Stamping Ground


An Occasional Newsletter from

Robert Murray Stamp Shop, Edinburgh

December 2006


The Death of Stamp Collecting ?

Once again, there has been speculation that stamp collecting, and for that matter stamps themselves, are about to slip into oblivion due to the introduction of “on-line stamps”, the labels you can buy from the Post Office’s website and print on your own computer. My considered and professional opinion on that suggestion is “Mince !”. Stamp collectors are much more interesting people, and much more intelligent, than to stop their journey just because there’s a little bend in the path.

The following things have all, over the years, been heralded as the death-knell of British philately;

Late 1890s; The appearance of commemorative stamps, especially expensive sets such as the US Columbians and the Canadian Jubilees.

1910s; The telephone starts to become popular, and will surely put an end to letter-writing, and hence stamps.

1924; The UK’s first commemorative, the Wembley issue (it was one thing for foreigners to have special stamps, but things had come to a pretty pass when the Brits did the same L)

1930s; The telephone gets even more popular, and surely……

1950s; Television

1960s; The post office starts to pump out commemoratives, and is roundly criticised by the philatelic establishment. Collectors, however, continue to buy them and deposit them in their albums.

1971; Decimalisation, seen by many as the appropriate point to stop buying new issues.

1980s; Computers and computer games – “Nobody’s interested in stamps any more . . “.

1990s; The internet (has had the opposite effect, actually adding to use of mail, and opening up stamp collecting and trading).

2000; Postal authorities worldwide go wild about the millennium, and large numbers of collectors say that’s definitely enough this time.

2006; The introduction of online stamps to the public.

Stamp collecting has in fact died many times over, but perversely seems to be as popular as ever.



A Newsletter ?

I enjoyed our last Stamping Ground so much I’ve decided to do it again ! (And it seemed to go down quite well.)


Who's Unhinged ?

Looking at an old auction catalogue recently I was reminded of the "good old days" when mint was mint, used was used. The catalogue was for a prestigious sale of rather nice Commonwealth material, and dated from 1978. The mint stamps were generally described as "fine mint". No mention anywhere of the term "unmounted mint". The only time hinge marks were mentioned was if they were so heavy that they became an unsightly adhesion that was therefore seen as a fault in the same way as perhaps a tone spot or a bend. My own early auction catalogues (starting 1977) didn't differentiate between mounted and unmounted.

Why was that ?  The answer is simple. Nobody really cared. As long as a mint stamp was in good general condition, with clean and full gum, the stamp was "fine", whether or not it had previously been hinged. Most customers (over-the-counter or at auction) wouldn't ask whether things were mounted. It was only as the seventies neared their end that "u.m." became important.

Will it last ?  After all, it's been a concern for less than thirty years - out of well over a hundred that the stamp market has been in existence. Will the day come that fashion will turn again, and collectors will once more not care about an odd hinge mark on their otherwise perfect mint stamp ?

Seeing that old auction catalogue was just the day after I'd looked at a few stamps that a client had bought abroad. They had been regummed. He'd paid more to buy "unmounted" stamps with none of their original gum than he would have had to pay for the same stamps with genuine gum and a hinge mark. Strange world.


FOOTNOTE; While cataloguing our October auction, I was thinking of taking a couple of pages of mint Iceland out of an album, to be sold as a separate lot. It was a Lindner album, of the type with the plastic sleeves in front of the page, and I guess maybe about twenty years old. On checking the quality I found some of the stamps were lightly stuck to the plastic, giving them shiny patches on the gum. It’s my opinion that these stamps would have been alright on a traditional page. Some other pages in the same album showed yellowing of the plastic sleeves, and were quite unsightly. And yet, at the time they were sold, the manufacturers would have claimed them to be of a quality suitable for storing stamps.





Make some space, make some money, tidy your life !

