Sorting the Small Queens - Some Initial Insights

Now that I have just completed my initial sort of some 2,000 1c, and 3c Small Queens, I thought it would be good to share some of my initial insights about their characteristics. In doing this I have decided to focus on the perforations only for now and later, after my other shipment of 3,500 stamps arrives, I will look at paper and shade. So what I have done is use my Instanta perforation gauge to check all 2,000 or so stamps that were present in this lot. Under a heading for each perforation measurement that I have found, I will note my general observations about:

  • papers
  • cancellations
  • shades
  • plate characteristics, i.e. whether the stamps have strong or weak impressions etc. 
  • how the perforation group compares to the others
A big and important question in the minds of specialists has to be whether of not the different perforation  measurements resulted from different perforators that were used concurrently during the life of the issue, versus those perforators being used in a progression throughout the life of the issue. The answer to that question will dictate in large part how useful the perforation measurements are in separating and identifying the various printings over the years. If the perforations were concurrent, then the measurements will be of less use in this regard than would be the case if they followed a definite progression throughout the life of the issue. 

One correction I must make to yesterday's post had to be made upfront regarding a comment that I made about Mr. John Hillson being incorrect about the second Ottawa period not containing any perf. 12 x 12.25 stamps. I had indeed read a comment in his article to this effect, but then found other references by him where he says that they do in fact exist, which is wholly consistent with what I have seen so far. 

Before I get into the detail about the perforations, I must emphasize the importance of using an Instanta gauge when studying this issue rather than the Kiusulas gauge or any cheap perforation gauge that is only accurate to the nearest 1/2. The reason is that there are differences on this issue that are 1/10th of a perf. or 1/7th of a perf. These will not be picked up at all by these less accurate gauges, which mean that you might miss a difference that turns out later on to be of vital significance. Just as important as using this gauge is to know how to use it properly. Because it is so accurate, in order to obtain a completely accurate reading it is important to do the following:

1. Place the stamp against a black background (I find a black 102 card works very well). 
2. Take the gauge and line up the guide-line at the left so that the line passes exactly through the middle of the leftmost perforation tooth. It is vital to use the left-most tooth, otherwise your reading may be off by 0.1-0.25. 
3. Then slide the gauge up or down until each perforation tooth is exactly bisected by one line on the gauge. When you reach this point, secure the gauge and then look across to the left or right for the numeric reading. The horizontal lines on the gauge denote one-quarter readings, with the whole number readings and the 1/2 readings being in between these lines. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to ensure that the guide line is perpendicular and that it passes through the centre of the top and bottom perforations at the extreme left of the stamp. You will find that you can make a reading vary quite a lot just by fiddling with the angle. But if your gauge is completely straight and placed properly on the stamp you will obtain a completely accurate reading and will see that no other reading will be as close. To do this I find a good way to obtain the necessary control over the gauge while having the right amount of movement is to hold the 102 card in my left hand, with my thumb of that hand securing the left side of the gauge. I then hold the gauge in my right hand, with my middle and index finger above and below the gauge and my thumb over the right side of the gauge as illustrated below:

I find that by holding it this way, my thumbs can secure the gauge and hold it in place and keep it straight while my fingers can move the gauge up and down while I align the lines with each of the perforation teeth. I used to lay the card down on the table and do it that way, but I found it harder to keep the gauge lined up properly while I moved it up and down, whereas I find that this technique gives me more control. 

So now, without further ado, I give you my observations of each group of perforation measurements that I have come across.

First Ottawa Period - Perforated 11.9, 11.9 x 12 and 12 x 11.9

Out of over 900 1c stamps, I only had 11 stamps from this period. Out of almost as many 3c stamps I had 37 stamps. So it is clear that stamps of this period are very scarce and seldom found in mixed lots.  Hillson states in his articles that stamps from this period are often found perf 11.9 or 11.75 all around. I may yet see examples that concur with his observations, but what I have seen are three compound perforations:

  • 11.9
  • 11.9 x 12
  • 12 x 11.9
It may be that these are the earliest Montreal printings, but based on the shades that I see in this group, I don't think so. 


