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Monday, April 4, 2016

Top 8 Under-Rated Areas In Canadian Philately

Before I continue my posts on the Admiral issue, I thought it would be a fun to do a post on the top under-rated topics and collecting areas within Canadian philately. What is actually very interesting is that there are many areas in Canadian philately that offer the collector a challenge, while at the same time offering a great sense of accomplishment as their collection grows. There seems to be a very widely held perception among philatelists that there is nothing worth collecting after World War II, and many believe that the cut-off point for that is even earlier - as early as the Admirals. In addition, as I have written about many times before, there is an obsession now with obtaining perfection of condition, with the result that many otherwise interesting and fruitful areas are ignored or neglected because the material simply doesn't exist in perfect condition. So without further ado, here are my top 8 picks of areas that are under-appreciated relative to their catalogue values:

1. Post 1952 postal history
2. Complete booklets prior to 1956
3.  Plate blocks prior to 1962
4. Choice used multiples of almost any issue that are cancelled in-period
5. Almost all Newfoundland material, especially choice used with town cancellations. 
6. Complete sheets.
7. Modern paper varieties - i.e. Rolland, Slater, Clark, Peterborough, Harrison and Coated Papers.
8.Postage due stamps.

Post 1952 Postal History

Many philatelists loathe the preponderance of modern commemorative issues that have caused the number of basic Scott numbers to go from the low 300's in 1952 to well over 2,500 stamps today. Most collectors have been conditioned to see this material as nothing more than discount postage. However, the emergence of this material gives rise to a new area of philately that is challenging and offers up some really gorgeous material: registered or special delivery covers that have been properly franked with either souvenir sheets or se-tenant multiples that are properly used to pay the postage on commercial covers, IN THE PERIOD THEY WERE ISSUED. Sure, thanks to dealers using early stamps for postage, there are tons of covers in existence that have all manner of stamps used years and often decades after the fact, but how often do you come across a commercial, non-philatelic, cover used to an exotic foreign destination where the postage was properly paid with a souvenir sheet or a high value commemorative from the period? The answer is not very often at all. And when you do find them, they are surprisingly gorgeous items. Just look at these examples:



This 50c special delivery cover to the US would be unremarkable if it were franked with a 50c Summers Stores, which is the 50c stamp that was current in February 1971, when this cover was mailed. However, this cover was paid with both high value Christmas stamps from 1970, which are hard to find on cover as well as a 25c Solemn Land. In addition it has a nice  special delivery label attached.



This 1971 airmail cover to Australia has the 25c airmail rate paid using four different 1971 commemorative issues plus the 1c Centennial definitive - a very unusual thing to find, since most of these covers would have been paid with a 15c stamp plus a 10c stamp, or a 25c stamp. It is unsual enough to find four 6c stamps, but to find all four from a different and CURRENT commemorative issue, is a real treat. 

Aren't these just gorgeous? Several commemoratives used in the year they were issued to make up the higher registered or airmail rates that higher value definitives would ordinarily have been available for.  In fact, if I had to collect all over again, I would challenge myself to find all of the post 1952 se-tenants, booklet panes and souvenir sheets used properly on covers or parcel wrappers. I highly doubt that I would complete it, even if I had all the money in the world and 10 lifetimes to search. And that illustrates nicely how under-valued a lot of material is in Unitrade. I would be completely comfortable paying $25-$150 each for the covers I just showed you and yet, you will find most of these priced at under $10 each on a dealer's table at a show. Why? because it is modern, and the conventional wisdom is that modern material just doesn't have much value.

So what to look for in the postal history then? Well there are several things to look out for:

  • Covers used to exotic destinations where the rates are paid with in-period definitives of commemoratives. 
  • Covers to common destinations, but where highly unsual, in-period stamps have been used to pay the rate. Generally speaking, the more different stamps used, the better the cover is. So for example a 15c airmail cover from 1959 that bears three different 5c commemoratives from 1959 is a much better cover than one that has a strip of three of the same commemorative. That cover, in turn is much more desirable than one that bears a single 15c definitive, which would have been the most common usage of the time. 
  • Any cover that has a proper usage of a se-tenant pair, block, booklet pane, souvenir sheet.
  • Covers with unusual cancellations and cachets, such as hand-painted cachets. 
Complete Booklets Prior to 1962

The collecting of booklets is an often overlooked area partly because albums typically don't include spaces for them, and partly because they are listed in the back of the catalogue. However, the products available to house collections safely has evolved to the point where there are lots of easy solutions for safely storing and displaying a collection of booklets. 

