The Karsh, Wildlife and Heritage Definitive Issue of 1953-1963 An Overview


Upon the death of King George VI, it became necessary to replace the definitives bearing his likeness, with a new set of stamps with the new Queen's portrait. In addition, the Second World War had been over for over six years, and it was felt that the theme of the higher value definitives should be changed to reflect the new peacetime conditions. Some of these changes had already been introduced with the Natural Resource and Industry designs that had been introduced in the prior reign with the $1, 10c and 15c. However, it was felt that a new series of designs should celebrate the quintessential, cultural icons that make Canada unique. So while the 1c-5c low value definitives would be redesigned to feature the portrait of the Queen by Yousef Karsh, the high value designs would each depict a different Canadian cultural icon as follows:

7c: A Canada Goose
20c: A paper mill symbolizing the paper industry
50c: A spinning wheel symbolizing the textile industry
$1: A Pacific Coast Totem Pole

The low value stamps were not well received by the public. As we shall see in the section of proof material below, the Karsh portrait was a photograph and while it was felt that the photograph was excellent, many felt that the engravers did a poor job of rendering the portrait. Consequently, these stamps had a very short life and were quickly replaced in 1954 by the Wilding portrait.

The mid range and high range values continued in use for at least 4 years in the case of the 20c pulp and paper, and as long as 13 years, in the case of the 50c Textile Industry, which continued to be used until it was replaced by the 50c Summer's Stores design from the Centennial Issue on February 8, 1967.

Many collectors will think that there is nothing to this issue, and after just a few trips to the stamp dealer, all the interesting collecting possibilities would be exhausted. However, as we shall see, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, assembling a gold-medal calibre exhibit that tells the complete story of this issue, from conception though to issued stamps will prove to be a challenging and expensive task. However, for a collector of limited means, 99% of the material from this issue is readily attainable and very little studies have been done on this material, making it a very fruitful area indeed.

This post will act as an overview of the major points of interest that pertain to this set, and then in the next several posts, I will go into detain about the different points of interest discussed below, as to include all that detail in this post would result in a post that is simply too long to read. Finally, I will conclude with some suggestions as to how you might go about forming a specialized collection of this issue.

The Stamp Designs

The following 1c through 5c values were all designed by Herman Herbert Schwartz from a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II taken by famed photographer Yousuf Karsh.

The 1c value was issued in violet brown. For some reason, my scanner wasn't picking up the colour, so the above images are grey-scale. 

The 2c value was issued in bright green. Again, my scanner wasn't picking up the green "G" overprint for some reason. 


The 3c value was issued in carmine-rose. 

The 4c value was issued in violet. 

The 5c was issued in ultramarine. 

The 7c blue Canada Goose stamp was designed by Emanuel Otto Hahn, based on a model by Herman Herbert Schwartz. The engraving was completed by master engraver, Silas Robert Allen. 

The 20c Pulp and Paper Industry stamp was designed by Allan  L. Pollock and the engraving was done by Joseph Keller. 

The 50c light green was also designed by Allan L Pollock  and engraved by Joseph Keller. 

The $1 grey was designed by Emanuel Otto Hahn and engraved by Silas Robert Allen. 

Issue Formats and Quantities Issued

All the stamps of this issue were printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company. All of the low value sheet stamps to the 5c were printed from plates of 400 subjects, divided into four post office sheets of 100 subjects, while all of the high values were printed from plates of 200 subjects divided into four panes of 50 subjects each. The printer's inscription and plate number would appear in the outer corner of each pane. Thus four plate blocks of four could be collected - one for each of the four post office panes. In addition, the lower-left pane would contain the print order number as well as the plate number. Some examples are shown below:

All values were issued in sheet form and the issue quantities of the issued sheet stamps is as follows:

