Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Collecting Modern Canadian Postal History 1952-Date

Today's post will look at a field of collecting that has been very neglected, and which I believe offers philatelists an unprecedented opportunity. That field is the collecting of modern postal history. Modern postal history for the purposes of this post is all the postal history for stamps issued during the present reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

What makes this period so interesting? Two things:

1. Frequent postage rate increases.
2. The proliferation of commemorative se-tenant issues and souvenir sheets, many of which were never intended to be used for postage. 

It is important to understand the factors that make a cover scarce and desirable. These factors are the same, no matter what time period we are talking about. There are many, but the main three factors are:

  • Rate
  • Route and Destination
  • Franking
The rate of the cover is the amount of fees that were required to pay for postage and any other services that were purchased in connection with the delivery, such as special delivery, acknowledgement of receipt or registration. Some rates, like local first class are very common and add nothing to the cover in terms of its desirability, while others such as registered special delivery to a foreign destination are scarce and make a cover collectible in its own right.  The route and destination refers to how and where the cover traveled. Prior to membership in the UPU (i.e. before the 1890's) many different routes were followed to deliver mail, each one having a different rate. However by the 1950's the routes were standard, so they do not differentiate covers in terms of scarcity. However, the ultimate destinations are very important. A cover addressed to the US, or Great Britain is nothing to get excited about, as that is where the majority of foreign mail sent from Canada would be going. However, a cover to some exotic locale like Ivory Coast, Greenland or Papua New Guinea would be desirable no matter when it was mailed. Finally the franking refers to the combination of stamps used to make up the rate. Generally speaking, most covers would have been franked with the fewest number of commonly available stamps to pay the required rate. So in other words, definitives would be the usual stamps employed. So in assessing the scarcity of a rate, you look at how common the stamps used to make up the rate are. All other things being equal, the large the number of different stamps used, the better, and the scarcer each stamp is the better the cover is. Another important factor is that the stamps used on the cover be used within the proper period. What does this mean? Well for definitives, the period of use generally ends when the next equivalent stamp is released to replace the present stamp issue. For commemoratives the definition of the period is a bit less definite, since they come out nearly every month, but generally speaking within about 12 months or so is acceptable before they are considered to be late, out-of-period usage. 

Lets take a look at four modern covers, all of which are scarce and desirable and apply the above factors to look at precisely why they are so much better than ordinary covers. Then in the rest of the post, I will look at each major period of the modern era and will identify the opportunities that exist in each are to find and collect better covers. 

This first cover is a registered special delivery cover sent to Portland Oregon in 1965. So right away, the rate is a scarce rate, since most covers would either have been registered, or special delivery, but not both. The rate for a registered special delivery cover to the US would normally be 35 cents if the indemnity were limited to the basic rate of $50. The destination is to the US, which is common, so there is no real increase to the desirability of this cover on the basis of destination. However, if this cover were addressed instead to another country like Australia, or Fiji, then it would be a much more expensive item. The rate of 85c indicates that 55c represented postage, which is 11 times the normal rate for an ounce. This must have meant that the envelope weighed 11 ounces. A look at the customs label on the back reveals that it contained a complete set of coins to the silver dollar, which would have been about right. So the rate is desirable because of how unusual it is. 

Next we look at the actual franking itself. 85c could be paid several ways, but the most common ones at this time would have been:

  • 50c textile definitive + 25c chemical +10c inuk and kayak,
  • 50c textile definitive + 25c chemical + 2 x 5c Cameo definitives, or
  • 4 x 20c paper industry definitives + 5c Cameo definitives.
Those three combinations would have been the common ones for this rate, and would not add much to the scarcity of value of this cover. As we can see there is indeed a 50c textile and 25c chemical industry definitive on this cover. But the remaining 10c has been paid with two of the 1965 commemorative issues. This represents as nice as the franking can get once the first two stamps are taken up by the 50c and 25c. If a pair of one of the commemorative issues was used instead of two separate issues, then the cover would still be good, but it wouldn't have quite as much eye appeal as this one does, and consequently it wouldn't be as scarce. Now lets take a look at the next cover:

This cover is an airmail cover to Australia that was mailed in April 1971 before the introduction of a standard 15c all-up airmail rate in 1972. Before the introduction of this rate, airmail to non-European destinations was 25c. So this was automatically a less commonly seen rate because the volume of mail to these locations was much lower than to Europe. So the rate makes the cover more desirable. But what really makes the cover amazing is the franking. 25c at this time would have been paid either with:

  • a single 25c Solemn Land Centennial definitive, 
  • a pair of 10c Jack Pine Centennial definitives plus a 5c Centennial,
  • a single 15c Bylot Island Centennial definitive plus a 10c Jack Pine, or
  • a single 20c Quebec Ferry Centennial definitive plus a 5c Centennial.
However, this cover has been paid using no less than four different commemorative issues from 1971 plus a 1c Centennial definitive to make up the rate. Not only are all the commemoratives different, they represent ALL four of the issues that had been released between January 1 and April 18, 1971. In other words, the franking could not possibly be any better for this rate. If instead of four different commemorative issues, there was only 2 different issues in pairs, then this would be a much less spectacular cover. 

Now lets look at the third cover:

Here we have an 85c local registered cover. Local registered covers are not rare at all usually. However, on September 1, 1976 the rate for registration and postage went up from 58 cents to 85 cents. It increased again only six months later on March 1, 1977. Thus any cover sent within this short, six month window will be a more desirable cover. This cover was mailed on February 16, 1977, 2 weeks before the end of that period. The 85 cents would normally be paid by:

  • three 25c Polar Bear definitives plus a 10c Queen Elizabeth II definitive, 
  • four 20c Prairies definitives, plus a 5c Bennett definitive, or
  • a single 50c Seashore definitive, a 25c Polar Bears and a 10c Forest definitive.
However, instead of the commonly available 25c Polar Bear definitives that were available at the time, three examples of the 25c Silver Jubilee commemorative for Queen Elizabeth II were used instead. The only way this franking could be improved is if instead of three copies of this stamp, there were one copy and then five 10c commemoratives from this period. 

Finally, let us look at the most spectacular cover in the group:

This $1.67 local registered cover had been sent in May 1979, when the rate for registration had increased to $1.50. It is important to note that because rates for registration increased almost yearly at this point, that any registered cover is now a more desirable cover because the particular rate will always be scarcer than the same registered rate from a period like 1972-1976 when it did not change. 

