The World of Stamps & Stamp Collecting – Chapter Seven

7. The Stamps Of Canada

The stamps of Canada are among the most popularly collected stamps anywhere in the world. Their designs have been chosen with near-uniform excellence, and their execution as a printed product is first rate. Canadian stamps up until World War II were all engraved, and have been designed and printed by the best bank-note-printing firms in the world.

The first Canadian postage stamps were issued in 1851. They were printed by the New York printing firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson, who were also at the time printing the United States postage stamps. Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson were about the most advanced printers of their time, and had been used before by the Canadian government to print debentures. Three stamps were contracted for: a three-penny stamp, picturing a Canadian beaver; a six-penny stamp, showing Prince Albert, the Royal Consort; and a twelve-penny stamp, showing Queen Victoria in black. There was criticism of the designs and the printing of the first stamps; the twelve-penny stamps were especially disliked, and their high face value was rarely called for. Accordingly, today this is one of the world’s great rarities. Only 41,000 were printed and delivered to the Canadian postal authorities; and of these, only 1,510 were sent to post offices. Even less were sold.

The 1851 issue, as it is listed in the catalogue, was printed on laid paper (See page 28). This is the major difference between the 1851 issue and the 1852 issue, which was printed on wove paper. The laid lines in the paper of this 1851 issue are extremely difficult to see, and even experts must resort occasionally to determining which set is which by shade of color alone. The 1851 issue was generally cancelled with a cancellation of concentric circles around a point, called by philatelists a target cancel.

The use of laid paper did not last long. Laid paper often does not take a design well in printing, primarily because of the variance of thickness in the paper. The stamps tend to print very lightly, and this was especially true of the twelve penny. Furthermore, the problems caused by laid paper extend to the adhesive as well. The 1851 Canada issue was roundly criticized for not sticking to letters when moistened. The first three-penny stamps on wove paper (#4) were delivered to the Canadian postal authorities in April 1852. This stamp is considered a highly specialized field of its own by some students of Canadian philately. They identify no less than five distinct paper varieties, including three types of handmade paper and two types of machine-made paper that came into use in 1857. Most Canadian collectors gladly content themselves with one example of the stamp.

Between early 1855 and mid-1857, rate changes forced the issuance of three additional stamps. The ten pence show Jacques Cartier, and is in a lovely dark blue color; it was for use on letters going by British packet to Europe. The 6 and a half pence sterling, 7 and a half pence currency stamp is one of the first, and indeed along with the ten penny mentioned above, one of the only stamps to accommodate monetary difference within the wording of the stamp. The rate it paid could be paid either way, in currency or sterling. This stamp used the same design as the twelve-penny stamp that is so rare. The one-half-penny stamp is in a dreary shade of lilac and was mused primarily on newspaper wrappers. Because of this, it is exceptionally scarce in perfect condition. Stamps on newspaper wrappers were often used to reinforce the seal on the wrapper on the paper and thus were ripped in two when the paper was received.

By November 1854, the Canadian Post Office had heard of the great revolution in stamp production that had just occurred in England: a perforating machine had been invented, and stamps now came with little holes in them so that they did not have to be cut from the sheet. The Canadian Post Office authorities wrote to their stamp printer, Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson, about incorporating this advance on future Canadian postage stamps. They received back a tart note saying that such a request was impossible. And indeed it was– the only perforating machines were in London. Technicians on the other side of the Atlantic could only guess at how it worked. By 1858, the Canadian postal authorities were finally informed that a perforating machine could be obtained. Shortly afterwards, at an additional charge of 5 cents per 1,000 stamps, perforated stamps were supplied. The early perforating machines were extremely primitive, consisting of perforation rows running in one direction through which the sheet of stamps had to be run twice, once for the vertical rows and a second time for the horizontal. The space adjustments for the rows, as the Canadian stamps were not square, had to be altered with each run through the machine. Knowing this, it is amazing that we find any well-centered examples of the first perforated issue of 1858 at all. But we don’t see many. The perforated pence issues are the half penny, three penny, and six penny.

