On today’s date in 1254, Italian merchant Marco Polo – known for his far-reaching travels – was born in the Republic of Venice.
On March 19, 1999, as part of its Sailing Ship Marco Polo issue, Canada Post commemorated Marco Polo on a 46-cent stamp (Scott #1779) and souvenir sheet of two stamps (SC #1779a). Printed by Ashton-Potter on Tullis Russell paper, the stamp has general tagging along each side.
Once hailed as “the fastest ship in the world” the Saint John, N.B.-built Marco Polo was one of many to come out of the Maritimes throughout the 19th century. In 1875, about 500 ships were built in Canada, and three years later, Canada had a merchant fleet of more than 7,000 vessels and ranked fourth in the world among ship-owning nations.
A SEA OF POSSIBILITIES
As such, time was a valuable commodity for trans-Atlantic traders: ship speed was critical. Launched on April 17, 1851, the Marco Polo was created by James Smith to have the body of a cargo ship above the water line and the configuration of a much-faster clipper ship below. Smith was one of the first builders to meld the two designs. It was, of course, named after the great Italian merchant of the same name.
On May 31, 1851, the Marco Polo left Saint John for Liverpool and set a record by making the passage in 15 days. The ship has been the subject of several paintings, and one, by marine artist J. Franklin Wright, was commissioned by Canada Post for this stamp, which shows the Marco Polo under sail and leaving Saint John.
Marco Polo, the man, died on Jan. 8, 1324 at the age of 69.