Any look at modern stamps would reveal that even in a few years, stamps have changed dramatically. If I go back to the Canadian stamps of my youth, I have to admit that very few stand out in my memory. The Wilding definitives for some reason, which is funny because the cameo series came out around the same time I was mastering reading and writing. Another stamp I can remember is the 1965 five-cent Christmas stamp. That’s pretty much it for my youth.
Yet I remember very clearly a set of British stamps issued in 1966 to mark the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest. Granted those stamps, based on the famous Bayeux Tapestries, with scenes of arms, armour, and combat, had a lot more appeal for a young boy, but I think it was also the colour and vitality of the stamps. Face it, in the 1960s, Canadian stamps, while artistically well done, were often somewhat conservative in tone. What I am stating here is pretty obvious. However, in the more recent history there has been a dramatic change, not just in the look and style, but in the content.
At my second Royal convention, held in Halifax, there was a buzz going around that in the coming year a stamp would be issued honouring a living Canadian person. There wasn’t much more than that. Since the intended Canadian Ellen Fairclough was somewhat obscure to most collectors, even knowing her name wouldn’t have meant much without explaining she was the first woman to run the post office. As it turned out, Fairclough died before the stamp was issued and the honour went later in the year to Oscar Peterson. Back then it was a big deal, with room for debate.
Today we have several stamps coming out every year honouring living Canadians and we just take it in stride. We’ve also seen a slow shift away from moose and landscapes to some very different themes. Franklin the Turtle comes to mind. I’ll bet that I’m one of thousands of Canadian parents who read some of those books to their children all the while thinking that it was written in the United States. Now, somewhat late in the process, I discover the truth. Well, at least I found out before I had grandchildren to repeat the same mistake with.
Last year’s religious holiday stamps, dubbed “the ethnics” by many collectors, is another example of an issue that means something to Canadians of today. Artistic innovation is fine, and our stamps are among the most outstanding examples of technical excellence in the world, but if the subject matter doesn’t catch the eye, they won’t appeal to new collectors. My frustration remains the issue of availability. Like most Canadians I don’t buy a lot of stamps, and like most Canadians I usually buy mine at the local drug store. Say what you want, when I was growing up, the nearest post office was downtown and we always bought our stamps at the local pharmacist.
However, then, as now, there is almost no selection. In fact, probably less. Back then there was usually a choice of different values. Today when I ask for a Canadian stamp, I get a flag definitive, and there is just one definitive offered for U.S. and international mail. Putting Franklin the Turtle on a stamp may offer some broad appeal, but only if collectors know how to find them, they won’t do a bit of good to grow the hobby.