1c violet brown - 3 plates - 169,000,000 - only 2 plates, 1 and 2 were used for the official overprints.
2c green - 6 plates - 338,000,000 - only 4 plates 1 through 4 were used for the official overprints.
3c carmine rose - 4 plates - 332,000,000 - only 3 plates were used for the official stamps
4c violet - 6 plates - 406,000,000 - only 3 plates 1, 2 and 4 were used for the official overprints.
5c ultramarine - 3 plates - 109,000,000 - only 2 plates 1 and 2 were used for the official overprints
7c blue - 2 plates - 161,820,000
20c slate grey - 2 plates - 104,975,000
50c light green - 2 plates - 63,075,000
$1 slate grey - 2 plates - 27,865,000

The 1c, 3c and 4c were issued in booklet panes of 3 each, contained in what is commonly called a "chewing gum booklet". The stamps from these booklets are easily distinguishable from the next two because the top and bottom edges are imperforate, as is the right edge on the end stamps. These were issued in both English and bilingual formats. There were 305,550 English booklets (916,650 stamps of each value), and 154,050 bilingual booklets (462,150 stamps of each value). The 3c was also issued in 25c booklets, each containing 2 panes of 4 stamps plus 2 blank labels. Finally the 4c was issued in 25c booklets each containing 1 pane of 6. The 25c booklets containing the two panes of the 3c were issued in both Bilingual and English formats. There were 200,000 English booklets issued (1,600,000 stamps) and 50,000 bilingual booklets (400,000 stamps). The 25c booklets containing the panes of 6 4c stamps were also issued in both formats, with 2,502,000 English (15,012,000 stamps) and 700,275 bilingual booklets (4,201,650 stamps). Thus the number of booklet stamps issued of each value is:

1c violet brown - 1,378,800 stamps
3c carmine rose (chewing gum) -  1,378,800 stamps
3c carmine rose (25c booklet) -  2,000,000 stamps
4c violet (chewing gum) - 1,378,000 stamps
4c violet (25c booklet) - 19,213,650 stamps

The front cover of a typical chewing gum booklet and a 25c booklet are shown below:

The chewing gum booklet shown is actually the English version of the booklet for the previous King George VI Postes-Postage issue. But it gives you a good idea of how these booklets looked. You can see that it is about the same size as a piece of Wrigley's chewing gum, which is where they got their name. The 25c larger format booklet shown is the bilingual version of the 25c booket containing two panes of 4 3c. 

Finally, the 2c, 3c and 4c were issued in coil form. Each roll contained 500 stamps, perforated 9.5 vertically. Each roll contained 10 starter blank tabs onto which the denomination of the roll was handstamped, and 10 blank end tabs. The quantities of coil stamps issued were:

2c green - 5,000,000 - 10,000 rolls of 500.
3c carmine rose - 5,500,000 - 11,000 rolls of 500.
4c violet - 4,960,000 - 9,920 rolls of 500.

It is not known what the exact issue quantities of most of the official "G"overprinted issues are. However, they are all much scarcer than the regular sheet stamps.

As you can see, although the sheet stamps are quite common for all values, several of the booklet stamps and the coil stamps are not so common, especially nicely used examples with in-period cancellations and covers bearing attractive frankings of these stamps.

Periods of Use

Like many of the definitive sets issued by Canada, this set did not replace the previous one all at once. Thus there is some overlap between some values of the last issue and some of the values of this issue.

The first stamps of the series to appear are the 7c, which was issued on November 1, 1952,  the 20c paper industry, which was issued on April 1, 1952, and the $1 totem pole, which was issued February 2, 1953.  The next 7c stamp to appear was the 7c jet plane definitive, which was issued on March 11, 1964. The next 20c, was the green paper industry definitive, which was issued June 7, 1956.  The S1 was replaced by the Exports design on June 14, 1963. Thus the period of use for these two stamps is:

7c: November 3, 1952-March 11, 1964
20c: April 1, 1952- June 7, 1956
$1: February 3, 1953 - June 14, 1963

The low value definitive sheet stamps all appeared on May 1, 1953. However, the booklet stamps did not appear on this date, nor did the coils. The first booklet to be issued was the 4c pane of 6 on July 6, and then the 2 panes of 4 of the 3c on July 17. The chewing-gum booklet of the 1c, 3c and 4c did not appear until August 12. The 5c Wilding definitive appeared on April 1, 1954, with the other values appearing on June 10, 1954. The Wilding booklets containing the panes of the 1c and 4c were issued January 1, 1956, while the 5c booklets came out on July 14, 1954. Thus the periods of use for the sheet and booklet stamps are thus:

