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The Special Delivery Stamp

In March, 1884, the Philatelic Record contained the following paragraph:—

We are informed that there is likely to be issued shortly “a new ten cent stamp of special design, which, when attached to a letter, will ensure its immediate delivery to its address at any free delivery office, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 12 midnight.” A similar system has, we believe, been in use for some years in Belgium, where the extra

charge is paid in telegraph stamps.

This was certainly a case of intelligent anticipation for it was not until fourteen years later that a stamp of this character was issued by the Dominion of Canada. The Postmaster-General's Report for 1898 referred to the introduction of the new stamp as follows:—

The calendar year has witnessed the introduction of the special delivery stamp, whereby on the payment of a delivery fee of 10 cents in addition to the ordinary postage, a letter immediately upon its arrival at the office of destination is sent by special messenger for delivery to the addressee.

A special-delivery stamp of the face-value of 10 cents was prepared, and the first supplies thereof were sent out sufficiently early to Postmasters to permit of the inauguration of the special delivery service on the 1st July, 1898. The object of the service is to secure special and prompt delivery of a letter on which a special-delivery stamp, in addition to the ordinary postage, has been affixed.

The new system was dealt with at some length in a circular issued to postmasters under date June 7th, 1898, and as this is of considerable interest we reproduce it below:—

The Postmaster-General has approved of arrangements whereby, on and from the first of July proximo, the senders of letters posted at any Post Office in Canada and addressed to a City Post Office now having Free Delivery by Letter Carriers shall, on prepayment by Special Delivery stamps of the face-value of ten cents, affixed one to each letter, in addition to the ordinary postage to which the same are liable, secure their special delivery to the persons to whom they are addressed within the limits of Letter Carrier Delivery at any one of the following Post Offices in Cities, viz.:—Halifax, St. John, N. B., Fredericton, Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, Brantford, Hamilton, London, Winnipeg, Victoria, and Vancouver. The hours of delivery to be within 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily, except Sunday. These hours are subject to change as dictated by local circumstances. Drop-letters posted for local delivery, and bearing Special Delivery stamps, in addition to the postage, will also be entitled to special delivery in the same manner as letters received at the Post Office by mail.

Registered letters may likewise come under the operations of this scheme of Special Delivery, in the same way as ordinary letters, provided they bear Special Delivery stamps, in addition to the full postage and the registration fee fixed by law, and the regulations respecting the record and receipting of registered matter are observed. In despatching registered letters that bear Special Delivery stamps, the Postmaster should write prominently across the registered-package envelope the words “For Special Delivery.” When Special Delivery letters (unregistered) number five or more for any one office the Postmaster should make a separate package of them, marking it “For Special Delivery”; if such letters are fewer than five, he should place them immediately under the “facing-slip” of the letter-package which he makes up, either directly or indirectly, for the Special Delivery office for which they are intended, so that the most prompt attention may be secured therefor.

Special Delivery stamps will be sold at all Money Order Post Offices in Canada, (which may secure a supply of such stamps in the same way as ordinary stamps are obtained), for which the Postmasters will have to account as they do for ordinary stamps and on the sales of which a total commission of ten per cent. shall be allowed to Postmasters, except to Postmasters having fixed salaries. For the present Postmasters will use the existing forms of requisition in applying for Special Delivery stamps. (The usual discount may be allowed to a licensed stamp vendor at the time that he purchases Special Delivery stamps from the Postmaster). Special Delivery stamps are to be cancelled as postage stamps are cancelled. Stamps intended for Special Delivery are not available for any other purpose, and the article upon which one is affixed must have, besides, the ordinary postage prepaid by postage stamps. Under no circumstances will Special Delivery stamps be recognised in payment of postage or of registration fee, nor can any other stamp be used to secure Special Delivery, except the Special Delivery stamp. Special Delivery stamps are not redeemable.

Letters intended for Special Delivery at any one of the City Post Offices above mentioned, and prepaid as directed, may be mailed at any Post Office in Canada.

The regulations relating to First Class Matter (Inland Post) apply also and equally to Special Delivery letters, the only difference being the special treatment which the latter receive with a view to accelerating their delivery.

The object sought by the establishment of Special Delivery,—namely, the special delivery of letters transmitted thereunder,—will be much promoted if the senders of all such letters are careful to address them plainly and fully, giving, if possible, the street and number in each case. Such care will serve not only to prevent mistakes, but also to facilitate delivery. All employees of the Post Office are enjoined to expedite, in every way in their power, the posting, transmission and delivery of letters intended for Special Delivery.


These special delivery stamps are distinctly different in design from the ordinary postage stamps, the reason for this being, of course, that letters intended for special delivery may be at once identified and their handling facilitated. The stamps are oblong in shape, measuring about 31 mm. by 23 mm. high. The centre consists of an engine turned oval, in the middle of which is the word TEN in uncolored block letters on a solid disc of color. Around this is an oval filled with lathe-work and then comes an oval band inscribed “SPECIAL DELIVERY WITHIN CITY LIMITS” in similar lettering to that of the word of value. This, in turn, is enclosed within another oval of lathe-work. The frame shows “CANADA POST OFFICE” in a straight label across the top, while the lower and side borders are filled with lathe-work intercepted at the bottom by a straight label containing “TEN CENTS”, and at each side by a small circle containing the numerals “10.” The spandrels are filled with conventional foliate ornaments. The value and special use of the stamp is thus plainly depicted and letters bearing them are easily sorted from the ordinary mail.

The stamps were, like all other Canadian stamps, printed from line-engraved plates. They were printed in sheets of fifty arranged in ten horizontal rows of five each. The imprint and plate number “OTTAWA——No.——1” are shown in the upper margin above the central stamp. Apparently this original plate is still in use, for no other plate number has yet been recorded.

At first the stamps were printed in deep green, but in January, 1906, the Philatelic Record mentioned a new shade, described as blue-green, and recent printings have been in a very deep shade of blue-green.

The use of these special delivery stamps, though somewhat restricted at first, soon grew steadily in volume, showing that the public appreciated the special service. The Postmaster-General in referring to this matter in his Report for 1899 says:—“The 10 cent Special Delivery stamps, to which reference was made in the last report, came into use at the beginning of the current fiscal year, simultaneously with the commencement of the Special Delivery Service, and of this stamp 52,940 were issued to meet the demands, which would go to show that the service is being availed of to a considerable extent throughout the country.”

Later Reports simply indicate the extension of the service to other offices, though the one for 1908 also concedes that the use of a Special Delivery stamp is not compulsory to secure this service so long as the extra fee of ten cents is prepaid. We read that:—

The regulations respecting special delivery have been so modified that it is no longer necessary for a person despatching a letter which he desires to have delivered immediately, to provide himself with the “special delivery” stamp issued by the department. He may now place upon his letter ordinary postage stamps to the value of ten cents in addition to the stamps required for the prepayment of postage and write across the corner of the envelope the words “special delivery”. This will ensure the special delivery of the letter as provided for in the regulations.

Reference List.

1898. Engraved and printed by the American Bank Note Co., Ottawa. No wmk. Perf. 12.

  • 103. 10c deep green, Scott's No. 160.