The $1.67 at this time normally would have been paid using one of the following combinations of definitives:

  • a $1 Fundy plus a 50c seashore and a 17c parliament or a 17c Queen Elizabeth II definitive, or
  • three 50c seashore stamps plus a 17c parliament of 17c Queen Elizabeth II definitive.
On this cover, the only definitive present is the 10c Lady's Slipper stamp and a plate block of the 5c Shooting Star from the floral issue. The remaining $1.37 has been paid entirely with commemoratives, including a plate block of the high value 1978 Christmas Issue and the 17c postal code issue. Given the size of the stamps, it is a difficult franking to improve upon. What makes it even better though is that there are two plate blocks. You almost never see plate blocks on anything other than official First Day Covers. Most people would have torn the selvage off in order to make sure that the stamps would fit on the envelope. The 1978 Christmas issue was released on October 20, 1978, so while May 1979 is a bit late, it is still not out of period. 

What should emerge from looking at these covers is that the main opportunity that exists with modern postal history is the collection of the higher postage rate covers where the postage has been paid using commemoratives, booklet panes and souvenir sheets rather than the common definitive stamps of the time. However, there are several periods within the modern period of Canadian philately, each of which has its own challenges and offers its own opportunities. Lets look at these individually:

April 1 1954-October 31, 1968

This period represents the period of greatest stability in rates, spanning nearly 15 years. There were really no souvenir sheets yet, but there were booklet panes and cello-paqs. So the thing to look for during this period is really the higher airmail and registered rates paid using combinations of commemoratives, booklet panes or complete cello-paqs, as well as better destinations for the standard rates. 

November 1, 1968 - June 30, 1971

This period is when we begin to regularly see se-tenant stamps. Prior to this the 1957 Sports issue was the only se-tenant issue. The thing to look for is complete se-tenant combinations of the 1970 Expo issue or the 1970 Christmas Issue and the 1968 & 1969 Christmas booklet panes used to pay the higher registered rates. 

July 1, 1971 - December 31, 1971

This very short 6 month period has only 3 commemorative stamps, plus the 1971 Christmas issue that were released during the period. So pretty much any registered cover or foreign airmail cover paid with a combination of these stamps instead of Centennial definitives will be more desirable. 

January 1, 1972 - August 31, 1976

This period was one of the longest in terms of no rate changes. As a result, most of the lower rates are not that scarce, nor are the basic registered rates by themselves. There are A LOT of se-tenant issues that were released during this period, and because the basic rate was 8c, the oversize rate was 14c, and the double foreign airmail rate was 30c and not 32c, it will be hard to find se-tenant pairs and blocks of 4 of the commemorative issues of this period on cover. These are the issues to look for as well as the higher registered rates paid using the $1 and $2 commemorative olympic stamps rather than the $1 and $2 definitives from the Caricature issue. 

The bulk of the semi-postal stamps issued for the 1976 Montreal Olympics were issued during this period. They were not popular of course because of the premium that they were issued at, so finding them on cover is very challenging. This especially the case for the 20c stamp, which would only have been found on an overweight US letter. 

September 1, 1976-February 28, 1977

This is another short rate period. only 2 commemorative issues, plus the 1976 Christmas issue were released during this period. All the rates of this period are scarce and desirable if paid with primarily commemoratives. 

March 1, 1977-March 31, 1978

During this period we have a good number of se-tenants, all of which are either pairs or blocks of 12c stamps as well as a 25c commemorative. None of the basic rates are multiples of 12c, so any se-tenant will be scarce on cover. Also, there is no basic 25c, 50c or 75c rate, so the 25c parliament commemorative will also be scarce when used in this period. 

April 1 1978 - March 31, 1979

Here the basic se-tenant stamps are 14c denominations and this is the period that we regularly begin to see higher value 30c commemoratives to pay the foreign airmail rates. Despite being issued for this purpose, they are still somewhat scarce on foreign airmail covers. The comments made above about the scarcity of se-tenants above applies here also, as none of the higher rates are divisible by 14c. The first souvenir sheet, the 1978 CAPEX sheet is issued during this period. However, the face value of $1.69 does not correspond to any of the basic registered rates that were in effect, so it will be hard to find used on cover during this period. 

April 1, 1979 - June 30, 1979

This is the shortest rate period of the modern era: only 3 months! What is notable about this period is that it is the last period where imperial weights were used and the first miniature sheet of 12 commemorative stamps appears. The only rates that would change in the next period would be the oversize domestic and USA rates, so getting covers from this three month period with those 27c (local) and 31c (USA) rates is a challenge. Once again, there are no rates that are multiples of 17c, so the se-tenants are hard to find on cover. 

July 1, 1979 - December 31, 1981

This period has a large range of 17c se-tenant commemoratives and several 35c higher values intended for the international airmail rates. Many of the same comments about the scarcity of the se-tenant combinations applies here as well as the desirability of the 35c values used for the higher registered rates rather than foreign airmail. 

January 1, 1982 - January 14, 1983

This period represents the largest single rate increase for domestic rates to this point, with the rate almost doubling from 17c to 30c. The rates increase almost yearly from this point on, and the third class rate is eliminated in this period. The foreign rate is exactly double the domestic rate for the first time and this will continue in the other periods. What this means is that se-tenant pairs, while scarce on cover, are not as scarce as before since they can be found on foreign airmail covers. Before, they would only be found on higher rate registered covers used in combination with other stamps. 

January 15, 1983 - June 23, 1985

This period saw the domestic rate increase to 32c from 30c on February 15, so 30c covers from January 15-February 14, will be scarce. The first commemorative booklet of se-tenant stamps, the 1983 forts booklet appears in this period, as does the $2 Commonwealth Day commemorative. The comment above about the scarcity of se-tenants applies to this period as well. 

June 24, 1985 - March 31, 1987

Here the domestic rate was 34c and the foreign rate 68c. The comments about se-tenants are the same here as above. 

April 1, 1987 - December 31, 1987

This is another short rate period, lasting only 9 months. The non-standard 42c rate disappears after this brief period and only 1 stamp, the 42c bobsleigh was issued for this purpose. So properly used examples on cover should be scarce. Despite the short length of this period, over 20 stamps were issued and properly used on cover in this period should be quite scarce for any rate. 

