COLLECTING: The 1991 Agatha Christie Stamps
Since 1982, there has been at least one Prestige Stamp book issued in the UK each year. From 2000 onwards many years had multiple booklets. In the early years each typically contained £5-£6 of usable UK stamps, wrapped within a themed booklet. These themes encompassed people, places and things.
Alias Agatha Christie: The 1991 Royal Mail Prestige Stamp Book focused on the life and times of Agatha Christie in celebration of her centenary, or 100 years since birth. The booklet was titled “Alias Agatha Christie”. Issued on March 19th, it was designed by Trickett and Webb Limited and printed by The House of Questa Limited. It contained four new stamp panes and three new single stamp variations. The booklet also offered the opportunity to enter a contest for a ride on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express train from London to Paris, with several nights of accommodations in Paris. To enter the contest, one had to identify the five titles, pseudonyms and other names used by Agatha Christie that were included in the text of the booklet. In addition, you had to add the year and theatre in London’s West End that ‘The Mousetrap’ was first performed.
The Design: The booklet is a charming little collectible that is still widely available and very affordable. With printed covers that are of a slightly harder cardstock and eight perforated pages, the booklet provides insights on many of Christie’s famous books, as well as those from Mary Westmacott, and her plays. The pages are cleverly designed with additional perforated stamps (without postal value) that comprise images such as a poison bottle, a gun and a map of St. Mary Mead – just to name a few. I’m certain the designers envisioned people using the stamps and adding the Christie-themed ones to the envelopes for additional decoration. However, as with most Post Office collectibles, most were likely never used.
Contest Answers: The answers to the contest (spoiler coming) were Agatha Miller, Teresa Neele, Mary Westmacott, The Queen of Crime, and Dame Agatha Christie (DBE). It may take the owner of this stamp set a few read-throughs to spot them all. As to The Mousetrap, it first appeared in London in 1952 at The Ambassadors Theatre.
First Day Covers: In addition to the Prestige Stamp Book, the British Philatelic Bureau (BPB) also partnered with the Royal Mail to offer various First Day Covers (FDC) and two pictoral postmarks – one from Marple, Cheshire featuring an image of a ball of wool and two knitting needles, and one from the Bureau itself using the image of a keyhole. There are many other FDCs to collect, created and issued by a variety of issuers beyond the BPB. There are also a variety of different postmarks that can be found, though the two most common being one of “Styles” and another with “Murder on the Orient Express”. Just when one things you’ve seen all the postmarks and FDCs associated with Christie’s centenary it seems another shows up that you don't own. Christie collectors may have ones they can share that are not included in these images.
Values: These are all very affordable collectibles and will fit anyone's budgetary constraints. Mint copies of the 1991 Prestige Stamp book can generally be found for £5, and often for less than the value of the unused stamps! While many people have separated the booklet into individual sheets, the price of the complete booklet is low enough that individual sheets have no value beyond the unused face value of the stamps. The promotional materials that came with it also periodically show up for sale and will typically add another £20 to the cost. FDCs vary in price based upon the postmark, addressee, and cover design. Generally, fine copies can be purchased for £3. Often copies surface with signatures of people from the world of Christie. The uniqueness of the autograph solely drives the price. Collectors will likely enjoy the hunt of finding an FDC or postmark that they don’t already own.
Images of known First Day Covers: Below are images of most of the known FDCs and postmarks related to the 1991 Agatha Christie stamp set. Others may exist.