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The King Edward Issue

King Edward VII ascended the throne on January 22nd, 1901, but it was not until nearly two and a half years later that the Dominion of Canada issued new stamps bearing the portrait of the new sovereign. In the meantime there was much comment and speculation as to when the new stamps would appear and as to what form they would take, though the Post Office Department for reasons best known to itself, exercised a discreet silence on the matter. Early in 1903 it was reported in the n

wspapers that designs had been submitted and that the Postmaster-General had chosen one “bearing an excellent likeness of His Majesty.” But the earliest detailed information concerning the expected stamps appeared in the Metropolitan Philatelist for April 18th, 1903, viz:—

The King's head series of Canadian stamps will probably shortly make its appearance. The die has been received by the Post Office Department and approved of. The stamp will be very similar to the present stamp except that the maple leaf in each of the upper corners will be replaced by a crown. The figures of value will appear in the lower corners as at present and the value will be spelled out as at present in the oval frame which surrounds the portrait. This frame will be as in the present stamp. The portrait of the King shows him three-quarters to the right, head and shoulders, as the Queen is in the present stamp, but there is no crown on his head. The portrait is an exceptionally nice one and it is understood that Royalty has had something to do with its selection. The die was made in England, although the American Bank Note Co. are contractors for the government work.

These details all proved correct and shortly afterwards postmasters were given definite information with regard to the forthcoming stamps by means of an official circular, dated June 10th, and worded as follows:—

Postmasters are hereby informed that a new issue of postage stamps, bearing the portrait of His Majesty, King Edward VII., and comprising five denominations (1c, 2c, 5c, 7c and 10c), is about to be supplied to Postmasters for sale in the usual way, but none of these stamps are to be sold until the first of July, 1903. The colors of the forthcoming series will be the same respectively as those now used for the denominations specified, except that the shade of the 7c will be slightly deeper.

Postmasters will please bear in mind that, notwithstanding the new issue, they are not to return to the Department any of the old stamps on hand, but will sell them in the ordinary way. At first, the public may prefer getting new stamps, and if so, there is no objection to this wish being acceded to, but it is also desirable to work off in due course all remnants of old stamps. A change in the design of the stamp of the present series of postcards, post-bands and stamped envelopes, to correspond with that above referred to, will be made as soon as the present stock of these items shall have been exhausted.


The new King Edward 1c, 2c, 5c, 7c and 10c stamps were accordingly issued to the public on Dominion Day (July 1st), 1903.

It will be noted in one of the extracts quoted above that the die for the new stamps was engraved in London, and shortly after the appearance of the stamps the London Philatelist published the following article which is of such interest as to merit its reproduction in full:—

Although for a long time past we have been aware of the circumstances attending the preparation of the new postage stamps for Canada, and in a position to illustrate the approved design, we have refrained from publishing the facts in compliance with the desire of the authorities that no details should be made public until the stamps have been completed and were ready to be put into circulation. We believe that the delay which has taken place in bringing out the new issue has been due to questions arising out of the existing contract under which the postage stamps of the Dominion are produced, and that even after the approval of the design and the receipt of the die some difficulties were experienced in connection with the preparation of the plates by the contractors.

These have happily been surmounted, and now that the issue is an accomplished fact it is with much gratification that we illustrate the design of the new stamp, our illustration, prepared some time back, being taken from a proof from the steel die engraved by Messrs. Perkins, Bacon & Co., of London, and used in the manufacture of the plates of the several values issued by the Canadian postal authorities on the 1st instant By comparing our illustration with the stamp as issued it will be seen that the contractors or the postal authorities have made some alterations in the design, which, in our judgment, are by no means improvements. The leaves in the lower corners have been redrawn on a smaller scale, and hardly impinge upon the frame; their drawing is vastly inferior, and the graceful effect of the broken circle is lost. The numerals of value are in color on a white ground reversing the original design, the labels being larger and the figures taller and thinner, this also detracting materially from the charming homogeneity of the stamp as first proposed. The greatest alteration, and the worst, is the substitution of heavy diagonal lines for horizontal ones in the background. The latter were finely drawn and delicately shaded, leaving the King's Head in clear outline, and framed by the dark oval band containing the inscriptions. The background and frame no longer present this artistic effect, and the whole design materially suffers thereby.

The circumstances connected with the inception of the issue are as gratifying as they are novel, and will be hailed with acclamation by the Philatelists of the British Empire.

