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Stamps rumour countered

13 December 2007

by Bill Bowder

THE POST OFFICE tried this week to end confusion over the issue of two sets of first- and second-class Christmas stamps. A spokesman said that the two issues were a trial run of a plan to issue one set of Christian-themed stamps and one set of secular-themed stamps every Christmas from next year.

The sets consist of one set of six different angels, and another of two images of the Madonna and Child. The Royal Mail’s recent policy has been to issue Christian and secular-themed Christmas stamps in alternate years. This is the year for the Christian theme.

“We will keep the Madonna and Child design for next year as well,” the spokesman, Patrick O’Neill, said on Tuesday. “The only reason we have done these designs is to respond to what people are saying to us.”

Mr O’Neill denied that the new policy had been decided after complaints that customers could not get the Madonna and Child stamps. “We are absolutely not responding to this pressure. This is something we had planned to do, and we are delighted about it.”

Tens of millions of Madonna and Child stamps had been printed, among the hundreds of millions of Christmas stamps. The relative scarcity of the Madonna and Child stamp could be accounted for by the smaller print run, Mr O’Neill had told the Church Times earlier.

He had said that it was “completely and utterly not true” to say that post offices had received instructions not to promote the stamps. When told on Tuesday that the main Paddington post office was not advertising the stamps, he said that he would investigate.

As soon as the new stamps were issued in November, emails began to circulate saying that the stamps were not advertised, were hard to obtain, and were part of a plot to end Christian Christmas stamps by showing there was “no demand”.

One email, referring to a purported statement from an unidentified postmaster, said that post offices had been instructed by head office not to offer the stamps openly for sale, and to sell them only if specially asked for. One said that the sales clerk had to check with his supervisor before issuing a Christmas stamp. Other emails said that the angel stamps were readily available, but the Madonna stamp had to be asked for by name.

The communications officer of Lichfield diocese, Gavin Drake, warned on Monday against “hoax” emails that claimed the Royal Mail had told its staff not to sell the stamps. “This warning simply is not true,” he said in a statement. The Royal Mail had told him it had printed 300 million Christmas stamps. But Mr Drake, who had understood that the Post Office was committed to the alternation of secular and religious stamps, welcomed the change of heart.

“We are absolutely delighted that the Post Office has listened to public demand and has responded to it so positively,” he said on Tuesday.

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