January 1, 1988 - December 31, 1988

There are no se-tenant pairs issued during this period, only blocks of 4. However, none of the basic rates were $1.48, so blocks properly used are scarce. The popular 50c Art Canada stamps make their first appearance in this period as well. Again, they are scarce on cover, as there were no 50c rates during this period. 

January 1, 1989 - December 31, 1989

There are some issues during this period in se-tenant pairs, so it is possible to find these used to pay the international rate, though they are not common. 

January 1, 1990 - December 31, 1990

The first prestige booklet, the 1990 Canada post issue appears, and complete panes could conceivably have been used to pay the higher registered rates. The scarce Petro-Canada panes of 4 of the boreal forests issue appear as well and would be very scarce on cover. 

January 1, 1991 - December 31, 1991

The issuance of commemoratives exclusively in booklet form starts in earnest during this period and we begin to see sets of 4 or 5 stamps in se-tenant form available only on booklet panes of 10. Complete panes or strips from the panes could have been used to pay the higher registered rates. There are once again no issues that came out only in se-tenant pairs, so any se-tenant would have been used only in conjunction with other stamps to pay higher rates. Canada's second true souvenir sheet, the basketball sheet with $1.66 face value is issued. This potentially could be found used on a registered letter. 

January 1, 1992- December 31, 1992

In this period, the majority of the commemorative issues are in se-tenant booklet form, with panes of 10. The first $5.04 Canada Day pane is issued, which, because of its huge size could only ever be found on a large parcel fragment. The Canada 92 souvenir sheets appear, with a face value of $2.16 and could be found on registered mail. The Canada in Space issue and Roland Michener issues are both issued in se-tenant pairs and can be found used to pay the international rates. 

January 1, 1993 - July 31, 1995

This period saw the domestic oversize and overweight rates, as well as the USA and international rates increase on March 1, 1994. That is significant because the basic stamp value stayed at 43c, while the international and oversize rates became 88c and not 86c. This meant that as of March 1, 1994 a pair of stamps would NOT cover the domestic oversize of foreign rates, as would have been the case prior to this date. The majority of stamps now are either from booklets or souvenir sheets. The Art Canada stamps now have denominations that correspond to the international rate, so that single usages of these on foreign mail are now possible, but by no means common. Only 1 single issue: the 1994 Great Canadians Billy Bishop and Mary Travers was released in se-tenant pairs and these can be found used to pay either the domestic oversize of foreign rates. There are several sheets now such as the Canada Day sheet and automobile sheets that are so large, that the only letters they will likely be found on are large oversize envelopes. 

August 1, 1995 - December 31, 1998

This is a fairly long period of rate stability that comes a period of very frequent rate increases. The Chinese Lunar New Year stamps begin to appear in this period, with the 90c Year of the Ox souvenir sheet being of a face value (90c) that could actually be used on a foreign letter. Most of the stamps are from booklets or souvenir sheets, although quite a few single stamps and se-tenant pairs were also issued during this period as well. Canada's largest souvenir pane, the $3.05 historic land vehicles pane containing 25 stamps was issued during this period. This was the first commemorative issue to feature face values smaller than the first class rate, which was 45 cents. In fact, this pane included 5c, 10c and 20c stamps. So multiples of these stamps could be found used to pay the standard 45c rate, which would be scarce. 

Semi-postal stamps, which had not been issued since 1976, reappear in this period, with the 45c literacy stamp. Again, this is not a common stamp to find on cover. 

January 1, 1999 - December 31, 2000

For the first time in many years, the domestic oversize rate is 3c cheaper than the international rate, being 92c versus the 95c international rate. The basic face values are 46c, so that once again, a pair of 46c stamps is NOT enough to cover the international rate. Quite a few single stamp issues came out and only a few pairs. The most interesting items to appear in my opinion are the Millennium souvenir sheets that consisted of four 46c stamps. To be properly used, these would have to have been either on a registered or overweight international letter.  

January 1, 2001 - January 13, 2002

During this period the spread between the domestic oversize and international rates grows by 11c, with the domestic oversize rate continuing to be double the normal first class rate. Except for the Christmas issue, only one other issue comes in 60c denominations for the US rate, so that most issues would require make-up definitives if used to pay the US rate. Thus it will be uncommon to find the basic 47c commemoratives used to pay either the domestic overweight, US first class or international rates. The number of stamps issued in sheet and booklet form seems to be about equal. 

January 14, 2002 - January 11, 2004

The domestic rate increased to 48c, but the first 48c stamps were issued on January 2, January 3 and January 12, so it is possible to find these used before January 14 to pay the 47c rate before the actual rate increase to 48c had taken effect. The spread between the domestic oversize and international rate grows to 29c now, with the rates being 96c and $1.25 respectively. Again, there is a fairly good mix of sheet and booklet stamps, but the vast majority of commemoratives are 48c denominations, which will seldom be used for anything other than local first class mail so finding these on higher rate covers in combination with other stamps is desirable. 

January 12, 2004 - January 16, 2005

The spread between the domestic oversize and international rates is now 42c, with the rates being 98c and $1.40 respectively. There is a good mix of souvenir sheets, sheet singles and booklets, as well as quite a few se-tenant pairs, which can be found used to pay the domestic oversize rate. However, there are very few commemorative stamps in this period that are suitable for the international or US rates, so finding international letters or US letters with commemorative stamps will be unusual and desirable. 

January 17, 2005 - January 15, 2006

For the first time in many years, all the standard rates are whole numbers divisible by 5. Almost allof the commemoratives are 50c denominations, so they will generally not be found on either US letters or international letters. There is a good mix of se-tenant pairs, singles and se-tenant blocks of 4 during this period. The blocks of 4 will be very scarce on cover as they would only be found on either overweight international letters or registered letters. 

January 16, 2006 - January 15, 2007

For the first time, the domestic oversize rate is more than double the first class rate, which is now 51c. So the 51c stamps now are really only good for use on local letters unless make up definitives are used. Again, most of the stamps are 51c stamps, so finding sets or se-tenants on cover is very difficult. 

