HONG KONG. ATMs and variable value stamps

1986. The FRAMA issues

In 1986, Hong Kong Post purchased 2 ATM vending machines, (model FE 264 - left picture), from the Swiss company Frama. The first ATM distributor (number 01) was installed, in late 1986, in the Hong Kong main post office, and in 1987 the second unit (number 02), was installed in the Tsim Sha Tsui branch, Kowloon
Payment was by cash only. The required face value was selected using 3 buttons, programmed with basic postage values, which were changed in accordance with changes in the current postage rates. A fourth button allowed the issue of an ATM with the value corresponding to the inserted coin(s). The smallest value coin accepted was HK$ 0.10, which also corresponded to the lowest face value that was available for the ATMs.
Distributor 01 was replaced in November 1991, and distributor 02 in March 1992. The new Frama distributors, model FE 1610 (left picture), allowed ATMs with any face value between 0.10 and 5.00 HK$, in steps of 0.10 HK$, to be bought.
In all cases payment was made with cash, and the distributors did not issue a purchase receipt.
The ATM text/value printing was in different shades of red ink, and the Frama distributors were fitted with a fixed print head with the text Hong Kong in both English and Chinese, the distributor number (01 or 02), and a design. The face value was printed by 4 wheels of digits

The different annual ATM issues make up a series celebrating the New Year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, with pictures of the 12 animals representing these years. Both the fixed impressions and the gummed papers were renewed annually for each new issue. The rolls of paper were manufactured in Australia by Leigh-Mardon printers. The designs are by Michael Tucker, and feature neutral colour backgrounds related to the theme of the issue.
Design 1 - Carp
Date of issue: 30.12.1986
Only distributor 01
Design 2. Year of the rabbit
Date of issue: 18.08.1987
Design 3. Year of the dragon
Date of issue: 23.03.1988
Design 4. Year of the snake
Date of issue: 24.02.1989
Design 5. Year of the horse
Date of issue: 21.02.1990
Design 6. Year of the goat
Date of issue: 21.02.1991
Design 7. Year of the monkey
Date of issue: 12.03.1992
Design 8. Year of the rooster
Date of issue: 10.02.1993
Design 9. Year of the dog
Date of issue: 1.03.1994
Design 10. Year of the pig
Date of issue: 15.02.1995
Design 11. Year of the rat
Date of issue: 28.02.1996
Design 12. Year of the ox
Date of issue: 26.02.1997
Design 13. Year of the tiger
Date of issue: 11.02.1998

First day covers illustrated with the same theme were prepared for each new ATM issue. In the pictures below can be seen two examples of the 1989 ATM issue - Year of the snake. The envelopes are franked with the 4 values set for this design.

1998. The NAGLER issue

After the experience with Frama distributors, Hong Kong Post installed, in late 1998, a new ATM vending machine in the Hong Kong main post office (left picture).
The new distributor, model N714, was manufactured by the German company NAGLER (Nagler Automaten Technik GmbH). It worked with coins and allowed purchases of ATMs with any face value between 0.10 and HK$ 270.
Photos: Chan Kei Kan

The machine also offered 6 programmed basic postage values. At the time of installation (first picture, right) these values were: $1.2, 1.3, 1.6, 2.1, 2.5 and 3.1, plus 5 more buttons allowing the issue of multiple units of 5 or 10 labels of equal value: $ 0.1 (minimum possible value), 0.5, 1.3, 2.5 and 3.1.