  • The 1c stamps in this group vary quite a bit, but are all shades or orange, yellow-orange and red-orange. There are no yellow shades here. 
  • The most of the shades for the 3c are very distinct and are not found in any other period. They are the rose, deep rose, copper red and Indian red. A dull red shade is found toward the end of the period and this shade continues into the early Montreal period. The dark rose only appears to be found perf. either 11.9 or 11.9 x 12. 


  • The 1c stamps in this group are all on soft wove paper. There is no mesh visible when viewed face-down, but when held up to the light, you can see either a horizontal mesh or vertical mesh. One paper that I saw is almost translucent and very soft to the touch. The printed surface of this paper appears completely smooth under magnification. 
  • The papers found on the 3c are generally the same as above, but in addition there is a rougher horizontal wove, similar to that found on the 1c Montreal printings. Like the 1c, the printed surface of these stamps under magnification looks perfectly smooth. 

Plate Characteristics: 

  • The 1c stamps all had clear, sharp impressions with the fine details in the foliate ornaments being fully visible without the use of a loupe. About half the stamps I looked at had lower left position dots and half did not. 
  • Most of the 3c stamps I looked at had position dots in the lower left corner, but many did not. Most of the stamps had very sharp impressions that clearly show the fine cross-hatching of the corner ornaments and value tablets. 
  • The 1c stamps had a mixture of numeric barred oval duplexes, the Hamilton 5 in a circle surrounded by bars, segmented corks, barred grids and an outstanding March 16, 1871 Hamilton date stamp. 
  • The 3c stamps from this period are found with the same range of cancels as the 1c, but in addition I have some 2 ring numeral cancels. I have only one dated copy from this period and that was a dull red, perf. 12 x 1.9 dated November 4, 1872. 
Montreal Period - Perforated 11.6 x 11.75, 11.6 x 12 and 11.6 x 12.1

Most collectors are aware of the fact that many of the Montreal printings come perf. 11.5 x 12, and that this perforation was in use from about 1873 until around 1880. In actual fact, the true horizontal measurement appears to be 11.6 rather than 11.5. In addition to this though, there seems to be three different vertical measurements: 11.75, 12 and 12.1. Hillson notes the existence of the first two, whereas I have found the 12.1 measurement when looking at the stamps in this lot. As one would expect, these are fairly scarce stamps with only 32 1c stamps and 48 3c stamps. 


  • In this group on the 1c stamps we see a fair amount of yellows and a range of orange shades. This group has some very distinct yellow shades including a very pale dull yellow and a lemon yellow shade. The range of shades appears to run through all three perforation measurements, based on the limited number of stamps that I have at the moment. 
  • For the 3c stamps the shades range from dull red, to dull red orange and dull orange-red, deep dull orange-red and deep bright red-orange. The dull red seems to be confined to the perf. 11.6 x 12, while the brightest red-orange is found only in perf. 11.6 x 12. However, these conclusions are only based on a very limited number of stamps, and could change as more stamps are examined. 


  • The 1c stamps show a wide variety of papers. There is a rougher horizontal wove paper that shows clear mesh when viewed from the back. This seems to be confined to the yellow shades for the stamps perforated 11.6 x 12.1, but is found on orange stamps perf. 11.6 x 12.75 and perf. 11.6 x 12.  Then there is a thick soft horizontal wove that shows mesh only when held to the light. Again, this paper seems to be confined to the yellow shades on the perf. 11.6 x 12.1, but exists on orange stamps perforated 11.6 x 12.  Then there is a soft vertical wove showing no clear mesh unless held to the light. This paper is found on the orange shade and a good range of yellow shades. Then we have a rough vertical wove paper which seems to be found only on the pale dull yellow shade. 
  • The 3c stamps show a similar range to those above. There doesn't seem to be much pattern to the shades on the rougher horizontal wove and vertical wove papers. The bright red-orange and dull red shades perf. 11.6 x 12 are found on a very soft horizontal wove that shows no clear mesh unless held up to the light. This paper is clearly scarcer than the others. Under magnification, the printed surface of these papers appears finished and smooth, though sometimes a bit ribbed. 

