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The Registration Stamps

The convenience of the registry system was adopted in Canada in May, 1855, at which time the fee was the remarkably low one of one penny. In 1856 the system was extended to cover letters sent to the United States by mutual agreement between the post office departments of both countries, and while the domestic rate remained at one penny the fee for the registration of letters to the United States was three pence. Mr. Howes has discovered an interesting notice in the Canadian Direc

ory for 1857-8 which gives further details as follows:—

Persons transmitting letters, which they desire should pass through the post as “registered letters”, must observe that no record is taken of any letter unless specially handed in for registration at the time of the posting. Upon all such letters, with the exception of those addressed to the United States, one penny must be prepaid as a registration charge. If addressed to the United States, the ordinary postage rate on the letters to that country must be prepaid, and in addition a registration charge of 3d per letter. The registry thus effected in Canada will be carried on by the United States Post Office until the letter arrives at its destination.

In like manner, letters addressed to Canada may be registered at the place of posting in the United States, and the registry made there will accompany the letter to the place of delivery in Canada.

A certificate of registration will be given by the postmaster if required.

The registration system can be applied to the letter portion of the mail only.

The registration system at that time made no provision for compensation in case of the loss of letters, the small extra fee charged simply indicating that extra care would be taken to secure proper delivery. Evidently at that time the fee was paid in money, and the letters then marked with a handstamp of some sort, for in the Postmaster-General's Report for 1858 we read, “It is also considered that it would be an improvement on the system if the charge for registration were made pre-payable by a stamp, instead of by money as at present.” It is probable that shortly after this the prepayment of the registry fee was indicated by the affixing of stamps of the required value. The report for 1860 refers to the system as follows:—

A rate of charge for Registration so low as, in no probable degree, to operate as a motive, with persons posting letters of value, to deny themselves the advantage of securing from the Post Office an acknowledgment of the receipt of the specific letter, has always been considered to be a cardinal point in the Canadian Registration System.

The Registration fee, or charge, has, therefore, under the influence of this consideration, been maintained at 2 cents, though it is doubtful whether such a rate of charge covers the actual cost of the process; the address of the Registered Letter having, in the course of transmission, to be entered on an average not less than six times, and forms of certificate or receipt, and Books in which to preserve permanent records at each Post Office, to be supplied.

The postal officials were evidently strong believers in the Registration system and lost no opportunity of dwelling on its merits. In his Report for 1864 the Postmaster-General tells of its manifold advantages as follows:—

When a letter is registered, that is to say, marked and recorded in the Post Office so as to individualise it from the bulk of ordinary letter correspondence, its presence in the Post Office can be identified and its course of transmission traced, and a registered letter is thus secured from the chance of abstraction by an unfaithful messenger employed to post it (as it is always open to proof whether the letter was posted for registration or not), from risk of loss by accidental mis-direction on the part of the sender, and from mistakes in the Post Office—such as mis-sending or delivery to a wrong party. Against actual dishonesty on the part of the Post Office employes, a registered letter is incomparably more secure than an unregistered one, for an unregistered money-letter and the nature of its contents are, to any person accustomed to handle letters, as manifest as though the letter had been singled out and marked by the registered stamp. Moreover, the safety of an unregistered letter is dependent on the integrity of a Post Office Clerk during the whole time that it remains in his custody, frequently for hours, or even days; whilst a registered letter will almost invariably have to be acknowledged at the moment of its passing into an officer's hands, and cannot thereafter be suppressed without leaving him individually accountable for its disposal.

At what date the registry system was extended to letters sent to other countries than the United States is not clear but Mr. Howes has succeeded in unearthing a document which shows the rates prevailing in 1865-6:—

The charge for Registration, in addition to the Postage, is as follows, viz.:—

On Letters to any other place in Canada or British North America,

2 cents

On Letters for the United States,

5 cents

On Letters for the United Kingdom,

12½ cents

On Letters for British Colonies or Possession sent via England,

25 cents

On Letters for France and other Foreign Countries via England, an equal amount to the postage rate.

Both the postage charge and registration fee must in all cases be prepaid.

It was not until 1872 that the idea of issuing special stamps for the prepayment of the registration fee was mooted but in the Postmaster-General's Report for that year we read:—

It seems expedient to adopt some distinctive postage stamp to be used only in prepayment of the Registration charge, both to make it clear that this charge has been duly paid and accounted for in every case, and to diminish the risk which is occasionally felt at points of distribution of omitting to carry on the Registration in cases where the ordinary Registration postmark is not as distinct and calculated to arrest attention as it should be.

It has always been the policy of the Canadian Post Office to admit letters to Registration at a low rate of charge for the additional security thus given, so as to leave no adequate motive, on the score of cost, for sending valuable letters through the mails unregistered, and, doubtless, the very large proportion of such letters offered for registration demonstrates a gratifying measure of success in attaining the desired object.

In spite of this recommendation it was not until three years later that special stamps for Registration purposes made their appearance. They were finally placed on sale on November 15th, 1875, and were referred to by the Postmaster-General in his Report for that year as follows:—

Registration stamps have been issued, to be used by the public in prepaying the registration charges on letters passing within the Dominion, or to the United Kingdom or United States, each destination being distinguished by a different color in the stamp, as well as by a variation in the amount of registration charge and corresponding value of the stamp.