The Postmaster of Canada, Sir William Mulock, being one of the many distinguished visitors to this country during the Coronation festivities, took the opportunity afforded by his visit of approaching the Prince of Wales, and of meeting His Royal Highness's suggestions and advice in the preparation of a new die for the Canadian stamps. The Prince, with his characteristic energy and courtesy, cheerfully undertook the task, and it will be seen from our illustration with absolute and conspicuous success. H. R. H. wisely decided, in the first instance, that it is advisable to have some continuity of design in succeeding issues, and therefore adopted the frame and groundwork of the then current stamps as a basis. In selecting a portrait of His Majesty the Prince decided to rely upon a photograph giving a true likeness of the King as we know him, in lieu of an idealised representation by an artist. The photograph eventually chosen, with the full approval of His Majesty, was one taken shortly before the Coronation.

The likeness is undoubtedly what is termed a speaking one, and with the addition of the Coronation robes represents as faithful and as pleasing a picture of the King, at the time of his accession to the throne, as it is possible to find. The introduction of the Tudor crowns in the upper angles, which was another of the Prince's innovations, obviates the difficulty that has so often made “the head that wears a crown” lie “uneasy” on a postage stamp. These emblems of sovereignty, taken in conjunction with the Canadian maple leaves in the lower angles, completes a design that for harmony, boldness and simplicity has assuredly not been excelled by any hitherto issued stamps of the British Empire. It is palpable, on analysing the stamp, (1) that the attractiveness of the design has in no way been allowed to militate against its utility, for the country of origin and denomination are clearly expressed; (2) that the boldness of the design has not been detracted from (as is so often the case) by superfluous ornamentation, and that the design has been artistically balanced by the introduction of the right-sized portrait and the proper treatment of light and shade.

These stamps were, of course, printed from line-engraved plates like those of the preceding issues, and the same sheet arrangement of 100 stamps in ten rows of ten each was followed. The marginal imprint shown on the top margin of each sheet is like that shown on the Queen's head sheets and the plates for each value were numbered from 1 upwards. Mr. Howes records the following plates as having been used up to December, 1910:—

1 cent—Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 24, 25, 34, 47, 48, 51, 52, 55, 58.

2 cents—Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 47, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 63, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 78.

5 cents—Nos. 1, 2.

7 cents—No. 1.

10 cents—Nos. 1, 2.

It is very possible other plates were used for most denominations before the King George stamps were issued in 1912. The colors were very similar to those employed for the corresponding values of the Queen's head series except as regards the 7c, which was printed in a darker and more pleasing shade.

Nearly fifteen months elapsed before any other King Edward stamps were issued when, on September 27th, 1904, the 20c denomination made its appearance. This is of similar design to the others, was printed from the usual sized plate of 100, and bore imprint and plate number in the top margin as before. Only one plate has been recorded and as the use of this denomination did not average over 400,000 a year, it is quite probable that only this one plate was made. This value was issued in the olive-green shade adopted for its predecessor.

More than four years elapsed before the next and last value of the King Edward series appeared. This was the 50c denomination, which was placed on sale on November 19th, 1908, after the supply of the old blue stamps first issued in 1893 was finally used up. In design, sheet arrangement, etc., it conforms with the others of the series. One plate—numbered 1—was used.

The 2c value of this series is known entirely imperforate and the history of the variety, which is now quite common, is of considerable interest. The imperforate stamps were first mentioned in the Weekly for October 10th, 1908, in the following editorial:—

We are enabled to report the existence of the two-cent Canada, current issue, imperforate, a reader having shown us a sheet of one hundred of these varieties bearing the plate number 18. This is a discovery of momentous interest which must attract much attention not alone from specialists but from collectors, as we may say for the sake of distinction, as well. The fact that the pane bears so early a plate number removes it from any inclusion in the theory that the Canadian authorities propose to issue stamps in imperforate sheets in the manner that has been employed by the United States. Without doubt, the sheet under notice was regularly prepared for issue in the accepted way, and it is the belief from information at hand that a sheet of four hundred of the stamps was printed and reached the public.

This announcement excited much interest among collectors of Canadian stamps and enquiry regarding the seeming irregularity was made of the postal authorities at Ottawa. The Post Office Department were convinced that no irregularity could have occurred, but finally made an enquiry, and were, of course, compelled to believe the evidence of the existence of imperforate specimens. In the issue of the Weekly for February 20th, 1909, a more complete story of the find is related, viz.:—

The sheet as found was not of 400 stamps, but of over 200 stamps, as the right-hand half of the sheet on which our report was based and which was not before us when we wrote, contained a pane of 100 stamps, plate number 14 and an irregularly torn part of plate number 13, showing about fifteen whole stamps and parts of others. Assuming that the lower pane in the left half was torn approximately in the manner of the right lower pane, or plate number 13, the find consisted originally of 230 stamps, more or less. This reckoning agrees, we believe, with the recollection of the person who rescued the imperforates from oblivion, in a philatelic sense. The plate numbers on the sheet that gave authority for the chronicling of the stamps by the Weekly are 13 and 14, and not 18, as first printed.

