The Small Queen Issue of 1870-1898

Background and Overview

The longest running issue of Canadian Philately are known as the Small Queens. They first appeared in 1870 as a replacement for the Large Queens, which were considered to be too expensive to produce because of their size. The first value to be replaced was the 3c, which was the most commonly used value, followed by the 1c and then the 2c. All the values but the 15c Large Queen had been replaced by 1882.

The basic values of the set until 1893 were as the Large Queens, except that the 12.5c had been dropped and replaced by a 10c, as the postage rate to the UK was reduced to 10 cents from the older 12.5c rate. In 1893, the high value Widows Weeds were introduced, which consisted of a 20c and 50c, and were used primarily on valuable registered letters, bulk mailings and parcels.

 The above scans show the original 7 values that had been issued by 1882. The half cent black was the last of these appearing at first in 1882. The 1c appeared in March 1870, the exact date being unknown. The 2c appeared in February 1872, and the 3c sometime in early 1870, again, the exact date being unknown. The 5c appeared on February 1, 1876, the 6c in January 1872 and finally the 10c in November 1874.

The designer and engravers are as the Large Queens and as with that issue, the British American Bank Note Company were the printers.

The chief interest in this issue, and the point that has caused many collectors much frustration is the classification of the staggering number of printings made of these stamps. The printing was first done in Ottawa until fire destroyed the printing plant in 1872. These printings are called the "First Ottawas". In 1872 the printing was moved to Montreal where it remained until 1888. There was a brief period in 1887-1888 where some of the stamps were printed at the Montreal Gazette. These stamps are all referred to by collectors as the "Montreal Printings". Finally in 1888, the printing was moved back to Ottawa, where it remains until the end of the issue in 1897-1898. These last printings are often referred to as just "Ottawa Printings", but they are really the "Second Ottawas". The stamp catalogues price the Montreals and first Ottawas at much, much more than the more common second Ottawas, and give full catlogue numbers to the second Ottawa printings of all stamps except the half cent, 1c and 2c as shown in these scans:

It is for this reason that learning how to tell the difference between the printings is so crucial to the collector of these stamps. While it is easy for some of the values, it is extremely difficult for others. I will devote a separate post to the Montreal versus First Ottawa and Second Ottawa printings. 

This issue is problematic for collectors of mint stamps as there were several types of gum employed over the life of the issue and many stamps have been regummed to increase their values. If you aren't familiar with the gum used on these issues, you can wind up overpaying for your stamps. The issue of gum and regumming will be dealt with in another post. 

This issue continued the use of postal stationery with the British American Bank Note Company producing 1c and 3c embossed envelopes; the first post bands and wrappers for newspapers in grey, blue and black; the first postcards in a variety of designs and colours and the first reply cards in 1893. I will deal with these in detail in another post, but for now the issue is significant as this is the period in which most of the postal stationery forms that we see used in Canada were first issued during this period. 

There were literally billions of the 1c, 2c and 3c stamps printed over the period from 1870 to 1897, so overall, they are very common stamps and you can still buy bulk job lots of used examples for a very modest price per stamp. However, as I stated before, there are some rare printings and identifying them requires some skill and experience. The other values were produced in large quantities as well, but are moderately scarce, especially in fine mint or used condition. Centering is especially poor on this issue, in my opinion being worse overall than what it was on the Large Queens. That being said though, every once in a while you can run across some of the nicest jumbo margined stamps you will ever see, although they are eagerly sought after by collectors. 

The main points of interest for collectors of this issue that I will elaborate on briefly are as follows:

1. Shade differences, perforations and paper varieties
2. Postal history
3. Re-entries and other plate flaws
4. Cancellations including precancels

Shade Differences

There are a startling number of readily distinguishable shade varieties to be found on nearly every value in the set. The half cent, the 20c and the 50c have the fewest number, with the Unitrade Specialized catalogue only listing the grey black shade of the 1/2c and the brown orange shade of the 20c (versus the normal vermilion), although there are a few others. The 2c, 5c, 6c and 8c have three or four main shade groups each, and several sub shades for each. The 10c is the next most complicated, having at least seven shade groupings and several sub shades. Finally the 1c and 3c are the most complex having 5 and 9 listed shade groups and literally dozens of sub shades. I will deal with the shade differences in separate posts, as there are too many of them to describe in detail in this post. 


The catalogues list three perforations: 12 and 12.5.x 12.5 and 11.5 x 12. The 12.5 x 12.5 is the rarest of these and has so far only been reported on the 3c, although I did see a 6c offered in an auction hosted by George Holschauer of Colonial Stamp Company some 20 years ago where he describes it as being perf 12.5 x 12.5.  The 11.5 x 12 is found only on the Montreal printings of the mid 1870's. The remainder are perf 12. 

