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The Diamond Jubilee Issue

The year 1897 was an eventful one in the history of the British Empire, for on June 20th the greatly revered Queen Victoria celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of her accession to the throne. Naturally such an epochal event was marked in one way or another in even the most remote corners of the Empire. In some cases there were public celebrations and rejoicings with, perhaps the erection of memorials, while some of the colonies marked the event by the issue of special series of po

tage stamps. The Dominion of Canada commemorated the “Diamond Jubilee” by the issue of a highly ornate set of stamps comprising no less than sixteen different denominations, and the inclusion of what were widely termed “unnecessary” high values and the unbusinesslike and somewhat discreditable manner in which they were placed on sale by the Post Office Department cast a slur on Canada's postal history which took many years to live down.

Early in 1897 the idea of issuing a special series of stamps was mooted as witness the following extract from the Weekly Philatelic Era for January 30th:

Many suggestions are being made and many plans laid for the fitting celebration of the sixtieth year of Her Majesty's reign. In Canada ... a proposal has been made and an agitation started for the issue of a commemorative set of postage stamps by the Dominion government.... It has been suggested that the new stamps be made a trifle larger than the present ones, that a somewhat recent picture of Her Majesty replace the present one, and that the figures and colors be made more pronounced.... The agitation for a new issue is quite pronounced and is by no means confined to philatelists. There appears to be a general desire on the part of the people to have a change.

At first the intention seems to have been to issue only a 3 cent stamp but, alas, this original intention was stifled like many other good ideas and the Departmental officials, giving their enthusiasm free rein, finally decided on a set to consist of sixteen denominations ranging all the way from ½c to five dollars. The announcement of the forthcoming issue of the stamps aroused so much general interest that the series formed the subject of a question in Parliament and according to the Canadian Hansard—the official and verbatim record of Parliamentary proceedings—the Postmaster-General (Mr. Mulock) replied to his interrogator as follows:—

It is the intention of the Government to issue a set of Jubilee postage stamps. Such stamps will be put into public use by being delivered to postmasters throughout Canada for sale to the public in the same manner as ordinary postage stamps are sold. There will be a limit to the quantity to be issued. The denominations of Jubilee stamps, and the total number of such Jubilee stamps to be issued, are set forth in the following schedule:

Number to be issued. Denomination.
150,000 ½c stamps.
8,000,000 1c "
2,500,000 2c "
20,000,000 3c "
750,000 5c "
75,000 6c "
200,000 8c "
150,000 10c "
100,000 15c "
100,000 20c "
100,000 50c "
25,000 $1 "
25,000 $2 "
25,000 $3 "
25,000 $4 "
25,000 $5 "
7,000,000 1c postcards.

Total value of one stamp of each kind $16.21½.

As soon as the total number of stamps mentioned in said schedule is issued the plates from which they will have been engraved will be destroyed in the presence of the head and two officers of the department. On the 10th of June the Post Office Department will proceed to supply Jubilee postage stamps to the principal post-offices in Canada, and through them minor post offices will obtain their supply until the issue is exhausted. If this Jubilee issue were to wholly displace the ordinary postage stamps it would supply the ordinary wants of the country for between two and three months, but as the use of the ordinary postage stamps will proceed concurrently with that of the Jubilee stamps, it is expected that the Jubilee stamps will last beyond the three months. Inasmuch as the department is already receiving applications for the purchase of Jubilee stamps, it may be stated that the department will adhere to the established practice of supplying them only to postmasters, and through them to the public, who may purchase them on and after the 19th June, 1897.

It will be noted that the Post-Office Department made no pretense about the matter but stated quite candidly that the issue would be limited and before very long, by means of different official notices and communications it was made quite plain that the issue was intended to sell and that restrictions would be placed on the scale of the more desirable values, which were issued in but small quantities. With the first supply of these stamps sent to postmasters the following circular was sent:—

N. B.—Requisitions for full sets of the Jubilee stamps will be filled until the issue is exhausted.—E. P. S.

Post Office Department, Canada,

Postage Stamp Branch,

Ottawa, June, 1897.

