Collectors on the hunt for ‘experimental’ kiosk stamps

By Ian S. Robertson

There is a rush on by some dealers and collectors seeking a new series of illustrated “experimental” computer-vended Canadian postage labels.

They are being sold from recently-installed dispensers installed on kiosks at three 24-hour “Concept Store” postal stations in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Like the previous program launched in late 2012 and cancelled seven months later, there was no official public announcement about the current stamps.

Staff were notified internally about the “New print-on-demand postage service at concept stores!” via Canada Post Magazine in October. The colorful ‘print-on-demand’ issues, which feature five different landscape paintings by Canadian artists, first went on sale Oct. 31 at the new downtown Vancouver main post office.They resemble similar self-stick “Post & Go” labels sold in Great Britain for more than 10 years.

Similar “Faststamps” are also produced by several European countries plus Ireland, the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, plus Gibraltar. Other countries with similar stamps include Australia, Qatar, with “Automatenmarken” available in Germany.

The Canadian versions are printed with four denominations in vertical strips of five: The 85-cent first-class “Permanent” domestic letter rate; the $1.20 U.S.-letter rate; the $1.80 oversize letter rate; and the $2.50 overseas letter rate. A complete set with all five designs consists of 20 stamps, with a total dispensed price of $31.75 plus tax.

Mixed rates on the same strip are not available.

After customers discovered the latest stamps dispensed by two machines at the 495 West Georgia Street, Vancouver concept store outlet, they advised friends. Some buyers began offering them for sale. News spread quickly, and when changes in the machine printing were noticed, some dealers booked flights to the west coast from as far away as Toronto.

People who used their credit cards to buy the first versions were very lucky.Those stamps had 18-digit codes and postage rates. Corrective software was installed by Nov. 26, applying 14-digit codes, after postal officials in Ottawa were tipped about some numbers from the 18-digit codes invading the pre-printed painting designs.

As a result, the initial set was soon being offered for premium prices.Just before Christmas, prices for the original labels ranged on eBay from triple to seven times their face value. Sets of the second versions were priced from $75 Cdn. to $105.

Higher premiums are being sought for individual stamps and sets with printing anomalies. They include  a whole or partial numeral ‘11’ on the lower left corner of stamps of each denomination on the bottom labels of each strip, shifted numeric denominations, plus smaller or larger “Permanent” text.

Online or by phone, Canada Post is selling strips of “Permanent” mint stamps bearing each of the five designs for $4.25, plus tax. Other denominations are only available from kiosks or secondary sources. Franked with one of each “Permanent” stamp cancelled with an Oct. 31, 2016 commemorative Vancouver postmark, 8,000 official first-day covers were being prepared for sale in early January, at $5.25 plus tax. Photos of each artist are printed at the bottom left.

The featured paintings, all in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts collection, are Emily Carr’s 1912 Indian War Canoe on Alert Bay; James Edward Hervey MacDonald’s 1928 The Front of Winter; Tom Thomson’s 1915 In the Northland; Albert Henry Robinson’s 1923 Winter, Baie-Saint-Paul; and Arthur Lismer’s 1930 Little Haven, a scene from Nova Scotia.

Designed by Canada Post regular Stéphane Huot, of Montreal, the stamps are being printed in large rolls with four lithographic transfer colors plus metallic ink by the Lowe-Martin firm in Ottawa, on Avery Dennison paper.

Denominations and 14-number codes, which indicate the date and time of issue at each kiosk, plus its location, are printed thermographically on the face of the labels within all the machines.  Unlike the imperforate 2012-2013 kiosk stamps, the current versions have simulated perforations on all sides.

“They are British-style,” Jim Phillips, director of Stamp Services for Canada Post, said. “They look like Post & Go stamps.”

Calling them “better-designed” and “more sophisticated” than the2012-13 labels, perfs make them “look more like stamps,” he said. Although some envelopes and packets slip through the high-volume mail sorting systems without being cancelled, they should “be postmarked like stamps.

“There’s been a lot of excitement,” Phillips said in a mid-December interview.

In addition to sales in Vancouver going “through the roof,” he had inquiries from print-to-order stamp specialists from Germany and Spain. Such stamp-like labels are a “pretty sophisticated” collecting topic, but Phillips said “not all collectors are interested.”

The dispensing machinery was custom-built in Canada, with some software from overseas suppliers, he said.

“There are no plans for any more,” but Phillips said staff will record output from all four kiosk machines at the three outlets to determine if purchases are made “after-hours or if the counter staff are busy.”

The new labels will not be included in January-March 2017 Stamps of Canada quarterly packs or Collection Canada 2017 albums. Official first-day covers, however, will be available in the first quarterly OFDC Collection packets and the annual OFDC collection, Phillips said.