There are several aspects to booklets issued in Canada that make them a very interesting and challenging field in which to specialize. The first is that prior to the mid 1950's booklets were issued either in English of French versions. Starting in the 1940's bilingual versions also became available. While the English versions of most booklets are not particularly rare, the quantities issued of most French booklets is extremely limited indeed, with fewer than 100,000  being produced for several of these issues. Many have been mis-handled over the years, with the result that finding clean, crisp examples of many of the pre 1950's booklets can be very difficult. 

In addition to this, the cover designs on most booklets issued between 1935 and 1955 consist of a dot pattern that has been studied and found to exist in several die types. These type differences are found on both the front cover and the back cover of most booklets and usually most booklets could be found in all four possible front and back cover combinations. Sometimes there were many more die types than just two. When you consider that many of these also exist in English, French and bilingual versions, you can begin to appreciate just how extensive and challenging a specialized collection of booklets can become. The first five or so booklets are very expensive, but not compared to stamps of comparable rarity. However, many scarce to rare booklets are worth little in comparison to what many stamps that are far more common are selling for. 

Plate Blocks Prior to 1963

Plate blocks are another thing that you see all over the place in discount postage lots. In fact plate blocks have gotten such a bad rap over the years that many have forgotten that the plate blocks of yesteryear served a very different purpose and had a completely different significance to the plate blocks of today. 

First of all, the term "plate block" is a bit of a misnomer for nearly all issues after 1971, as different plates were not used for issues printed by lithography or photogravure, which is nearly every stamp issue by then. Different printing plates were generally only used for issues printed using steel engraving, or a combination of engraving or some other process, and even then, usually only for definitive issues. Most commemoratives had only a single print run, so the resulting blocks are most properly termed "inscription blocks". Furthermore, they are generally readily available, because all four corners of most philatelic sheets now bear the inscriptions. 

However prior to the early 1970's this was not the case. Back then, the sheet layouts consisted of between four and six panes of 50 or 100 subjects. So usually only the outer panes would contain a plate inscription, which in turn would mean that in order to obtain all four corners, it would be necessary to sacrifice four sheets. This meant that there was actually some challenge and resulting scarcity to collectors looking to obtain a complete set of plate blocks for an issue. In addition, all issues prior to 1963 were line perforated, rather than comb perforated. This meant that each row was perforated separately, which in turn meant that obtaining very well centered blocks is a challenge. 

Often the plate block is the only way to study the different paper and shade varieties in which an issue exists and to know for certain, which printings came first, and which ones came later.  Finally, while most issues from about 1935-1963 are readily available as plate blocks, finding high quality plate blocks for issues from 1870-1935 is very difficult and is getting harder all the time, as some dealers break up blocks to harvest superbly centered VFNH singles from them. 

Choice Used Multiples

The collecting of used multiples, especially strips and blocks has been popular in Europe for a long time, with the specialized catalogues recognizing the immense rarity of many otherwise common stamps that are in multiple form. It is difficult enough to locate used stamps that are fault free and stuck with attractive, in-period postmarks. But that problem becomes exponentially greater as soon as you try finding a similar block. One of the reasons for this is that most legitimately used blocks were used on parcels and received heavy cancellations. In addition many blocks were not fully affixed to the envelope or parcel, or they were affixed carelessly resulting in creases or wrinkles. 

In addition stamp catalogues have been slow to include pricing information for this type of material, with the result that few, if any dealers have maintained any stock of this material to speak of. Sure, you will find the odd block here and there, but I highly doubt that you will come across any large stock of this material. I once sold a nice used block of 6 of the 1963 Export Dollar definitive with a nice 1965 CDS cancel for over $50 and the catalogue value of 6 singles is only $18, or $21. That was five or six years ago now. However, the upside remains strong for a forward looking philatelist to do very well collecting choice used blocks of any period. The key though is to look for CDS cancellations that are in the correct period. For definitives that generally means from the date of issue until the next definitive  for the same equivalent postage rate is released. For commemoratives, that generally means 6-9 months from the time of issue. So, for example the period of use for the 1c Macdonald  Caricature definitive is from its issuance in 1973 until it was replaced by the 1c Bottle Gentian definitive in 1977. 

Newfoundland

Most Newfoundland material is readily available because the demand historically has been lower for it, which I believe is due to the fact that it is located after the main Canadian issues in nearly every Canadian stamp album. Were these issues to be integrated within the main layout of every Canadian stamp album, I believe we would see a very different picture emerge as to demand. The stamps of this former colony are generally very scarce, with fewer than 10,000 sets being issued in many cases for many of its issues. The stamps are attractive, beautifully engraved and offer a lovely range of shade, paper, perforation and watermark varieties. They are especially difficult and challenging  to find with the cancellations of small Newfoundland towns and villages. I firmly believe that as demand for classic stamps continues to increase, we are going to see prices for this material increase to the point that it will be hard for many people to believe that much of the material could, at one time be had for today's prices. 

