The 1937 Coronation and 1939 Royal Visit Issue

There were not very many commemorative issues for the King George VI period until after the War, but today's post will deal with the two commemorative issues that appeared before the War: the 1937 Coronation issue, and the 1939 Royal Visit Issue.

The scope is very limited for the 1937 Coronation, although there are quite a few proof items for it that are more challenging, and one can always seek out better frankings on cover. However, it is the 1939 Royal Visit issue that affords real scope and challenge for the specialist. The main attraction of this issue lies in the plate blocks. This was the very first bicoloured engraved issue to be produced, and it is in fact one of the only such issues prior to the introduction of multi-colour printing in the late 1960's. Consequently, two separate plates were employed to print each stamp in the set: one for the frame, and the other for the vignette. The result is a surprisingly large number of different plate blocks, some of which are very rare.

Both issues were printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company. The 1937 Coronation issue was printed in sheets of 200, which were then guillotined into 4 panes of 50. I have not seen full sheets of the 1939 Royal Visit Issue, but I suspect that the sheet and pane sizes are the same.

The Stamp Designs, Issue Dates and Quantities

1937 Coronation Issue

3c carmine red - King George VI and Queen Mother Elizabeth.
Issued: May 10, 1937.
51,400,000 stamps.
Engraved by William F. Ford.
Based on a photograph by Peter North and Bertram Park.

1939 Royal Visit Issue

1c green & black - Princesses Elizabeth & Margaret Rose.
Issued: May 15, 1939.
50,043,000 stamps.
Designed by Herman Herbert Schwartz.
Based on photographs by Marcus Adams.

2c brown & black - Ottawa War Memorial.
Issued: May 15, 1939.
50,244,000 stamps.
Designed by Herman Herbert Schwartz.
Based on photographs by Marcus Adams.

3c carmine & black - King George VI & Queen Mother Elizabeth.
Issued: May 15, 1939.
100,000,000 stamps.
Designed by Herman Herbert Schwartz.
Based on photographs by Dorothy Wilding.

Points of Interest

Despite being commemorative issues that were in use for a relatively short period of time, there are still many ways in which you can form a specialized collection of this issue:

  • Shade varieties exist for all stamps.
  • Paper and gum varieties exist with a large range of variation.
  • Plate blocks there are 176 possible plate blocks, though some have yet to be reported.
  • Re-entries exist on at least the 2c Royal Visit, and possibly other stamps.
  • Colour shifts on the 1939 Royal Visit Issue. 
  • Imperforate Varieties exist for all stamps and are rare.
  • Proof material.
  • OHMS perfins exist for all stamps and are scarce to rare.
  • First Day Covers, postal history and cancels.
This is quite a bit of scope, and the great thing is that it occupies both extremes of the scale in terms of rarity and value, with the proofs and imperfs being very expensive, while the basic stamps are very inexpensive and can be extensively studied while you wait for the more expensive material to become available. 

Shade Varieties

1937 Coronation

I do not currently have any obvious shade variations in my stock to show you now, but I do know that there are definitely some which you can collect. The basic colour is actually carmine-red, and so you can find examples that contain a bit more red than carmine, and others that have bit more carmine than red, as well as variations in intensity.

1939 Royal Visit Issue

1c Green & Black

On this stamp the basic frame colour is deep green. It can be found in a soft, hue containing a hint of grey as shown in the stamp on the left. Alternatively it can be found in a deep bright hue as well, as on the right stamp. The black centres, may also vary, though I haven't really noticed any significant shades on this stamp.

2c Brown & Black 

The brown frame shows a fair amount of variation, from a light chocolate brown, as in the centre stamp, to a much deeper chocolate brown, as shown in the stamps on the sides. The difference is not very obvious in the scan, but it is quite distinct in reality. Again, I haven't noticed much variation in the black used for the vignette. On all the stamps I have seen, the black usually contains a hint of silver, though I suspect grey and pure jet-blacks should exist. 

3c Carmine & Black

This is one of the few Canadian stamps whose true, basic colour is carmine. It can vary from a soft, dull carmine, as on the left and middle stamps, to a deep, bright carmine, as shown on the right stamp. The intensity of the frame colour varies also. The middle and left stamps are basically dull carmine, with the stamp on the left being noticeably lighter and brighter than the one in the middle. I find the best part of the design to compare to see this is the upper corners where the crown is. The black on this stamp does show quite a bit of variation on the stamps I have seen, with silver-blacks, jet-blacks and grey blacks all existing. 

