26 January 2021
United Kingdom: A Celebration
16 February 2021
Only Fools and Horses
16 March 2021
The Legend of King Arthur
15 April 2021
Classic Science Fiction
04 May 2021
The Wars of the Roses
28 May 2021
01 July 2021
Dennis and Gnasher
22 July 2021
12 August 2021
02 September 2021
British Army Vehicles
17 September 2021
19 October 2021
02 November 2021
The Royal Mail can trace its history back to 1516, when Henry VIII established a “Master of the Posts”, a position that was renamed “Postmaster General” in 1710.
Upon his accession to the throne of England at the Union of the Crowns in 1603, James VI moved his court to London. One of his first acts from London was to establish the royal postal service between London and Edinburgh, in an attempt to retain control over the Scottish Privy Council.
The Royal Mail service was first made available to the public by Charles I on 31 July 1635, with postage being paid by the recipient. The monopoly was farmed out to Thomas Witherings.
In the 1640s Parliament removed the monopoly from Witherings and during the Civil War and First Commonwealth the parliamentary postal service was run at great profit for himself by Edmund Prideaux (a prominent parliamentarian and lawyer who rose to be attorney-general). To keep his monopoly in those troubled times Prideaux improved efficiency and used both legal impediments and illegal methods.
In 1653 Parliament set aside all previous grants for postal services, and contracts were let for the inland and foreign mails to John Manley. Manley was given a monopoly on the postal service, which was effectively enforced by Protector Oliver Cromwell’s government, and thanks to the improvements necessitated by the war Manley ran a much improved Post Office service. In July 1655 the Post Office was put under the direct government control of John Thurloe, a Secretary of State, and best known to history as Cromwell’s spymaster general. Previous English governments had tried to prevent conspirators communicating, Thurloe preferred to deliver their post having surreptitiously read it. As the Protectorate claimed to govern all of Great Britain and Ireland under one unified government, on 9 June 1657 the Second Protectorate Parliament (which included Scottish and Irish MPs) passed the “Act for settling the Postage in England, Scotland and Ireland” that created one monopoly Post Office for the whole territory of the Commonwealth. The first Postmaster General was appointed in 1661, and a seal was first fixed to the mail.
At the restoration of the monarchy, in 1660, all the ordinances and acts passed by parliaments during the Civil War and the Interregnum passed into oblivion, so the General Post Office (GPO) was officially established by Charles II in 1660.
Between 1719 and 1763, Ralph Allen, postmaster at Bath, signed a series of contracts with the post office to develop and expand Britain’s postal network. He organised mail coaches which were provided by both Wilson & Company of London and Williams & Company of Bath. The early Royal Mail Coaches were similar to ordinary family coaches but with Post Office livery.
The first mail coach ran in 1784, operating between Bristol and London. Delivery staff received uniforms for the first time in 1793, and the Post Office Investigation Branch was established. The first mail train ran in 1830, on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Post Office’s money order system was introduced in 1838.
In December 1839 the first substantial reform started when postage rates were revised by the short-lived Uniform Fourpenny Post. Rowland Hill, an English teacher, inventor and social reformer, became disillusioned with the postal service, and wrote a paper proposing reforms that resulted in an approach that would go on to change not only the Royal Mail, but also be copied by postal services around world. His proposal was refused at first attempt but he overcame the political obstacles and was appointed to implement and develop his ideas. He realized that many small purchases would fund the organization and implemented this by changing it from a receiver-pays to a sender-pays system. This was used as the model for other postal services around the world, but also spilled over to the modern-day crowd-funding approach.
Greater changes took place when the Uniform Penny Post was introduced on 10 January 1840 whereby a single rate for delivery anywhere in Great Britain and Ireland was pre-paid by the sender. A few months later, to certify that postage had been paid on a letter, the sender could affix the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black that was available for use from 6 May the same year. Other innovations were the introduction of pre-paid William Mulready designed postal stationery letter sheets and envelopes.
As Great Britain was the first country to issue prepaid postage stamps, British stamps are the only stamps that do not bear the name of the country of issue on them.
By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, permitting correspondents to exchange multiple letters within a single day.
The first trial of the London Pneumatic Despatch Company was made in 1863, sending mail by underground rail between postal depots. The Post Office began its telegraph service in 1870.
The first Post Office pillar box was erected in 1852 in Jersey. Pillar boxes were introduced in mainland Britain the following year. British pillar boxes traditionally carry the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation, for example: VR for Victoria Regina or GR for Georgius Rex. Such branding is not used in Scotland due to dispute over the current monarch’s title. Some Scottish nationalists argue that Queen Elizabeth II should have simply been Queen Elizabeth as there had been no previous Queen Elizabeth of Scotland or of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Elizabeth I was Queen only of the pre-1707 Kingdom of England). The dispute included vandalism and attacks on pillar and post boxes introduced in Scotland that displayed EIIR. To avoid the dispute, pillar boxes in Scotland were either marked ‘Post Office’ or use the Scots Crown.