January 16, 2007 - January 13, 2008

The domestic rate increases to 52c. Once again the vast majority of the commemoratives are 52c stamps, so finding either US, domestic oversize, domestic overweight, or international letters used with commemorative stamps is challenging.

January 14, 2008 - January 11, 2009

The domestic rate remained at 52c. The domestic overweight and US rates both went up by 3c and the oversize and international rates both increased by 5c. The first permanent, non-denominational commemorative stamps appear in this period. Nearly all the other stamps are 52c stamps, so again finding these on anything but local mail is a challenge. 

Semi-postal stamps for mental health appear in October 2008. They are permanent non-denominational stamps sold at a premium of 10c over face value. Again, they are not common on cover. 

January 12, 2009 - January 10, 2010

The domestic rate goes up to 54c, the US rate is now 98c and international is now $1.65. The $3 Hockey Lenticular stamps are issued during this period in souvenir sheets of 3. These could exist used on registered letters, as the registration rate by now is more than $9, Most of the commemorative stamps continue to be 54c denominations, which would be scarce used on anything other than local covers. 

The mental health semi-postal series continues in this period. 

January 11, 2010 - January 16, 2011

The domestic rate increases to 57c, US increases to $1 and international increases to $1.70. The domestic overweight and oversize rates all increase as well. Again, like in the prior periods, there are very few $1.70 stamps, no $1 stamps and a large number of 57c stamps, so that finding anything other than a local first class letter with commemorative issues is a challenge. 

The mental health semi-postal series continues in this period. 

January 17, 2011 - January 15, 2012

The domestic rate increased to 59c, while the US rate jumped to $1.03 and the international rate went to $1.75. Nearly all of the commemorative stamps issued during this period are non-denominational, permanent stamps. 

The last mental health semi-postals are issued during this period. 

January 16, 2012 - January 13, 2013

The domestic rate increased to 61c, while US went to $1.05 and international to $1.80. The $2 Diamond Jubilee stamp appears during this period, and would generally only be found used on either overweight international mail or registered mail. Personalized stamps become popular during this period. There are more $1.05 and $1.80 commemorative stamps than before, but still the vast majority of commemoratives are non-denominational permanent stamps, which will generally only be found on local first class letters. 

A new series of semi-postals for the Canada Post Community foundation is first issued. Again, these are permanent, non-denominational stamps sold for 10c over face value. Like all the other semi-postals, they are scarce on cover. 

The first computer vended postage stamps are issued during this period on an experimental basis. They are all very rare. 

January 14, 2013 - March 30, 2014

The local domestic rate increased to 63c, with US going to $1.10 and international to $1.85. The domestic oversize and overweight rates increased as well. Denominated 63c commemorative stamps re-appear in addition to the permanent non-denominational stamps. There are very few $1.10 and $1.85 commemorative stamps during this period, so that again, most commemorative issues would only be found on local mail. 

The Canada Post Community semi-postal issued continue to be issued in this period. The second issue of computer vended stamps appears during this period. The trial period ended in July 2013 and the issue was not continued, so copies used on cover within the 6 month period during which these stamps were issued are very scarce. 

March 31, 2014 - Date

The local domestic rate increased by the largest amount in history, 22c going to 85c. The  US rate increased  10c and the international rate increased by 65c to $2.50. The $5 cloth flag stamp was issued on February 15, 2015 and this can certainly be found on registered letters. There are a good number of $1.20 and $2.50 commemorative stamps issued during this period. All the 85c stamps are non-denominational. 

The Canada Post Community semi-postal issued continue to be issued in this period.

This concludes my overview discussion of the collecting of modern post 1952 postal history for Canada. Hopefully you can see from this post that there are a lot of opportunities for the ambitious philatelist, and a lot of challenge. In fact, I would wager that it will prove to be next to impossible to complete a collection of all post 1952 stamps properly used in-period on cover including all the se-tenant combinations. So it is a fantastic area for a collector on a limited budget, who possesses the discipline to seek out only correct, in period usages of the modern stamps. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Shades Of The 50c Black and $1 Orange Admiral Stamps of Canada 1912-1928


This is the last of my detailed posts dealing with the shades of the very popular Admiral Issue of 1911-1928. The 50c value has four major listed shades in Unitrade, which are not too difficult to distinguish, while the $1 has three. However, one of the difficulties that collectors will encounter when trying to sort their stamps is the fact that there are several sub-shades within many of the major shade groups that may lead to mis-identification for those who are not familiar with the characteristics of the major shade groups.

Like all my other posts on this topic, I will show you examples of stamps from each major Unitrade listed shade group and will then cross-reference the shade names in Unitrade, with shade names from the Stanley Gibbons colour key, modified as necessary when the shades are lighter, darker, brighter, duller, paler or deeper than the Gibbons Colour Key swatches. Unfortunately, my colour key does not have very many black swatches, so most of the names that I give for the 50c shades will be my own, or will not differ from Unitrade in the case of the silver-black shade.

The 50c Black 1912-1928

Unitrade lists four major shade groups for this stamp:

  • Black brown - dry printing
  • Black - wet printing
  • Silver black - wet printing
  • Brown black - wet printing
The name given to the most common shade, the black brown is completely wrong, as this stamp is a variant of grey-black, and is not brown at all. The black is pretty distinct, but as we shall see, it varies in both tone and intensity. The black stamps are generally from the first printings made before 1914, and will have the same paper and gum characteristics as stamps of that period. This characteristics generally are clear yellowish shiny gum and either coarse or fine vertical mesh being clearly visible in the paper. The silver black is also very distinct, but requires some experience to identify. Again, paper and gum can prove invaluable as an aid to identifying this shade because it comes from printings made in 1917. The 1917 paper has less visible mesh and has smooth cream gum, with a satin sheen. Unitrade places a 1923 date next to the brown-black shade, but in reality, this shade is a catch-all group for all the common wet printings that are neither the pure black, nor the silver black. These of course, can come from any year between 1912 and 1925. 

Black Brown Dry Printing Shades

The above stamps are both examples of the basic dry printing. This is the most common printing in which the mint stamps of this value are found. All of the dry printings have the re-touched frameline in the upper right spandrel, which I have discussed in a separate post: As you can see, while both these stamps have a hint of brown, they are not brown overall, but are really a variation of grey black. The stamp on the left is thus brownish grey black and the stamp on the right is pale brownish grey black. 