Paper and Gum Varieties

Paper Varieties

All the 1937 Coronation stamps that I have seen are printed on a creamy wove paper, that has a smooth front surface and light horizontal ribbing being visible from the gummed side. This paper is found on many stamps of the 1935 Dated Die Issue, which suggests that it may have been the paper used for the 1937 printings of that set. However, it is possible that other papers, such as the soft wove with vertical mesh, and the crisp wove with no mesh -  both papers found on the subsequent Mufti Issue, may indeed exist on this issue. A thorough study of papers would have to be undertaken to establish, with certainty, the full range of papers that exists on this issue.

The 1939 Royal Visit issue seems to be found mostly on the soft wove with vertical mesh, which is often seen on the Mufti Issue. I have also seen a crisp wove that shows no mesh as well. I have not found the horizontal ribbed paper that was used on the 1937 Coronation Issue however. The colour of the paper on the surface seems to vary from a cream paper, to a paper that has a slightly greyish tint. This might result from the black ink residue left on the printing plates after the plates were wiped. I'm not certain, and one way to resolve this might me to study full sheets and see if the surface colouration is even throughout the sheet, including the selvage. If it is, it does suggest that it is the actual colour of the paper and is not discolouration caused by ink.

Gum Varieties - 1937 Coronation Issue

On this issue, all the gums that I have seen are smooth cream with a satin sheen. The amount of yellow in the cream does vary, as you can see in the three stamps shown above. The middle stamp is about as close to a pure cream as you can get, while the two stamps on the side are a yellowish cream (right stamp) and a slightly deeper yellowish cream (left stamp). 

Gum Varieties - 1939 Royal Visit

The 1939 Royal Visit issue is similar to the preceding and subsequent definitive issues in terms of the large amount of variation in the gum found. As the scans above and below show, there are at least six different types and quite possibly seven or eight. Shown above, from left to right are:

  • Smooth cream gum with a satin sheen
  • Smooth mottled yellowish cream gum with a satin sheen.
  • Streaky yellowish cream gum with a satin sheen.
  • Smooth yellowish cream with a semi-gloss sheen.
  • Smooth mottled yellowish cream with a semi-gloss sheen.
Not shown here are is one other variety that I have seen over the years: the smooth brownish gum with a semi gloss sheen. As you can see in the scan above, these are quite distinct. How any collector can dismiss these variations as not collectible is beyond me. 

The scan below shows a seventh variety on the stamp at right, which is the streaky brownish cream with a satin sheen. 

It is my belief that the differences in the appearance of the gum, including the colour, how uniform the coverage is, and the sheen are all a function of both the chemical makeup, as well as the method of application. In this sense, they are a component of the mint stamps, just as much as the ink or the paper is. Therefore, I really do believe that they form an important aspect of the issue which should not be overlooked.

Plate Blocks

As stated earlier, these two issues provide a vast amount of scope for the specialist, due to the large number of plate combinations possible. The 1937 Coronation Issue was printed from 4 plates, and there are four positions, which makes a basic set of 16 plate blocks. This can easily be expanded for paper, gum and shade varieties. 

On the 1939 Royal Visit, there are supposed to be 176 possible plate number combinations and positions. However 11 of these have never been reported, and some are very rare, and worth thousands of dollars including:

  • All known positions of the 1c plate 1-3, which are so far only UL, UR and LL.
  • All known positions of the 1c plate 1-4, which are so far only UL, LL and LR.
  • All known positions of the 1c plate 2-3, which are so far only UL, LL, LR.
  • All known positions of the 1c plate 2-4, which are so far only UL, UR or LL.
  • Plate 5-1 of the 3c which has never been seen, and likely does not exist.
  • All known positions of plate 5-3 of the 3c, which so far are only the UL and LL positions.
The remaining blocks do vary quite a bit in price, but all of them, including the most common, are worth quite a bit more than the price of four singles. They can be summarized as follows:

  • 1c - 18 plates: 1-1 to 1-4; 2-1 to 2-4; 3-1 to 3-4; 4-1 to 4-4 and 5-1 & 5-2. All positions exist for all except the rare plates mentioned above. Here there are 68 different blocks to collect without considering any of the paper, shade or gum varieties that I discussed above. 
  • 2c - 6 plates: 1-1 to 1-2; 2-1 to 2-2 and 3-1 to 3-2. All positions exist for a total of 24 basic blocks. Why so few plates were used compared to the 1c, which had almost the same issue quantity is a bit of a mystery. 
  • 3c - 19 confirmed plates: 1-1 to 1-4; 2-1 to 2-4; 3-1 to 3-4, 4-1 to 4-4; 5-2 to 5-4. All positions exist for all except the rare plates mentioned above. Here there are 74 different blocks to collect without considering any of the paper, shade or gum varieties that I discussed above. 