There is a red stamp of the value of two cents for the prepayment of the registration charges on letters within the Dominion.

There is a green stamp of five cents value for registered letters addressed to the United States.

There is a blue stamp of eight cents value for registered letters addressed to the United Kingdom.

These stamps are to apply exclusively to the registration charges and the postage rates on registered letters are to be prepaid by the ordinary postage stamps.

It is believed that the use of these distinctive stamps for the registration charges will tend to give registered letters additional security against the risk which is sometimes felt of the registration escaping observation, when such letters are dealt with hurriedly or handled at night, whilst passing through the post.


These registration stamps were not only of distinctive design but also of distinctive shape so that they were readily recognised from ordinary postage stamps. They are long, narrow labels and the design is the same for each. On an engine-turned background the word “REGISTERED” in large uncolored Roman capitals is curved prominently across the centre. Below is “LETTER STAMP”, also curved but in smaller letters, while above is “CANADA” on a straight label in still smaller lettering. At each end are tables containing the value in words reading up at the left and down at the right, and in the upper corners are large uncolored numerals plainly denoting the value. Like all other Canadian stamps they were printed from line-engraved plates on unwatermarked paper. They were at first printed in sheets of fifty in ten horizontal rows of five stamps each. Mr. Howes describes the marginal details as follows:—

The imprint was the same as the second type employed for the small “cents” issue—“British American Bank Note Co. Montreal” in a pearled frame—and likewise appeared four times on the sheet, as already fully described in the chapter dealing with that issue. The denomination of the stamp was also expressed as TWO CENTS, in the shaded Roman capitals which we found in the case of the postage stamps, over the first stamp in the top row of that value, but with the 5 cent the word FIVE alone appears. The 8 cent we have not seen. On the 2 cent there is also a large numeral 2, 7½ mm. high, over the last stamp in the top row (number 5) but the 5 cent has none.

The stamps were ordinarily perforated 12, like the then current postage stamps, but the 2c in orange and the 5c in dark green are both known entirely imperforate.

The Postmaster-General's Report for 1877 stated that “the registration charge on registered letters between the United Kingdom and Canada has been reduced from 8 cents to 5 cents”. This, naturally, largely reduced the demand for the 8 cents stamp though it is probable that the 8c rate still applied to foreign countries. Shortly afterwards (the exact date has not been traced) the registration fee on letters to all foreign countries was reduced to 5 cents so that the use of the 8c denomination was entirely abolished. The stamps in the hands of postmasters were called in and destroyed and by examining the official figures relating to the numbers originally issued and those destroyed Mr. Howes estimates that about 40,000 of these 8c registration stamps were used.

In 1889 a general revision of postal rates took place, as already explained in Chapter X, and one of these changes affected the registration fee. The domestic fee was raised from 2c to 5c so that the registration charge was uniform and was 5c on letters sent anywhere. This, of course, did away with the usefulness of the 2c registration stamps but, as indicated in the official circular, “for the present, and until further instructed, the registration fee maybe prepaid by using the 2 cent Registration stamps and postage stamps to make up the amount.”

The Postmaster-General's Report for 1889, in referring to the advance in the registration charge, says:—

The charge for the registration of a letter, parcel, book or other articles of mail matter was also made uniform, and fixed at 5 cents for all classes of matter. The frequent delay consequent upon the prepayment of a wrong registration fee will no longer take place.

The removal of the printing establishment of the British American Bank Note Company from Montreal to Ottawa resulted in some marked changes in the shades of the then current postage stamps as we have already shown in a previous chapter. The registration stamps were also affected in some degree the 2 cents value, in particular, appearing in a number of new and brighter tints. The 5c appeared in blue-green—a distinct contrast from the green and yellow-green shades previously current.

In 1892 some of the postage stamps, it will be remembered, appeared in sheets of 200 instead of 100 as formerly. About the same period new plates were made for the 5c registration stamp, these containing one hundred impressions in ten rows of ten, instead of fifty as before.

On August 1st, 1893, a regular postage stamp of the denomination of 8c was issued for the purpose of paying the postage and registration charge and the appearance of this sounded the death knell of the special registration stamps. The supplies in the hands of postmasters were used up and when exhausted no more were printed.

Much has been written regarding the 2c registration stamp printed in brown. These were originally found at the Miscou Light House Post Office in New Brunswick and though the stamps were in an unmistakably dark brown shade it has since been satisfactorily proved that the change was quite accidental and that immersion in peroxide would restore them to their original color. Although the Postmaster of the above named office is said to have stated that the stamps were in brown when he received them there is little doubt he must have been mistaken. Much the same thing happened in connection with the current six cents United States stamps at an office on the Pacific Coast (San Pedro). Some of these stamps were found in a distinct brown shade almost exactly matching that of the 4c value and though some local collectors had dreams of a rare error of color it was easily proved that they were simply oxidised.

Reference List.

1875-89. Engraved and printed by the British American Bank Note Co., Montreal or Ottawa. No wmk. Perf. 12.

  • 104. 2c  vermilion, Scott's Nos. 151 or 152.

  • 105. 5c  green, Scott's No. 153.

  • 106. 8c  blue, Scott's No. 154.