Black Wet Printing Shades

The above stamps are all examples of the Unitrade listed black shade. As you can see, there are some subtle nuances in the shade, with the first two stamps being a pure black and the third stamp being more of a charcoal shade, because of the greyish cast that it has. Lastly, the stamp on the right is a more intense black than the first two stamps. 

The Silver Black Wet Printing Shade

These three stamps are all examples of the scarce silver-black shade from 1917. Hopefully you can see the clear silvery cast that this shade has. 

Brown-Black Wet Printing Shades

The above three stamps are all examples of the Unitrade listed brown-black shade. This is perhaps the trickiest shade because of how similar it is to the black. The key difference lies in both the intensity and the purity of the black colour. On the true black shade shown above, there is no hint of brown to the black. On the brown-black shade, there is always either a clear hint of brown, or a lot of grey to the black. In addition, the paper and gum characteristics are not consistent with the early 1912 printings. From left to right we have:

  • Brown black
  • Greyish brown black
  • Brown black
Comparing The Shades

The scan below shows a side-by-side comparison of all four basic shade groups:

From left to right we have:

  • Brownish grey black dry printing - Unitrade's black brown.
  • Black
  • Silver black
  • Greyish brown black - Unitrade's brown black
Hopefully this will make it much easier to see the different shades. They really are quite distinct and not too difficult to identify once you are familiar with them. 

The $1 Orange - 1923-1928

Unitrade lists only three shades for this stamp:

  • Orange for the basic dry printing
  • Deep orange for the wet printing
  • Brown orange for the dry printings
This is not too difficult a stamp to sort, but most collectors will find that the dry printing is far and away the most common, with probably as many as 80% of examples they come across being dry. The wet printings when found, are usually an unmistakable, deep, rich reddish orange. As we shall see, there is really no true brown orange, but just brownish orange. The brownish tinge is fairly easy to see once you know what to look for and are familiar with the basic orange shade, but at the same time it is very easy to classify it as just the basic orange dry printing if you are not familiar with it. In addition all three of the listed shade groups have variations within them. 

The Orange Dry Printing Shades

The above stamps are all examples of the basic orange shade on the dry printings. The defining characteristic of this shade is its general dullness. It is not particularly deep, nor is it bright. According to Gibbons Colour key, most of these are shades of red-orange, rather than just orange. From left to right we have:

  • Red-orange
  • Pale red orange - similar to the red orange, but a little less intense
  • Pale orange - similar to orange, but less intense
  • Light bright orange - similar to bright orange, but with a hint of white added to the colour.

Deep Orange Wet Printing Shades

These three stamps are all examples of the Unitrade listed wet printing. The first two stamps are the same reddish orange shade that Unitrade calls deep orange, but the stamp on the right is not particularly deep, being bright orange. It is very similar to the basic orange of the dry printings above, as is only identifiable as a #122b by virtue of the fact that it is a wet printing.

The Brown Orange Dry Printing Shades

The above stamps I believe, are all examples of the brown orange dry printing. Like the orange, this group of shades is also dull, but almost always contains a definite brownish undertone. From left to right we have:

  • Brownish orange - similar to orange, but with a hint of brown. 
  • Brownish orange - a slightly less intense example. 
  • Orange
  • Deep dull orange - similar to dull orange, but deeper
I have included the orange shade in this group rather than the first because it is more similar to the other shades of this group than it is to the stamps in the first group, even though its name matches that of the first group. 

Comparing The Shades

The scan below shows the three basic shade groups side-by-side:

From left to right:

  • Red orange - dry printing
  • Reddish orange - wet printing
  • Brownish orange - dry printing
This hopefully should make the differences between these shades much clearer, although the difference between the first and third stamps is VERY subtle. Look at the scan for a few minutes and let your eyes adjust and relax. Eventually you will see the difference. 

This now concludes my series of posts about the shades of the various stamps of the 1911-1928 Admiral Issue. I hope that you all found them informative, and hopefully they will inspire you to collect these stamps in more depth, as they can be a great deal of fun. If you would like to view the 50c and $1 Admiral stamps for sale in our store, you can do so by clicking on the following links:

I will be off on Monday next week, so my posts will resume on Tuesday. I am going to take a bit of a break from the Admiral issue and will write some more posts about stamp collecting in general, the market and collecting Canadian stamps before returning to the Admiral issue to write about its other technical aspects.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Shades Of The 20c Olive Green Admiral Stamp of Canada 1912-1928


This is one of the few values in the Admiral series, whose basic colour was not changed throughout the entire life of the issue. The only other stamp which were in use throughout the entire period from 1912 to 1928 was the 50c, which will be discussed in the next post. Unitrade does list several shades of this stamp and most of them have been assigned sub-numbers by Scott. However, I find the names of the colour groups to be misleading, given how different they are from the actual colours, as classified by the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key. The listed shades are:

  • Olive green
  • Dark olive green
  • Sage green
  • Grey green
This is another value in which it pays to know your paper and gum characteristics. The reason is because what Unitrade is really doing when they list these shades is to list and price particular groups of printings:

  • The basic #119 is the un-retouched dry printing. Period.
  • This must mean that any wet printing not falling under the sage green or grey green groups is automatically classified as dark olive green, which is the second cheapest shade. So even though Unitrade places a vague 1912 date next to this shade group, the reality is that it covers the entire period from 1912-1922.
  • The sage green is not dated, but my observation is that it generally covers the period from 1915 to about 1918. 
  • The grey-green is the first printing from January 23, 1912. So it must have the paper and gum characteristics of the 1912 printings. These are a clear, but yellowish shiny gum, and a paper that shows coarse or fine vertical mesh, as well as perforations that can appear a bit rough. 
The problem with the shade names in Unitrade is that neither the sage green, nor the grey-green are true to the sage-green or grey-green colour swatches in the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key. In relative terms, when compared to the other stamps, they clearly do appear sagey and greyish, but I see a lot of stamps from the grey-green printings being misidntified as the cheaper dark olive green, when they need not be. 

This post, in keeping with all my other posts on this topic will show you examples of each Unitrade listed shade, and will then cross-reference these shades with the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key names, modified as necessary when a shade has black or white added, or is paler or deeper than the swatch. 

