Mixed Frankings of the 20th Century
Mixed frankings can be simply defined as "stamps of different types and issues used together on the same cover" that "visually illustrate the process of change". They form an important category within "usage collecting", i.e. the study of the purposes stamps were issued for and the way they were actually used. This style of collecting bridges the gap between traditional philately and postal history, but while extremely popular for issues of certain countries (e.g. US "Prexies" or Australian decimals), it seems oddly neglected among GB collectors. So hopefully this display may prompt viewers to take another look.
Types of replacement
Replacement of one stamp issue by another can be:
- Immediate — a new set of stamps is issued to completely replace the previous set. In practice this rarely happened; the clearest example is the set of decimal low values of 1971.
- Gradual — values are replaced piecemeal over a period until the new set is complete. Most replacements of definitive issues have been done this way, with the new stamps being phased in over a period of years as and when ready.
- Partial — only certain values in the set are replaced. Typically happens when changes to the set of values in use are required; the decimal Machin issues have in effect undergone a rolling partial replacement due to regular increases in postal rates!
- Temporary — values are replaced by another issue with a limited period of sale, then the original stamps are used again. This is the way commemoratives are usually issued.
- Parallel — both issues are on sale simultaneously for an extended period. This was common, as replaced stamps generally remained on sale until the stocks in hand had been used up, unless the new stamps were specifically requested. Adhesives and postal stationery of the same value are another example.
Most of the time, mixed franking covers will have different values from each issue. Covers with stamps of the same value from two issues — the "gold standard" — are much scarcer and of particular interest.
New issues due to changes of monarch
There were five changes of monarch during the century, all of which naturally resulted in new issues of stamps. "Mixed reign" combinations are attractive and popular items, and the gradual replacement gives plenty of scope for finding them over a period of years — for example stamps of Edward VII and George V in 1911-13, George V and George VI in 1937-39, and George VI and Elizabeth II in 1952-55.
Mixed reign combination covers normally only bear stamps of two monarchs, but commercial triple reign combinations occasionally occur (philatelic covers are common). The ones most likely to be seen were a result of the "Year of the Three Kings" in 1936 — in which the planned gradual replacement of the George V issues with Edward VIII issues ended up as only a partial replacement after the Abdication. Since the first few George VI stamps issued in 1937 had the same values as the Edward VIII stamps, however, combinations of the issues of all three kings are hard to find.
New issues within a single reign
The usual types of combination occur, although there were fewer opportunities for complete replacement with a new set to occur within a reign in the 20th century than in the 19th — the reigns of the "Four Kings" were much shorter than that of Queen Victoria, and the Machin decimals underwent what amounted to a rolling partial replacement, which is why they are not covered in any detail here! There were however several examples of earlier partial replacements or "ongoing development of an existing stamp", with some values re-issued in a different colour, whether for operational reasons or availability of materials.
Issue of commemorative stamps
The general procedure with commemorative issues was to sell them instead of the corresponding definitives while stocks lasted or until withdrawn, unless the definitives were specifically asked for. So "gold standard" combinations with definitives of the same value are unusual, but they can be found on commercial covers, presumably where users bought the stamps at different times.
Currency change upon decimalisation
The combination usages that resulted from the change to decimal currency in 1971 fall into two distinct periods — i.e. pre- and post-decimalisation. The former arose because a new set of high values with exact equivalents in shillings were issued in 1970, enabling postal clerks and company post rooms to get used to the new 100-stamp sheet format with values in relatively infrequent use (10p, 20p, and 50p equal to 2s, 4s, and 10s, plus the £1 in the new sheet size). After "D-Day", £sd stamps were valid for use until the end of February 1972 at values corresponding to the official £sd-to-decimal conversion charts.
Use of postage dues
Postage dues were first used in the UK in 1914, and replacements generally followed the "gradual" pattern. However, as the design was not changed until decimalisation in 1971, it is very difficult to spot combination covers with dues from more than one issue, as they generally differ only in the watermark! There were however three distinct issues of decimal dues with different designs; "gold standard" combinations are unusual but can be found.
Postal stationery combinations
The printed stamps on postal stationery are postage stamps every bit as much as an adhesive is, although generally issued (in "parallel") only for the most commonly needed values. There are many possible combinations that involve uprated stationery, especially where it is used outside of the rate period for which it was originally issued, and occasional examples are included.
Other types of combination usage
Finally, postage stamps have been used for a range of purposes other than sending items through the post, giving rise to a number of unusual combination usages, whether for Post Office services or for fiscal or "revenue" use.
Note that while there are many examples of technical changes in areas like paper coating, watermark, or phosphor, here I have followed the principle of considering only easily visible differences. I make no claim for completeness - the display is simply the covers that have come to hand, which means that certain areas such as George VI issues and the decimalisation period are treated more extensively. Types of mixed franking are grouped together, with the arrangement within the grouping largely chronological (except that "gold standard" covers are placed first). The period covered is 1900-1999 (let's not get technical about century end years).