The Maple Leaf Issue of 1897-1898

Once the fanfare of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations had died down toward the end of 1897, it was decided that a new definitive series was needed to replace the Jubilee stamps and the Small Queens that were still in use. The Small Queens no longer portrayed the Queen as she was - now 78 years old.

The new set design was to be simple: a three-quarter face portrait of the Queen in her Widow's Weeds, surrounded by an oval with the inscription and value and adorned with a single maple leaf in each corner. The portrait was based on a photograph by W&D Downey and the engraving was done by Charles Skinner. The American Bank Note Company was to continue their fine work in printing the stamps. The denominations were to be restricted to the half-cent through 10 cents only, as it was decided that there was no need to replace the 20c and 50c Widow's Weeds, as they portrayed the older Queen. The dollar value Jubilees had not proven to be popular with the public, so it was decided not to continue them and to maintain the 50c stamp as the top denomination for general use. The colour scheme was to mirror the Jubilee Issue for the equivalent denominations, the only change being made to make the 8c orange instead of dark violet. The stamps were printed in sheets of 200 that were cut into two post office panes of 100 stamps each.

The result was a most beautiful set. The beauty lay in the exquisite nature of the engraving, the richness of the colours and the balanced symmetry of the design:


             2,000,000 issued                             34,000,000   issued


             12,000,000 issued                            44,000,000 issued


            3,500,000 issued                                  500,000 issued


             1,400,000 issued                                    300,000 issued

As you can see by the quantities above, these stamps were produced in relatively low quantities for definitive stamps, which usually had printings in the hundreds of millions for the low values at least. The reason is that the issue was very short lived. Why? Well despite the attractiveness of the design, the public in French-speaking Canada did not like the stamps because they could not read the denominations, and some of the colours were hard to distinguish by the dimmer candlelight or gaslight of the day. The stamps first appeared on November 6, 1897 and the last stamp, the 3c was issued January 4, 1898. By June 17, 1898 the first stamps of the series that replaced them began to appear. This set, called the Numeral Issue was almost identical in design, except that the lower maple leaves were replaced by boxed numerals, which addressed the problem for French Canadians. 

This is another set, that was until very recently listed in catalogues as only a basi set of 8 stamps, leading collectors to believe that there was little that could be done with it. However, like the Jubilee issue, it is an excellent set in which to specialize for a collector or relatively modest means, as there are several points of interest for the collector to pursue, none of which become unwieldy or too difficult to source. 

The main points of interest are:

1. Shades on the issued stamps
2. Paper types for the issued stamps
3. Re-entries
4. Plate flaws
5. Postal history
6. Cancellations
7. Plate and die proofs
8. Imperforate pairs
9. Multiples including plate blocks

I will now deal with each one in detail.

Shades on the Issued Stamps

Despite relatively low printing numbers, there were still enough stamps printed to result in some striking shades, most notably on the 2c, 3c and 8c. The list below is not exhaustive, but represents the shades I have encountered over the years:

1/2c intense black
1c dull blue green
1c deep blue green
2c deep purple
2c purple
2c dull purple
2c reddish purple
3c carmine
3c bright rose carmine
3c deep dull carmine
3c deep bright carmine
5c dark blue
6c brown
6d deep yellow brown
8c orange
8c deep orange 
8c pale orange
8c brownish orange
10c brown violet
10c reddish brown violet

This is a nice manageable group, and nearly every variant in it is quite striking, even on single stamps. Blocks would make a lovely display. 

Paper Types

Unitrade does not do a stellar job of handling these, but they do better than all the other catalogues, which do not seem to recognize that there are four main types of paper found on these stamps:

1. White vertical wove with clear mesh, measuring between 0.0035" and 0.0045 thick. The gum on these stamps is deep yellowish cream with a semi-gloss appearance and some vertical streakiness occasionally. 
2. Toned vertical wove with clear mesh, measuring between 0.0035" and 0.0045" thick. The gumon these is as type 1 above. 
3. Bluish horizontal wove paper measuring between 0.003" and 0.0035" thick. The gum is s thinner, smooth light cream or white gum, with a satin appearance. 
4. White horizontal wove paper measuring between 0.003"and 0.0035" thick. The gum on these stamps is as type 3. 

