There are undoubted benefits to steaming broccoli. However, I prefer stamps.



In the last accounting year, I spent £1998.83 on postage. When I buy stamps now I never spend less than £100 at a time, usually double that. There is far more value in our house in postage stamps than there is in cash (attention, burglars!)


In January 2011, a large-letter stamp (second class) cost 51p. A second-class small letter (or Christmas card) stamp cost 32p. At the time of writing these two stamps cost, respectively, 69p and 50p. My Christmas mailshot of 300 large-letter envelopes this year cost £330.00, except some of them went to Europe and other continents, so it was more like £350.00. This time last year the same process would have cost £70 or £80 less.


Nevertheless, the Royal Mail tells us “stamps are excellent value for money”. That excellent value is further enhanced, if you use them twice (I wrote about this in January 2011 too). I am certain more and more stamped envelopes are arriving unfranked. This means you can steam the stamps off and use them again, or preserve the envelope, put a label over the address, re-address it and re-use. Some people just cut off the piece of paper with the stamp on it, and stick that piece of paper onto another envelope. I’ve seen it done, but it seems blatant.


“Stamps are the simplest and most convenient way of paying for postage” says the Royal Mail on its website. My post office does not agree. They tell me they are urged to use the pre-paid labels wherever possible, rather than using stamps. One can see why. You can’t re-use a pre-paid label. You might be able to steam it off, I guess, but it contains the ID of the post-office from which the mail was sent, and the date. Just occasionally, someone sends me what they think is a stamped, addressed envelope with one of these labels on it. My post office tells me this is not valid. So . . .


Last week, my daughter and I met for a cup of coffee and while we were chatting I involved her in steaming. I got out my collection, made during Christmas and the previous couple of months and we did the watery business and laid the spoils out to dry. We lost a few, but ended with an aggregate value of nearly £60.00. Not bad, eh?


But wait a moment. What about the submissions pile (pictured last week)? I hadn’t even investigated that pile of envelopes, or opened any of them. Out of interest I went through to see how many unfranked stamps were there too. There were 77 submission envelopes in all, nearly all of them A4 in size. Of these, about 25 had been labelled at a post office, and were therefore no-hopers. But that left 52, of which no fewer than 22were unfranked. This is brilliant. Each possesses at least one large letter second (69p) and many have up to £1.50 in stampage. Thank you, poets!


So Scrooge here, who was due for a visit to the post office tomorrow, has been able to delay this for a while. The process of carefully removing the stamps (we used the vegetable steamer, though I have to say, floating them in a dish of boiling water works just as well) is strangely pleasurable and reminds me of picking brambles, mushrooms or wild raspberries. It’s the food-for-free feeling.


On the other hand, I was conditioned when young with a horrible sense of lawfulness. I have always had a suspicion this was illegal. So I have done a bit of research into this and . . . I don’t think it is. The Royal Mail tells me, helpfully, that

“stamps without a specified monetary value are described as Non Value Indicator (NVI) and are typically First and Second class stamps. These do not have an expiry date, therefore can be used regardless of the length of time you’ve had them. Stamps with a monetary value also do not have an expiry date and can be combined to make up the value of postage required.”


Nothing here about not using NVIs twice. It is like cryonics: these stamps are not necessarily dead. They may NEVER expire. I wonder whether a stamp could be used more than twice? This thought reminds that last week I steamed four first class stamps (£2.40) from an envelope where they had been previously affixed on a piece of paper cut from . . .presumably another envelope. I wonder whether there’s an optimum place on the envelope where it’s least likely to be franked? Or even sorting offices that are more advantageous?


Is this the criminal mind at work? Or am I just an innocent at large? An ebay search for ‘unfranked stamps’ comes up with 640 results. EBAY STAMPSYou can buy used stamps that have escaped the franking machine. The issue here seems to be that some sellers may slip in a stamp or two with tiny indications they aren’t virginal. You have to watch out for that. Such stamps are naturally cheaper than properly unused stamps from the post office. Nonetheless, in auctions they are often selling for up to ¾ of the original value. Not that cheap, then. And if you steam them yourself, you can get them for free.