Sir:—I am directed by the Postmaster-General to send you herewith a supply of the Jubilee stamps and 1c post card, equal to one month's ordinary requirements of your office. Should this quantity prove insufficient it will, on your requisition addressed to this branch, be supplemented; but as the Jubilee issue is limited, it would be necessary for you to apply early in order to secure further supplies of the same.

I am also to instruct you not to sell any of the accompanying stamps or postcards before the opening of your office at the regular office hours on the 19th June instant—the eve of the anniversary they are intended to commemorate.

These stamps and cards are, of course, like the ordinary issues, to be sold at face value.

I am, Sir, Your Obedient Servant

E. P. Stanton, Superintendent.

P. S.—As there appears to be a somewhat general desire on the part of many persons to purchase, for souvenir purposes, complete sets of the Jubilee stamps, it is hoped that you will so manage the sale of such stamps that persons applying to purchase full sets may be able to get them.—E. P. S.

The stamps were placed on sale throughout the Dominion on the morning of Saturday, the 19th of June the eve of Jubilee day proper. Naturally there was a big rush on the part of the public to obtain specimens of the much heralded stamps and in the larger centres the post offices were literally besieged. Speculators tried to corner the ½c and 6c denominations, which advance particulars had shown to be the most desirable of the lower values, but the stamps were doled out carefully and large orders were promptly and firmly refused. But though care was exercised the department was convinced, from the result of the first day's sale, that steps would have to be taken to further restrict the sale of the desirable denominations. The demand for the stamps at the chief office was so great that a circular letter was prepared to be despatched to applicants, this reading as follows:—

Post Office Department, Canada,

Postage Stamp Branch,

Ottawa, 26th June, 1897.

Sir,—With reference to the numerous demands upon this office for the ½c and 6c Jubilee stamps, I am directed to explain that the respective quantities of Jubilee stamps ordered bear, relatively, the same proportions to the actual requirements of the Postal Service, but the tendency to exhaust the HALVES and SIXES has increased to such a degree, that it has become necessary to restrict their sale to the purchasers of full sets. Hence I am to express the Postmaster-General's regret that he is unable, having regard to the limited character of the Jubilee issue, to comply with any requests for the ½c or 6c denomination, apart from those for full sets. These sets may be obtained as long as the series of Jubilee stamps last, but as the demands upon it are unusually heavy, it would be advisable to apply for full sets at the earliest possible moment.

When Postmasters obtain such sets to fill orders actual or prospective at their respective offices, they must not, in any case, break the sets.

I am, Sir, Your Obedient Servant

E. P. Stanton, Superintendent.

P. S.—Under no circumstances will there be any issue of Jubilee stamps, beyond the limits mentioned in the accompanying extract from Hansard, containing the Postmaster-General's statement on the subject.

At the same time instructions were issued to postmasters that they were not to sell the ½c, 6c, 8c and dollar denominations except in the complete sets of sixteen values.

Later this ruling was modified and sets to 50c and $1 inclusive were allowed to be sold resulting in the issue of another circular to postmasters worded as follows:—

Post Office Department, Canada,

Postage Stamp Branch,

Ottawa, August, 1897.

Sir,—I am directed to transmit to you the accompanying partial sets of Jubilee stamps. These sets consist of two kinds: one from a ½c to $1 (value $2.20½), the other from ½c to 50c (value $1.20½). You are instructed to sell these stamps as sets, and as sets only, representations having been made to the department that in various parts of the Dominion there is a desire to obtain such sets for souvenir purposes. You must not, under any circumstances, break a set; for, besides the disappointment that such a course would cause, you would render yourself liable to loss, the department having decided not to allow credit for any broken sets returned to it by a postmaster who, notwithstanding the instructions herein given, sells any denominations of the stamps making up a set apart from the rest.

I am also to ask you to use your best judgment in the sale of these sets, checking, as far as possible, any attempt on the part of speculators to monopolise them, and thus securing as general distribution of such sets in your vicinity as the circumstances may permit. To enable you to make change in connection with the sale of the enclosed sets I include a sufficient quantity of ordinary ½c postage stamps.

I may add that the accompanying supply has been based strictly upon the annual revenue of your office, and, having regard to the total number of sets available and the extent of their distribution, represents that proportion to which you are entitled.