The bluish paper is of course only found on the 5c. I have not yet, to date seen a 5c on vertical Wove paper, but that is not to say that none exists. If there is one, it would mean that there are really five paper types. Most values are found on papers, 1, 2 and 4, but which one is most common varies depending on which denomination we are talking about: 

1/2c: types 1 and 2. I have yet to see type 4. 
1c: types 1 and 2. Occasionally one sees type 4. 
2c: mostly type 2. Ocasionally types 1 and 4 are seen
3c: almost all type 2. Very rarely see types 1 or 4.
5c: always type 3.
6c: usually type 1, but occasionally one sees types 2 and 4. 
8c: usually type 1, but occasionally one sees type 4.
10c: usually type 1 or 4. 

It would be interesting to combine the study of shades with the study of papers to see how many shade-paper combinations actually exist. This study would look fantastic as mint blocks of 4. 


As stated in earlier posts, re-entries occur when the plates are re-furbished and manifest as doubling of some parts of the stamp design. Despite its relatively short period of use, there are a large number of re-entries to be found on the 1/2c, 1c, 2c and 3c. The 1/2c plate was re-entered at least four times resulting in at least four states of the plate and a great many minor re-entries. Generally most of the re-entries affect the inscription, the maple leaves and the shading in the spandrels (corners). Most of these can be had for little more than the price of basic stamps. Used wholesale lots of the 1c, 2c and 3c can still be found, though most have been picked over by now, but perhaps only for the most major re-entries. There are not to my knowledge any major reported re-entries on the 5c and 6c, though there are for the 8c and 10c. So it is probable that some exist for the 5c and 6c that have simply not been identified yet. 

In addition to re-entries there are a number of misplaced entries that arise when the transfer roller was applied to the wrong area of the plate when re-entering was carried out. 

Plate Flaws

This is the first issue to have a specific type of plate flaw called an engraver's slip. It is just what its name implies: a stray line that results from the engraver's tool slipping across the steel die and creating an extra line where there shouldn't be any. This slip is found on the 6c, from position 72 of the pane. The 5c has an interesting flaw which consists of a large guide dot and a line in the lower left corner. These flaws are eagerly sought after and cost several hundreds of dollars each. 

Postal History

The postal history of this issue is particularly interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, because of its short lived nature, mixed frankings can be found that combine stamps of this issue with the Small Queens, Jubilees and the subsequent Numeral Issue, as that set appeared to replace this one in stages, rather than all at once. Secondly, the exact issue dates for both the 1/2c and the 3c are not known, just the earliest recorded uses. So a worthwhile challenge would be to find an earlier date. Advertising covers continued in popularity during this issue, so you can form a collection of the cheaper drop covers or local covers with nice advertisements. All the stamps can readily be found on cover, though single usages of the 1/2c, 6c and 10c are expensive and rare. During this period we see the introduction of machine cancels. The Bickerdike Flag cancel appeared during the Jubilee issue, but it is on this issue that one can occasionally encounter the wavy line duplex machine cancels. 


Though more challenging to do because of the small size of the stamps, it is still possible to form collections of CDS town cancels. The Squarred Circle cancel came into its own during the small Queen era, and continued in full force during this set. CDS's are most commonly found on the 1/2c, 1c, 2c and 3c. On the 5c, 6c, 8c and 10c, they are scarce to very scarce. Most 5c, 6c and 8c stamps have the heavy "R" registered cancels while the 10c is most often found roller cancelled. Corks have all but disappeared by now although from time to time you can still find them on the 1c, 2c and 3c values. Precancels are found in either 1 or 2 styles on all values, and in all cases are premium items. As only 500,000 6c and 300,000 10c stamps were issued, forming a collection of CDS town cancels on these two stamps would be a lifetime challenge and the resultant collection would be a real prize accomplishment. 