So why is the Royal Mail not bothered about this? I can only assume it’s because most people can’t be bothered to get steaming. Or perhaps most people don’t write and send letters any more. Or perhaps the post office labelling trend has prevented the harvesting of unused stamps from packets and large envelopes, where the dividends are greater.


I wonder what will happen when our mail becomes “digitally enhanced”, the next new thing. Digitally enhanced mail will be scannable with a 3G phone (one of which I thankfully do not have. Why ‘thankfully’? Read on). The Royal Mail says very odd things indeed about this project:


“Combining state-of-the-art technology with history and heritage enables people to link from their post to a company’s online content, such as a website, video or Facebook page, in seconds.”


I don’t see where the history and heritage comes in, except as useful alliteration. More to the point, I wonder why one would want to travel to a website while opening envelopes. I must be missing something. Yes, they go on to say:


“People receiving the digitally-enhanced post simply scan the mail with their 3G phone to start an online journey.”


It all makes sense. Of course, you would want to start an online journey as soon as possible. It’s a way of getting out and meeting people. A sort of free travel. All you will need is the free Digital Space App (my partner, who knows nothing whatsoever about computers and doesn’t even like them knows about Apps now. They have entered the vernacular).


This passport to your online journey is what the Royal Mail calls a “solution”. I could launch into a whole other rant about business use of the word “solution”, but I will only remark that the accent here is on solving things in the Sherlock Holmes way, not on dissolving them in a steamy sense.


But actually the word ‘solution’ is doubly appropriate because the solution in question is embedded in “a digital watermark”. This “enables marketers to integrate their print and online materials without the need for barcodes or QR codes.” Digital watermarking is a solution “launched” (please visualise a ship at this point, and some champagne) by something called the Royal Mail’s Door to Door unit, in partnership with Digital Space.


Steaming stamps is an allowable form of resistance: it is the small person’s symbolic action in the face of solution-oriented organisations that say they care. Your New Year’s resolution for 2013 should be to retain suspicion in the face of ubiquitous inroads by digital marketing mentalities. How can you trust a website that says: Got a question? Need some help? We’re here to tell you everything you need to know”?

6 thoughts on “GET STEAMING NOW!”

  1. Eh, thee’s a right rebel lass. I’ll contribute to your bail when the ‘Thought Police’ get you for this one.

  2. I think half our Christmas post arrived unfranked and so I had a large harvest: one of the modern labours of the month. Steaming is too messy: I’m a peeler – quite easy when you get the knack, and two saved stamps pay for a Pritt stick. Ah, the joys of being thrifty! However, if you recycle envelopes (yes, I do that, too: who wouldn’t?) beware of the barcode (printed on those rare occasions the post office can be bothered to frank/code the mail). It is specific to your address, so your recycled envelope might well find its way back to you, even faster than some magazine editors reject submissions.

  3. I also scrape stamps off wherever possible. One of my jobs saves old envelopes for reuse and there’s invariably a couple of ‘large letter’ unfranked beauties in there which come in handy…

  4. Sorry to be a spoilsport but It is actually illegal to reuse stamps whether or not they have been franked. It is fraud.

  5. Interesting, Roland. I had always thought that, but then I was born with a guilty conscience.

    I carefully read my way through everything I could find on the Royal Mail website, and I couldn’t find it in print. If it is illegal, does that mean someone once passed a [i]law [/i]against such a practice? Obviously the postal service would not like the idea that a person could do this, but then that’s why they are supposed to frank the stamps.

    You would think illegality would prevent people openly selling such stamps on Ebay, wouldn’t you, since that clearly identifies a person and makes him or her available for prosecution? But perhaps it is simply not worth prosecuting. And of course, if a law is not enforced, or not adhered to by most people, its power is questionable.

    It is very hard to prove whether or not a stamp has been through the mail before. Especially when some of us stick stamps onto an envelope and then find, for various reasons, we can’t use that particular envelope, so have to cut them off and stick them on another…

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