The specialty centers, online shopping systems and other modern changes were initiated in recent years to keep Canada Post competitive in the wake of declining letter mail and budget issues.

In addition to providing computerized systems to weigh parcels, packets and envelopes, dispatch appropriate meter-like postage labels, and sell booklets of regular stamps, the facilities have “fitting rooms” where customers can try on clothing they’re received – and send items back if they don’t fit. And a ‘pop-up’ store offering sheets and bedding was set up at the downtown Vancouver centre in November.

“In 2017, we will continue to test self-serve in some franchise locations, to see what adoption looks like in their environment,” John Reis, general manager retail for Canada Post, was quoted saying in the internal publication.

“We’ll test it too in some high-volume stores in major centers,” he added. “Moving simple transactions to self-serve will reduce lineups.”

FIRST ISSUED OCT. 31 WITH NO FANFARE

Although no media release was issued about the stamps, there was extensive media coverage at the opening of the new Vancouver facility.

The new labels became available on Dec. 14 at Canada Post’s first concept centre, which was opened at 8889 Yonge St., Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, in October, 2015, then the next day at a six-month-old outlet at 17310 99 Ave. NW, Edmonton. Those two outlets also have drive-through facilities.

According to part-time Calgary stamp dealer Mirko Zatka, the earliest date reported by specialists on the Vancouver stamps from either the indoor kiosk machine or one outdoors is Nov. 19. One machine produced slightly different positioning of the denomination and numeric code on the labels, with the last code numeral printed over “CANADA” beside the painting.

“This appears to have been noticed by Canada Post, and may be the reason why the code was shortened to 14 digits,” Zatka wrote in the November-December edition of Corgi Times, the Elizabeth II Study Group Newsletter produced under the auspices of the British North America Philatelic Society (BNAPS).

Quantities of the same labels can be ordered, from five to 100, by selecting default keys on the computer screen, he wrote. For stamps with different denominations, customers select them on-screen, with each version bearing the same digital time-stamped code.

The project is “a pilot that came up really fast,” Phillips said. “We’d done a ton of testing.”

He said the decision to release the horizontal-format stamps came too late for the last 2016 edition of the Crown agency’s promotional magazine. The first official news about the new vending stamps was being prepared for inclusion in the inaugural 2017 edition of Crown agency’s Details magazine, Phillips said.

FIRST KIOSK STAMP
TESTS ENDED AFTER SEVEN MONTHS

Self-stick labels dispatched with peelable backs from machines in postal outlets on Dec. 12, 2012 feature multi-colored maple leaves laid out in a large single maple leaf format. Much smaller than the latest versions, they have die-cut imperforate edges, rounded corners and a dot matrix bar code printed in black.

Dispatched in singles from rolls installed in Wincor Nixdorf vending machines set up in one Vancouver post office, one in London, Ont. and at three sites in Toronto, the first — short-lived — denominations were 61 cents, $1.05, $1.22, $1.29, $1.80, $2.10, $2.95, $3.40 and $3.65.

Canada Post publicly announced installation of the machines on its Facebook page on Jan. 15, 2013.

Official first-day covers, bearing only a 61-cent first class letter-rate computer vending postage stamp, went on sale Feb. 15, 2013. Unlike mint or commercially used examples with that denomination, it is fairly common. The 2017 Unitrade Specialized Catalogue of Canadian Stamps lists it at $15.

Few collectors and dealers knew of them, even fewer had access to them, and the higher-denomination stamps are exceedingly rare. Some covers are in collector’s hands, with most franked by the 61-cent stamp, but they are not common.

The first basic mint set of nine stamps, denominated 61 cents, $1.05 for the-then U.S. letter rate and the contemporary $1.80 overseas letter rate, are priced in Unitrade at $100 each, mint or used.

The rest, with denominations intended for oversized letters and small packets, are listed at between $800 and $2,000 each in mint-only condition.

By adding the Unitrade listing for an eight-stamp set, the total comes to $8,500. No price is given for the $1.22 stamp, since the catalogue reports “no examples yet reported.”

Another reason for the first set’s rarity was its short time on sale: Four weeks.

New versions were issued on Jan. 14, 2013, to coincide with increased mail rates.

Featuring the same large maple leaf design, the second set was produced with 63-cent, $1.10, $1.26, $1.34, $1.85, $2.20, $3.05, $3.50, and $3.75 denominations. Four months before the machines were shut down and taken of service in late July, a second printing appeared in late March, 2013.

No first-day covers of that set are listed by Unitrade.

The first and second printing of the second series are more common today and, therefore, are priced much lower, compared to the inaugural stamps. Unitrade prices a set of the nine final versions at $112.

To order current kiosk stamps and first-day covers, go online at: www.canadapost.ca/shop/stamps/2016-stamps-by-collection/kiosk-stamps.jsf.

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