The Olive Green Dry Printing Shades

These two stamps are both dry printings without the re-touched frameline. They are listed in Unitrade as being  olive-green. However, neither one is a pure olive green. As a matter of fact, both are greyish olive in Gibbons Colour Key, with the stamp on the left being paler than the one on the right.

The Sage Green Wet Printing Shades

The above stamps are all examples of stamps that I would classify as part of the sage green group. To me the distinguishing characteristics of this group are that the greens are either yellowish or greyish and lack the brown tones that belong to the deep olive green group. In fact the stamp on the left is greyish olive - exactly the same shade as on the dry printing stamp above, except that this is a wet printing. Some may classify this as dark olive green, but I have included it here because the shade is very different from the other olive shades that belong to the dark olive green shade group. From left to right we have:

  • Grey olive
  • Light yellow olive - similar to yellow olive, but with a hint of white added to the colour.
  • Yellow olive

The Dark Olive Green Wet Printing Shades

These stamps are all examples of the common dark olive green shade group as listed in Unitrade. All of them have a distinct olive and brownish tone, that the stamps of the other groups typically lack. As I stated above, this is a bit of a catch-all group for the common shades of the wet printing stamps. From left to right we have:

  • Brownish olive green - similar to the olive green swatch, but with brown added.
  • Pale brown olive - similar to the brown-olive swatch but much less intense.
  • Yellowish olive green - similar to the olive-green swatch, but with yellow added. 
  • Deep brownish olive green - similar to the first stamp, but deeper. 

Grey Green Wet Printing Shades

These are all examples of the Unitrade listed grey-green. As you can see they all have a greyish cast, though they are not actually the true grey green as identified in the Gibbons Colour Key. They are actually, from left to right:

  • Deep brown olive - similar to brown olive but much deeper.
  • Deep brown olive - almost identical to the first stamp.
  • Grey olive.
These shades are very distinct compared to the others. However, it is easy to see how a collector who had not seen the other shades and was trying to identify the stamps using the Unitrade shade names could mistake these for the more common dark olive green. 

Comparing the Shades

The scan below shows a side-by-side comparison of each of the above shade groups, which will hopefully make the identification a little easier:

From left to right we have:

  • Pale grey olive dry printing - Unitrade's olive green
  • Light yellow olive - Unitrade's sage green.
  • Brownish olive green - Unitrade's dark olive green.
  • Deep brown olive - Unitrade's grey-green.
If you compare the first image with the third image, you will see that the colours look similar with the third image being darker. This is consistent with Unitrade's classification as olive-green and dark olive green respectively. The fourth image does not look like olive green at all, and is greyish, which is why Unitrade calls it grey-green. The tricky colour here is the sage green in the second image, which at first glance looks similar to the dark olive green. What gives it away though is the almost complete lack of brown in the colour, being very yellowish in comparison. I find that a good way to spot this shade on mint stamps is to look for paper that shows almost no mesh, and for gum that is yellowish cream in colour, and shiny, but without any texture to it. The earlier 1912-1914 gums often have a streakiness, or are clear and allow the mesh of the paper to be visible, while the later post 1918 gum is usually a creamier colour and has a slightly textured look, as paint would appear when applied to a wall with a roller. 

This concludes my discussion of the shades of the 20c olive green Admiral stamp. All that remains now to complete the discussion of shades is the 50c and the $1, which I will cover in my next posts. Once I have finished dealing with the shades, I will discuss other aspects of this issue, starting with paper and gum, as well as some more general posts about collecting in general to give a break from highly technical stuff. 

If you would like to view the 20c Admirals for sale in my shop, please click on the following link below:

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Shades Of The 10c Plum And 10c Bistre Brown Admiral Stamps 1912-1928


This post will deal with the last of the intermediate value Admiral stamps before I deal with the three high values, the 20c, the 50c and the $1. The Unitrade catalogue until fairly recently did not list any shades at all of the 10c bistre brown, and has only ever listed two shades of the first 10c: plum and reddish purple. As we shall see though, there is a fair range of shades of the first 10c, and also there are more than two shades of the bistre brown as well. In keeping with the structure of all previous posts, I will illustrate examples of each Unitrade listed shade and will then cross-reference the shade names with the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key.

The 10c Plum or Reddish Purple

This stamp was released in January 1912 and replaced the 10c King Edward VII stamp. It's use was primarily for insurance fees on registered mail, bulk mailings of printed matter and parcels. Consequently, it was in fair demand, and a lot of printings were made between 1912 and 1922, when it was replaced by the 10c blue.

The what most people think of when they hear "plum" are the more common brownish purple and purple brown shades, that were from printings made after 1920. Indeed most mint examples are from that time period, with examples from 1912-1914 being comparatively scarce. Unitrade identifies the reddish purple shade as coming from the first printings in 1912, which is correct, but a number of early printings from 1912-1913 can be found in a dull greyish purple shade as we shall see.

Plum Shades

The above stamps are all examples of the Unitrade listed plum shade. This scan shows a fair amount of uniformity of colour, although in the flesh, the shades are all quite different. The blackish plum is shown at the lower right, while the upper left stamp is the common dark purple brown. From left to right on each row we have:

  • Dark purple brown - similar to purple brown, but containing some black. 
  • Deep dull greyish purple - similar to dull purple, but deeper and greyer.
  • Dull greyish purple - similar to dull purple, but greyish.
  • Purple brown.
  • Dark purple brown - similar to purple brown, but with a hint of black.
  • Deep brown purple - similar to brown purple, but deeper.
  • Dark purple brown - similar to brown purple, but with black added.
  • Blackish plum - similar to plum, but with black added.
The greyish purple shades have paper and gum that is consistent with printings made before 1914, while the blackish plum has paper and gum consistent with 1915-1917 printings. Finally the other shades have paper and gum consistent with printings made after 1918. 

Reddish Purple Shades

The above stamps are all examples of Unitrade's reddish purple. These are quite distinct and different from the plum shades above. In terms of the Gibbons Coour Key, they are closer to maroon than reddish purple. From left to right on each row we have:

  • Light maroon - similar to maroon, but with some white added.
  • Brown purple.
  • Dull greyish purple - similar to greyish purple, but dull.
  • Maroon.

