by Roger Chapman

Basic stamp vending machines have been around for quite a long time. In Great Britain, machines dispensing definitive stamps in coil form to the set value of ½d or 1d (separate machines) were brought into service after 1907. They were operated mechanically following the insertion of an appropriate coin.

Later mechanical and electro-mechanical designs appeared and many countries adopted the practice, but it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that machines appeared for public use which could produce variable denominations of stamps according to the value of coins input. This was of particular benefit as inflation affected postal rates. The new feature of these machines from the philatelic viewpoint was the creation of stamps (or franking labels) that were different from the usual run of definitives. These are often, generically, called 'framas' from the name of the firm which pioneered them.

An early GB Type A mechanism
Brazilian 'PROCOMP' ATM Introduced in late 1997
Framas were first used in GB on 1 May 1984 but the trial was ended on 30 April 1985. Early labels bore simplistic designs, though usually with security printing patterns in the background. However, the silhouette of the Queen's head shows that there was scope from the first for thematic images on the labels.
GB FDC showing frama labels and the basic method of operation of the machines

Scandinavian Framas

Other postal authorities persevered with the system, none more so than in Scandinavia, where framas are still going strong.
Frama design from a machine at the Helsinki Philatelic Centre. – from 3 July 1995.
We still have the basic monochromatic design but this may be the world’s first bird on frama. It seems to show a pair of pigeons.
Fish or fowl? This 6 September 1996 frama issue from Åland was the first full colour design produced from its newly purchased machines. New Åland designs have been produced every year since then.
But what does the label depict? Below, we have the body and tail, with blue speculum, of a Mallard; above, there is the head and fore part of an Eel! FACIT Special catalogue says "An eel duck, cross-breeding between an eel (ål) and a duck (and), found in 1893". While the etymological derivation, in Swedish, of Åland is clear, the real existence of the hybrid may be doubted.
At last! A real bird. Issued on 20 October 1999, this Åland label shows the figurehead from the schooner "Tarnen" – the sea swallow or Arctic Tern (1874-1929).
Although it features as a figurehead, this image represents a real bird on framas
A bird as the direct subject. Issued on 1 September 1999, this image, designed by Pirkko Vahtera, was intended solely as a representation of a particular bird species.
This full colour portrait is as good quality as anything that appears on a 'genuine' postage stamp. It is inscribed 'Anser erythropus' the Lesser White-fronted Goose. The White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) does not normally occur in Finland. Besides, the dark coloration and the shorter neck betoken erythropus, even if the diagnostic yellow eye-ring does not appear.
Issued by Norway on 18 March 2002. This striking image was the first Norwegian multicoloured frama.
Norway was the first Scandinavian country to issue a frama – on 2 December 1978. However, it continued with basic monochromatic designs until this stamp appeared. The grey face and yellow eye-rings could indicate Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulose) though Michel's 'Vögel – Europa' catalogue suggests Snowy Owl, (Nyctea scandiaca) which has the merit of a dark rather than yellow beak. Gibbons Part 11 catalogue suggests Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) which is clearly wrong.

Portuguese and Brazilian Framas

Issued by Portugal on 5 September 2000 using a Klussendorf machine.
This head of a Greater Flamingo was designed by José Projecto, as previously used on the regular stamp issue of 2 March 2000. These labels are gummed but the perforation on the right-hand side is simulated.
Issued by Portugal on 5 September 2000 using a Crouzet machine.
This head of a Green-winged (Eurasian) Teal was clearly adapted from the same Projecto set with the image reversed, but all Crouzet-produced labels are self-adhesive. Once again, the perforation is simulated. This issue is valued in both escudos and euros.
Issued by Portugal on 18 July 2005.
This is the head of a Gray Parrot. It was one of a set of four designs featuring pets. The set design did not correspond to an issue of ordinary postage stamps. Self-adhesive with simulated perforation.
Issued by Brazil on 20 December 1997. Produced by PROCOMP machines.
This design shows a background silhouette of a dove. It is self-adhesive and designed by Márcio Rocha. A later issue (r.) on 18 October 2004, showed a dark blue dotted background.
Issued by Brazil on 20 December 2000. PROCOMP.
This is the Golden Parakeet – the national bird of Brazil. It is self-adhesive and designed by Márcio Rocha.
Many thematic collectors ignore this type of material, but given the growing trend for letters to be franked by plain postal labels it seems a pity to waste such attractive and varied designs. There is also a risk that we may not have them much longer. Countries such as Australia, which persevered with framas for nearly 20 years, have decided that they are no longer sufficiently in demand.
'Farewell to Frama' Issued by Australia on 13 January 2003.
Australia's frama machines were withdrawn from service on 30 June 2003. Their 'swansong' issue was based on this varied background design of birds and flowers. The colours are sometimes imaginative but the three stamps appear to be intended for Laughing Kookaburra, Brolga (?) and Australian Magpie. The lower bird on the cover is a Gang-Gang Cockatoo; the top bird – it may be intended as a Bowerbird. There may be other birds which appear in the background of some printings.
22nd December 2009

An Australian member of the Society has suggested that the upper bird on this cover is intended as Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Lichenostomus melanops. More particularly, it is probably the sub-species cassidix, the Helmeted Honeyeater, which is the State Bird of Victoria. He has also agreed that the Crane is the Brolga

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