I am, Sir, Your Obedient Servant

E. P. Stanton, Superintendent.

So anxious did the department show itself in its efforts to circumnavigate the speculator, and so obvious was the fact that the Jubilee stamps were issued, like our own Columbian stamps, for the pecuniary profit the Government would derive from their sale, that it is small wonder that the series was condemned and discredited by the philatelic press almost universally. The following extract from the Monthly Journal for June, 1897, is typical of many:—

We are indebted to various correspondents for papers and cuttings with reference to the Jubilee issue of this Colony which will have taken place by the time this is in print. While acknowledging that the design of the stamps appears to be a very handsome and appropriate one, we feel bound to add that the affair possesses no other redeeming feature whatever. The Canadian Government has made a new contract for the supply of stamps, etc., with an American firm, which will apparently involve a new issue of stamps within a short time. If the occasion had been taken for the issue of a permanent series appropriate to the Jubilee year, nothing could have been more agreeable to philatelists throughout the British Empire; but to bring out a set of labels, including unnecessarily high values and printed in limited numbers, to be issued concurrently with the present stamps, is to reproduce all the most objectionable features of the unnecessary and speculative emissions, which we all desire to put an end to. We cannot expect that on such an occasion as this loyal British subjects will be able to abstain altogether from purchasing Jubilee mementoes of this description, but we would most strongly recommend them to be satisfied with copies of one or two of the lower values. Outside the British Empire we trust that this discreditable issue will fall as flat as it deserves.

To add to the unsavory tale we have only to say that there was much scandal on account of the openly expressed statements that the desirable values were, in many instances, cornered by postal employes who had, of course, “first option” on the supplies reaching their respective offices. Thus, in the Philatelic Messenger of New Brunswick, we read:

But now that the stamps have been issued in certain given numbers and in the Postmaster-General's peculiar way, where are they? That is what a great many want to know and that is a question which must be answered. I know where some of them are. I had a letter from a postmaster's son at a small office in Quebec, asking me what I would give for 45 8c Jubilee stamps. I had a letter from an office in P. E. Island, asking my prices for ½, 6, and 8c Jubilee stamps. Collectors in the principal cities of the Dominion have seen whole sheets of ½c stamps in the possession of post-office employees. These little incidents may give one some idea where the stamps are. I also have a pretty good idea where the stamps are not. A prominent Toronto dealer laid $100 on the stamp counter the first day of sale, and was tendered two specimens of the ½c and 6c stamps. At Montreal, Toronto, St. Johns, Halifax, and all the principal cities, not more than two specimens of the ½, 6, 8, 10, 15, 20 and 50c stamps were sold to the same person, that is, of course, outside the post-office staff. I have it on good authority that there is not a stamp dealer in Canada who has 100 of the ½c value unless he happens to be a post-office employé also. The stamps are not in the dealers' stock books then, for they have not been able to get them. I wrote to Fredericton the other day for a few 10, 15, 20 and 50c stamps and the postmaster returned the money and said they could be supplied only in complete sets. One meets with the same reception at nearly every post office. What were the stamps made for if not to be sold to the public as the public wants them? What would be thought of a furniture store where one could not purchase a table or a chair but must take a whole set? The thing is ridiculous.

While the idea of issuing special stamps to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee was laudable enough, the restrictions applied to their sale and the inclusion of unnecessary high values was, to put it mildly, an official faux pas. It has been asserted that the values from $2 to $5 inclusive were quite unnecessary as it was not possible to use either of these denominations in prepayment of any legitimate postal charges. But it was also pointed out that as there was no limit to the weight of a package sent by first class mail a heavy letter could easily call for more postage than $5. Indeed, in his article in the Monthly Journal, Mr. Donald A. King stated:—

At a post office with which I am somewhat familiar the posting of letters and parcels for the United Kingdom and other Postal Union countries that called for postage from $1.00 upwards was, at certain periods, a matter of daily, often hourly, occurrence, so much so that the only comment it excited was from the clerk cancelling, who would audibly wish that there were higher values in the permanent issue than 50c and thus save time cancelling the entire length of a large envelope.

