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The Bi-sected Provisionals

The somewhat sudden reduction of the domestic postal rate from 3c to 2c on single letters led to the production of a few provisional stamps of peculiar character at Port Hood, N. S., the postmaster of that town dividing some of his 3c stamps into two unequal portions and using the smaller parts as 1c and the larger ones as 2c. In the Monthly Journal for January, 1899, they are referred to as follows:—

In some offices 1c and 2c

tamps ran short, and their places were supplied by one-third and two-thirds portions of 3c stamps divided vertically. In some places our correspondent says, these divided stamps were employed without further alteration, but in others we regret to hear that they were surcharged with a figure “2” in purple, upon the figure “3” of the larger portion or the word “one” in green, upon the smaller part; or, to further complicate matters, when thirds of two adjoining stamps were used for 2c each part was impressed with a figure “2.” Our informant's letter is franked in part by 2/3 of a 3c stamp surcharged “2” so we fear that this horrible tale is founded on fact.

In the same journal for March further reference is made to these provisionals, viz.:—

The surcharged fractions appear to have been used only at Port Hood, N. S., where the Postmaster apparently did not consider it safe to use divided stamps without some distinguishing mark. We have seen other copies since, and find that a figure “1” was struck upon the smaller portion; not the word “one” as previously stated.

Again in the April number of the same paper these split stamps are referred to:—

In reference to the cut and surcharged 3c stamps, a correspondent sends us the following extract from a letter from the postmaster of Port Hood:—“When the change in Canadian postage was made—of which we got notice by wire—I had only a very few two cent stamps in stock, so that before I got my supply from Ottawa I ran completely out of them, and, to keep my account straight, I was compelled to cut threes. This was for one day only, and not over 300 stamps were cut. I would say about 200 '2' and 100 '1' were used. About 100 '2' and probably nearly as many '1' were marked with the figures '2' and '1' as you describe, and were placed on letters for delivery in towns throughout the Dominion. Those were the only provisional stamps used by this office.”

Once more, in June, the Monthly Journal refers to the philatelically notorious Port Hood office:—

A correspondent tells us that the surcharged provisionals were not the first instances of the use of the scissors at Port Hood, an envelope emanating from that office and bearing the half of the 2c stamp, divided diagonally, having been found with the date July 27th, 1898. We do not know what the regulations are in Canada on the subject of receiving postage in cash, but we should suppose that if a postmaster runs out of 1c stamps, receives postage on certain letters, in cash, and then, to save an entry in his accounts, cuts 2c stamps in half and affixes the halves to the letters, it would not be considered a very heinous offence, and it would account for curiosities of this kind occasionally turning up.

But Port Hood does not seem to have been the only office in which the scissors were used, for the following letter from the Montreal Philatelist shows that stamps were bi-sected at at least one other office. In this instance the postmaster divided 5c stamps as well as the 3c though, apparently, he did not apply any surcharge to the fractions:—

Cross Road, Country Harbor,

April 17th, 1900.

Dear Sir,—Your enquiry re stamps to hand. At the time you mention the 2c postage was given us so suddenly that I was about out and all my neighbour P. M. was also out and as I could only charge the public 2c I could not afford to put on a 3c stamp so cut 3c and 5c to about even the thing up and sent them along. Three or four days' letters were mailed in this way, but I do not know where they went to.

Yours very truly,

E. S. Sweet, Postmaster.

The same journal in referring to the Port Hood provisionals makes some interesting comments which are worth reproduction, viz.:—

This postmaster must be a relic of the anti-confederation regime, when such mutilations were allowed, as even an entire absence of the required values would not warrant, under present regulations, this antiquated process. In such cases the postmaster should forward the money to the office on which his mail is forwarded with a request to affix the necessary stamps; he can handstamp or write the amount paid on each letter if desired, but that is not necessary. As these fractional provisionals of the Port Hood P. O. were never issued to the public, but were affixed by the postmaster and the amount paid stamped on them, they are no more deserving of collection as postage stamps than the hand stamp or pen mark on an envelope would be if no stamp or portion of a stamp had been affixed. If it is asked “Why cut up and affix the stamps then?” the answer is the postmaster knew no better and wanted to make his cash account correspond with the total of stamps sold and on hand. He tried to simplify his book-keeping—nothing more—but went about it in an antiquated and unlawful way.

While genuine copies of these splits on original covers are interesting curiosities their philatelic value is not of the greatest importance, for they were, seemingly, never sold to the public but simply affixed by the postmaster after he had received payment in cash, to simplify his accounts. They were certainly not authorised and if they had been detected at the larger offices they would not have passed as valid for postage.

In concluding our notes with regard to these cut stamps we reproduce a letter from the Post Office Department in reply to a collector who had made enquiry about the validity of the splits:

P. O. Dept., Ottawa,

March 30th, 1904.

In reply to your letter of the 24th March, re stamps '1' in blue, on 1/3 of 3, and '2' in violet on 2/3 of 3 cents, I beg to say that the Superintendent of the Stamp Branch assures me that no such stamps were ever issued or recognised by this Department, and if affixed to letters would be treated as ordinary mutilated stamps of no value. It appears that the Postmaster of Port Hood, N. S., at the time of the change of rate found himself short of 2 cents stamps, and, acting on the advice of some stamp fiend apparently, cut up a sheet or so of stamps to make twos and ones. He nearly lost his job over it, but the Department never got hold of any of the mutilated stamps. Anybody could make similar stamps by cutting up and marking old threes. Hoping this may be satisfactory to you,

Yours, etc.,

W. H. Harrington.

Reference List.

The 3c stamp of 1898 divided vertically and each portion surcharged with a new value.

  • 73.  1(c)  in blue on one-third of 3c carmine, Scott's No. 85A.

  • 74.  2(c)  in violet on two-thirds of 3c carmine. Scott's No. 85B.