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Friday, October 16, 2015

The 1897-1901 Royal Family Issue of Newfoundland


This attractive and unassuming set of 8 stamps represents another opportunity for a collector of modest means to form a specialized collection of Queen Victorian material. The set, like the previous Cabot Issue was printed by the American Bank Note Company and the imprint appears at the base of each stamp just like the previous set. 

The stamps were issued between 1897 and 1901, with the original release in 1897 comprising the 1/2c olive, 1c carmine rose, the 2c orange and the 3c red-orange only. These stamps were generally intended for the local drop letter and local letter rates. For higher rate mail, there were still adequate stocks of the Cabot issue on hand until 1899 when the 5c blue was issued. The colours of the 1c and 2c were changed to green and vermilion respectively in 1898. The last value to be issued was the 4c violet in 1901. 

One of the things that is interesting about this set is that it portrays members of the royal family long before they were commonly seen on stamps, and at unusual ages. For example, the 1/2c olive, is to my knowledge, the only stamp in the entire Empire that shows the future King Edward VII as a baby. Queen Alexandra (Edward VII's wife) does not appear on very many stamps at all. In fact I can't think of a single Commonwealth country other than Newfoundland and Canada that show her portrait. Canada only shows her on the 2c Quebec Tercentenary. The 4c and 5c show the future Queen Mary and King George V a good 12 years before George V became king, and again to the best of my knowledge, Mary only appears on Canadian and Newfoundland stamps. 

The Unitrade catalogue does not list quantities printed, so I am unable to state them here. I would note that the values up to the 2c are all fairly common in mint condition, with the higher values being scarce. Used stamps are very readily attainable for all values. 

The Designs

1/2c Olive - King Edward VIII as a baby

 1c Carmine Rose - Queen Victoria

1c Green - Queen Victoria

2c Orange - Prince of Wales (Edward VII)

2c Vermilion - Prince of Wales (Edward VII)

3c Orange - Princess Alexandra

4c Violet - Princess Mary

5c Dark Blue - Duke of York (George V)
Main Points of Interest

Despite being a relatively small set, it was in use for 13 years, until the John Guy issue replaced it in 1910. This was a long enough time period to result in many varieties and avenues along which to specialize:

1. Shade Varieties
2. Re-Entries and misplaced entries
3. Paper varieties
4. Imperforate and partially imperforate varieties
5. Cancels and postal history
6. Proof material
7. Plate blocks
8. Specimen overprints

As you can see, that is quite a number of directions that you can head in. Even better is the fact that the most expensive items in this issue, are little more than $1,000, and there are very few of them. The used stamps are very inexpensive. So with patience, a collector of relatively modest means can form a very beautiful collection.

Shade Varieties

I have seen at least subtle shade varieties on all the values except for the 2c stamps. The widest range of shades is to be found on the 1c green and the 3c orange, and on these two stamps, several of them are quite striking. The 1c green can be found in a green, yellow green and a very deep green, while the 3c varies from dull orange, to orange through to deep red-orange. Shades on the 1/2c, 1c carmine rose, 4c violet and 5c dark blue are more subtle. On the 4c, I have seen some violets that are slightly brighter than others and on the 5c, I have seen dark blues that have a duller cast than the normal dark blue.

Re-Entries and Misplaced Entries

Due to the long period of use, I would expect that there would be several states of each plate and that the plates would have been re-entered at least once, resulting in several possible re-entries and misplaced entries. Unitrade currently lists misplaced entries on both 2c colours and major re-entries on both 2c colours, the 3c and the 5c. None of these were listed until very recently, and I am confident that many more will be discovered as this set receives more dedicated study. The availability of used stamps for very nominal amounts makes this a very promising field of study indeed. I have found two very interesting varieties on the 1c carmine rose, neither of which is listed in Unitrade:


The first of these consists of a misplaced entry in which two spherical ornaments appear in the right numeral. What is curious about this is that there is no design either from this set or any other of Newfoundland that incorporates spheres of this size. So it is a real mystery where this comes from. I can only surmise that is it is from accidental application of a transfer roller that was intended for an issue that the ABN was printing for a different country at around this time.

The second is an engraver’s slip. The slip affects the right frameline about half way up the stamp. Interestingly engraver’s slips are well known on the 6c Maple Leaf Issue of Canada and more recently on the 20c Numeral. Both stamps were printed by the ABN as well during the same period. So it is quite possible that there could be others on the other values. In any event, these types of varieties are usually rare, being limited to just one subject on the plate, and usually they are found and corrected.

Paper Varieties

Like the Cabot issue, most of the stamps from this issue are found on soft wove paper that is either horizontally or vertically woven. I note that the all values except the 3c and 5c are usually found on horizontal wove paper, while most examples of the 3c and 5c that I have seen are on vertically wove paper. It is quite probable that all values exist with both types of paper.

In addition to the soft wove paper, there are several other types of paper to be found on this issue:

1.     A crisp white wove paper with very clear vertical mesh that is spaced relatively wide.
2.     A soft white horizontal wove paper that is thin, with closely spaced mesh.
3.     A crisp toned wove paper that is usually horizontal with no clear mesh.
4.     A crisp wove paper that is usually horizontal with clear mesh.
5.     A rough horizontal brownish wove paper that is relatively translucent. So far, I have seen this paper on the 1c, 3c and 5c.
6.     A bluish paper that is found only on the 3c.

