain. A lot of the scarce definitives with gum or paper varieties from the early 70's are only known with CDS postmarks as the Post Office did not recognize them as new issues, and only a few people knew about them or bothered to do any FDC's. So watch out for them.

SLOGAN

Slogans are the most common postmarks used on GB mail and are done by machine. There are a number of different types, but they all consist of two parts: the first is what looks like a CDS and follows the same criteria. The second part is either a wavy line, a first day of issue or advertising. Early FDC's with a slogan have mostly the wavy line. First Day Of Issue slogans (as illustrated) first appeared on the 1963 Paris cover. The first advertising slogan officially done on a FDC is the 1924 Wembley issue. Since then there have been many different ones used. As the name implies they are used to advertise or promote something. In many cases the advert ran for some time, so beware that it is a first day!

The relevance of the name on the date stamp on a lot of FDC's from pre 1953 is not a important factor as most are scarce, but if you do find one the value can rocket. An example being the George VI Coronation, which with a basic slogan and in good condition is worth about 10-15, but if it has Windsor in the date stamp then it becomes 125. The relevance of place names and advertising on covers after this time is in most cases much more important and certainly once you get to the 70's and onwards is everything. Some of the most valuable covers of the 80's and 90's are those with a relevant and rare slogan. 

FIRST DAY OF ISSUE (FDI)

Used from the 1964 Shakespeare issue until 1998 Christmas, this is the most common postmark found on FDC's. They were available in a great many towns and Cities throughout the UK. Though very collectable up to the mid to late 60's, they are very common from the early 70's on , except in a number of relevant Town names.

SPECIAL HANDSTAMPS (SH/S)

These are sponsored postmarks that normally have a very intricate design. Anyone can have one after payment of the appropriate fee to the Post Office. Most are sponsored and available for one day only (being the day of issue of the stamps), but some are Permanent or long running and just happen to coincide with an issues release date. A lot of pre 77 covers with Special Handstamps sponsored by Organizations or individuals are worth a considerable premium over basic FDI's or Handstamps sponsored by the Post Office, such as the Philatelic Bureau. On later issues the value generally increases where they are applied to Official FDC's (see Official FDC's). In the 60's and early 70's there were sometimes none, one or only a few different Handstamps applied to each issue. Nowadays, there are usually 30+. Common Special Handstamps on basic FDC's generally carry a premium of possibly a few pounds over FDI's.

 METER MARKS

These are cancellations used by Organizations or Companies who have a machine to process their own mail. They have their name on a part of the postmark as well as the fee paid and the date. Because the meter mark is designed to show the postage charge, stamps do not actually have to be applied. Hence, most meter Mark FDC's are done to order and the payment panel is set to zero and the stamps are applied to cover the postage and to get them tied to the cover by a postmark. The stamps then receive either a CDS or a Special Handstamp. Meter Marks must be relevant to an issue for it to have any value. I personally only like the ones where all three of the components tie up (the cover is the Meter Mark organization's own and the handstamp or the CDS is relevant to both.

TYPES OF COVER

There are two types of covers. Those that are ordinary and those that are sponsored or Official.

QUESTION:  WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

ANSWER: 62   THE REASON BEING, THE ONE ON THE LEFT IS A POST OFFICE COVER AND I SELL IT FOR 3, WHILE THE ONE ON THE RIGHT IS THE OFFICIAL AND I SELL IT FOR 65

ORDINARY

The most common ordinary FDC is the one produced by Royal Mail (Post Office as was) for each new issue. Their first cover was for the 1964 Shakespeare issue and barring a few early gaps have been available for every commemorative issue since. They do not issue different covers for each definitive issue, preferring to use the same design over a period to cover all releases that they consider to be "new issues". For this reason there are a great many Definitive based issues that the Royal Mail do not list, but a lot of collectors strive to obtain. There have been a lot of different cover producers over the years, from some individuals to small firms producing very small quantities to large stamp dealers or organizations producing thousands. Some are produced randomly, while others form a series (an example being the save the children fund which ran through the early 70's). A lot of collectors just collect one producers cover along with the different postmarks available, while others find it a very reasonably cheap way of obtaining all the different Special Handstamps that  are already available and the large numbers that are coming onto the market with each new issue. I personally sell the cheap ones at 30-40% of Bradbury's catalogue value and have vast stocks, as do many other dealers. 

OFFICIALS

An Official is a First Day Cover where the cover is produced by the same individual or Organization who sponsored the Special Handstamp. Be careful here, as some people produced more than one cover for a particular issue, but only one of them is the Official. Cotswold and Philart are two producers who spring straight to mind. An Official cover 99 times out of 100 has something in the design that relates to the handstamp, it needn't have any relevance to the stamps. Many people or Organizations have over the years produced a series of covers for each issue, such as Benham or Bradbury and have produced quiet large numbers for each (500+)and so are quite easy to obtain. Benham covers in particular are generally superbly designed and relatively cheap. But the real gems are those that were produced in very low numbers or were not readily available to the general public. In some cases only one stamp from the set was affixed and either very few sets or none at all were produced. Sometimes collectors have managed to obtain these covers, either with one stamp attached or as blanks and then submitted them to Royal Mail knowing that there are a few days grace after the issue date when  the Handstamp will still be applied. There are some truly wonderfully designed Officials (as well as some dogs). This is normally so because they originally sell for a higher price than an ordinary cover and so a company can outlay more on the design as they hope to recoup the costs with the higher price. In many cases where the cover is produced to celebrate an event or an anniversary the company concerned were not governed by the need to make money. Supply and demand is really what decides any FDC's value and particularly in the case of Officials the demand can sometimes far outweigh any possible supply as there may only be a few that exist. This is where I give my old firm a plug, because the Steven Scott Official First Day Cover Catalogue has an enormous amount of information that the Official FDC collector will find invaluable. It describes what the cover should look like, the design on the Handstamp and in a lot of cases and most importantly of all in my opinion, the quantities that have been or estimated to have been produced. It doesn't always mean that  a cover that had several hundred produced is common, but it is a very good general guide.

FINALLY

If you've got this far and having read through the sections you have probably come to the conclusion that I like officials. Well, your right, I do. I also like good CDS's and Slogans but Officials are my true love. Everything just comes together with an Official.

But remember, collecting is meant to be fun. So, collect what YOU really want to.

VISIT GB FDC SHOP SITE FOR MARK SARGENTS FULL LISTING OF COVERS

 

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