From April 1st 2002, with the change in postal rates (second picture, right), the 5 new programmed values became: $1.4 (a), 1.8 (b), 2.2 (c), 2.4 (d) and 3.0 (e), plus the complementary values $0.1 and $0.5.
(a). Local letter - Hong Kong (b). Surface letter to Macao and P.R. China (c). Air letter to P.R. China (d). Air letter to Asia (e). Air letter to rest of world

A second NAGLER machine, model N718, was installed in June 1999 at the Tsim Sha Tsui branch, in Kowloon.
This small postal kiosk, called Post-It-Yourself Station, included a scale for weighing the mail items and issued the corresponding ATM(s) according to weight and destination, and printed receipts.
On June 4th 2001 this machine (left picture), was transferred to the Wan Chai post office, in Gloucester Road, where it was in service until February 2008.
Photo: Chan Kei Kan

For the receipt’s impression, the Nagler postal kiosk used rolls of preprinted thermal paper, on which was printed the date and time of purchase, quantity and face value of the ATMs, the total amount paid and the receipt number (Fig. 1). In the new location, the machine used a new preprinted paper (Fig. 2) on which the name of the post office (Office: Tsim Sha Tsui) had been replaced by the machine number (Machine No.: 00001).
Occasionally, due to the lack of the preprinted paper, the postal kiosk used white/blank thermal paper (Fig. 3), which could provide an unusual receipt which included only the variables ... (Note also the supposed error in the total because the machine did not have loose change and provided the balance due in the form of ATMs).
Fig. 1 Fig. 2 Fig. 3

The first and only ATM release for the Nagler distributors was used from December 7th 1998 until mid 2008.
The preprinted gummed paper is a colourful design by Shun-kwong Kwan, with groups of flowers and Hong Kong in Chinese characters. The new political status of the former British colony, is now recognized by including the text HONG KONG, CHINA

2002. The 'emergency labels'

Hong Kong Post increased the postage rates on April 1st 2002. The local letter rate was raised from HK$ 1.30 to HK$ 1.40. This meant an incredible increase in demand, from 20,000 pieces per day to 200,000 !, for postage stamps of HK$ 0.10 value, to supplement the existing stamps. To solve this specific problem, some post offices printed a special postage stamp (also called 'emergency label') of HK$ 0.10 value, which did not include the date of issue, but showed the issuing machine number (30 in total, with numbers 65, 67, 69, 70, 72, 75, 78, 80, 89, 92, 93, 95, 98, 100, 102, 104, 107, 115, 116, 117, 119, 120, 124, 127, 129, 131, 132, 133, 137 and 138).
As of June 26th this stamp was only sold in 4 post offices, and completely disappeared a few weeks later.

This stamp is NOT a new ATM, nor a variable value stamp. It comes from machines installed in the post offices, does not include the issue date, and it was not possible to obtain it with any value other than 0.10 HK$.
It is printed on self-adhesive paper, with an approximate size of 99 x 43 mm.

2009. The variable value stamps

In late 2009, Hong Kong Post started a trial in 4 post offices, using new equipment and computer application, for the acceptance and franking of mail items, and was only used by employees on the postal counters. The trial started in December 7th 2009, and the 4 selected post offices were: Cheung Sha Wan Post Office, King's Road Post Office, Fo Tan Post Office and Lee On Post Office.
The new computer system issued variable value stamps for the immediate franking of postal pieces accepted over the counter, for ordinary, registered or recorded delivery mail items, and for both local and international destinations

These stamps includes the name of the postal administration, the face value ($ 3.00 in the picture, the postage rate for an ordinary letter to Europe), the date of issue, a bar code with the shipping information, and the registration code (only in registered and recorded delivery mail stamps, see pictures below).
The variable value stamp was issued on a white thermal self adhesive paper label. The size is 57 x 32 mm. As a security measure, the labels include the Hong Kong Post logo (right) and the batch number (lower left corner - 0409001 in the picture), printed with security ink, only visible under UV light.

Although this is a stamp for immediate use, including the date of issue, it must also be date stamped on acceptance.

Ordinary local letter Registered local letter

Recorded Delivery local letter

International registered letter

After some weeks of trialling, from January 11th 2010, the design of the stamp was enhanced. The white space between the $ symbol and the value was removed, and the text POSTAGE PAID (also in Chinese) was added in the centre of the stamp.

Ordinary local letter Registered local letter

Recorded Delivery local letter

International registered letter

2010. The Wincor Nixdorf postal kiosks. Read article >>>

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This page was created in May 2002 and last updated:  29.10.10 . English edition rewritten by S. Goodman (26.2.2010)