Complete Sheets

Complete sheets have, for a long time been sold for postage, and the older ones broken up by dealers, due to a lack of demand by collectors. This is largely due to the fact that traditional, letter-sized 8.5"x11" pages could simply not accommodate most sheets. However, times have changed and many solutions now exist which allow collectors to collect and attractively display full sheets. There is something majestic about a full sheet, with its full border and inscriptions all the way around. In addition, since the early 1970's with the advent of se-tenant designs, full sheets give a visual effect that disappears the minute the sheet is broken up. For example, many issues are printed in a checkerboard fashion or in rotation, so that a cross pattern or some other bold pattern is formed by the stamps themselves - something that you simply cannot get by collecting individual stamps. 

Another reason that sheets may become a lot better in the future is that so many of them have been broken up that many are becoming genuinely scarce to rare. Finally, many of the better paper varieties are found on field stock panes, which are often not kept intact.  This last point requires a bit of explanation. Back in the 1950's if you were a collector and you wanted to buy from the post office, you got in line with everyone else and bought them from the postal worker at the wicket. Thus philatelists and the public obtained their stamps from the same source. But at some point Canada Post established a philatelic bureau to serve collectors directly. From that point on, separate printings were made of panes containing plate blocks in all four corners and sent to the philatelic bureau. Usually, only one printing was made for this purpose, so that nearly all of the philatelic stock is generally only found on the most common paper type. Many of the better, scarcer paper types have only come to light when specialists have discovered them in their study of the field stock panes.

Unfortunately many of the field stock sheets have been broken up before their significance was well understood, with the result that many of the scarcer paper types no longer exist in full sheets. This is still a relatively new field in Canadian philately and although many discoveries have been made over the years, there are still more discoveries to be made for sure.

Modern Paper Varieties

Up until 1983 most of the modern issues after about 1971 were printed on a chalk-surfaced paper manufactured by a company called Abitibi-Price. In 1983 Abitibi-Price went out of business and Canada Post was forced to seek out alternate paper suppliers. Quite a number of suppliers have been utilized since then including:


  • Harrison
  • Slater
  • Rolland
  • Peterborough
  • Coated papers
  • Clark
Each of these papers has their own characteristics which can be distinguished. Most issues are printed on only one kind of paper, and Unitrade has generally identified which paper is the standard one. Occasionally though, one can find stamps printed on a paper different from the standard. We start to see these crop up in the late 1980's with the wildlife definitives. These changes in paper were never announced by Canada Post and they were hitherto unknown until philatelists discovered them. The 74c Wapiti on Rolland paper (the normal was Harrison) and the 45c Walrus perforation change on Slater paper (again the standard paper was Harrison) are among the greatest rarities of the period. I am sure that more such varieties exist and are just waiting to be found. This is yet another reason why I consider the whole discount-postage craze to be sheer humbug - because who knows what rare mint stamps are going to be destroyed, just so someone can save a few cents on postage? 

My comments here deal mostly with the post 1983 papers, but they can apply equally to the papers of the 1960's too. I have for instance, found a copy of the 5c White Garden Lily Emblems stamp from 1964 on hibrite paper - something that should not, but does exist I can assure you. The rarest of all the Centennial definitives, the 6c orange tagged stamp on Hibrite paper, a stamp that catalogues $1,600 now was unknown mint until 1987 - 18 years after its issuance. 

So I think that the careful study of modern mint stamps, especially if you focus on field stock panes and blocks is bound to reveal additional rarities eventually. 

Postage Due Stamps

This is yet another highly neglected area of Canadian philately, again, I would venture to suggest, because the stamps are all located in the back of the albums and catalogues. It is a shame, because all of the postage due issues offer plenty of scope for the specialist. It's just that Unitrade ignores practically all the shade and paper varieties on the various purple and violet issues so that collectors really have no idea, from reading the catalogue listings, how much potential these issues hold. Used multiples and copies of the higher value stamps with CDS cancels instead of the normal crayon or pencil cancels are a joy to behold and not that common.  Some of the basic stamps are very scarce with the numbers issued being very low. For example, only 1,000,000 of the first 10c violet, 309,000 of the second 10c violet and 500,000 of the third 10c violet were issued. 

The fourth set, which came out in 1935 and was not replaced until 1967 was in use for 32 years! Why that is longer than the Small Queens! In fact it is thee longest running of any Canadian issue. Now I ask you, how can a set in use that long, have so few listed varieties? There are shade, paper and gum varieties galore on these, and the great thing is, they are not expensive at all. 

Even the first through third issues provide plenty of shade, paper and gum varieties, with the first issues providing wet versus dry printings too. 

These are some ideas of some areas to seriously consider if you are looking for a new speciality and if your funds are limited. I can think of more, but these are all really good choices I think. 







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