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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The First Cents Issue of 1859-1868

The adoption of decimal currency in 1859 necessitated a new series of stamps to replace the old sterling currency issues. It was decided to continue with the same designs as before. The only difference being that the stamps would be denominated in cents rather than pence:

1. 1c rose as the old 1/2d rose with the Wyon portrait of Queen Victoria.
2. 2c claret, as above, but with numerals in the corners and issued late in 1864.
3. 5c vermilion as the old 3d beaver.
4. 10c black brown Prince Albert, as the old 6d. This was the first printing only.
5. 10c brown, red lilac or violet as above.
6. 121/2c green, as the old 71/2d.
7. 17c dark blue as the old 10d

Below are some examples from my stock:

1c rose - issued July 1, 1859

5c vermilion - issued July 1859

10c black brown - issued July 1, 1859

10c brown - issued after 1860

121/2c green - issued July 13, 1859 (earliest recorded date)

17c dark blue - issued July 18, 1859  (earliest recorded date)

2c claret - issued in 1864

Like the previous issues, these stamps continued to be printed by the American Bank Note Company, as it was now called. Their name appears imprinted in the margins of the sheets and occasionally it can be found impinging into the margins of the stamps themselves. Such varieties are sought after and highly collectible, especially if the stamp is well centered.

Also, as with the perforated pence issues that preceded them, this issue is generally very poorly centered. So philatelists who are used to being able to collect very fine stamps will have to adjust their expectations drastically to view fine as being almost like VF, as VG is the average grade for this issue. If it isn't the centering that is the problem, then it is often small faults, shallow thins, small tears, pulled perforations and corner creases being the most common issues with these stamps.

I must make special mention of the gum on this issue. First of all, it is not commonly seen - most of the mint stamps on the market are without gum. However, when you do encounter it, it is often very thick, shiny and blotchy. It should be noted that the cents issues of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were printed by the American Bank Note Company at the same time as this issue, and the same gum was employed. So if you are looking for a reference stamp to get an idea of what the proper gum should look like, then the Nova Scotia cents issue is your best bet. In this issue you can obtain a mint 1c, 2c, 81/2c or 10c fairly cheaply and it will prove to be a reliable guide for the gum on this issue.

As with the previous issues, shade, and paper varieties abound, and there are a very large range of proofs that can be found. Unitrade lists no fewer than 50 different varieties of proofs. However what stands out in this issue is the number of constant plate varieties that can be found on every value except the 121/2c. Re -entries can also be found on all values except the 2c.

The other main source of varieties and one which will enable you to date the various printings of these stamps are the perforations themselves. There were two perforating machines used during the life of this issue: one gauging 11.75 and the other gauging 12. Compound perforations can be found, being 11.75 x 12 and 12 x 11.75. The perforation gives a rough guide as to when the stamp was printed:

1. Prior to 1861 - perf. 11.75 x 11.75 on all sides.
2. 1861 to early 1864: perf 11.75 x 12 or 12 x 11.75
3. After 1864: perf. 12 x 12.

To say that it is possible to spend one's entire life collecting this issue is an understatement. Indeed, most collectors of Canada vastly underestimate the amount of scope that is possible with this issue:

1. All 52 of the 4-ring numeral cancellations could potentially be found on all the stamps of this issue.
2. The 1c exists in two basic shade groups: rose and deep rose.
3. There are three varieties of paper listed for the 1c stamp.
4. For the rose shade, all three perforations can be found, but only p.11.75 for the deep rose shade.
5. Imprint copies exist of the 1c stamp.
6. Three main plate flaws are found: the Q, E and C flaws (the subject of a separate future post).
7. There is a major re-entry reported on the 1c stamp and a major misplaced entry.

To illustrate how vast the scope of this issue is, or can be, let us take the above 1c stamp and consider all the possible permutations and combinations of varieties that can exist if you only collect them used with 4-ring numeral cancellations:

1. Shades, papers, perfs and cancels- (((1 x 3) x 3)x 52) + (3x 52) = 468 + 156 = 624 possible stamps.
2. Imprint copies - 624 possible stamps as above.
3. Plate flaws - 624 x 3 = 1,872 possible stamps
4. The re-entries - 624 x 2 = 1,248 possible stamps if just two re-entries are collected.

So in all, a person could collect 4,368 1c stamps and each one would be different in some way. If a similar number of varieties were to exist across all 7 values in the set, that is 30,576 different stamps.

