PUC £1 and rip-off Britain

The BBC has now run 10 series of their Rip Off Britain TV programme which was first aired in November 2009.

Had that first episode been on the radio eighty years previously, the PUC £1 could have featured in one of their investigations.

Britain’s first commemoratives, the 1924 Wembley pair, were issued with the sole intention of raising money to pay for the British Empire Exhibition. Five years later the second commemorative was to ‘celebrate’ the

Postal Union Conference taking place in London, but again making money from

collectors soon became a key aim.

The original idea was for there to be just four low values which had a total face value

of 51/2d. The delegates would be presented with the stamps so not a generous gift by

any means.

So what to do? Issue a £1 stamp was the answer, even though there was no need for it

for either post or revenue purposes. The £1 Seahorse was available for that, but it would

generate big money from collectors.

A pound was worth something back in 1929 – about £50 in today’s money –so it made

a nice freebie for PUC delegates but collectors were far from happy. Stanley Phillips

(pictured), the editor of Gibbons Stamp Monthly, wrote: “… the policy of issuing a set

consisting of four low value stamps and then a one pound denomination is absolutely

indefensible.”

According to a post office memo written in 1937 - when the stamp was still on sale - 66,788 PUC £1s were sold so the market was

worth about £3.5m in today’s money. Even after the costs of production were taken into account the stamp was a nice little earner.

Virtually all the stamps were sold to collectors or dealers, and once dealers had sold as many as they could to collectors they used them for postage in the same way they do with commemoratives now.

 As few were used for postage and then discarded there are about as many PUC £1s around now as there has ever been and demand has been pretty constant too.

That was until the 1970s when investment in stamps reared its ugly, and soon to be severed, head.

The PUC £1 was again the rip-off stamp of choice. ‘Investment’ companies soon realised

if you had someone mug enough to think they could make big money out of investing

in stamps all you had to do was give them something big, black and bold at an inflated price they gave you their money.

The catalogue price rose from about £600 to £2,000 for an unmounted mint example

It was a good trick for a while; the stock of stamps stayed the same but demand increased and so did the price.

Bubbles always burst, and this was no different.

The demand has since fallen, as has price. The catalogue price for unmounted mint now stays stubborn at £1,100 which, in real terms, is a massive drop on the 1970 price.

Chris Forwood