Plate Characteristics:

  • The 1c stamps all had clear, sharp impressions which were not any less clear than those of the first Ottawa period. Nearly all of the stamps I looked at had position dots at the lower left. 
  • The 3c stamps I looked at had very clear impressions with most of the fine cross hatching of the corner ornaments and value tablets clearly visible, though not always as clear as the earlier period. The horizontal lines surrounding the portrait are all clear and distinct. Nearly all of these stamps had position dots in the lower left corner. 


  • The 1c stamps were mostly cancelled with either segmented corks or barred oval grid duplexes. The Hamilton 5 barred circle was conspicuously absent from this group. There was a small handful of dated examples. January 27, 1876 was the dated example for the perf. 11.6 x 12.1. The dates for the perf. 11.6 x 12's ranged from 1875 for the orange shade, to November 1877 and October 1878 for the yellow shades and finally April 25, 1881 for the lemon yellow shade. 
  • Most of the 3c stamps were cancelled with corks, barred grid duplexes or 7-ring target cancels. I did have one dated CDS example dated November 22, 1874 for the perf. 11.6 x 12.1, and one dated May 13, 1874 for the perf. 11.6 x 12. I also had a few feint strikes that were hard to read, but appeared to be dated sometime in 1873 and 1874. 

Montreal Period - Perf. 11.75 x 12 and 11.75 x 12.1

In between 11.5 x 12 and 12, there exists a horizontal measurement of 11.75, which is noted by Hillson in his works. I can see that within this measurement, there is 12 and a 12.1 vertical measurement. This group appears to be just as scarce, if not slightly scarcer than the perf. 11.6 x 12 group. Hillson states that this perforation dates between 1876 and 1878. 


  • Most of the 1c stamps from this group are shades of yellow, with a very bright yellow being found. I have a single orange shade on a very thick horizontal wove paper perf. 11.75 x 12, but by and large orange shades are much less common in this group. 
  • The 3c stamps from this group seems to exhibit the same range of shades as the group above. However, there are more dull shades here than bright ones. 


  • The 1c stamps of this group seem to exist on a similar range of papers to the last group with vertical wove papers dominating. Most of them show mesh very clearly on the backs, but there are a few soft papers, where the mesh is less visible unless held up to the light. Under magnification, most of these papers appear perfectly smooth, though some have a slightly rough appearance. 
  • The same comments about paper for the 1c above applies to the 3c stamps from this group. 

Plate Characteristics:

  • Except for the very bright yellow stamps, most of the 1c stamps in this group have clear, sharp impressions and a good number show position dots at lower right. The bright yellow stamps are fairly sharp, but some of the finer details of the corner ornaments are not as clear. 
  • The impressions of the 3c stamps are pretty sharp, but it is in this group that we begin to see the first real signs of wear in the fine details of the upper corner ornaments and the value tablets. In addition the brighter red-orange shades show wear in the form of the horizontal shading lines that surrounding the portrait beginning to merge together in one solid mass of colour. 


  • All the 1c stamps in this group were cancelled with either a barred grid duplex or a cork cancel. I only had one dated example in this group unfortunately, and it is a bright yellow from August 1879. I did see a Hamilton 5 circular barred grid duplex once again. 
  • The stamps examined were cancelled with corks, 2-ring numerals, grids, bulls-eyes, 7-ring targets, 4-ring numerals and a few fancy cancels. There were no dated examples unfortunately. 

