Home » Collecting » Are we in danger of losing respect for our hobby? Part 2

Are we in danger of losing respect for our hobby? Part 2

The Cynicism of Bean-Counter’s C T O

Or, What Happens When You Order a Fine Used New Issue?

On a bright Spring day in April 1973 (or was it March), the first day I started full-time in stamps working from a small office and cellar on the Kilburn High Road, north-west London, beside the ‘Brondesbury’ bridge, I remember handling cancelled to order (CTO) stamps from, of all countries, ‘Spanish Equatorial Guinea’. (By the way, I found a missing colour on one of the sheets of football stamps, but that’s another story…)

Now, there was no pretence that these CTO used stamps would ever ‘grace’ an envelope to be sent through the postal system. They were what it said on the ‘tin’ – manufactured, artificially ‘used’ stamps produced to be offered/sold to ‘junior’ collectors so that the ‘face’ value denomination printed upon them was of no material consequence. Doubtless the convenient CTO ‘postmark’ was printed upon the ‘stamps’ at the same time the stamps were printed – such process is so much quicker and cheaper than employing a person to cancel the stamps, isn’t it?

You might be asking: Why are stamps that are sold regardless of their mint face value cancelled? A good question – but the answer is simple. Even in Spanish Equatorial Guinea the postal authorities don’t want their ‘postal system’ compromised, subverted by the use of uncancelled stamps sold to collectors in the ‘west’ for hard currency, being returned by enterprising individuals and used to send commercial mail. This is the reason why stamps offered to collectors from most ‘cash-starved’ countries in East Europe were cancelled – in-order-to forestall exploitation undermining their mint potential to propel mail.

There are many ‘purist’ collectors who rightly say a stamp is produced to be postally used; consequently, they refuse to have a CTO cancelled stamp in their collections – I find this admirable. But many collectors today started childhood collecting with CTO stamps and were gradually ‘weaned’ off them to appreciate real stamp collecting… which is why I have no problem with CTO as depicted above…

However, I have real sympathy for ‘purist’ collectors today trying to obtain postally used new issue stamps, which courtesy of e-mail are almost impossible to find.

So, what happens when you place an order for fine used stamps today?

Well, I think I know, CTO isn’t what it used to be, and some may say it’s not good. Check your recent fine used sets – if they all have perfectly matching postmarks – I venture to suggest that these so-called ‘postmarks’ may be printed upon the stamps – and that I do object to because collectors are being charged FULL FACE VALUE for ‘used’ stamps which cost pennies to print. If they’re not to be postally used I find it cynical that postmarks are printed on ‘fine used’ stamps and sold for full price, don’t you?

Do you remember the days when the Postmaster would cancel the stamps for you over the counter – or you posted a registered envelope to yourself to receive perfect postally used CDS cancelled stamps? It doesn’t take long to nicely hand cancel fine used stamps does it – so why are collectors being cynically manipulated for the sake of the ‘bean-counters’ in various Postal Headquarters worldwide? It’s about time fewer ‘Bean-Counters’ showed more respect for collectors, who might then purchase more caringly used new issues, rather than closing their new issue accounts.



  1. The Post Office don’t care how they make a profit only that they do make a profit.
    I would hazard a guess that when the Queen’s reign comes to an end a huge proportion of collectors of GB are going to stop. The Post Office may say it’s the fault of ‘Charles’, if he ascends the throne, being unpopular and in no way is it their policy of producing stamps like there is no tomorrow

  2. Dear Andrew,
    I completely agree with your comments regarding stamps that are CTO or – worse still – Printed with a Postmark.
    In the old days, “Cancelled by Favour” as they were once called, were an acceptable alternative to a messy postal cancel, although purists would argue that the item had never seen the inside of a postbox or a postman’s bag, although when I was younger, I did make use of a friendly post office counter clerk’s skills on a few occasions, to get a fine used variety as a result.
    However, there are occasions when the only way to get your hands on a finely cancelled and scarce variety is to look through the CTO examples in a dealer’s stockbook. It’s happened to me a number of times over the years!
    Thank you once again Andrew for your interesting articles and views.
    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Galfskiy

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