06 August 2012
Tim Clegg of Torbay Stamp Centre describes his Olympic-style dash to create a London 2012 first day cover featuring Royal Mail's gold medal stamps, following Team GB's first taste of gold at the Olympic Games ...
It was a warm and balmy Wednesday night in Torbay. The Olympic highlights were on TV, and we sat with mates, armed with bubbly, ready to celebrate the first gold medals for Team GB.
Gary Lineker was in buoyant mood, and we roared and we cheered as the lady rowers and Bradley Wiggins secured those medals.
A couple of Champagne glasses later however, and I was suddenly reminded out of the blue of my day job as a stamp dealer. Lineker announced that two stamps would be issued overnight to commemorate these gold medals. Some post offices would get stocks the very next day on August 2nd. I’d never heard of an overnight stamp issue before, and ordinarily I would have been interested. But it was supposed to be a party and a night off!
“Hey, you’re a stamp dealer!” exclaimed a friend. “You should get those. They might be worth something!”
“I doubt it”, I replied, perhaps a little too cynically. “But thanks for the tip.”
“No no”, shouted another. “It’s your duty! Go get those stamps!”
I explained that our shop didn’t deal in new issues, and at any rate, I didn’t think they’d be available in Torquay within a mere 24 hours.
“Check online” came the reply, and a relentless enthusiasm quickly developed amongst my non-stamp collecting friends, who now seemed determined to get hold of these stamps on their first day of issue. So despite the fact I was off duty, I logged on to see if they’d be available in Torquay the very next day.
Perhaps we’d had a bit too much champagne to negotiate the Royal Mail website, but we couldn’t find much information, and I was quite relieved when interest started to wane, and we got back to the party and the sport.
The next day, I’d completely forgotten about the whole affair. I left work just before four to mail some letters at a nearby post office. Waiting in the queue, I was reminded of the previous night by the gentleman in front. “Have you got any?” I heard him ask the cashier. “No,” came the reply, “but we should get them tomorrow. Try us in the morning, as we might sell out”.
If I’m honest, I was slightly relieved. Had they been available, it would have required a sudden flurry of activity to obtain some First Day Covers before the close of business at 5pm. Last night’s party had taken its toll, and in any case, it was very late in the day with little time left to manage anything.
And then, at 4.09pm, it happened. My mobile phone started to ring, and before I even took the call, I somehow sensed what my wife was about to tell me.
“Those new stamps” she started. “They had some in WHSmiths. I’ve left them on the kitchen table. I’ve got to pick up Jack now, see you later.” And then, she was gone.
I now had 51 minutes with no car, and two miles of ground to cover, if I was to get these stamps cancelled. I started to run. It is after all, I thought to myself, the Olympic Games. I raced home and made the kitchen table by 4.17pm.
The stamps lay in wait. Six mini-sheets and two presentation envelopes. I raided the postage tin and found some Castle high values and a £5 Machin. It was now 4.22pm.
I remembered there was a box of covers somewhere in the spare bedroom. I hastily began to flick through, and found some Olympic covers from GB and Liechtenstein. They would have to do. (4.30pm).
At that very moment, my wife returned with the car! She immediately recognised my state of borderline panic. “Let’s go”, I shouted. “First stop the stamp shop!”
We arrived at the Torbay Stamp Centre at 4.40pm. I ran inside, grabbed some Olympic commemoratives, and legged it back to the waiting car. “Go go go!” I shouted. But my wife was driving too slowly, and fearing all was about to be lost, we pulled over and swopped seats.
The remainder of the journey had my wife attempting to stick stamps onto envelopes in a state of increasing bewilderment. Worse still, she only had a blunt and broken HB pencil, salvaged from the car’s glove compartment, and was trying to write legible addresses on multiple envelopes in a now fast moving Smart.
We reached the post office, but there was nowhere to park, even for a tiny Smart. My wife uttered some words she rarely uses, and I veered off left into a vacant bus stop lay-by. I grabbed the covers, dived out of the car, and ran. It was a sprint finish now.
4.50pm and I was finally inside the post office. There was no queue. “These are Special Delivery. They’re pre-paid. Please cancel them nicely”. The post master took it all very seriously, and executed a direct hit on every stamp with the precision of a Gold Medal Olympic archer. Click...Hit...Click...Hit...Click...Hit... went his metal stamping machine.
But there was a lot of ink, an awful lot of ink, and I sensed the results were going to reflect this. But I was out of breath, and to be honest, I no longer much cared. We got the Special’s done, and the post master then threw the remaining four covers into his mail bag from a standing distance of about five feet - straight down the centre without touching the sides! Another Gold Medal performance, I thought to myself.
5pm and the job was complete. I exited the post office, totally exhausted. My wife had long gone with the car, no doubt to avoid enthusiastic traffic wardens, so I walked home feeling like a true Olympian in need of a cup of tea.
The next day and the covers arrived. The results were gloriously mixed and messy. As predicted, the ink had smudged everywhere, front, back and sides. But some readable cancels did survive to lay testimony to the story. The four covers sent by normal post made for a delightful group! One had been given a circular hand stamp, but alas no readable date. Another received no cancel of any sort whatsoever. The third displayed a long red line (again no date), but the fourth (the Liechtenstein Cycling cover) sported a readable August 2nd machine cancel in black. Although it was now badly creased, it constituted success in our opinion!
I guess anybody looking at these hurried, scruffy and messy covers in the future might not be as impressed as we are. But for us, the whole process seems most fitting – an Olympic dash, quite appropriate for London 2012. And, you could argue, more rewarding than receiving your covers by direct debit from the Philatelic Bureau.
In our recent book, Stamp Collecting Unhinged, we talk about the stories behind and around stamps themselves. We also admit to liking damaged stamps, and First Day Covers that have actually been through the post. This event, for us at least, touches on all three of those topics.
And on the subject of the number three, as we write this article, Mo Farrah, Greg Rutherford and the extraordinary Jessica Ennis have just delivered three more Golds in under an hour! No doubt there’ll be more overnight stamps on the way. This time though, I think I’ll leave the First Day Covers to somebody else.
What a great London 2012 we are having in the UK! And what a great hobby stamp collecting is!
Read more about London 2012 stamps and coins in our special web pages.
Discover the many stamps and coins being issued to mark the London 2012 Games in the August issue of Stamp & Coin Mart.