A national telephone service was opened by the Post Office in 1912. In 1919, the first international airmail service was developed by Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and Royal Air Force. The London Post Office Railway was opened in 1927.
In 1941 an airgraph service was introduced between UK and Egypt. The service was later extended to: Canada (1941), East Africa (1941), Burma (1942), India (1942), South Africa (1942), Australia (1943), New Zealand (1943) Ceylon (1944) and Italy (1944).
Under the Post Office Act 1969 the General Post Office was changed from a government department to a statutory corporation, known simply as the Post Office. The office of Postmaster General was abolished and replaced with the positions of chairman and chief executive in the new company.
The two-class postal system was introduced in 1968, using first-class and second-class services. The Post Office opened the National Giro Bank that year.
In 1971, postal services in Great Britain were suspended for two months between January and March as the result of a national postal strike over a pay claim. Postcodes were extended across Great Britain and Northern Ireland between 1959 and 1974.
Postal workers held their first national strike for 17 years in 1988 after walking out over bonuses being paid to recruit new workers in London and the South East. Royal Mail established Romec (Royal Mail Engineering & Construction) in 1989 to deliver facilities maintenance services to its business. Romec is 51% owned by Royal Mail and 49% by Haden Building Management Ltd which became Balfour Beatty WorkPlace and now Cofely UK, part of GDF Suez in a joint venture.
British Telecom was separated from the Post Office in 1980 and emerged as an independent business in 1981. Girobank was sold to Alliance & Leicester in 1990 and Royal Mail Parcels was rebranded as Parcelforce. The remaining business continued under public ownership as privatization of this was deemed to be too unpopular. However, in the 1990s President of the Board of Trade Michael Heseltine began investigating a possible sale and eventually a Green Paper on Postal Reform was published in May 1994, outlining various options for privatization. The ideas though, proved controversial and were dropped from the 1994 Queen’s Speech after a number of Conservative MPs warned Heseltine they would not vote for the legislation.
The company’s subsidiary Royal Mail Group Limited operates the brands Royal Mail (letters) and Parcelforce Worldwide (parcels). General Logistics Systems, an international logistics company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Mail Group. The group used the name Consignia for a brief period in the early 2000s.
The company provides mail collection and delivery services throughout the UK. Letters and parcels are deposited in post or parcel boxes, or are collected in bulk from businesses and transported to Royal Mail sorting offices. Royal Mail owns and maintains the UK’s distinctive red pillar boxes. Deliveries are made at least once every day except Sundays and bank holidays at uniform charges for all UK destinations. Royal Mail generally aims to make first class deliveries the next business day throughout the nation.
For most of its history, the Royal Mail was a public service, operating as a government department or public corporation. Following the Postal Services Act 2011, a majority of the shares in Royal Mail were floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2013. The UK government initially retained a 30% stake in Royal Mail, but sold its remaining shares in 2015, ending 499 years of state ownership. It is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.
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The term “Great Britain” is often used to refer to England, Scotland and Wales, including their component adjoining islands. Great Britain and Northern Ireland now constitute the United Kingdom. The single Kingdom of Great Britain resulted from the 1707 Acts of Union between the kingdoms of England (which at the time incorporated Wales) and Scotland. Most stamp catalogues and philatelists refer to the stamp-issuing entity as “Great Britain” and the stamps as “British”.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK or U.K.), or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the northwestern coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands within the British Isles. Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. Otherwise, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the southwest, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The total area of the United Kingdom is 94,000 square miles (240,000 km²).
The United Kingdom is a unitary parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The monarch is Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned since 1952. The United Kingdom’s capital is London, a global city and financial centre with an urban area population of 10.3 million. The United Kingdom consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their capitals are London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, respectively. Apart from England, the countries have their own devolved governments, each with varying powers. Other significant cities include Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne.
The union between the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland in 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, followed by the union in 1801 of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Five-sixths of Ireland seceded from the UK in 1922, leaving the present formulation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK’s name was adopted in 1927 to reflect the change.
The nearby Isle of Man, Bailiwick of Guernsey and Bailiwick of Jersey are not part of the UK, being Crown dependencies with the British Government responsible for defense and international representation. There are also 14 British Overseas Territories, the last remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s landmass and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture and political systems of many of its former colonies.
The United Kingdom has the world’s fifth-largest economy by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), and the ninth-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). It has a high-income economy and a very high human development index rating, ranking 15th in the world. It was the world’s first industrialized country and the world’s foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The UK remains a great power, with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific, technological and political influence internationally. It is a recognized nuclear weapons state and is sixth in military expenditure in the world. It has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946.