The papers on this issue usually measure between 0.0035-0.0045” thick on the gummed mint stamps and between 0.003-0.0035” on the unused or used stamps. Unitrade does list an expensive thick paper variety on the 1c carmine rose, but unfortunately does not specify what the actual thickness is. However, based on what I have observed with the stamps I have worked with, I would guess that any paper over 0.0045” thick on a mint stamp could be classified as “thick paper”.

The above represents only those papers that I have come across in working with the stamps of this issue. There may well be others that are just waiting to be discovered.

The 3c on bluish paper is actually an emergency printing made in 1918 during World War I from the old plates when there was a temporary shortage of 3c stamps. It is quite scarce, as I have never seen it in my entire 37 years as a philatelist.

Imperforate and Partially Imperforate Varieties

Unitrade lists imperforate pairs for all values except the 1c and the 5c. All are expensive, cataloging between $500-$1,000 for very fine mint. The 2c orange is only listed in used condition. On the 1c green and the 3c, Unitrade lists vertical pairs that are imperforate horizontally. Again, these catalogue in the $500-$600 range. Finally the 2c vermilion exists as an imperforate between pair, which I assume means that it can be found imperforate either horizontally or vertically.

It seems strange that there are no imperforate varieties on the 1c or the 5c. However, if they really are errors and not printer’s waste, then it is entirely possible that there are none to be found.

Cancellations and Postal History

Like the Cabot issue, the cancellations most commonly seen on these issues are barred grids. However, occasionally one does find split ring or CDS town cancellations on all values. Some of these are very scarce and forming a collection of the various small towns and villages in Newfoundland would be a relatively inexpensive and rewarding endeavour.

Covers are fairly inexpensive, with the exception  of a single usage of the 1/2c, which is very rare. This is to be expected as the vast majority of single uses will be on local mail or mail to Canada, the US or the UK. I expect that there would be a fair number of mixed frankings with the Cabot Issue to foreign destinations and that these would get quite pricey. Similarly, I would expect that one can find multiple colour frankings, postal stationery uprated with stamps of this issue and large multiples of various values on registered mail. In each case, I would expect these covers to be expensive, but not more than a $100-$300 per cover.

Proof Material

Plate proofs exist of all values in the issued colours and in addition a brown orange shade can be found on the 2c and a slate violet shade can be found on the 4c, each of these being quite unlike the shades seen on the issued stamps. Thus, they may actually be trial colours. However, Unitrade lists them as shade varieties. They are all very affordable, cataloging $75 each.

I have not seen any sunken die proofs of these stamps, nor have I seen any trial colour proofs. None were offered to the best of my memory in the 1990 Christies sale of the ABN archives. However, as die proofs and trial colours exist of practically every ABN issue produced during this time, I have to surmise that they do indeed exist somewhere. I’d be indebted to any reader that has one and would be willing to share a digital image with me so that I can add it to this post.

Plate Blocks

Although the low values of this issue up to the 2c are inexpensive in mint condition, the same cannot be said for plate blocks. Unitrade lists plate blocks of all values except the 1/2c olive, 1c carmine rose and 2c orange and they are all a minimum of $200 each, much more than the corresponding value of single stamps. Unitrade does not state how large plate blocks of this issue are, but I would assume that they are probably 8 stamps, as that is most common size on the other issues of this period to be  able to see the full imprint in the selvage of the block. Unitrade also does not list the full range of plate numbers: listing only plate 2 and 3 on the 1c green, plate 2 on the 2c vermilion and plates 3 and 4 on the 3c orange. So a worthy pursuit is to try and find the missing plates and to see if there are more than 1 plate for the values in the set that no numbers are listed for.

Specimen Overprints

I have seen a very wide variety of different specimen overprints on these stamps. In many cases the stamps have security punches in them as well. Unitrade groups the 1908 Map stamp with these and lists a complete set of the overprints as 47 different varieties for $1,750, or $50 for any one overprint. Most of these came onto the market after the 1990 Christies sale of the ABN archives. They are not common, despite their relative affordability.

So there you have it. In a nutshell, this is a perfect set for a specialist who has $300-$400 to spend at a time on their hobby because it means that for any given purchase they can acquire most items from this issue and anything really scarce can be saved up for over a less than 1 year period. It will require a fair amount of patience as the plate blocks, specimens, proofs and imperfs are not widely available and only only come up for sale occasionally. You would need to watch all the major auctions every month if you wanted to make sure that you didn’t miss out. On the other hand you likely won’t be overwhelmed by a lot of material coming on to the market at once, so if you are on a budget, it is a very manageable set. If you have less to spend, it is still a good set, as you can focus your energies on re-entries, basic shades and papers, and local postal history. Those three areas could keep you busy for years. If you are a very wealthy collector, you may not find this issue to be a challenge for very long, but then again, you could combine it with the Cabot issue and together, these sets would be quite a worthy challenge. 

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