Within my own experience there has been more than one case where a letter has been mailed on which there was not space to place the stamps; an entire sheet (100) of 15 cents stamps was pasted on, obliterated, and then another with some odd values completed the prepayment; and the case can be recalled of a letter on which $40.00 postage was prepaid. While the Jubilee set was in everyday use the sight of the higher values was quite common on any mail for the United Kingdom and Europe, shipping and commercial houses prepaying their mail with the “dollar” values simply as a matter of convenience.

But though there may have been isolated instances in which high values could be used with convenience their very limited use is obvious from the fact that the Canadian government has always, both before and since the emission of the Jubilee set, found a 50c value high enough for all practical purposes. Had postal requirements called for such constant use of high values as Mr. King's remarks lead us to infer it is hardly likely that, when the remainders were finally withdrawn and destroyed in 1905, out of a comparatively small total issue of 25,000 of each of the dollar stamps 94 of the $1, 66 of the $2, 1,835 of the $3, 2,013 of the $4, and 1,240 of the $5 would be returned and destroyed.


The design is the same for all denominations and, as we have already stated, is a very handsome one. The stamps are of extra large size and show two portraits of Queen Victoria. That on the left, with the date “1837” below it, is identical with the portrait shown on the old 12d and 7½d stamps, while the one on the right, with date “1897” below, is from a full length portrait painted in 1886 by Professor von Angelo of Vienna. This shows the Queen in her robes of state as she appeared on the assumption of the title “Empress of India.” Above the portraits is CANADA POSTAGE and between these words is the so-called Tudor Crown of Great Britain with the letters “V. R. I.” below—these latter, of course, standing for Victoria Regina Imperatrix, (Victoria, Queen and Empress). At the base the value is shown on a straight tablet and in the angles, and between the two dates, are maple leaf ornaments. These Jubilee stamps were printed by the American Bank Note Company, who had recently secured the contract for the printing of stamps, bank notes, etc., for the Dominion. In the Montreal Herald for January, 1897, the following particulars are given with regard to the change of printers:—

The contract for the Government engraving, for which tenders were called two months ago, has been awarded to the American Bank Note Company, of New York, for a period of five and a quarter years. The contract is worth $600,000, and may be renewed for a similar period. The work consists of engraving the Dominion bank notes, revenue and postage stamps, postal cards, etc. At present the British American Bank Note Company, better known as Burland and Company, formerly of Montreal, have the contract. They tendered this time, but the New York company was the lowest. The New York company is one of the largest and best known in the world. The firm engraves notes for some of the banks in Canada, including the Canadian Bank of Commerce. Under the terms of the new contract, the Company will require to establish a place in Ottawa to do the work, where the Government can have supervision of it. As compared with the prices paid under the Burland contract, the Government will effect a saving of $120,000 by the new contract.

The stamps were, like all Canadian stamps, produced by the line-engraved process, the values from ½c to 5c inclusive being printed in sheets of 100 in ten horizontal rows of ten, and the other denominations in sheets of 50 in ten horizontal rows of five stamps each. The only marginal inscription consists of the name OTTAWA followed by the number of the plate. This inscription appears at the top of the sheets only—above the centre of the fifth and sixth stamps in the case of the ½, 1, 2, 3 and 5c values and above the third stamp on the values from 6c to $5. The name is in thin Roman capitals, 2½ mm. high, the total length of the inscriptions being about 40 mm. The following are the numbers of the plates used:—

½ cent, plate 9.
1 cent, plates 5, 6, 15, 16.
2 cents, plate 7, 8.
3 cents, plates 1, 2, 3, 4, 11, 12, 13, 14, 28, 29, 30, 31.
5 cents, plate 10.
6 cents, plate 17.
8 cents, plate 20.
10 cents, plate 19.
15 cents, plate 18.
20 cents, plate 21.
50 cents, plate 23.
$1, plate 27.
$2, plate 26.
$3, plate 24.
$4, plate 22.
$5, plate 25.