The United Kingdom is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the G7, the G20, NATO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Interpol and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was a member of the European Union (EU) and its predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC), from 1 January 1973 until withdrawing on 31 January 2020.
Although the United Kingdom is a sovereign country, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also widely referred to as countries. The UK Prime Minister’s website has used the phrase “countries within a country” to describe the United Kingdom. Some statistical summaries, such as those for the twelve NUTS 1 regions of the United Kingdom refer to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as “regions”. Northern Ireland is also referred to as a “province”. With regard to Northern Ireland, the descriptive name used “can be controversial, with the choice often revealing one’s political preferences”.
The term “Great Britain” conventionally refers to the island of Great Britain, or politically to England, Scotland and Wales in combination. It is sometimes used as a loose synonym for the United Kingdom as a whole.
The term “Britain” is used both as a synonym for Great Britain, and as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Usage is mixed: the UK Government prefers to use the term “UK” rather than “Britain” or “British” on its own website (except when referring to embassies), while acknowledging that both terms refer to the United Kingdom and that elsewhere ‘”British government” is used at least as frequently as “United Kingdom government”. The UK Permanent Committee on Geographical Names recognizes “United Kingdom”, “UK” and “U.K.” as shortened and abbreviated geopolitical terms for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in its toponymic guidelines; it does not list “Britain” but notes ‘it is only the one specific nominal term “Great Britain” which invariably excludes Northern Ireland.’ The BBC historically preferred to use “Britain” as shorthand only for Great Britain, though the present style guide does not take a position except that “Great Britain” excludes Northern Ireland.
The adjective “British” is commonly used to refer to matters relating to the United Kingdom and is used in law to refer to United Kingdom citizenship and matters to do with nationality. People of the United Kingdom use a number of different terms to describe their national identity and may identify themselves as being British, English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Irish; or as having a combination of different national identities. The official designation for a citizen of the United Kingdom is “British citizen”.
The national flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Jack, also known as the Union Flag.
The design of the Union Jack dates back to the Act of Union 1801 which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland (previously in personal union) to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The flag consists of the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England), edged in white, superimposed on the Cross of St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland), which are superimposed on the Saltire of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland). Wales is not represented in the Union Flag by Wales’s patron saint, Saint David, because the flag was designed while Wales was part of the Kingdom of England.
The flag’s standard height-to-length proportions are 1:2. The war flag variant used by the British Army has proportions 3:5.
The earlier flag of Great Britain was established in 1606 by a proclamation of King James VI and I of Scotland and England. The new flag of the United Kingdom was officially created by an Order in Council of 1801, reading as follows:
The Union Flag shall be azure, the Crosses saltire of Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick quarterly per saltire, counter-changed, argent and gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of Saint George of the third fimbriated as the saltire.
The royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, or the royal arms for short, is the official coat of arms of the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. These arms are used by the Queen in her official capacity as monarch of the United Kingdom. Variants of the royal arms are used by other members of the British royal family, by the British Government in connection with the administration and government of the country, and some courts and legislatures in a number of Commonwealth realms. In Scotland, there exists a separate version of the royal arms, a variant of which is used by the Scotland Office and the Judiciary. The arms in banner form serve as basis for the monarch’s official flag, the Royal Standard.
In the standard variant used outside of Scotland, the shield is quartered, depicting in the first and fourth quarters the three passant guardant lions of England; in the second, the rampant lion and double tressure flory-counterflory of Scotland; and in the third, a harp for Ireland. The crest is a statant guardant lion wearing the St Edward’s Crown, himself on another representation of that crown. The dexter supporter is a likewise crowned English lion; the sinister, a Scottish unicorn. The English and Scottish quarters and supporters are swapped in the Scottish version of the arms.
In the greenery below, a thistle, Tudor rose and shamrock are depicted, representing Scotland, England and Ireland respectively. This armorial achievement comprises the motto, in French, of English monarchs, Dieu et mon Droit (God and my Right), which has descended to the present royal family as well as the Garter circlet which surrounds the shield, inscribed with the Order’s motto, in French, Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks evil). The official blazon of the royal arms is:
Quarterly, first and fourth Gules three Lions passant gardant in pale Or armed and langued Azure (for England), second quarter Or a Lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland), third quarter Azure a Harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland), the whole surrounded by the Garter; for a Crest, upon the Royal helm the Imperial Crown Proper, thereon a Lion statant gardant Or imperially crowned Proper; Mantling Or and Ermine; for Supporters, dexter a Lion rampant gardant Or crowned as the Crest, sinister a Unicorn Argent armed, crined and unguled Proper, gorged with a Coronet Or composed of Crosses patées and Fleurs-de-lis a Chain affixed thereto passing between the forelegs and reflexed over the back also Or. Motto “Dieu et mon Droit” in the compartment below the shield, with the Union Rose, Shamrock and Thistle engrafted on the same stem.