The 1898 Imperial Penny Postage Issue
In late 1898, on the eve of a planned reduction in postage rates from 3c to 2c that was to take effect in the new year, the postmaster general at that time, Mr. Mullock decided to issue a commemorative design for Christmas.
Warren L. Green designed the stamp based on a map by George Robert Parkin:
In both these images, if you look closely, you can see that a vertical line has been drawn into the cable that was intended to strengthen the existing frameline of the cable.
Occasionally, it is possible to find mis-placed entries on the design as well. The image below shows a stamp that has a mis-placed entry in the form of an extra island located in the bottom frameline.
Sometimes one can find stamps where parts of the blaack design are worn to quite a large degree, but have not been either re-entered of re-touched. The two pictures below show the weak cable at the top and the weak horizontal line under the panel containing the words "Canada Postage".
Unitrade does not list any plate flaws, but I have noted on a few stamps that there is damage to the tablet, such that there are several white accents between the words of the bottom inscription as shown below
Here is another example of Africa, where instead of just Ascension and St. Helena, there are 4 islands.
It is thought that some 600 imperforate pairs exist. They come in all four of the basic ocean shades and all are without gum which is how they were thought to have been produced. It is not known whether one shade is scarcer than the other, although that could provide an interesting research project for someone to follow the sales of these pairs in notable auctions and start a census to determine the relative scarcity of each shade.
The stamps with blue oceans also exist in imperforate pairs that are either missing the carmine, or consist only of the black. Because these designs are incomplete, I believe these are actually progressive proofs as opposed to actual colour omitted errors. The fact that they only exist without gum supports the notion that they were never issued.
A block of 25 of the stamp in black only is shown above. This sold in a recent Spink auction for $7,500.
Some stamps in both shades can be found with the oceans displaying a distinct brown muddy appearance. These are not genuine shade varieties because they are caused by oxidation of the ink used to print the ocean. Despite this fact, they do appear interesting, and are sought after by specialists of this issue.
Plate Blocks and Multiples
There were five plates used to print these stamps. Unitrade lists and prices plate blocks of 8 for all five plates, but does not clarify whether all plates exist in all four shades, or just one or two. The answer to this question would go a long way to settling the question as to whether all the shades were issued concurrently, in which case they should exist for all five plates, or were issued progressively as one colour replaced the others. If this is the case, then plate 5 should only exist in deep blue.
The sheets of 100 in which these stamps were printed were often folded down the middle and split to make two panes of 50. Because the plate inscription straddles the middle of the sheet, intact, unfolded plate blocks are rare and highly desirable.
Used multiples of any size are very scarce, and I cannot recall seeing any larger than a pair. Indeed any larger multiple would likely only have been used on a foreign registered letter. You should definitely purchase any that you come across, because they are not common at all.
Although exceptionally rare, it is still possible to find these stamps in full sheets:
This is a low value stamp, so that most of the postal history available will consist of local first class letters to Canada and the USA. However, this issue can be found on foreign mail, and these are very desirable.
First day covers of this issue are very rare and eagerly sought after. The official first day is December 7, but covers are known as early as December 2. As far as I know, the earliest known covers are from December 19, so a worthy challenge is to form a collection of covers used before the official date of issue on December 25. The cover below was sent on December 2 and sold for $21,000 in the same Spink sale that many other rare items featured in this post were sold.
Covers also show the Bickerdike flag cancels very well and a nice collection could be formed of all the major cities in which these cancellations were employed. An example of this cancel on the 10c Jubilee Issue is shown below:
The above shows a hand coloured die essay that was sold in the same sale for $5,500.
The above is the only known engraver's model essay of the design. It is a photograph of the design and as you can see if differs in several details of the design.
Here is one of several known large die proofs printed in black. This one sold in the same Spink sale for $7,500.
In addition to proofs of the black portion of the design, there were separate proofs made for the carmine portion of the design, and another for the ocean portion:
Finally, it would appear that hybrid die proofs exist in both the lavender and blue colours, which would support the notion that the colours in which these stamps were found might indeed have been issued concurrently: