On today’s date in 1851, the Province of Canada issued Sir Sandford Fleming’s three-pence Beaver stamp – Scott #1, Canada’s first regular postage stamp.
The stamp, one of the world’s earliest pictorial stamps, is part of a series that also included a 6-pence Prince Albert stamp (Scott #2), issued May 12, and a 12-pence Queen Victoria stamp (Scott #3), issued June 14.
Canada’s first stamp was commissioned when Great Britain turned over postal responsibility to British North America more than 15 years prior to Canadian Confederation. As a way to bolster this new freedom and increasing independence, the Province of Canada issued the 3-pence beaver two months after taking control of the post office.
Today, the gesture might be lost; however, more than 160 years ago, when the tradition was to depict the Queen’s effigy on stamps, Scott #1 was a bold move indeed.
Fleming chose the beaver because of its industrious nature and historical role in the Canadian fur trade. The design was one of the world’s first stamps to portray wilderness, beginning a new Canadian tradition, in which the national symbolic imagery is of nature.
The 3-pence beaver was printed on laid paper, which was produced by spreading paper pulp over a wire sieve, allowing the water to drain. Interestingly, Scott #1 – like most early stamps – lacked perforations, so postal workers would cut them by hand.