The paper and gum characteristics of all these stamps are consistent with printings made before 1914, which supports Unitrade's assertion that these are from the first printings.

The 10c Bistre Brown

This stamp replaced the 10c blue in 1925 and by the time it was issued, its use had expanded to include other post office services like acknowledgement or receipt and the like. So again, it saw very heavy use. Surprisingly, there are quite a few subtle shades of this stamp, although they are all very similar to one another, due largely to the fact that they were only printed by the dry method, which appears to result in less marked shade varieties than one finds on the wet printings.

The stamps on the top row are all examples of the bistre-brown, while the stamps on the bottom are the listed yellow-brown shade. As you can see, the yellow brown is quite distinct. From left to right, on both rows we have:

  • Light bistre brown - similar to bistre brown, but with a touch of white.
  • Bistre brown.
  • Pale bistre brown - similar to above but less intense.
  • Deep ochre - similar to ochre, but more intense.
  • Ochre.
  • Light yellow brown - similar to yellow brown, but with white added. 

That concludes my post on the shades of the 10c Admiral. If you would like to see the 10c Admirals that are for sale in my store, click on the following two links:

Have a fantastic weekend!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Shades Of The 5c Violet And 7c Red Brown Admiral Issue Stamps 1922-1928


Today's post will deal with the shades of the two re-issues of the 5c and 7c values. Unitrade lists a few shades for the 5c, although as we shall see, there are more than what Unitrade lists, and none of the shades are actually violet, but rather all are either shades of purple or lilac. Curiously, there are only two listed shades of the 7c red brown: red-brown and pale red brown, even though there is a world of difference between the shades of the wet printings and the dry printings. The so called pale red-brown of the 7c dry printing is actually closer to chestnut on the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key, and is quite distinct once you become familiar with it, although if you are not used to seeing it, you could easily miss it and classify it as a common red-brown shade.

Again, in keeping with the format of the previous posts, I will show examples of each shade and will cross reference the Unitrade shade names to the equivalent shades on the Stanley Gibbons Colour key, indicating how swatches om the key have been extrapolated to arrive at the actual shades.

The 5c Violet

Unitrade lists three shades for this stamp:

  • Violet
  • Grey violet
  • Rose violet
In actual fact none of the shades I have seen on this stamp are violet. All of them are actually shades of either lilac or purple. The shades of the wet printings on normal paper display the most variation, while the shades of the wet printing on thin paper and the dry printing appear to be quite uniform. Both the so called grey violet and rose-violet seem to exist only in the wet printings.  Unfortunately, this is a colour that tends to show up on scans as very blackish, so you will need to look at the scans for a few minutes to allow your eyes to adjust so that you can see the differences between the colours. 

Wet Printing "Violet" Shades

The above three stamps are all examples of the basic Unitrade violet shade. The stamp in the centre is the shade you will usually see. The one on the left is rosier than the centre stamp, but not enough to be the rose-violet, while the one on the right is much duller, but again, not sufficiently greyish to be the grey-violet. Using the Gibbons Colour Key, the three shades are from left to right:

  • Deep reddish lilac
  • Deep purple
  • Blackish purple

Wet Printing Thin Paper and Dry Printing Shades

The stamp on the left is the well known wet printing on the so-called thin paper, which is actually not thin at all, but that is a subject of another post. The shade of this stamp is uniformly blackish purple to very deep reddish lilac. I have not come across any significant variation in the shade of this stamp, though it is almost always darker than the regular wet printings that are not the grey violet or blackish purple. The stamp on the right is the dry printing with the re-drawn frameline (all of the dry printings of this value have the re-drawn frameline). The shade of this stamp is very close to the first one on the left above, being a deep reddish lilac. Again, all of the dry printings I have come across are this shade.

Grey Violet and Rose Violet Shades

The first two stamps above are examples of Unitrade's grey violet, while the one on the right is the rose-violet. The actual shades according to the Gibbons Colour Key are:

  • Deep dull purple
  • Dull purple
  • Deep dull reddish purple - similar to the dull reddish purple, but deeper. 
Below is a comparison scan of the three basic wet printing shades:

From left to right we have:

  • Deep purple
  • Deep dull purple
  • Deep dull reddish purple
Hopefully this helps you with identification of the shades on this stamp. 

The 7c Red Brown

Unitrade lists only two shades for this stamp: red-brown and pale red brown. The naming of the shades is close to their true colours although the pale red-brown and the red-brown on thin paper are really shades of chestnut, while the wet printings are deep bright red browns or lake-browns, as opposed to plain old red-brown. 

Dry Printing Shades

The first three stamps on the left are all examples of the Unitrade listed red-brown. The fourth stamp from the left is the scarce so-called pale-red brown, while the last stamp on the right is the dry printing on thin paper - another very scarce stamp. If you compare the fourth stamp to the others it is clearly paler, but there is also a slight orangy cast to the colour. If you compare this stamp to the chestnut swatch on the Gibbons Colour Key it is almost an exact match. The fourth stamp is similar to the red brown shades, but again, it has a slight orangy cast, being a much deeper version of the chestnut shade. In terms of the Gibbons Colour Key we have from left to right:

  • Reddish brown
  • Red-brown
  • Bright red-brown - similar to the red-brown, but a touch brighter. 
  • Chestnut
  • Deep chestnut
Wet Printing Shades

The wet printing shades are all much deeper, brighter and richer than the dry printings. The above three stamps are all similar, but if you look at the scan long enough, you should be able see some differences between the colours of these three stamps. The stamp on the left is both lighter and brighter than the second two, 

According to the Gibbons Colour Key, we have from left to right:

  • Deep lake-brown
  • Bright red brown - similar to reddish brown but redder and brighter.
  • Deep bright red-brown - similar to above, but slightly deeper. 
This concludes my discussion of the shades of these two stamps. My next post will discuss the shades of the first and last 10c stamps in the series, the plum and bistre-brown. If you wish to view the 5c and 7c stamps that I currently have for sale, please click on the following links:

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Blue Shades Of The 5c, 8c And 10c Admiral Stamps Of 1911-1928


The use of blue colour spans the entire life of the Admiral Issue, being utilized on three different values, as we shall see: the first 5c, the 8c, which was introduced in 1925 and the second 10c. Each of these blues is completely different as to shade, and it is possible to find many subtle variations on all of them - even the 8c, which until recently had no listed shade varieties in Unitrade. This is perhaps the worst named colour in Unitrade in general, with the word "blue" or "dark blue" used to describe nearly everything. As we shall see, in reality, many of the dark blues are shades of indigo, with some deep blues.