Position Dots

Many of the plate blocks printed by the CBN show small dots in the selvage, in various positions. It is not known what the purpose of these dots were, but they are found in various positions. I have not examined enough blocks yet to compile a complete listing. However, so far I have found:

  • Two dots in the lower selvage, of the lower right block of the 2c War Memorial, one being the frame colour and the other being black, and confirming that they came from each plate used. The black dot is under the "N" of "Canadian" in the inscription, while the brown dot is under the "E" of "Note". 
I will expand the above list, as I have the opportunity to examine more blocks.


There is only one documented re-entry on the 1939 Royal Visit Issue, and no documented re-entries on the 1937 Coronation issue. The one known re-entry occurs on the 2c War Memorial stamp and consists of some faint doubling of the horizontal steps of the memorial. Unitrade states that this re-entry comes from position 17 of the lower left pane of plate 2-2. However Ralph Trimble, the preeminent re-entry specialist says that there are many positions which exist with this re-entry, although he does not specify which ones. You can see a nice, high resolution image of this re-entry by clicking this link:

and scrolling almost to the bottom of the page.

My instinct, given the sheer quantity of stamps printed, is to suggest that there must surely be more re-entries on these issues. However, it is entirely possible that there isn't. Why? Well the main reason might be that instead of re-working worn plates, the CBN simply decided to make new ones. That would certainly account for the unusually large number of plates used. If that were the case, then there will indeed be few to no re-entries. However, these stamps are very inexpensive, and it would certainly be a fun exercise to go through several thousand mint or used examples searching for that elusive, undiscovered re-entry.

Colour Shifts On The 1939 Royal Visit Issue

When the stamps were printed, they were run through the presses twice. It would appear that the frames were printed first, and then the vignettes. There was a preprinted space within which the vignette was supposed to sit. In the vast majority of stamps that you will see, the vignettes will either be perfectly positioned, or will only encroach on the design very slightly, but not so much that you can see white space where the design is supposed to be. 

However there are some instances where the vignette is significantly out of alignment with the frame, either in the horizontal or vertical direction. In these instances, the result can be quite striking, as in the case of the 1c pair from plate 2-1 above. The portraits are shifted upward by almost 1 mm, resulting in a very noticeable white space at the bottom of the ovals. 

In other instances, it is not so noticeable, unless you examine the stamp, closely. For example, take a look at the 2c below:

Because the sky of the vignette is normally white at the top, it is not immediately apparent that the vignette is shifted downward slightly. However, if you look at the date "1939" and the thick white lines flanking it, you can see black lines running through them. These are of course the bottom steps of the monument. 

Which shifts you consider to be collectible has to be a matter of personal preference of course, but I think any complete specialized collection should include some, if for no other reason to illustrate what can, and did happen with the printing of these stamps. 

Imperforate Varieties

Image result for 1939 royal visit sheet

All four of these stamps exist imperforate, and are generally collected as pairs. A very limited number of imperforate plate blocks also exist. These items are all very challenging and represent an aspect to a specialized collection that will keep you searching for a lifetime. The numbers of pairs and plate blocks that are reported are as follows:


  • 3c Coronation - 75 pairs.
  • 1c Royal Visit - 100 pairs.
  • 2c Royal Visit - 100 pairs.
  • 3c Royal Visit - 100 pairs.
Plate Blocks:

  • 3c Coronation - 3 blocks. Unitrade specifies neither the plates nor the positions.
  • 1c Royal Visit - plate 1-1 LR; plate 2-1 LL & UR; and plate 4-2 UL.
  • 2c Royal Visit - plate 1-2 LL; plate 2-2 UR, LR and LL.
  • 3c Royal Visit - plate 2-1 UL; plate 2-2 LL; plate 2-3 LR and plate 4-3 LL.

