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Glen Stephens The Biggest Stamp Dealer in the Southern Hemisphere




    October 26, 1998. (Front page feature story)



Diana's memory tarnished by profit grab

By Glen Stephens

A controversy is raging in Great Britain about the comparatively modest amount of funds Royal Mail (the British Post Office) donated on Oct. 5 from sales of the special set of Princess Diana Memorial stamps.

This se-tenant strip of five 26-penny stamps broke all sales records worldwide for a Great Britain issue.

Great Britain's Princess Diana stamps are in the news again. This time the controversy is over the amount of money that Royal Mail donated to the Princess Diana Memorial Fund from the sale of the stamps.

There was an initial print run of 140 million stamps. I predicted in the Dec. 29, 1997, Linn's that this figure would be totally inadequate, and a further 50 million were printed before the Feb. 3 issue date.

The 190 million stamp issue is about eight times that of a normal commemorative set from Great Britain.

It now appears that Royal Mail may have pocketed a profit of some £20 million ($33.6 million) from the sale of these tribute stamps, after the Princess Diana Memorial Fund charity has been paid out. On Oct. 5, postal chiefs donated only £9 million ($15 million) to the fund.

This amount represented so-called philatelic profits from stamps, presentation packs and first-day covers sold specifically to collectors via philatelic bureau sales centers.

It would appear that any customer or collector who purchased stamps from a normal post office did not generate one cent of revenue for the memorial fund.

Obviously, a vast quantity of the Diana stamps were purchased from normal outlets by the public feeling that this attractive tribute was in some way contributing funds toward her favorite charities. Big mistake.

Also, some stamps sold to collectors probably weren't considered philatelic sales.

Because of the gridlock overwhelming the philatelic bureau in Edinburgh, Scotland, I ordered Diana sheet stock from collectors and dealers in the United Kingdom.

So of course did countless other dealers, both British and overseas, buy stock outside the bureau. None of us realized that our big-dollar purchases would not contribute one red cent to the memorial fund.

An article in the London newspaper The Times on Oct. 5 quotes the undoubted expert on this stamp issue, collector Peter Jennings, as estimating that the post office made a total profit of up to £30 million ($50 million) on the stamps.

The British public is angry about the profit distribution, and the story was carried on television news broadcasts Oct. 5.

One British dealer told me today it may well be the subject of a government enquiry, given the sensitivity in the United Kingdom relating to all things Diana.

It was understood by observers that all profits from the sales of these stamps would go to the memorial fund. This was stated publicly by Royal Mail at various times, by various spokespeople and by senior management.

A Dec. 29, 1997, press release clearly stated all profits would be donated to the fund.

On Jan. 5, 1998, Robert Alexander, the customer care manager for the Royal Mail's philatelic bureau, wrote to customers announcing the beautiful stamp strip of five and repeated that all profits would go to the fund.

A trade release to dealers later reiterated this claim.

On Jan. 13, Adam Novak director of Royal Mail and chairman of the stamp advisory committee, was quoted in the The Times newspaper as saying: "We will contribute all profits to the Princess's Memorial Fund. This is a tribute issue, not a commercial exercise."

A similar statement appears on all the special presentation packs for the stamps.

The story then changed -- very quietly. The day prior to the stamp's issue on Feb. 3, the wording from Royal Mail changed very subtly. Few noticed it. From now on the official policy was that only the profits from so-called philatelic sales would go to the fund.

The quiet addition of this phrase by Royal Mail appears to have potentially cost the memorial fund £20 million.

Royal Mail has now gone into bureaucracy stonewall mode.

The Times on Oct. 5 stated Royal Mail has declined to supply a profit figure from sales of the Diana stamps, claiming that it is commercially confidential information.

The battle rages on behind the scenes as well.

Well-known British collector and stamp expert Peter Jennings has encountered problems with his forthcoming book Diana and the Stamps -- The Inside Story.

Royal Mail reportedly declined to give permission for the stamps to be reproduced in that book, and it has objected to Jennings' reference to the lack of frankness about allocation of the profits.

Great Britain's Princess Diana issue was dogged with controversy from day one. There were allegations that Queen Elizabeth did not wish the tribute stamps to be released. Later, the blame for the long delay shifted to the Spencer family.

Both sides denied this, and predictably, blamed each other. The delay dragged on.

The post office even threatened to burn all 140 million stamps then printed and held in high security storage unless a decision was made to release them. Five months elapsed from the prompt printing of the issue to its eventual release.

Later on, controversy raged as it was revealed that the printers were working on a full-speed print run of the stamps Sept. 6, 1997, the day of Diana's funeral, and a day that was a most public day of mourning in Britain.

Glen Stephens is a stamp dealer and philatelic journalist in Sydney, Australia.

This is an edited version of a Linn's article that appeared in the October 26, 1998, issue of Linn's Stamp News. For the complete story, subscribe to Linn's Stamp News.

                             All content Copyright 2000 Linn's Stamp News, of Sidney, Ohio, USA and by the author Glen Stephens.



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