The Regional Definitives
The first British Regional Definitives (Regionals), also known as "Country Definitives", have been a part of the British postal system since 1958. The idea behind these devolved stamp designs was to encourage tourism in the Channel Isles, following the German occupation of World War 2. Prior to the War, several designs had been submitted to the GPO by the different regions, with all suggestions being rejected.
Prior to designs specific to the 6 regions, the GPO released a "Channel Isles" issue, marking the third anniversary of their liberation. This was released on the 10th of May 1948.
Above are stamps C1 & C2, commemorating the Channel Islands' Third Anniversary of Liberation.
In 1958 the Regionals were issued for Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all fetauring a variation of the Wilding Head design. It took over two decades of requesting for Regionals to be issued, before the Postmaster agreed to them. The main concerns cited during this period were of the costs associated with designing, stocking and distributing 6 designs of each denomination rather than just one. There were also concerns expressed by the government that releasing Regional stamps would cause separatist support in each region, as unique stamp designs historically indicated a sovereign nation.
In the years leading up to 1958, there was much discussion between the GPO, politicians and other government departments before all were in agreement that the issue of Regionals would not only be profitable, but also would reduce the nationalist support in each of the regions.
The first Regional Definitive for Isle of Man , issued 1958.
Switching to the Machin Head
In 1969 the issuance of the Wilding Head on regionals came to an end. Following the introduction of the Machin Head design on all standard issue definitives in 1967, it was time to update the designs of Regionals for the modern era.
The first Regional stamp featuring a Machin Head came after decimalisation, with Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all releasing a 2.5p stamp, amongst other values. Jersey and Guernsey no longer released Regional designs, continuing with their own postal systems. Isle of Man joined them shortly after, with all Channel Isles continuing with their own separate stamp issuance.
The new Machin Head issues no longer featured intricate designs seen on the Wildings issues, opting for a simple Regional symbol on the standard, simplified Machin Head design. The symbols used for each Region were as follows:
- Isle of Man - The Triskelion
- Northern Ireland - The Red Hand
- Scotland - The Rampant Lion
- Wales - The Welsh Dragon
S14, the first decimalised Machin stamp for Scotland.
Unlike the prior updates to the Regional designs, the switch from Machin Heads to Pictorial issues were not aligned. Scotland and Wales switched in 1999, and Northern Ireland in 2001. Additionally, in 2001 the first England Regional design was issued.
Each region would use 4 typical designs going forwards. Below is a demonstration of these classic designs, as issued in the 2018 Regional Pack No.109
- 3 Lions in blue, for 2nd Class
- Lion & Shield in orange/pink, for 1st Class
- Oak Tree in green, for E and other values
- Rose in pink/purple, for high values
- Basalt Columns, for 2nd Class
- Patchwork Fields, for 1st Class
- Linen Pattern, for E and other values
- Vase Pattern, for high values
- Saltire, for 2nd Class
- Lion Rampant in Red/Orange, for 1st Class
- Thistle in purple, for E and other values
- Tartan, for high values
- Leek in brown, for 2nd class
- Welsh Dragon on blue/green, for 1st class
- Daffodil in blue, for E and other values
- Prince of Wales' Feathers in purple, for high values
The original pictorial issues in 1999 and 2001 were "full-bleed" with the design continuing in to the perforated edges. In 2003, the design was changed (as shown here) to include a white border around the central design.
Barcoded Machin Regionals
In early 2021, Royal Mail announced it would be trialling a new digital technology. Barcodes were added to stamps with the aim of developing future features including tracking, allowing customers to attach personalised messages to single stamps, and opening digital content by scanning the barcode with an app.
In 2022 the trial was deemed a success, and the barcodes were rolled out across definitives, Christmas issues, and Regionals.
At the time of writing, each of the 4 regions has a 2nd Class, 1st Class, and International denomination with a barcode attached.
W163, one of the first Regional Barcoded stamps
Regionals Under King Charles III
The future of the Regional issues is currently unknown. Whilst we have seen four key changes under Queen Elizabeth II (namely a switch from Wilding to Machin Head designs, decimalisation, pictorial issues, and the addition of barcodes) we have not seen the changes brought about by a change of Monarch.
There is no reason to expect that the Regional issues would not be continued. However, we do not yet know whether we will see a simple switch from the Machin head of Elizabeth to the Jennings head of Charles, or a larger overhaul of the design to something different to the pictorial issues we have known for almost a quarter of a century.
What we can be sure of is that whatever the new design of King Charles Regionals will be, they are certain to have a barcode.