Proof Material

There are 17 proof items listed on the BNA proofs website, which can be summarized as follows:

  • 3 essays with photographic vignettes of the three Royal Visit issues.
  • 7 large die proofs in issued colours of just the frames.
  • 3 trial colour proofs on India paper in black. 
  • 1 large die proof of the 1937 Coronation issue on India paper
  • 2 trial colour proofs of the 1937 Coronation issue on India paper.
  • 1 small die proof of the 1937 Coronation issue on India paper. 
Most of these are reportedly unique, and consequently very expensive for this period, being in the $1,000-$3,000 price range for each item. I cannot recall the last time I saw a proof from this issue offered for sale in any of the major auctions in Canada. I am fairly certain that it will take you decades to locate and acquire all 17 items and even then you will spend between $35,000 and $50,000 in all likelihood. All of the sudden these two cheap commemorative sets that are sandwiched in between the Mufti and War Issues, taking one single page in an album, don't seem so easy to collect to completion after all, do they?

The links to the BNA proofs where you can view this material are here:   (the middle of this page)

When you get to these pages, you will see white rectangular boxes off to the right side next to each listing. These are links to the item scans. They are not labelled, so you might miss them if you weren't aware of what they are. Most all of these 17 items are ilustrated, so you can see exactly what they look like. 

OHMS Perfins

Image result for Canada #OA237

These issues are some of the few to exist with both the 5-hole and 4-hole types. Both types exist in up to eight different orientations as follows:

  • Upright, reading from left to right.
  • Upright, reading from right to left.
  • Sideways, reading upwards.
  • Sideways, reading downwards.
  • Inverted, reading from left to right.
  • Inverted, reading from right to left.
In addition the 5 hole type exists with a "missing pin in the S" variety, which is really like a whole other type. I do not know if all four stamps exist with all eight positions, but if they do, there would be 4 stamps x 3 types x 8 positions = 96 possible stamps. All of these stamps list in the $80-$180 range, so this is  very challenging aspect of the issue in its own right. 

In addition to the above, many of these perfins are found doubled, or doubled with one inverted. Great care must be taken when purchasing these as they have been very widely faked, since the basic stamps are so inexpensive. There are specific characteristics to the dies used for these perfins, and both the shape, arrangement and spacing of the holes is very specific on the genuine stamps. There were up to 10 dies used for the 4-hole type, so there are many different genuine type. The forgery expert Kenneth Pugh has published a very good series of reference manuals titled "Reference Manual of BNA Fakes, Forgeries and Counterfeits". The volume in the series that deals with these issues is "Series 2 - release 5". You would do well to acquire and read a copy of this book if you are contemplating collecting these to any serious degree. 

First Day Covers and Postal History

Image result for Canada 1939 Royal Visit First Day Cover

There are a good number of different first day covers to collect for these issues, both as plain covers with no cachet, and with a variety of decorative cachets, like the one shown above. Most of the Royal Visit covers I have seen like this have the entire set on them, but there were also covers issued for each value individually. Many were canceled with CDS's like the one above, but there was also a fancy flag cancel used for this issue as well. You could try finding a complete set of all known cachets and then try to get a complete set for all the cities in Canada which produced the covers. They are generally very affordable, being under $5 each. 

Of course other than first day covers, you can also try to collect these issues used on regular commercial covers. Of course domestic usages of the 2c and 3c values will be very common and the 1c less so. However, you can spice up a collection of these by looking for advertising covers or hotel covers, which will have nice graphic designs. Alternatively you can look for covers from small towns which don't exist anymore or that do exist, but just did not have a large volume of mail. Finally, you can try to find foreign usages to various destinations where the postage has been paid with multiples of these stamps. Given that the Mufti definitives were available when these stamps were issued, I would expect that multiples used on cover will be much scarcer than one would initially expect. 

Last, but by no means least, you can have a lot of fun collecting small town cancels on these stamps. You can still find used bundleware of these, and there were many, many small towns during this period that no longer exist, as well as post offices that closed during this time, or that have since closed. There are literally thousands of post office cancels that you could potentially collect on these four stamps. So there is always something that you can occupy yourself with. 

This concludes my discussion of these two issues. Hopefully you can see that for this is an excellent choice for collectors who want to collect in this period, but who lack the funds to tackle the more expensive definitive issues. As I said above, I don't think you would spend less than a lifetime acquiring the imperfs, proofs and OHMS perfins. Then, the other aspects would fill in the time while you wait for the other material to come up for sale. 


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