Plate and Die Proofs

As far as I know, sunken die proofs on card in issued colours are known and are all rare, costing upwards of $1,000 each. I do not know of any trial colour proofs for this set, but I have heard of proofs being produced in black and again these are either very rare or unique. 

The plate proofs were produced for each value on thin India paper, which was then affixed to card. These are usually collected in pairs, but also as singles. They are more modestly priced at $75-$150 each. In addition, shade varieties can be found on the proofs that mirror those of the issued stamps. 

Imperforate Pairs

All values of this set are known in imperforate form, on the issued stamp paper. They are generally collected as pairs and are found both with and without gum. It is believed that the two types were issued separately, and it would be interesting to see if the shades and paper types of the gummed and no-gum pairs are different. Unitrade does recognize paper varieties of the imperforate pairs on the 8c and 10c. However, this was not always the case, and it is possible that the same varieties could exist on the other values as well. All of the imperforate pairs are expensive, costing several hundred dollars each. 

Multiples Including Plate Blocks

All multiples of this issue, with the exception of the 1/2c are scarce. Used multiples large than pairs are seldom encountered for any value other than the 1/2c, where they are relatively common, as this value was often used in multiples to make up the 1c, 2c and 3c rates instead of being used for the printed matter rate as was intended. So if you come across used blocks, I would recommend against splitting them, as you may be destroying most of the value of the piece in doing so. 

Plate blocks, pairs or strips are all scarce and highly collectible, as several plates were used for the 1c, 2c and 3c. The normal inscription found in the upper margin selvedge reads "Ottawa No "number"", as with the Jubilee issue. Generally, to show the full inscription, a block needs to be at least 4 stamps wide, so blocks are usually collected as blocks of 8 or plate strips of 4. 

Sheets of values other than the 1/2c are all extremely rare to non-existent. The 1/2c can still be found in full sheets, though they are now rare, as many have been broken up in recent years to harvest the very fine NH singles that dealers could sell for up to $100 each. 

Thus in summary this issue offers much for the specialist to sink his or her teeth into. 


The only pitfalls I would point out on this issue are re-perforating and re-gumming. The genuine two types of gum that are found on this issue look like this:

This is the smooth light creamy white gum found on the stamps printed on horizontal wove paper. The gum found on the vertical wove stamps is shown below:

On this never hinged stamp you can clearly see the streakiness of the gum as lighter spots. Less experienced collectors who are unfamilar with the gum on this set have returned stamps like this one claiming the gum to be disturbed,. However this is absolutely not the case. 

This stamp is also NH and shows the smoother, more even consistency that is often found. 

The important point to note is that none of the above gums are crackly, very dark, or excessively shiny. If your mint stamp looks much different than those shown above, you may have a re-gummed stamp. Check the perforation tips for gum on the very end fibres to confirm or dispel your suspicions. 

Beware of stamps that have wide margins on two sides and excessively narrow margins on the other two. Badly centered stamps are common on this issue, but usually they are off in two directions. A stamp that is well centered where the margins are narrow to non-existent on two opposing sides may be a re-perforated stamp. It is important in these cases to check the perfs on both sides to see if they line up in a straight line. To do this, place a ruler through two opposing perforation tips and then see if your ruler is at an angle from 0 degrees (if you are checking the vertical perfs.) or 90 degrees (if you are checking the horizontal ones). If the angle of the ruler is off significantly, and the perforation holes are the wrong size and/or shape, you most likely have a re-perforated stamp. 

I currently have many of these stamps in my inventory. If you would like to see what I have for sale, you can access them by the following link:


Popular posts from this blog

I will Be Shortening The Length Of My Posts Effective Next Week

The Federal Bill Stamps 1864-1890's

The Commemorative Issues of 1969 - Part Two