One of the implications of this is that one has to be tolerant of G or VG stamps if one has any hope of forming a specialized collection that is that in-depth, due to the very large number of potential stamps. To specialize in this issue and limit oneself to even F stamps would become very expensive, very quickly, as even VG or G used examples of the most common 5c beaver catalogue $6 or so and rarely sell for less than $1.50 each. If you are wondering what these grading terms mean, the following link will explain them all:

The formost expert on this issue was a philatelist by the name of Geoffrey Whitworth, who published a book on the subject in 1966. He studied all the plate flaws in depth, including some 11 separate states of the 5c beaver plates, and the 26 different printings of the 10c. His descriptions of the colour shades are so thorough that many collectors will refer to a particular shade as "Whitworth's grey violet"for example.

As far as shades go, the most extensive number can be found on the 10c value. Unitrade lists four shade groups:

1. Red lilac
2. Violet
3. Brown
4. Deep red purple

However each of these groups could easily be broken into 10 sub-groupings for a total of at least 40 shades. The next most interesting stamp is the 12.5c, which comes in various shades of green, blue green and olive green. The 5c is found in various shades of vermilion and orange-red, while the 17c is found in dark blue, slate blue and Prussian blue. Finally the 2c value is found in rose, deep claret rose and claret rose.

Plate flaws will be the subject of another future post, as there are too many of them to describe them all here in this general post.

In terms of paper, the Unitrade catalogue does not specify what the normal paper characteristics are. However from my observation  of the stamps in my stock, using a micrometer, I have determined that the normal paper varies between 0.003" and 0.0035"thick. The gum generally adds an additional 0.001" to these measurements. Thus, one would expect the very thick paper to be over 0.004" thick and the very thin paper to be less than 0.003" thick. Lighthouse in Germany sells a paper thickness gauge for a godawful amount of money, i.e. over $200. However, if you look on E-bay for a micrometer, it does the same job, and can be had for around $20-$30. Mine is powered by a watch battery and has a digital readout that can be toggled between meteric and imperial measurements. The differences between these thicknesses is so small that there is no way you can reliably tell the difference between them without one of these devices. Sometimes you can get a sense of whether the paper is thin or thick, but to prove it you need the actual readings, taken from a part of the stamp that is free from gum and hinges.

Covers are readily obtainable for the 1c , 5c and 10c values, with these seldom costing more than $50-200 each. However, the 10c black brown, 121/2c, 17c and 2c are much scarcer and can cost upwards of $6,000 in the case of the 10c black brown. Diagonal bisects are known of the 5c, and both major colours of the 10c. All of these are rarities, costing more than $7,000 each.

During this period, Canada also issued its first postal stationery items. These consisted of two envelopes with pre-printed, embossed stamp impressions of Queen Victoria's Wyon bust portrait. They consisted of a 5c red and a 10c brown. They were first issued in 1860, and are nicknamed "Nesbitt" envelopes, as they were printed by Geo F. Nesbitt of New York. All envelopes are scarce, the 5c being worth between $125 and $450. However examples of the 10c envelope used in period are very rare and worth $2,100 and up. These envelopes are watermarked CaPod in large serifed capitals reading diagonally upwards, which can be seen if you hold the envelope up to a strong light.

Below are two examples from my stock.

The 5c red Nesbitt Envelope. 

The 10c dark brown Nesbitt envelope. 

For other items in my stock from this issue, click the following link:


  1. First want to say thank you for creating this excellent resource, it's a great overview for new collectors looking to collect the many facets of Canadian philately. I am trying to create my own album pages for Canada, and I need a point clarified. I am including spaces for all shade, perforation and paper varieties on my pages. Do all the values of the First cents exist in each of the 3 perforation varietes.

    For example the 5c beaver has vermillion and orange-red shades, do those shades exist in all 3 perfs, and do all the combo of perf and shade varieties also come in thick vs normal vs thin paper varieties? That would make 18 versions of the 5c Beaver if my math is right (plus the 1 brick red Unitrade 15c from the first printing only??).

    Any advice greatly appreciated

    Gene Whitmore
    Columbus OH USA

    1. Hi Gene

      Many thanks for your feedback. I am happy to see that collectors are finding this resource useful. I am actually working on my next post right now.

      My understanding is that all values of this issue exist on all three perforations except for the 2c, which is only found p. 11.75 x 12 and 12, and the 10c black brown which is only perf. 11.75. As for the shades, I do not know, but I would suspect that most of the 1c, 5c, 12.5c and 17c shades should be found on all perfs. However, I know that the 12.5c olive green is an early shade, so probably only perf. 11.75 and the 10c shades follow a progression by date. Generally shades prior to 1861 will be perf. 11.75 - so very deep browns. Stamps issued between 1861-1864 will be perf. 11.75 x 12 and this will encompass brown and violet shades, then finally those after 1864 will be perf. 12 only. For the 10c, this will generally be the red-lilac and violet shades. I hope this helps.

  2. thanks much for the prompt reply. Have been reading your other blog posts as well and they are so helpful in trying to distill the info that is in Unitrade which sometimes can be rather opaque to tease out. I'm sure I will have more questions come up as well but thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.