CAL ROBERTS
cal.roberts@age.co.nz

Postage stamps are no longer being physically postmarked by New Zealand Post, frustrating stamp collectors and raising the prospect of stamps being re-used.

NZ Post insists it has ways of detecting if a stamp had been used before, even without a postmark, but would not provide details yesterday.

“Unfortunately, we cannot provide further details on how we detect the reuse of stamps, as we don’t want to potentially provide information about how to avoid detection.”

It has not publicly announced the change, and the “used” stamps look indistinguishable from brand new stamps to Carterton resident Nancy Blackman.
She has been collecting postmarked stamps for more than 40 years, and noticed the change last week. She described it as policy change “by stealth”.

Blackman writes to her family about once a week, and they return the postmarked stamps in the mail, ready to be catalogued.

“I just put them on a saucer and soak them in a bit of water for about 20 minutes,” she said.

Blackman puts the stamps in one of several albums she has been filling for decades.

She found out stamps were not being postmarked when her granddaughter wrote back from Christchurch.

“She said ‘They didn’t postmark your letter, nan’.”

To the naked eye, an unmarked stamp that has gone through the post looks just like a new one — with no visible mark noting its journey — at least not to Blackman.

“You could use them again, I don’t know whether they thought of that,” she said.

An NZ Post spokesperson said it was currently trialling new processes to reduce costs — “this includes stopping the cancelling of stamps by processing machines”.

“While stamps are not currently being machine postmarked, we do have processes in place to detect the re-use of stamps and postage included envelopes,” they said.

“New Zealand Post is having to make difficult decisions around efficiencies in the face of ongoing letter decline . . . The trial is part of this.”

A resource page for children on the NZ Post website includes a “Good questions!” section.

“Why is mail cancelled with a postmark over the stamp?” it asks.

The answer given: “To stop stamps being used again.”

Bob Gibson, the secretary of stamp collectors’ group the New Zealand Philatelic Federation, said NZ Post’s decision not to postmark stamps had frustrated collectors.

“We’re really disappointed that they’ve gone down this path. We understand why they’ve done it, the argument they have used is that it’s not necessary any longer and that it adds to cost.

“But I find that very hard to believe.”

Gibson said cost-saving measures involved with postmarking did not make much sense to him — “the only thing they seem to be saving is the ink”.

“They’re counting their pennies, but I think this is a short-sighted view in my mind.

“They’re willing to take the risk that stamps won’t be reused, [and that] they’re getting payment for the service they’re providing.”

NZ Post does provide a service for philatelists, where stamps can be postmarked to fit a collection.

“That’s fine, it’s a service we appreciate because often they’re cleaner postmarks than some of the other ones they apply at the post office,” Gibson said.

“But it’s not the same thing. And it’s changing the whole tenor of the collecting area.”

On July 1, NZ Post increased the cost of sending a letter from $1 to $1.20 — prompting businesses to buy in bulk before the price change came into effect.

At the time, NZ Post said the increase was due to fewer letters being sent, meaning there was less money to maintain its network of more than 880 postal outlets, and 1.98 million delivery points.

In the financial year 2018, the number of letters delivered by NZ Post had declined by more than 63 million, compared to the same period last year — representing a 12 per cent decline in volume and an 11 per cent decline in revenue, a spokesperson said.