The paper was the usual wove variety and the perforation gauged 12—the production of single-line or guillotine machines. Even in the case of values of which large quantities were printed, like the 3c, variations in shade are remarkably slight. The 1c is known split diagonally and the halves used as ½c and while this practice was disproved of by the Post Office Department the half stamps undoubtedly filled a local need as shown by an extract from a Canadian newspaper printed in the Weekly Philatelic Era, viz.:—

The Railway News last week on account of not receiving permission from the Post-Master General to allow papers to go through the mails free, was compelled to pay postage. No half cent stamps being available, the post office department allowed one cent stamps to be cut in halves for postage. This is the first time on record we believe where such was allowed and the stamps have been eagerly sought after, one dollar being paid for a single stamp with the post office stamp on it. The News will pay twenty-five cents each for the one cent Jubilee stamps cut in halves bearing the post-office stamp of November 5th, 6th, or 8th, which was allowed to pass through the mails on that date owing to there being no regular half cent stamps available.

One set of Jubilee stamps—said to be the first one printed, though of course this statement cannot be taken literally as meaning the stamps were printed one at a time:—was mounted in a specially designed portfolio and presented to the Duke of York, now His Most Gracious Majesty King George V. An account of this presentation set, taken from an old issue of the Weekly, is worthy of reproduction:

A very unique and handsome piece of work is the postal portfolio which is to be presented to His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, by the Dominion Government, and which is on exhibition in the window of Kyrie Brothers, Jewelers, Toronto. The portfolio is in the form of an album, the cover of which is of royal blue morocco leather, handsomely decorated in gold. In the centre of the front cover is a raised shield in white on which are the words in gold letters, “Dominion of Canada, Diamond Jubilee Postage Stamps, 22nd June, 1897.” The corners of the portfolio are decorated with guards of Canadian gold made from British Columbia and Raney district ore. The right hand upper corner decoration is a design of maple leaves, and the lower corner of English oak leaves and acorns. The portfolio is fastened with a clasp of Canadian gold in the form of oak leaves, while the bracket on the front holding the clasps in position, is entwined with maple leaves with the monogram of H. R. H. the Duke of York—G. F. E. A.—George Frederick Ernest Albert. On the third page is the inscription, “This collection of postage stamps issued at Ottawa by the Dominion of Canada in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria is presented to H. R. H. the Duke of York, K. G., by the Government of Canada, 1897.” The last page of this unique stamp album will contain the certificate of the destruction of the dies and plates in the presence of Hon. Wm. Mulock, postmaster-general of Canada.... This is probably the dearest stamp album in the world, and contains only a single specimen of each denomination of the Jubilee issue.

And now we conclude our history of this Jubilee issue by another extract from the Weekly giving an account of the destruction of the dies and plates from which the stamps were made:—

On Friday afternoon, September 10th, I presented myself at the Post-Office Department and joined a party who were just leaving the building to go over to the American Bank Note Co.'s building, a couple of blocks away. Arriving, we were conducted to the top floor by the manager. The plates, dies, etc., were brought out by those in charge, and the seventeen original dies after inspection by those present were placed one by one under a press and an obliterating roller passed over them several times; proofs were then pulled which faintly showed the outlines of the ovals, etc., but the words showing the values could not even be made out. Next, the rolls for transferring the impression from the dies to the plates came in for their share of attention. There were nineteen of them, and a few burns from an emery wheel quickly put each one “out of sight.” The plates, 31 in number, were subjected to the same treatment as the dies, and the total time occupied in the destruction of the various parts occupied almost two hours.

Reference List.

1897. Engraved and printed by the American Bank Note Co., Ottawa, on wove paper. Perf. 12.

  • 36.  ½c  black, Scott's No. 50.

  • 37.  1c   orange, Scott's No. 51.

  • 38.  2c   green, Scott's No. 52.

  • 39.  3c   rose, Scott's No. 53.

  • 40.  5c   deep blue, Scott's No. 54.

  • 41.  6c   yellow brown, Scott's No. 55.

  • 42.  8c   dark violet, Scott's No. 56.

  • 43.  10c  brown violet, Scott's No. 57.

  • 44.  15c  steel blue, Scott's No. 58.

  • 45.  20c  vermilion, Scott's No. 59.

  • 46.  50c  ultramarine, Scott's No. 60.

  • 47.  $1   lake, Scott's No. 61.

  • 48.  $2   dark purple, Scott's No. 62.

  • 49.  $3   yellow bistre, Scott's No. 63.

  • 50.  $4   purple, Scott's No. 64.

  • 51.  $5   olive green, Scott's No. 65.