A. N. Lemieux of Chicago is the man who found the stamps. While in Ottawa five years ago or so (this was later corrected to June, 1906), when he was in business in that city, he saw the stamps just within the iron fence that has been described as surrounding the establishment of the bank note company that prints the Canadian stamps. The day was a rainy one and the sheet had evidently been blown out of the window. Mr. Lemieux apparently attached no value to the sheet of over 200 stamps, which was in a wet, crumpled condition, and without gum. Mr. Lemieux was under the impression, no doubt, that gum had been on the sheet but had been washed off by the rain.

Mr. Severn ultimately acquired what was left of this imperforate sheet, and later submitted the stamps to the officials at Ottawa, who pronounced them but “printer's waste”. Mr. Severn, in adding to the history of these imperforates, says:—

They seemingly had been trampled upon and subjected to the usage that would be given such castoff material. Further, it was said that they had been blown or thrown out of a window, no doubt. It was suggested that the stamps be returned to Ottawa and that there were moral grounds for such a course on the part of the holders. The description of “printer's waste” seems to be correct and the inference is that the stamps never had been gummed. They belong to that class of curiosities that appeal strongly to the specialist, but which the ordinary collector regards as something apart from his collecting policy.

The stamps did not go back to Ottawa, and the postal authorities there annoyed, doubtless righteously, that such things should escape from their well regulated printing establishment went to considerable trouble to make the imperforates of small monetary value. The following paragraph, written by a correspondent of the Weekly, was the first inkling collectors had that the department had thought any more of the matter:—

It may be of interest to know that the last supplement to the Canadian Post Office Guide contains the following: “In view of representations which have been made to the Department, it has been decided to permit the sale of the 2-cent denomination of Canadian postage stamps of the current issue, in sheets of 100, without the usual perforation.” I at once asked for a sheet of the 2-cent, and incidentally said I would take a sheet of the other denominations if available. A reply came today informing me that only the 2-cent would be available, and then not for some time, as the department intends to make a separate printing of these stamps, to supply whatever demand may occur.

It was stipulated that applications for these imperforate stamps should be made to the Postmaster at Ottawa. When the sheets of these stamps came into collectors' hands it was found they had been printed from plates 13 and 14—the same as those from which the originally chronicled “errors” were printed. It is obvious that the Department issued these stamps simply to “get back” at the holder of the sheet so unfortunately blown or thrown out of the printing-office window in 1906. That they were not intended for use in mailing machines seems amply proved from the fact that none of the 2c stamps of the present issue have been issued in imperforate sheets.

No ½c value was issued in the King Edward design although the Queen's head stamp of that denomination continued in use until 1909. This value was primarily intended for use in prepaying the postage on transient newspapers, but for many years the number sold to the public was out of all proportion to those which could have been required for its legitimate use. There is no doubt that large quantities were purchased by stamp dealers for wholesaling to packet makers and dealers in the cheap approval sheet business and, undoubtedly, stamp collectors in Canada usually preferred to use four ½c stamps on their letters rather than an ordinary 2c one. This excessive demand for the ½c resulted in the Post Office Department issuing the following circular to Postmasters in 1902:—

The attention of postmasters is drawn to the fact that the postal necessity for the ½c stamp, as such, is now confined to one purpose—prepayment of newspapers and periodicals posted singly, and weighing not more than one ounce each. As publications of the kind referred to must, in the nature of things, be few, and as in the case of their being mailed to subscribers by the office of publication, the bulk rate of postage would be far cheaper and more convenient for the publisher, the demand for the ½c stamp throughout the Dominion must be appreciably diminished as a result of this restriction of its use. While, of course, any number of ½c stamps on an article of correspondence will be recognized to the full extent of their aggregate face value, it is not the wish of the Department to supply them except for the sole specific purpose above mentioned, and an intimation to that effect should be given by postmasters to patrons of their office who are in the habit of buying ½-cent stamps for other postal purposes.

This circular had quite an effect on the use of ½c stamps, for only about one-third as many were used in the year following the publication of the circular. Finally, on May 19th, 1909, the Post Office Act was amended so that the special rate on newspapers was repealed and the minimum postage on any single piece of mail became 1c. This did away for the necessity of ½c stamps and, of course, discounted any further possibility of the value being included in the King's head series.

Reference List.

1903-8. Die engraved by Perkins, Bacon & Co., London. Plates prepared and stamps printed by the American Bank Note Co., Ottawa. No wmk. Perf. 12.

  • 78.  1c   green, Scott's No. 89.

  • 79.  2c   carmine, Scott's No. 90.

  • 80.  5c   blue on blue, Scott's No. 91.

  • 81.  7c   olive-bistre, Scott's No. 92.

  • 82.  10c  brown lilac. Scott's No. 93.

  • 83.  20c  olive-green. No. 94.

  • 84.  50c  purple. No. 95.