Most collectors have an accumulation of things they don’t really want. Auction lots that have been picked over – old albums donated by friends – unwanted souvenirs – purchases that seemed a good idea at the time – and so on. While we can’t commercially sell extremely cheap material (such as old magazines or picked-over UK kiloware), many people are pleasantly surprised when they make the effort to have a clear-out, and sell a boxful of what they see as their rubbish in one of our auctions. Maybe there’s the surprise that somebody else would actually want to buy their discards. As an auctioneer it is actually quite satisfying to see a customer convert their clear-out box into some cash, which in turn is converted back into buying something nice that they actually want for their collection. And the satisfaction is more than just that which comes from earning commission twice !

And of course dealers are another thing again. Most of them (us ?) would benefit from a good pruning of their stock. If they (we) only had the time.


Naturally, as well as being happy to sell odds and boxes, we are more than keen to be allowed to handle the sale of more important collections. If you follow our sales, you’ll know that we perform very well when given a valuable collection to sell.





Stamp Workshops

In the last Stamping Ground we announced a couple of stamp workshops; one about watermarks, the other on fakes and forgeries. Both were oversubscribed, and the general feedback from those who managed to get spaces was that they were certainly worthwhile.

I'm happy to announce now that these workshops will be repeated early in 2007. The people who were on our waiting lists will get first refusal for spaces.

Not only will we repeat these two, it is also my intention to substantially add to the list of subjects being covered. A full list of workshops will be circulated with our January 2007 auction catalogue.

It is also a possibility that some brief notes based on these workshops might be included with future newsletters.



The Shrunken Stamp

In our 4 December auction there is a fascinating

little stamp. “Little” is the important word.

I was first shown it a few weeks ago; what seemed

like a bantam version of an otherwise ordinary U.K.       
King George VI 2½d definitive stamp. At first sight it was interesting, but I was sure that there was some sensible explanation. However, when I went back to look at it again, I was increasingly baffled. Every time my mind hatched a theory, some other aspect of the stamp would disprove it. The owner decided to offer it in this auction, and once I had it back in the shop I gave it a more scientific examination. Here are my findings.

Paper; The paper seems of normal thickness though perhaps a little softer, and ever so slightly yellowish.

Watermark; The watermark is normal but smaller – from the lower edge of the crown to the lower edge of the next crown is 13mm, compared to 14mm in a normal stamp.

Perforation; These measure on a gauge as 16½x15¾, whereas the normal stamp is 14.7x14.1. The holes, and the teeth, are that tiny bit smaller than usual. Otherwise the perforations have the usual attributes of a stamp torn from a sheet. Fifteen teeth along the top, just like normal.

Colour; Very slightly more yellowish, possibly caused by the very slight hue of the paper.

Print; As far as we can see, all details of the design are identical, down to the screening dots, but all taken down by that same percentage.

Dimensions; Overall size is 19mmx21mm, compared to the standard 21mmx24.5mm. There is no distortion of the shape of the stamp.

Postmark; Part of a Christmas slogan cancel, quite normal as far as we can see, but probably again that little bit smaller.


Having looked at all these factors, every possibility as to the source of this stamp seemed unlikely. It was not likely to be a total forgery, as it would be so difficult to replicate everything so accurately. It certainly wasn’t a forged printing on genuine paper, as the paper isn’t the normal size. It couldn’t be a strange one-off fluke, as the owner actually found four of five similar items at the same time, all exactly the same size.

But how could somebody shrink it ?  If it was easy to shrink by some accident of handling or storage, surely we would have seen others before this ?  (Or we would have seen others with some form of shrinkage.) One would expect that any chemical or physical process that caused this much shrinkage would also cause much more damage. How often does anything shrink accurately and evenly in all directions ?

Your comments are welcome !

From 27 November 2006 this article will be repeated on our website, along with much better illustrations - see


The Continuing Decline of Postal Services

We are aware that several people got their last auction catalogue later than expected. It seems that more than just a handful took (first class) three or four days to reach their addresses. We know of two that were delivered - correctly addressed and stamped – a full two weeks after posting.

There are three possible solutions we can see; {1} Improve the postal services (out of our hands), {2} send out catalogues earlier (we're slowly working towards getting our catalogue out at least a day or two earlier), {3} get emails (a number of our customers are on our emailing list as well as our "snail mail" list - this means they have a backup should the postal system fail).