The Decimal Currency Issue of 1854

As can be seen on the Canadian stamps pictured, the monetary system of Canada was figured in both currency and sterling. The variations were irksome, and the calculations of who owed what to whom and in what currency were ended in 1859, when the Canadian government enacted laws giving Canada a decimal currency system. The stamps that were printed were a one cent, ten cent, twelve one-half cent, and seventeen cent. In 1864, a two-cent stamp was added. Almost none of the Decimal Currency issues are rare. Yet centered, undamaged copies are extremely difficult to find.

The ten cent was given no less than twenty-five printings during its life; its shades varied from black brown to a color that is almost red. It is said of this stamp that no two stamps bear an identical shade, so greatly do they vary in color. The black brown is the rarest shade and is listed as a separate number in the Scott catalogue. Great confusion exists over these shades– prudence would dictate buying the rare black brown shade only from a reputable dealer with a certificate of genuineness.

The 1868 Large Queens

The Large Queens, as philatelists call the 1868 issue, was the first stamp issued by the Dominion of Canada created on July 1, 1867, by the British North American Act. Immediately Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were united. In 1869, the Dominion purchased the Hudson Bay Company’s considerable lands, and when British Columbia joined the Dominion in 1871, Canada was a cross-continent country. A new stamp issue was planned and printed, as befitted this new Canadian nation, by the British North American Company, located in Ottawa.

The first Dominion of Canada issue is called the Large Queens by philatelists because they show a large portrait of Queen Victoria, and to distinguish them from the later Dominion issue of smaller format known as the Small Queens. The 1-cent, 2-cent, and 3-cent values of the Large Queens come on laid paper, but they are great rarities that way. Collectors should check all copies of these stamps to see if they have any of these rarities. Occasionally, they may be found in ordinary collections. All of the Large Queens are known on watermarked paper, though they were not regularly ordered that way. Rather, these watermarks are paper-maker watermarks and read either in double letters or in script. Both watermarks were applied across the sheet, so that only portions may appear on each stamp. Most stamps do not show the watermark, but collectors should keep their eyes open for this variety. The half-cent and fifteen-cent ones are great rarities on watermarked paper.

The Large Queens of 1868-76

The Small Queen issue commenced in 1870, though most values of the Large Queens remained in general use and were slowly replaced by Small Queen issues in the ensuing twenty years. The primary reason for the change was that the demand for stamps in Canada proved to be very great. The smaller format allowed the printers to produce more stamps on the same press in the same amount of time, with the same amount of paper and ink. The Small Queens duplicated the values of the Large Queens, with the addition in 1893 of a 6-cent value and a 20-cent and a 50-cent in a slightly different format. The Small Queens are highly specialized in by some philatelists. For the most part they are relatively inexpensive, and are even cheap in used condition. Shade varieties and perforation varieties abound. There are many reentries and double transfers that collectors like to look for. Double transfers, as noted earlier, are slight doublings of certain portions of the design caused when the plate is originally made and the die is imperfectly rocked in. Reentries look exactly like double transfers. Again, they are ad oubling of a portion of the design, this time cause when the plate is reentered so as to strengthen the design on a worn plate. For those with a good pair of eyes, each reentry and double transfer can be identified according to lists of characteristics discovered by philatelists of the past.

In 1897, the Canadian Post Office signed a stamp printing contract with the American Bank Note Company, though the stipulation was that the printing had to be done in Canada. The 1897 Jubilee issue had as its justification the sixtieth anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria. Some have suggested, however, that it was patterned after the 1893 Columbus Exposition issue, which had proved so lucrative to the United States Post Office. The values, with the Canadian addition of a one-half-cent stamp, are virtually the same, and the similarity in style is no doubt due to the printing being done by the American Bank Note Company. Virtually the same number of high-value Canadian Jubilees were ordered as were ordered of the dollar-value Columbians. But they didn’t sell as well, and of the three-dollar and four-dollar stamps, less than 10,000 were reported sold. The low values of the set soon sold out to postal users, though deliveries of high values continued to be made until 1901.

