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The “officially Sealed” Labels

Although “officially sealed” labels cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered as postage stamps or, indeed, of having any philatelic significance yet they are collected by many, in common with adhesive registered labels, as having an interest owing to the fact that they are visible evidence of one phase of the working of the post office. The “officially sealed” labels used by the Canadian Post Office seem to have been first recorded in the latte

part of 1879. The first type consists of a rectangular label, measuring about 25½ by 38 mm. on which the words “OFFICIALLY SEALED” are shown straight across the centre. Above this, in a curve, is the inscription “POST OFFICE CANADA”, while below, in a similar curve, is “DEAD LETTER OFFICE”. The border consists of a handsome piece of engine-turned engraving. These labels were normally perforated 12 but they are also known entirely imperforate. Much misconception existed as to the use of these labels until Major E. B. Evans, when visiting Canada in 1889, took the opportunity of finding out exactly for what they were used. The results of his investigations were published in the Philatelic Record for November, 1889, and as the article is full of interest we need make no apology for reproducing it in extenso:

When I was in Canada last July I made special enquiries about these labels, as there appeared to be some mystery about their use. Everyone agreed that they were not placed upon all letters opened at the Dead Letter Office and returned to their senders, and no two persons seemed to have quite the same theory as to the rules for their employment or non-employment in any particular case. Even gentlemen connected with the Post Office at Halifax, such as Mr. King and others, could give me no definite information. I therefore determined to see what I could do at headquarters in Ottawa.

Fortunately, I was able, through a collector in an official position, to obtain an introduction to the Deputy Postmaster-General, who most kindly gave me the following particulars, which show that the employment of the officially sealed labels is very restricted, thus accounting for their rarity.

Letters in Canada, as in the United States, very frequently have on the outside the well-known notice containing the address of the sender, and a request that the letter may be returned if not delivered within a certain time. These, of course, are not opened at the Dead Letter Office, and in fact, I think, are ordered not to be sent there, but are returned direct from the office to which they were originally addressed or from the head office of the district. On the other hand, those that have no indication of the address of the sender on the outside are sent to the Dead Letter Office, and there necessarily opened; but neither of these classes thus properly dealt with is considered to require the officially-sealed label. It is only if one of the former class, having the sender's name and address on the outside, is sent to the Dead Letter Office and there opened in error that the officially-sealed label is applied, to show that such letter has been opened officially, and not by any unauthorized person. Whether these pieces of gummed paper ever had a more extended use or not I cannot say, but I was assured that the above was the substance of the regulations as to their employment.

The Deputy Postmaster-General further stated that there had been so many requests for specimens of these labels that the Department had been obliged to make it a rule to turn a deaf ear to all of them. In any case they are not postage stamps, properly speaking, at all. They indicate neither postage paid nor postage due, but simply that the letters to which they are attached have been opened by proper authority, and they at the same time afford a means of reclosing them.

About 1905 a label of new design was introduced, this, of course, being the work of the American Bank Note Company. These are larger than their predecessors and are very handsome labels. In the centre is an excellent portrait of Queen Victoria, adapted from the “Law Stamps” of 1897, with “CANADA” in heavy uncolored Roman capitals curved above, and, at the top, the words “OFFICIALLY SEALED” in letters so graded that the tops form a straight line, while the bottoms follow the curve of “CANADA”. Under the portrait the words “DEAD LETTER” are shown on a straight label which extends right across the stamp, while below this is the word “OFFICE” on a curved tablet. The spaces at the sides and the bottom are filled with elaborate foliate ornaments and engine-turned work. These labels are also perforated 12 and exist on two kinds of paper. Until about 1907 the paper was of a pale blue color while subsequent printings have been on ordinary white paper.

Reference List.

1879. Engraved and printed by the British American Bank Note Co.

(No value) deep brown.

1905-7. Engraved and printed by the American Bank Note Co.

(No value) black on blue paper.

(No value) black on white paper.