1c-4c sheet stamps: May 1, 1953-June 10, 1954
5c sheet stamp: May 1, 1953-April 1, 1954
1c booklet stamp: August 12, 1953-January 1, 1956
3c booklet stamp: July 17, 1953-June 10, 1954
4c booklet stamp: July 6, 1953-January 1, 1956

The 2c coil appeared on July 30, the 3c on July 27 and the 4c on September 3. The Wilding coils that replaced them were issued September 9, 1954, August 23, 1954 and July 6, 1954 respectively. The face values were 1c higher, on each as the rates had increased. So the correct periods of use for these stamps is:

2c green coil: July 30, 1953-September 9, 1954
3c carmine rose coil: July 27, 1953 - August 23, 1954
4c violet coil: September 3, 1953-July 6, 1954

The 50c was the last stamp of the series to appear on November 2, 1953. It was replaced on February 8, 1967 by the 50c Centennial issue. So the period of use is:

50c light green: November 2, 1953-February 8, 1967

No definite issue dates are given for the Official stamps. However, it is assumed that they would have been issued at the same time as the basic unoverprinted stamps. However, a postmark study could be undertaken to try and identify the earliest known usages.

Shade Varieties

All of the stamps in this set exist with variations in shade, although some are extremely subtle. I will discuss the shade varieties that I have seen on these stamps in detail in a subsequent post. However, suffice to say that the most obvious shades occur on the 4c violet, the 5c ultramarine and the $1 grey. Some of the shades I have seen are so obvious, i am surprised that they are not listed in Unitrade as sub varieties.

The shades on the 1c, 2c, 7c, 20c and 50c are all very subtle, but with patience and experience, you can definitely identify them.

Paper Varieties

The stamp paper of the 1950's exhibits several variations, none of which have received any attention in the Unitrade catalogue. Again, a subsequent post will deal with the varieties in detail, but a general summary is presented here.

The most common paper is a non-fluorescent white, horizontal wove paper, that shows a distinct mesh pattern when held to strong back-lighting. Usually the surface of the paper appears smooth and the gum appears smooth. However, occasionally, the horizontal weave is very strong, and distinct ribbing can be seen on the stamp surface and on the gum. Another type of paper found on the coil stamps is a vertically ribbed paper. Finally, all stamps can be found on wove paper that shows no distinct mesh pattern when held to strong back-light. The gum on this type of paper is usually completely smooth and shiny.

Plates and Plate Blocks

As stated in the issue quantity information above, a total of 54 plates were used to print all of the stamps including the official "G" overprints. Given that there are 4 possible corner positions for each plate, then there are 216 possible plate blocks, not considering any shade or paper varieties that exist. I am not aware of any studies that have been undertaken to identify all shade and paper varieties on all the plate blocks of this issue. So there are potentially many more collectible plate blocks possible with this issue.

Coil Stamps

As with all coil stamps printed by the Canadian Bank Note company, there are variations in both horizontal and vertical spacing between the subjects. Thus a variety of Jump strips, narrow spacing and wide spacing strips are possible. In addition to these, one can also collect repair paste-up strips, which came about when strips were joined to make the roll of 500. It is also possible to collect strips that show the cutting guidelines in the margins as well, with these being quite desirable and scarce. Finally, one can collect the start and end strips of 10.

In addition to to the basic varieties above, the coils can be found with different papers, different gums and printed in different shades.


As stated above, there were six basic booklets issued with this set. However, a specialist by the name of Peter Harris has studied the booklet cover dies and has noted that there were several types of different front and back covers used for these booklets. He lists a total of 22 different types for this issue. I will explain these types in detail in a subsequent post. However the main difference have to do with the positioning of selected dots on the dotted covers or the shape of selected letters contained in the cover inscriptions. Given the relatively low number of booklets issued, some of these types should be quite scarce and challenging to find.