In actual fact the perf. 12 stamps are a bit more complicated. The gauge actually varies between 11.9 and 12.25 when using an Instanta Gauge. There is a specialist Gauge called a Kiusalas gauge that measures the perforations in terms of imperial rather than metric measurements and is a bit more useful in classifying perforations than an Instanta, although both work. The earlier first Ottawa stamps that the catlogues classify as perf. 12 are either 12, 11.9 or some combination thereof. A good deal of the second Ottawas are perf. 12.1, 12.2, or 12.25 or a combination thereof, rather than just 12. As we shall see in later posts, this will prove to be invaluable in properly classifying the various printings. 

The 11.5 x 12 stamps are all moderately scarce and the catalogues give considerable premiums to them both mint and used. It helps to be able to spot them quickly in large groups of used stamps. I will devote another post to the discussion of how to do this. 

Paper Varieties

A large number of different papers were used to print these stamps and a detailed listing is beyond the scope of this post. However, I will touch breifly on what the main differences and groups were over the life of the issue. 

Firstly, the general quality of the paper went from very good to moderate, to poor, back to good. The earliest second Ottawas continued to employ the various Duckworth papers used for the Large Queens, namely Duckworth \papers 8 and 10 mostly. These were either, thick soft and highly opaque, or they were horizontal stout wove papers that were very silky to the touch when your finger is drawn lightly across the surface.

The Montreal papers are generally all horizontal stout woves that are smooth to the touch but not silky. By the 1880's we start to see smoother papers that are thinner, with less obvious horizontal ribbing than earlier, or with vertical weave patterns.

The papers used for the Second Ottawas are a bit more problematic. There was the poor quality newsprint like paper that was used for the bulk of the stamps, and this is very easy to identify. But there is also a higher quality, smooth, white horizontal wove that we see on the 3c, 20c and 50c, that resembles the paper used for the late Montreal printings.

A paper thickness gauge is useful for separating papers, although it may not be much use in solving the question of Montreal versus Ottawa, as I have not come across published data or studies of the papers using these instruments that you can reference your individual readings to.

Postal History

A very large number of postage rates were in effect during this time, and because this issue gradually replaced the Large Queens, it is possible to find mixed issue covers. These are all highly sought after and are quite valuable. The low value 1c drop covers and 3c covers are not expensive, and large collections of town cancellations, or advertising covers can be formed. During this period the use of business stationery to advertise a company's product had its heyday, and it is here that we see everything from fancy address corner cards (a fancy address in the upper left corner) to full frontal illustrated ads to ads on both the front and back of the cover. The later are very expensive with an otherwise common cover that might otherwise sell for $3-4 going for as much as $200.

This period is also where we start to see postal stationery in extensive use and uprated items using stamps are obtainable, as are bulk mailing receipts and acknowledgement of receipt cards, with the higher value stamps attached.

Re-Entries and Plate Flaws

These stamps were printed from hardened steel plates. Over time as the plates were used, they wore. When the plate had worn sufficently that the impression of the design obtained from printing runs was poor, the plate would be refurbished by applying the transfer roller onto it and re-impressing the designs onto the plate. Of course, it was rarely the case that the new impression would line up exactly with the old one. The result would be that some parts of the design would appear to be double printed. This is called a re-entry. Where the plate has suffered some damage as a result of corrosion of a nick, it will show up on the stamps as a blob of colour, or a smudge.

There are several famous plate flaws that are to be found on the 1c, 3c, 5c, 6c and 10c values. All of them are now highly collectible, and because of the popularity of the issue, expensive. This was not always the case: I can well remember a time 20 years ago when many of these were not listed by the catalogues and could be bought for very little money. Not anymore.

Re-entries can be minor, where only one small part of the design is affected, or major, where the entire design is doubled, or a large portion is. The scarcity of re-entries depends on how many times the plates were re-conditioned and thus how many states there were and how many designs were re-entered. Of course it was not usually necessary to re-impress all the subjects on the plate, as the wear accross the plate would not be  even.

The half cent, 1c and 3c have the largest number of recorded re-entries. The leading philatelists who both have websites dealing with identifying and listing these in detail are Ralph Trimble and Bill Burden.


In addition to CDS town cancels, duplexes and the 2-ring numeral cancellation discussed in the post about Large Queens, local postmasters were given discretion during this period to design their own cancelling devices from cork. Some were very creative geometric designs, while others were fancy numerals or objects. So one very popular are is the collecting of these "Fancy cancels". Most are reasonably affordable, but several of the scarcer ones can be very expensive.

The Small Queen period is also where the post office began to issue stamps in pre-cancelled form to businesses at a discount to save time on cancelling. Many of the early forms just appear as bar cancellations and are often mistaken by collectors as regular mundane postal cancellations. Later a very wide variety of bar types can be found, some of which are very expensive. The leading expert in this area was a philatelist by the name of Walburn. He published a specialized catalogue detailing the types. The number of styles varies from 1 on the 3c to 18 on the 1c. Collecting all the different types remains a very popular topic for enthusiasts of this issue.

So that is my overview of the Small Queen Issue. In my next post, I will discuss the distinction between the First Ottawa, Montreal and Second Ottawa Printings.

To see the Small Queens that I sell in my store, click on the following link:


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