As with all my posts on shades, this post will illustrate the Unitrade listed shades on each of the 5c, 8c and 10c stamps and will cross-reference Unitrade's shade names to the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key.

The 5c Blue - 1911-1922

Unitrade lists three shades for this stamp:

  • Dark blue
  • Indigo
  • Grey-blue
Dark blue

The above three stamps are all examples of the common dark blue shades on this stamp. However, none of them are not actually dark blue according to Gibbons Colour Key. From left to right we have:

  • Deep bright blue - close to the bright blue swatch but deeper.
  • Deep dull blue - very similar to the stamp on the left, but slightly duller. This is closest to what the dull blue swatch would be if we made it deeper.
  • Prussian blue 
Unitrade indicates that these common shades all hail from after 1914. This is useful because it means that the paper and gum characteristics can be used to corroborate your identification of the shades. The indigo shades are the very first printings of this stamp, so they will have pre-1914 paper and gum charateristics. The grey-blue, although known as early as 1912, can be found with the later paper and gum characteristics as well. However, fortunately the shade is very distinct and should jump out at you when you see it. 


The above stamps are all examples of Unitrade's indigo shade. As you can see these are very distinct from the dark blues above. They are much, much deeper. According to Gibbons Colour Key, from left to right we have:

  • Bright indigo - close to the indigo swatch, but brighter.
  • Deep blue
  • Deep bright blue - close to the bright blue swatch, but much deeper
  • Indigo
Only the last stamp is the true indigo shade, which contains a black cast to it. Only the first and last stamps shown above have this blackish cast. However, all of them are sufficiently dark that the danger of confusing them with with the more common dark blue shades is very remote. 

Grey blue

I have only one example of this shade, and it is shown above. This is actually closest to Gibbons'steel blue shade. However, you should be able to see that it is a much duller blue than any of the others.

Comparing the Shades

The scan below shows each of these shades again side by side so that you can see the differences:

From left to right, we have:

  • Deep bright blue (Unitrade's dark blue)
  • Bright indigo (Unitrade's indigo)
  • Steel blue (Unitrade's grey-blue)
8c Blue 1925-1928

Unitrade lists only two shades for this stamp:

  • Blue
  • Light blue
The differences between the shades on this stamp are extremely subtle, but if you have an eye for detail and are patient, you will begin to notice that there are several different shades of this stamp and the Gibbons Colour Key will help you distinguish them. 


The above stamps are all examples of the Unitrade listed blue shade. These are all closest to the Prussian blue shade shade of the 5c above. However, in general, these blues are all duller than the common dark blue shades of the 5c. Using the Gibbons Colour Key, from left to right we have:

  • Prussian blue
  • Steel blue
  • Deep dull blue

Light Blue

The above three stamps are all examples of the light blue, which I would point out, looks nothing like Unitrade's light blue shade on the 10c. I mention this because if you sort through a number of 8c stamps looking for a shade that looks like the 10c light blue, you are never going to find it, and you will then classify pretty much everything as just the regular blue. As you can see, this group of shades is definitely lighter than the one above, but you can also probably see how, without the two side by side, you could easily mix them up. All of these are closest to the bright blue swatch in the Gibbons Colour Key if it were made lighter.

Comparing the Shades

Below is a comparison scan of the two main shades, side by side so you can see the difference better:

On the left is the Prussian blue (the common blue) and on the right is the deep bright blue (the Unitrade listed light blue). 

The 10c Blue -1922-1925

Although this stamp was only in use between 1922 and 1925, when the 10c bistre brown replaced it, there is perhaps the widest range of blue shades with this stamp. Unitrade lists only blue and deep blue, but there is a much wider range of greenish and milky blues. This stamp was printed by both the wet and dry processes, and Unitrade does list both shades for both printing processes. However, as we shall see, the blues of the wet printings are quite different from the blues of the dry printings. Unfortunately, I do not have an example of the light blue dry printing at the present time. However, when I acquire one or more, I will definitely update this post to include an example. 

Blue Wet Printings

The above stamps are all examples of Unitrade's blue. As you can see, these are all either greenish or milky compared to the blues of the 8c or 5c above. According to the Gibbons Colour Key, we have from left to right:

  • Prussian blue
  • Dull blue
  • Deep bright blue
  • A slightly deeper example of the dull blue
Blue Dry Printings

These two stamps are both examples of the Unitrade listed blue shade for the dry printings. Hopefully you can see that these shades are both slightly deeper and duller than the blues on the wet printings. The stamp on the left is slightly more greenish in cast than the right stamp. According to Gibbons Colour Key, the stamp on the left is deep dull greenish blue, while the stamp on the right is deep dull blue. 

Light Blue Shades Wet Printings

I believe that all seven stamps shown above are examples of the Unitrade listed light blue shade o the wet printings. The stamp at the bottom centre is an extreme example, while the others are all less extreme, but nonetheless lighter than the regular blue shades. Most of these are sub-shades of either Prussian blue or new blue as listed in the Gibbons Colour Key. From left to right, on each row we have:

  • Bright Prussian blue - similar to the Prussian blue swatch, but brighter.
  • Deep new blue -similar to the new blue swatch, but deeper.
  • Deep new blue - a second example.
  • Deep dull milky blue - similar to the dull blue swatch, but with white added and deeper.
  • Milky blue - similar to the blue swatch, but with white added.
  • New blue.
  • Light Prussian blue - similar to the Prussian blue, but with white added. 

Comparing the Shades

The scan below shows the blue and light blue listed shades side by side for comparison:

As you can see, the difference between the blue and light blue is quite slight in most cases, but it is definitely apparent. From left to right we have:

  • Dull blue, wet printing
  • Deep dull blue, dry printing
  • Deep new blue, wet printing
That concludes my post on the shades of the blue colours. My next post next week will deal with the violet shades of the second 5c as well as the red-brown shades of the second 7c. In the meantime if you wish to view the blue Admiral stamps that I have listed for sale, please click on the following link:

Have a great weekend everyone!!

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. 


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.