Collect, or not to collect? Here's all you wanted to know about stamp products, explained by our Assistant Curator Georgina.

Star Wars

Here at The Postal Museum I deal with all new stamps produced by Royal Mail. We collect a copy of every stamp along with some of the products they produce. I thought I could explain some of the terms and introduce you to what you could collect.

As a visual aid, I’ve chosen the stamp issue Star Wars, which has appeared twice, once in 2015 and again in 2017. Even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, I hope you enjoy the stamps.

Sheets of Stamps

Block of stamps featuring characters from the 2017 Star Wars movie.

Stamp Sheet, Star Wars, 2017

Registration Sheets

The first printed sheet of each stamp is retained as the registration copy. They are then signed and dated on the back for verification. We have pretty much every registration sheet ever produced in our collection allowing you to document the history of stamps and their printing processes.

The reverse of a sheet of stamp with the signed registration label.

Signed registration sheet for the Musical issue of 2011

Cylinder Sheets

Cylinder sheets denote the cylinder on which the stamps were produced. You’ll notice that I’ve circled the cylinder numbers here. Star Wars is a modern stamp and is produced on the four colour printing process. Before there could be more colours depending on what was needed to produce the image.

A sheet of stamps with a circle around the cylinder numbers.

Cylinder block of a sheet of Star Wars 2017 stamps.

Stock Sheets of Stamps

We receive stock sheets of each stamp which we are able to scan and use for museum purposes (i.e. in my blogs). Stamps come in numerous shapes and I’ve included a few below. In 2014 children’s TV characters weren’t confined to the borders of the stamp and broke free like Bagpuss here. You’ll also see the hanging monkey from 2016 which was intended to hook over your envelope.

Miniature Sheet, Animail, 2016
Andy Murray, £1.28 , Gentlemans' Singles Champion Wimbledon, 2013
Bagpuss, 1st NVI, Classic Children's TV, 2014
The Clash, 1st NVI, Classic Album Covers, 2010

First Day Cover

First Day Covers are produced on the first day of issue and consist of an envelope and the issued stamps, cancelled. Now Royal Mail produces decorated covers that refer to the issue but you can still produce a first day cover with a blank envelope. We collect the two handstamps produced by Royal Mail for the first day of issue, these consists of one from Tallents House, Edinburgh and one from an area that relates to the issue, here Elstree. The handstamp must cancel all the stamps and is strategically placed between the 12 stamps.

A first day cover of the 2015 Star Wars issue, which consists of an envelope with the issued stamps.

First Day Cover, Star Wars, 2015

The information insert that comes with the 2015 Star Wars first day cover.

First Day Cover Insert, Star Wars, 2015

Presentation Pack

Presentation Packs contain the issued stamps along with, if produced, a miniature sheet. When the pack is opened it contains more information on the issue. For the Great Fire of London issue of 2016, for example, an entire graphic novel was produced to explain the events.

A presentation pack from the 2015 Star Wars issue with the issued stamps on the front.

Presentation Pack, Star Wars, 2015

The illustrated graphic novel of the story of the Great Fire of London within the issued presentation pack.

Presentation Pack information sheet, Great Fire of London, 2016

Miniature sheets

Miniature sheets are beautifully small and include stamps that are not possible to purchase singularly over the counter at your local post office. They consist of usually around 4 stamps and are related to the issue but are slightly different in their own right. Here we look at the ships involved in intergalactic battles.

Miniature sheet of stamps depicting Star Wars space crafts.

Miniature Sheet, Star Wars, 2015

Coin Cover

Coin Covers are similar to First Day Covers but they include a metal coin or medal. Royal Mail works with the Royal Mint to produce these pieces. Medals were made for Star Wars but for older issues such as Beatrix Potter legal tender coins were produced instead.

Star Wars 2017 coin cover with the issued stamps and the R2D2 medal.

Coin Cover, Star Wars, 2017

Image of the information that comes inside the R2D2 coin cover of the Star Wars 2017 issue.

Insert from the R2D2 coin cover.

Stamp book

Stamp books are what most people purchase in the Post Office to send their birthday cards. In a commemorative issue the book consists of definitives, stamps with the monarchs head, and commemorative stamps.

Image of an open book of Star Wars stamps.

Stamp Book, Star War, 2017

Image of an open book of Star Wars stamps.

Stamp Book, Star Wars, 2017

Generic/Commemorative Sheets

These sheets are pretty similar in so much as they consist of stamps and labels. A Commemorative Sheet tends to come out for an anniversary and will be the only product issued, whereas a Generic Sheet is part of the commemorative issue. The image below depicts the issued character stamps along with stills from the film.

Image of a sheet of generic stamps which include Star Wars stamps and labels.

Generic Sheet, Star Wars, 2017

Stamp cards

These are postcards that depict the issued stamp. They are purchased as a set and include all issued stamps along with any miniature sheet issued.

Image of the front of a Chewbacca stamp card from the Star Wars 2017 issue.

Chewbacca Stamp Card, Star Wars, 2017

Prestige Stamp Book

This is the product that comes with the most information on the issue. The book is filled with facts about the characters, how it was filmed and behind the scenes info. The book consists of all the issued stamps along with some definitives and perhaps country stamps too.

The front cover of the Prestige Stamp book for the Star Wars issue.

Prestige Stamp Book, Star Wars 2015

This is just some of what we collect here at The Postal Museum and can be purchased from the Royal Mail and Post Office website. So why not next time you’re sending a birthday card ask for the commemorative stamps and see what you find.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Assistant Curator (Philately)