New Gibbons Catalogues – available now.

This is a repeat of the list published in our last newsletter, with only small updates. It appears again for purely commercial reasons – it created some sales, and hopefully this might create some more !  See also the list of new items elsewhere.

Commonwealth & British Empire 1840-1952, 2007 edition. £44.95

Central Asia Sectional (part 16) 4th edition. £27.50

France Sectional (part 6) 6th edition. £34.95

The new series of “Country Catalogues” cover all issues early to modern in the level that used to be found in the “Part One” catalogue, A4 format, fastbound, and in colour.

Australia. (3rd edn. January 2006)       £19.95

Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (1st edn. January 2005)         £14.95

Brunei, Malaysia & Singapore (1st edn. August 2004) £19.95

Canada and Territories (2nd edn. March 2005)         £14.95

Central Africa (1st edn., Dec. 2005) Rhodesia/Nyasaland/Malawi/Zambia/Zimbabwe          £14.95

Cyprus, Gibraltar, and Malta (1st edn. January 2005)         £14.95

Falkland Islands (with F.I.D., B.A.T., South Georgia, South Sandwich Isles) (2nd. edn., June 2004)          £9.95

Hong Kong. (inc. Jap Occ.& Brit P.O.s in China/Japan) (1st edn. April 2004)     £9.95

India (inc. Convention and Feudatory States) (2nd edn. June 2004) not now held as normal stock, but can be ordered       £19.95

Ireland (3rd June 2006)   £9.95 (Currently unavailable, but should be back in soon.)

New Zealand & Dependencies (Ross, Tokelau, etc.) (2nd edn. July 2006)  £14.95

Northern Caribbean (Bahamas & Bermuda) (1st edn. March 2006)  £16.95

St. Helena & Dependencies (2nd edn. October 2005) £12.95

Southern Africa (1st edn., July 2005)   out of print


Beatles Issue

On 9 January, the British Post Office will start its 2007 programme with a set of stamps and miniature sheet commemorating The Beatles.

We reckon this is going to be one of the most popular issues ever, and we’ll be going to town with it. Hopefully you already know that we sell current Philatelic Bureau stock at face value, so there should be no problem with the standard mint items. What we expect to be doing extra will be a wider range of special handstamps on the first day covers. We have still to confirm many of the details, but if you are interested – keep in touch. We’re usually difficult to beat on the prices of our new FDCs !




Shop Diary for end of 2006 into start of 2007


Monday 4 December; Stamps and Collectables Auction. Viewing from 3pm (for large lots) and from 5pm (for small lots). Auction at 7pm.

Opening hours over Christmas and New Year.

Open as normal to Saturday 16 December

Open Monday 18 December 10am-5pm

Open Tuesday 19 December 10am-6pm

Open Wednesday 20 December 10am-9pm

Open Thursday 21 December 10am-6pm

Open Friday 22 December 10am-6pm

Open Saturday 23 December 10am-7pm

Closed Sunday 24 to Wednesday 27 December

Open Thursday 28 December 10am-6pm

Open Friday 29 December 10am-6pm

Open Saturday 30 December 10am-6pm

Closed Sunday 31 to Wednesday 3 January

Open normal hours from Thursday 4 January


Saturday 6 January; or shop’s Coin Department to be re-launched

Tuesday 9 January; Robert Murray displaying “The Slesvig Question” at Scottish Philatelic Society – a quarter of the evening’s displays along with Jack Barbour, David Cumming, and Bob Catto. 7.30pm, St. John’s Church Hall, corner of Lothian Road and Princes Street, Edinburgh.

Tuesday 27 February; “Robert Murray Entertains” at Glasgow Philatelic Society, 7.30pm, Woodside Halls, Glasgow.

AUCTION DATES for the first part of 2007 are still to be fixed.


Some New Catalogues – available now – all in addition to our previous list

Stanley Gibbons Stamps of the World Simplified catalogue. Comes in five volumes, colour throughout. Single volumes £39.95. Our price for the set £145. (SG’s normal price £149.95). The set comes in a box which can double as a slipcase of sorts.