Montreal Period Perforated 12, 12.25 x 12, 12 x 12.25 and 12.25

Most collectors think of most Montreal printings as being perf. 12. However, there is also a 12.25 measurement that according to Hillson came into use towards the end of the Montreal period from about 1887. Hillson states that the 12 perforation came into use in about 1876. Thus it would appear that 12 was used concurrently with 11.6 x 12, and 11.75 x 12. In examining this lot it became apparent that all combinations of 12 and 12.25 exist, and that these make up the bulk of Montreal printings, with 12 actually being as common as all three others combined. Having said this, it would seem that two measurements: 12.25 x 12 and 12.25 x 12.25 are much scarcer, being of comparable scarcity to the earlier 11.6 x 12 and 11.75 x 12 stamps at least for the 1c, while only the 12.25 x 12 is scarce on the 3c value. 


  • The 1c stamps of this group do not show any more deep oranges or red-orange shades, though a very small number of yellow orange shades are found. The general shades found here are deep ochre yellow, yellow and dull yellow. There is a very pale yellow found in the perf. 12 as well as a bright lemon yellow. The range of shades for the perf. 12 is wider, and displays many of the same shades as the earlier Montreal period, which supports the notion that it was used at the same time as the other perforations. However, the range of shades for the perf. 12.25 combinations is much more limited, being mostly deep yellows, and dull yellows. The pale and very bright yellow found in the earlier period, does not seem to show up very often at all in this period. 
  • The 3c stamps seem to be primarily dull red-oranges, deep red-oranges and bright-red oranges at this stage. Dull red is gone, and the deep dull orange-red of the prior period is very seldom seen now.  There is a very bright red-orange that borders on vermilion that is from the very end of the period. It is distinguished from the second Ottawa shades by the fact that it contains more orange than red, whereas most of the common vermilion shades from the second Ottawa period contain more red than orange. 


  • The 1c stamps are found on a similar range of papers as before, but starting in the early 1880's we begin to see the quality deteriorate into the soft, horizontal wove paper that is rougher to the touch compared to the earlier papers and being almost a cross between good quality wove and newsprint. No ink offset ever appears on the backs of these stamps. Under magnification, nearly all of these papers appear smooth, though not nearly as smooth as the earlier printings. Some of the later printings have a rougher surface texture, though they are still much smoother than the rough unfinished appearance of the later second Ottawa printings. 
  • The comments above for paper on the 1c apply equally to the 3c value based on what I have seen so far. I have seen a rough, stout, translucent vertical wove on a 3c pale dull red-orange perf. 12.25 x 12.25, that I have not seen before on the 1c. 

Plate Characteristics:

  • Many of the 1c stamps show a lower left position dot, but many do not. Printings from the 1880's sometimes show a dot hidden in the design near the vignette oval at the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock positions. The general impression quality is pretty good, but on several of the later Montreal printings, the finer details of the ornaments are not visible and the horizontal lines surrounding the portrait are often not clearly visible as separate and distinct lines. As expected, none of the stamps with 12.25 in the measurement showed lower left position dots, supporting the idea that this perforation was not in use before 1880. Some of these stamps did have visible dots at 3 o'clock or 9 o'clock, but most did not have any dots at all. 
  • By now most of the 3c stamps show no position dot in the lower left corner and most all of those that do are perf. 12. I have seen a few of the other perforations with the position dots, which suggests that these perforations were in use earlier than 1880. I have not managed to find any 3c with position dots at the sides as yet, even though many should exist. What is most notable during this period though is the degree of plate wear on the later printings where the horizontal shading lines surrounding the portrait are a mass of colour and most of the finer details in the ornaments are not visible.  