Official Stamps

All the stamps of this issue exist with a "G" overprint for use by various government departments. The standard typeface used is shown on the 3c stamp at left. It is known as the 14 point Caslon font. It is possible to find small varieties in the thickness of the G that likely came about as the typeface wore (the early G's are thinner). On April 24, 1961, the typeface was changed to 14 point bold font as shown on the right. This is know to collectors as the "Flying G". It can also be found without any upper serif and with no protruding crossbar. This type, is known as the fishhook G and is shown below:

This type is very rare and worth a lot of money on the stamps in which it occurs.

It is possible to find narrow spacing and wide spacing varieties of the G overprints, although I have not seen any listed for this issue. It would be worthwhile, I think to conduct a detailed study of sheets and large blocks to see of any such varieties can be identified. Misplaced G's are also possible, though once again, Unitrade does not list any. The 50c exists with a blunt G overprint of the Casson font and a fishhook G.

Plate Flaws

There are no listed plate flaws on any value other than the 50c, although I have seen some minor flyspeck varieties on the low values:

1. I have seen the 5c with what appears to be an accent to the right of the 5c
2. I have seen the 3c with what appear to be two dots on each end of the "3"

Unitrade lists two plate varieties on the 50c that occurred in the lower left plate block from plate 1:

1. The first is a retouching of the left vertical frameline, ending at an engraver's slip at the bottom.
2. The second is an engraver's slip that curves upward from the bottom frameline from the last "A" of "Canada" to the "T"in postage.

These flaws can be found on the regular issued stamps and both types of official stamps.

Proof Material

There is a very wide range of essays, trial colour die proofs, hardened die proofs and plate proofs of this issue, although most of them are unique or very rare. Prices at auction vary from 1,000 up to $3,000 per item. I will list all the known items in a future post. But for now, here are some illustrations of some of the items that exist.


Postal History and Cancellations

A wide variety of covers can be collected from this issue, from local usages, to advertising covers, registered covers (both foreign and domestic), bulk mailing tags and acknowledgement of receipt forms and much more. Most of this material is not too expensive when offered by dealers and some wonderful specialty collections can be formed that document significant historical events that occurred while this series was current. I will discuss what some of these possible specialties are in a subsequent post, as well as offer suggestions as to how to identify the rarer and more desirable items.

CDS cancels were in wide use during this time, as were wide barrel cancellations. There were thousands of post offices open while this set was current as well as several that closed during this time. Thus one obvious and potentially inexpensive endeavour is to collect as many different in-period CDS town cancels as possible, including those from post offices that have opened and closed during the period.


The 2c, 2c coil, 3c, 4c and 5c all exist precancelled. There is but none style known of both the 2c, 2c coil and 3c, but the 4c exists in 4 styles, while the 5c exists in three styles. The most common style is six horizontal bars arranged in three groups of 2. However, some styles exist with numbers between the bars.

Sheets that were precancelled contain a large warning across the selvage of the top of the sheet that reads" Warning - To be used only as specifically authorized". Thus another item that can be collected are the warning strips of 20 stamps. The rarest item from this issue are two imperforate varieties on the 5c precancel that exist due to a perforation shift:

1. A vertical pair imperf between, and
2. Imperf between the top of the stamp and the margin.

Both of these are precancelled "0700" between bars. The imperf between pair lists for $5,000, while the second variety lists for $500.

Postal Stationery

A number of pre-stamped envelopes, post-bands, wrappers and post-cards were issued with the above two designs. I will discuss all the various types in a subsequent post, as well as offer suggestions as to how to build a specialized collection from this area. However, for now, you should be aware that there were two basic designs of stamp impressions:

1. The first issue from 1953-1961, which corresponds to the design of the issued stamps, and
2. A modified design as shown above, which incorporates the date "1961" in the bottom right corner. This design was in use from 1962-1964.

That concludes my overview of this issue. Hopefully you can see that there is much more to this issue that the simple catalogue listing would suggest, and it is possible to form a very extensive collection as will become apparent as I discuss each of the above topics in more detail.


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