Stoneham Great Britain. As heavily plugged in our last Stamping Ground, and proving popular. £15.95

Stoneham Great Britain pocket catalogue. Very good at £5.95

Gibbons Collect British Stamps catalogue 2007. £9.95  (At the time of writing, the arrival of these is imminent.)

SG East Africa country catalogue, recently published. £16.95

SG Indian Ocean country catalogue. Includes B.I.O.T., British POs in Madagascar, Maldive Islands, Mauritius, and Seychelles. Due in at any moment !  £16.95

Facit Scandinavia Special – all the Scandinavian countries in good detail, in Swedish and English, priced in kronor. £37.95

Zumstein Switzerland and Liechtenstein simplified. £14.50

Yvert France volume 1. Includes CD-rom. £16.95

Yvert France Le Petit. £8.50

Dallay France. Useful catalogue for the specialist. £16.

Sakura Japan. £9.

Also some non-stamp catalogues;

Krause Standard Catalogue of World Coins 1901-2000. £37.99

Coin Market Values 2007. £8.99

Medal Yearbook. £19.95

Murray’s Cigarette Card Values 2007. £7.50

Picture Postcard Values 2007. £10.95

Remember; if a catalogue is not on our list, we might still have it in stock. And remember that if we don’t have a catalogue in stock, we can probably quite easily get it for you.


Coin Department

We have always (apart from our first few months in business) done some dealing in coins, banknotes, and medals. As we have been so busy in other areas, we have recently found it difficult to spend much time on getting new stock processed.

However, we are in the process now of sorting and pricing loads of new coin stock. Literally thousands of coins are going to be ready, from the UK and around the world. Prices will range from cheap material in bags through to individual better coins at some tens of pounds.

There will also be some fresh stocks of world banknotes on sale.

On Saturday 6 January we plan to re-launch our coin department – we’ve still to decide whether this will be at 10am, or 11am, or after lunch – please keep in touch.


Who’s Who at the Stamp Shop

In the last newsletter we gave an updated list of staff. Here now we’ll start to let you get to know just a little bit about ourselves. This month we’ll start with myself, my wife, and Bob Catto. In our own words . . . . . .

Robert Murray; “A collector since the age of seven, I’m currently collecting Denmark and its Colonies, wartime Scandinavia, St. Pierre et Miquelon, the themes of Flags, Vikings, Knots (and others), and I’m gradually trying to give shape to a collection of “Political Aspects of Scottish Stamps”. I started doing some part time dealing while still at school, and spent a couple of years working for a firm of large auctioneers before striking out on my own and opening my shop here in 1977.”

“Other interests and activities outside stamps include traditional music, triathlon, and local history.”

Adrienne Murray; “I gave up my job in the Civil Service in 1998 to start work at the shop. I do most of the non-philatelic work, of which there is a surprising amount !  My outside interests include middle- and long-distance running, reading, and local history.”

“As part of my local history interest I have a collection of certain types of topographical postcards – but I don’t do stamps !”

Bob Catto; “Started collecting at nine years old, mainly used British as we had family all over the UK. Expanded to worldwide through swapping at school. Unfortunately the collection was stolen during my teens and I did not return to collecting until my early twenties, still on British. My current collection is British and American (USA), with some Commonwealth. Outside of stamps my other interests are aerospace and reading, including books about Edinburgh or by local authors.”

“Recently I linked my interests in aerospace and stamps to form a collection of stamps, covers, and postcards relating to projects I worked on during my 45 years in the industry, and planes I have flown on. I am also working on a collection on the American Revolution.”

Look Out for the others next time !



How to Contact Us

At our shop, 5 Inverleith Gardens, on Ferry Road at Goldenacre, Edinburgh. (Open Tue 10-6, Wed 2-9, Thu 10-6, Fri 10-6, Sat 10-7)

By post; Robert Murray, 5 Inverleith Gardens, Edinburgh, EH3 5PU

By telephone; 0131 552 1220, or 0131 478 7021, or using the UK local rate number 0845 0500 886

By email; [email protected], or if any problems use [email protected]

Using Skype; username “stampshop” (email first to fix time)