  • The 1c stamps of this period are all cancelled with either barred grid duplexes, corks, CDS's (though uncommon), oval parcel cancels, bulls-eye or straight line registered cancels. Dated examples are still very scarce, with only a handful in several hundred used stamps. The Toronto barred "1" numeral duplex makes its appearance in this period. For the perf. 12 stamps my earliest date was February 1879, while my latest date was September 1888. The dates that I saw for the perf. 12.25 x 12 were between February 1887 and February 1888. For the perf. 12 x 12.25, my earliest date is June 1883 and my latest is July 7, 1889. For the perf. 12.25 x 12.25, my earliest date is September 5, 1882 and my latest date is May 8, 1893. This last stamp has many of the characteristics of a second Ottawa printing, except for the position dot at 9 o'clock, which should not be found on a second Ottawa printing. It is possible that this stamp was used late as it could have been lurking at the bottom of a postal clerk's drawer. 
  • All the stamps I looked at are cancelled with either some kind of cork cancellation, target, bulls-eye or barred grid duplex of some kind. I saw quite a few of the Halifax barred oval grid duplex on stamps from this period. I had one dated copy ending in a "6", but unfortunately cannot tell if it is 1886 or 1876. It is on a perf. 12.25 x 12.25, which suggests that it was probably 1886. I do have one dated copy of a perf. 12 x 12.25 from February 21, 1887. 

Second Ottawa Period Perforated 12, 12.25 x 12, 12 x 12.25 and 12.25 x 12.25

Probably about 60% of all the 1c stamps that I looked at fell into this period. The common measurements are 12 and 12 x 12.25. Both 12.25 x 12 and 12.25 x 12.25 exist, but would seem to be very, very scarce, based on the low quantities present. For 12.25 x 12 I had 9 used and 5 mint examples of the 1c, and for 12.25 x 12.25 I had six used and one block of four mint of the 1c, compared to around 200 copies each of the perf. 12 and perf. 12 x 12.25. 


  • The range of shades for the 1c during this period is much less extreme than before. The 1c stamps are predominantly yellow, bright yellow and orangy yellow and occasionally yellow orange. Gone are the ochre-yellows, dull yellows and pale bright yellows of the Montreal period. There may be a few exceptions, but generally most stamps are just plain bright yellow with a slight orange tinge. 
  • The 3c stamps of this period are very distinct, and with three exceptions, are all shades of vermilion - light, dark, bright and dull. In many cases, aniline inks were used and traces of bleeding can be seen through the back of the stamp. This is not found on the Montreal printings. Two tricky shades are the deep red-orange and bright red-orange shades that are very similar to those found in the Montreal period. These could almost be mistaken for Montreal printings, but for the fact that the printing impression is clearer than the Montreal printings of the same shade, and the paper is a little rougher under magnification. There are also the rose-carmine and deep rose carmine shades that came from the printings made at the Montreal Gazette in 1888, that are technically Montreal printings, but are classified by Unitrade as second Ottawa. 


  • For the 1c stamp the paper most commonly seen is a brownish cream paper that is soft and smooth, with a horizontal mesh that is visible only when the stamp is held up to the light. Under magnification, the surface appears rough and unfinished in comparison to the Montreal paper, though a few of the late Montreal printings have paper that is very similar to this. This paper picks up and has good ink absorption, with the result that many stamps show traces of ink on the backs from the stamps that the sheets were stacked on top of. This is never the case with the Montreal printings, at least not that I can see. Occasionally you will come across a slightly better quality horizontal wove with a smoother finish. This appears to be confined to a relatively short period after 1894. 
  • There appear to be three types of paper for the 3c value. The first comes from the end of the Montreal period and is a soft horizontal wove that is brownish cream in colour and appears somewhat rough under magnification. Then in the early 1890's we begin to see the very poor quality newsprint paper that looks totally unfinished. Then in around 1895, a better quality paper to the first type appears that is whiter and thicker. From the cancellation dates that I looked it, it would appear that all types of paper were used right up to 1897, when the issue was replaced by the Maple Leaf Issue. Like the 1c, the backs of many stamps from this period show ink transfer from other stamps. The paper of the Montreal Gazette rose carmine stamps is the rough, stout vertical wove of the Montreal period. 

