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Great Britain's Christmas Stamps, 1998
Great Britain started somewhat late when it came to issuing special stamps for Christmas: Canada, issuing the first such stamp in 1898, predated its "Mother Country" by 67 years. GB has, however, caught up rapidly when it comes to attractive and imaginative designs and the Christmas stamps for 1998 are beauties. They depict angels, complete with golden halos and brilliantly coloured robes in the acting of praying (the 20 pence, 26 pence and 63 pence values), and playing a pipe (30 pence value, and a lute (43 pence value).

As usual, like all the others, these British stamps carry no country name. This was a privilege given to Britain by the Universal Postal Union in 1874 as a mark of appreciation for producing the first prepaid adhesive postage stamps in 1840. British stamps are nevertheless identifiable by the silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II's head in the top right- or top left-hand corner. Positioning this silhouette, even though it is pretty small, is something the designers of British postage stamps have to take into account when planning their layouts. It has to be clearly visible, but not get in the way of the overall design. However, they've had over thirty years of practice in getting it right, ever since the Queen's head - known as the Machin head after the medallist, Arnold Machin, who created it - was first introduced in 1967. In this 1998 Christmas set, the silhouette appears in gold, blending tastefully with the overall shine of each stamp.

Five-stamp sets like these are issued only occasionally. by the Royal Mail. The more usual number of stamps is four. However, for Christmas purposes, the Royal Mail produces a first class (26p) and second class (20p) stamp, another for postage to Europe (30p), one for the nearer long-haul distances, like the USA (43p) and lastly for the really faraway locations - from Britain that is - like Australia or New Zealand (63p).

This is, of course, the last GB issue for 1998. Next year, being pre-Millennium year, collectors of British stamps are in for a treat: a new issue of stamps every month, building up into a collection which celebrates Britain and the British, their history and their achievements so that no one can be in any doubt where they've come from as they embark on the 21st century.

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