site logo

The “maple Leaf” Issue Of 1897

Soon after the printing contract was awarded to the American Bank Note Company it was rumoured that a new series of stamps would be issued, but for a time public expectations of the new stamps were overshadowed by the appearance of the Diamond Jubilee issue. A cutting from an Ottawa paper dated September 28th, 1897, shows, however, that preparations for a new set were well in hand, viz.:—

The design for a new postage stamp has been app

oved by the Postmaster-General. There is a portrait of Her Majesty as she appeared at the coronation, except that a coronet is substituted for a crown. The portrait has been engraved from a photo procured during the Jubilee ceremonies, and upon which was the Queen's own autograph, so that it is authentic. The corners of the stamp will be decorated with maple leaves, which were pulled from maple trees on Parliament Hill and engraved directly from them. Everything indeed is correct and up to date, and the new issue will reflect credit on Mr. Mulock's good taste. The engravers will take care to make this permanent and ordinary issue a tribute to their skill. The present stock of stamps it will take some months to exhaust, and not till they are done will the new stamps be issued. It may be about November of this year.

About a month later a circular was addressed to postmasters announcing the issue of the new stamps as follows:

Circular to Postmaster.

New Issue of Postage Stamps, Etc.

The Postmaster-General has made arrangements for a new issue of postage stamps, letter cards, stamped envelopes, post cards, and post bands. These will be supplied to postmasters in the usual way. Postmasters are, however, instructed not to sell the stamps of any denomination of the new issue until the stamps of the corresponding denomination of the present issue are disposed of. The filling of requisitions by the Postage Stamp Branch will be regulated by the same principle—that is to say, no item of the proposed issue will be sent out until the corresponding item of the present issue has been exhausted.

To conform to the requirements of the International Postal Union the color of the new 1c stamp will be green and that of the 5c stamp a deep blue.

R. M. Coulter,

Deputy Postmaster-General.

Post-Office Department, Canada.

Ottawa, 25th October, 1897.

The Postmaster-General's Report for 1897, issued after the stamps had made their appearance, also refers to the new issue and to add completeness to our history we extract the following:—

Owing to the change of contract for the manufacture and supply of postage stamps, a new series of stamps became necessary at the beginning of the present fiscal year. New stamps ranging in value from the ½c to the 10c denomination (inclusive) were printed, and the first supplies thereof sent out to postmasters as the corresponding denominations of the old stamps became exhausted. A considerable quantity of the higher values of that series (15 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents) remaining over from the late contract, these three stamps continued to be issued, so that the department, previous to the introduction of the same denominations in the new series, might, in accordance with the universal practice, dispose of the old stamps in each case, before issuing any of the new. The design of the new stamps is of a uniform character, and consists of an engraved copy (reduced) of an authorized photograph of Her Majesty taken during the Diamond Jubilee year. This, placed within an oval bearing the usual inscriptions, is enclosed within a rectangular frame, a maple leaf on a lined ground occupying each of the triangular spaces between the two frames. To conform to the regulations of the Universal Postal Union, the color of the new 1 cent stamp is green, and that of the 5 cents a deep blue. This necessitated corresponding changes in the colors of the other stamps of the new series; for example, purple instead of green being selected for the 2 cent denomination, and orange instead of slate for the 8 cent.

The first denomination of the new series—the ½ cent—was placed on sale on November 9th, 1897. About the end of the same month the 6c made its appearance, and this was quickly followed by the 1c, 2c, 5c and 8c in December. The 3c and 10c were issued early in January, 1898, so that official instructions that the new stamps were not to be issued until the supplies of the old issue were exhausted were fully carried out, though all values were on sale within the space of about three months.


The design of the new stamps is at once simple and effective. In the central oval is a three-quarter face portrait of Her Majesty, with head to left, which was copied from a photograph taken by W. & D. Downey, of London, at the time of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Around the oval is a band of solid color containing the words CANADA POSTAGE above and the value in words below, all being in Egyptian capitals. The spandrels are filled with a ground of horizontal lines on which maple leaves rest. While, as Mr. Howes observes, “much criticism was engendered by the fact that the portrait was too large for its frame, making the design appear cramped,” public verdict, as a whole, expressed unqualified approval of the new design.

The stamps, like those of the preceding issues, were printed from line-engraved plates and, with one exception, these plates contained one hundred impressions arranged in ten horizontal rows of ten each. The exception referred to occurred in the ½c, the first plate for which contained 200 stamps, arranged in ten rows of twenty stamps each. This is mentioned in the Weekly Philatelic Era as follows:—

By some misunderstanding the contractors, the American Bank Note Co., set the sheet up with 200 stamps, and the first five hundred sheets were so printed. The sheets were afterwards cut in two through the imprint, and we have these half sheets with a close imperforated margin on either the left or right edge. Afterwards sheets of 100 stamps were issued, all the stamps perforated on all four sides. Plate number collectors will find the earliest sheets difficult to obtain. Both sheets bear the plate number 1.

The imprint on the sheets followed the plan originated with the Jubilee series, “OTTAWA—No—1,” etc., being placed in the centre of the top margin. Each value began with No. 1 and apparently for the 5c, 6c, 8c, and 10c the one plate sufficed. For the ½c, as we have already shown, there were two plates, both numbered “1”; while for the 1c there were two plates, for the 2c, three plates, and for the 3c, six plates.

The stamps were printed on stout white wove paper, similar to that used for the Jubilee stamps and at some time or other a slightly thinner and more brittle paper seems to have been used. The paper for the 5c is of a distinctly bluish color—this being the first occasion on which colored paper was used for any of the postage stamps of the Dominion.

The perforation was the regulation gauge of 12, which has been in continuous use since 1858, and, as the Philatelic Record stated when first chronicling the issue, “many of the stamp are badly centered, a characteristic defect of the American Bank Note Company's work.” The 5c is known entirely imperforate.

Reference List.

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

  • 52.  ½c  black, Scott's No. 66.

  • 53.  1c   green, Scott's No. 67.

  • 54.  2c   purple, Scott's No. 68.

  • 55.  3c   carmine, Scott's No. 69.

  • 56.  5c   dark blue on bluish, Scott's No. 70.

  • 57.  6c   brown, Scott's No. 71.

  • 58.  8c   orange, Scott's No. 72.

  • 59.  10c  brown-violet, Scott's No. 73.