Plate Characteristics:

  • For some of the early printings the print quality is poor, as they were made toward the end of the life of the old Montreal plates. But generally, most of the 1c stamps printed during this period show sharp impressions once again, as they were printed from new plates. So this can be a clue to their status when you have an undated copy: a sharp impression on poor quality wove is most certainly a second Ottawa, especially if it shows no position dots at all. A very small number of the stamps printed during this period may have position dots at 3 o'clock or 9 o'clock, but almost all will have no dots at all. 
  • None of the 3c stamps show any position dots of any kind. The earliest printings will show considerable plate wear before new plates were used to print the majority of the stamps. Most of the stamps from this period have very clear impressions, with clearly separate horizontal shading lines and ornament cross hatching. This is the strongest evidence that new plates were made near the beginning of this period. 


  • Nearly all the stamps I looked at are cancelled with a CDS date stamp. There are still a few corks, barred grids, squared circles, rollers and the like, but these are scarce. The Bickerdike flag cancels appear in this period as well, and are fairly common on this value. 
  • There is a fairly wide range of cancels on the 3c stamps of this period, though most will either be CDS's, squared circles or flag cancels. There are some fancy cancels and corks still in use, as well as targets and bulls-eyes. However, most of the cork and fancy cancels used in this period are the less heavy kind that do not deface the stamp as severely as those used in the Montreal period. 
Preliminary Conclusions

It would appear that the answer to the question: "were the different perforations used concurrently or in a logical progression?" is both. The 11.9 and compounds with 12 do not appear after the first Ottawa period. And the perf. 11.75 x 12 and 11.6 x 12 groups do not appear before 1873 or after 1881. The perf. 12's seem to run through the entire period and the 12.25's and combinations of 12.25 and 12 do appear to have been used much earlier than 1887. Furthermore, it would appear that they were in use pretty consistently until 1897. The fact that I have seen a 3c Montreal with a position dot in this later perforation group does suggest either that the position dots were still found on some stamps after 1880, or this perforation was in use that early. I suspect what happened was that there were several perforating machines that were run simultaneously as production took place:

1. In Ottawa, the original machines gauged 11.9 and 12 or combinations thereof. 
2. In Montreal the main machine in use gauged 12. Then sometime in 1873, additional machines were brought into production. These gauged 11.75 x 12, 11.75 x 12.1, 11.6 x 12, 11.6 x 11.75 and 11.6 x 12.1. After these machines wore out, they were replaced by machines giving a gauge of 12.25 x 12, 12.25 x 12.25 and 12 x 12.25. 
3. These machines were taken back to Ottawa and used to produce the rest of the printings, which is why all four perforations continue to be found in this period. 

Another take-away from today's study is that while position dots are useful for identifying Montreal printings, most Montreal printings are not going to have them. Also, looking at the appearance of the paper surface under a loupe just might be the best characteristic to use to sort your stamps after you have got done with checking the perforations. It is a fairly objective test that will help you identify right away which stamps are likely to be second Ottawa. Then later you can use the printing impression, shades and cancellations to make a final decision. Once you have separated out all the smooth surfaced papers, from the rough ones all the smooth ones are going to be Montreal by default. Finally, it is apparent that most, if not all of the barred grid duplex cancellations are from the Montreal period, so if you have a stamp with that type of cancellation, chances are it is a Montreal printing. 

So that concludes my initial insights on this issue until the rest of the stamps I purchased this week arrive and I can begin working on them. 


  1. Just discovered your blog and I am delighted by your posts - they are a new breath of fresh air.

    Peter Vander Valk
    Fonthill, ON

  2. Thanks for your kind feedback Peter. I am happy that you like them. I'm curious to know how you found my blog and what you collect?

  3. Hi Peter, thanks for the insight into the difference between the different periods, however I need to ask you does paper size make a difference in identification. As I seem to have a small queen cancelled 95, printed on which seem to be the size of the larger 1968 paper 20mm x 24mm?
    Shawn Smith - South Africa

  4. Hi Shawn

    My pleasure. As far as I know, size is not a factor on the Small Queens. It sounds a lot to me like you either have a 3c Large Queen with a numeral cancel, or a 3c Small Queen with jumbo margins. Jumbos do occasionally occur because of the way the stamps were perforated, but as far as I know, they occur in all periods, so they are not of much use in identifying which printing a stamp is from.


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