Christmas 2021

This year’s Christmas stamp issue from Royal Mail, released on November 2, differs significantly from those of recent years to allow for the inclusion of ‘barcoded’ stamps for the first time.

Their designs follows that of the large-format 2nd class Machin definitive issued in business sheets in March. The digitally scannable element (technically not a barcode but a data matrix code) is to the right of the pictorial element, separated from it by a line which resembles a perforation.

The self-adhesive set of eight has four large-format data matrix stamps, with 2nd class, 2nd Large, 1st class and 1st Large values. It is completed by four regular-format stamps without a matrix code, with 2nd class, 1st class, £1.70 and £2.55 values.

Of these, the small-format 2nd class and 1st class stamps are only on sale in booklets, and are not available from counter sheets.

The pictorial elements of the two 2nd class stamps match, as do those of the two 1st class stamps, although they differ in size; the digitally coded stamps measure 39mm wide x 30mm high, rather than 24mm wide x 28mm high.

Unlike in previous years, however, the 2nd Large and 1st Large stamps have unique designs, so there remain six different designs among the eight values.

Also in contrast to recent practice, the miniature sheet which accompanies the issue is self-adhesive in common the rest of the issue, so the stamps are not available with traditional gum.

The dramatic illustratrations are by internationally renowned artist Jorge Cocco from Argentina, who specialises in religious scenes painted in a post-cubist style which he calls ‘sacrocubism’.

The overall design credit goes to Supple Studio, and the issue was printed in gravure by International Security Printers.

2nd class (without data matrix code)

Herald angels announce the birth of Jesus.

2nd class (with data matrix code)

Herald angels announce the birth of Jesus.

1st class (without data matrix code)

Mary and the baby Jesus.

1st class (with data matrix code)

Mary and the baby Jesus.

2nd Large

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem.

1st Large

The annunciation to the shepherds.


The magi follow the star to Bethlehem. 


The adoration of the shepherds in the stable.


The presentation pack, written by Dr Andrew Davison, senior lecturer in theology and natural sciences at the University of Cambridge, explores the reasons why the nativity story continues to capture the imagination.

In a break from recent practice, presumably to avoid duplication, the pack includes the individual stamps only, not the miniature sheet.

First day covers and stamp cards are available as usual.


Set of 8 stamps   £9.52

Miniature sheet   £9.52

Presentation pack   £10.45

Stamp cards   £4.05

First day cover (stamps)   £12.10

First day cover (mini sheet)   £12.10



Christmas stamps are a 55-year tradition now, and always sell in large numbers


Although it won’t be to everyone’s taste, the specially commissioned artwork is striking


Digital coding is never a thing of beauty, and will surely detract from the visual impact