The 1897 issue of Canada is called the Maple Leaf issue. Victoria was on this stamp again, as she was to be alive for four more years. She reigned all told for sixty-four years, and had the distinction of having been on more postage stamps from more countries than anyone at that time. In recent times, it seems likely that Queen Elizabeth II has or shortly will surpass Victoria in this postage stamp derby and become the person who has had her face on more stamps than any other. (Elizabeth’s reign has not been nearly as long as Queen Victoria’s, but countries issue so many more stamps now than they did then.) The Maple Leaf issue contained eight values and was extremely well printed. (At this time, the United States had just taken the printing contract away from the American Bank Note Company, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was having much difficulty producing well-centered stamps whereas the American Bank Note Company had really mastered the stamp production process.) Almost all the 1897 Maple Leafs are at least reasonably well centered, the colors are bright and fresh, wisely chosen and deep in tone, and the gum has retained a high degree of freshness.

In 1899, a group of three-cent stamps were surcharged “Two cents” when the first-class postage rates changed a penny downwards at the end of 1898. These overprinted stamps are not scarce. In 1898, the set was modified slightly, and numerals, indicating the value of the stamp, were placed in the bottom corners so as to make the values of the stamps easier to read for buys postal clerks and the French-speaking patrons of the Canadian post. The set was expanded to include a 20-cent value.

In recent years, as topical or thematic collecting has become increasingly popular, so has one of Canada’s most interesting stamps. It is the issue known as the Imperial Penny Postage, put out after the Imperial Postal Conference of 1898 when a number of members of the British Commonwealth took the bold step of lowering their postage rates to 1 penny (British), which was 2 Canadian cents. The rate was to take effect on Christmas Day 1898, and a new stamp was prepared to commemorate the change. The stamp marked the day of the change, “Xmas 1898,” and showed a map of the British Empire. The black part of the stamp is engraved, and the colors, lavender and carmine, and blue and carmine on the two different varieties, are printed by topography (a process similar to lithography). As a Christmas topical, it is the first ever. As a history of postage topic, it is an important issue. And it is one of Canada’s most beautiful stamps. The price, especially for attractive examples, is surprisingly reasonable.

Queen Victoria died on January 29, 1901. When its next stamp was issued in 1903, Canada replaced Victoria’s picture with King Edward VII’s. The design characteristics of the Edward stamps are similar to the earlier Victoria ones, except that the maple leaves in the top corners have been replaced by Tudor crowns. The maple leaves are still show, but moved down behind the numerals of value. The high values of this set are extremely desirably in well-centered, mint condition; in recent years, collectors have begun to seek used examples of the twenty cent and fifty cent, as the prices of the mint stamps have risen too fast.

The 1898 Imperial Penny Postal issue—one of Canada’s most interesting stamps.

As a side point but a salient one, the prices of used stamps and mint stamps never rise in tandem. Rather, when the price of a mint stamp rises more quickly than the collector market can support, collectors begin to turn to used stamps. The mint stamps then become dormant for a time in terms of price rise, as without a large body of collectors around to support the rise, the market cannot continue its quantum leaps. Then used stamps begin to move upward for a while, and percentage-wise, they catch up with the mint stamps. This happens until the used stamps no longer continue to be perceived as a bargain relative to mint stamps, at which time the market for mint again becomes active. This is not a rational, though-out strategy on the part of collectors; rather, it is the result of thousands of collectors each attempting to get the most for their money.

The year 1908 was the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec, the first permanent settlement in Canada. The post office issued a set of eight stamps called by collectors the Quebec Tercentenary. The set is beautifully engraved and has long been a favorite with collectors.

After 1908, the stamps of Canada are quite straightforward and are treated excellently by the general stamp catalogues. Canadian stamps have been among the most popular in the world during the decade of the seventies and into the eighties. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is their nearly uniform high standard of production. Add to that the great appeal of all British North American stamps in Great Britain as former members of the British Commonwealth; and further, there is a strong native Canadian market.

But the biggest reason for Canada’s rise in popularity has been its discovery by American stamp collectors. This was caused primarily because of the Canadian stamps’ relevance and accessibility to American collectors, and the fact that, with few exceptions, the bulk of Canadian stamps sell at reasonable prices for their rarity. A person of average means can assemble a collection of Canada that is 98 percent complete. Indeed, there are only a few Canadian stamps that sell for over $1,000 in mint condition, and only a few that sell for over $100 in used condition. Canadian stamps, then, are getting more and more popular among Americans priced out of their home stamps. Canadians collect their own stamps, too, manifesting the general nationalistic choice of most collectors.

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