All Nations marks 1,300 auctions with cover, contents from Canada’s first PM

All Nations Stamp & Coin, based in Vancouver, B.C., hosted its 1,300th weekly auction in February.

Unlike the company’s past milestone auctions, this one was the first held without floor bidding, something lost throughout most of the COVID-19 era.

“Thirteen-hundred auctions is 26 years of weekly sales,” said All Nations owner and auctioneer Brian Grant Duff. “Vancouver used to have four different bidboard auctions on Saturdays where clients could attend and write in their bids. As the bidboards grew, they became live auctions. Eventually, the bidboards became full-fledged auctions.”

With the advent of the Internet, the firm’s online services grew “as more people could participate remotely,” Duff added, “and not just by fax or phone.”

“During the pandemic, the auction floors disappeared, to be replaced by more of a traditional mail-order style auction. Canada Post persisting and a revamped smartphone-friendly auction page helped us to pivot to just doing weekly online auctions during the pandemic.”

During the pandemic, Duff has also seen more bidders and more overall bidding.

“Inactive clients have returned to their hobbies, although the dramatic surge in interest has declined from a year ago. Of course, we are fortunate to carry on doing business. We appreciate that not everyone can participate in our auctions due to the challenges they face during the pandemic. We are grateful for the continued support of our long-time clients and the tireless work of Canada Post.”

By using its own website as an auction platform, All Nations has also been able to avoid charging buyer’s premiums and other fees for using credit cards.

“Like bidboards, no buyer’s premium is a Vancouver tradition,” Duff added.

The 150-year-old cover is addressed to John Sebastian Helmcken, then the speaker of the colony of British Columbia.


On Feb. 27, Duff offered 200 lots estimated at about $95,000, with 199 of those lots eventually selling for $121,000 altogether.

Bids came in over the phone and Internet from across North America, Australia, China and India, according to Duff, who told CSN there were “many new bidders and there was good dealer support.”

The sale’s top-earning lot was a 150-year-old cover with contents mailed by then prime minister John A. Macdonald to John S. Helmcken, the speaker of what was then the colony of British Columbia.

Marked “private,” Macdonald’s handwritten letter first mentions the U.S. border near Point Roberts, Wash., which sits south of present-day Vancouver, B.C.

The prime minister then references the San Juan Islands, an archipelago between Washington State and Vancouver Island, which at that time was jointly occupied by British and U.S. forces after the 1859 “Pig War” confrontation, which saw no casualties. It wasn’t until October 1872 when a commission led by German Emperor Wilhelm I decided in favour of the U.S. border preference. Britain withdrew its forces later that year, and U.S. soldiers followed suit in 1874.


The letter is dated March 31, 1871, just three months before British Columbia became Canada’s sixth province.

The cover’s contents included a March 31, 1871-dated letter (below) written by Macdonald to Helmcken.


My dear Sir,

I have your note of the 7th instant reminding me of Point Roberts. I shall bring the matter up at a fitting season.

I read with great interest your interesting speech on the San Juan question, and made some use of it.

Believe me

   My dear Sir

Yours very truly

John Macdonald

The Hon.-

J.S. Helmcken


British Columbia


The back of the cover (shown) includes a red wax seal.

The cover was mailed just three months before British Columbia became Canada’s sixth province on July 1, 1871. Lot 69, which sold for $20,000, was offered as part of late collector Gerald Wellburn’s San Juan Islands collection.

Wellburn’s accompanying page reads: “Letter written by Sir John A. Macdonald in Washington, D.C. when confering with U.S.-B.C.-Canada boundary problems. Dr. Helmcken had been member of British Columbia delegates to arrange terms of Confederation and the Pacific Railway.”

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