First of three parts
The big news in 2014, for collectors and mail users alike, was a whopping increase in postage rates.
As announced late in the previous year, money-losing Canada Post intended to increase the price of mailing a 30-gram domestic first-class letter from 63 cents to 85 cents, a 35 per cent hike only if customers bought stamps in bulk, such as in booklets or in rolls.
There was a sly little first-time addendum, however. Beginning March 31, the price of buying a single letter stamp was $1, with a small-format definitive printed for that purpose.
Other rates, of course, also went up: A U.S.-bound letter now costs $1.20 to send, up a mere 10 cents; while the overseas letter or postcard rate, gasp, flew up by 65 cents, to $2.50. A $1.80 rate was introduced for heavier, 100-gram domestic letters.
Costing $2.50 each to mail, I can’t help wondering how many visitors to Canada were posting piles of pretty postcards to pals and relatives back home!
Parcel postage and costs for other services also climbed the mailing ladder.
The fact that profits, primarily from parcel mail, increased this year, did not result in rate reductions, but no one was holding their breath.
In other big news, although some people gnashed their teeth and muttered about rain, sleet, hail and gloom of night not posing the biggest threat to prevent posties from completing their well-appointed rounds, there was also no major hue and cry over the announced removal of residential mail delivery in big cities.
Canada Post said the decision was necessary because letter-mail volumes fell by more than one billion pieces between 2006 and 2013.
While many Canadians twittered the shocking news on portable electronic devices, seniors’ groups and organizations for people with disabilities began objecting and calling their soft-spoken members of Parliament. But the most opposition before truckloads of new “community mailboxes” began to be installed came from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers which, as expected, vowed to file a Federal Court challenge as job cuts loomed and door-to-door service was reduced.
When new postage rates were enacted, the practise of issuing definitives and commemoratives bearing the generic permanent postage symbol was reinstated.
Since all “P” stamps are accepted at the current first-class letter rate, anyone with leftovers from previous years doesn’t have to pay an additional fee.
To prevent people buying stacks of “P” stamps for future use after the rate increase, Canada Post began issuing first-class stamps late in 2013 with the 63-cent denomination restored. Stocks of the permanent-rate stamps were quietly filed away, with some “P” stamps later put back on sale, for 85 cents each, to match the new rate.
For any customers left with unused 63-cent stamps, a 22-cent stamp featuring a monarch butterfly went on sale on March 31.
Like other low-denomination stamps sold to make up various postage rates, the small format, 24-by-20-millimetre definitive is very attractive. Printed on panes of 50, with the butterfly shown against a light-blue background, it was designed by Keith Martin, the graphic designer whose work has been used for the low-denomination insect series since its introduction in 2007. The Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited (CBNC) used five-lithographic colours to produce continuing stocks of the pin-perforated 22-stamp, which has moisture-activated gum. For postal history fans, a cover with a 63-cent stamp and the monarch butterfly “make-up rate” stamp makes a nice collectible. After all, it tells the story of a giant leap in postage rates, the first big one since the late 1970s, when the price of a first-class letter stamp jumped from 17 to 30 cents.
As for the entire 2014 set of 109 different Canadian stamps, based on all formats including perforation varieties, this is the first time since I began my annual year-end reviews that I regarded none as deserving to be placed under a “not-so-pretty” heading.
In other words, I like them all, albeit to different degrees.
Everyone favours styles of artwork that may not match the preference of other people. That’s life.
I make no secret about admiring old-style engraving, but my laurels and darts are balanced as much as possible on a stamp’s appearance and relevancy.
And now, for the rest of the story.
Since post offices around the world are churning out more and more souvenir sheets, Canada Post being no exception, it behooves me to mention that the 24 mini-sheets in 2014 represent an increase of six, compared with 2013, when 18 were released. That, mind you, was four less than in 2012.
With few exceptions, few stamps are now issued in Canada without also being reproduced – with different perforations and gum – on souvenir sheets.
LUNAR NEW YEAR STAMP LAUNCHED 2014 ISSUES
As in most previous years, Lunar New Year stamps were trotted out as the first issues of the year.
In addition to the attractive 63-cent letter rate Year of the Horse commemorative printed on panes of 25, there were booklets of six $1.85 stamps with a different equestrian design, that stamp on a bookmark-shaped $1.85 souvenir sheet, and on a special “transitional” souvenir sheet that included the 2013 overseas-rate $1.85 Year of the Snake stamp.
The Paprika design firm provided the artwork.
The 63-cent stamp shows a dark-red horse in full stride against a white background, with head turned back as the mane and tail reach out like feathers caught in a wind.
A golden horse rears tall against a white background on the $1.85 commemorative. On the embossed mini-sheet, it is positioned below a reproduction of the red running horse from the 63-cent stamp, with a larger silhouette above.
On both stamps released on Jan. 13, gold lettering in Chinese, English and French identify the animal as a “horse” in all three languages.
On the “transitional” mini-sheet, the design of the golden horse on the $1.85 stamp continues below the perforations to include its hindquarters, back legs and tail. Its hooves are touching the $1.85 multicoloured 2013 commemorative. Its inclusion on the more recent sheetlet is a different format from the original issue.
Lowe-Martin and Gravure Choquet combined four litho colours with embossing to produce 2.5 million of the 63-cent stamps, one litho colour and foil stamping for 900,000 of the $1.85 booklet stamps, 400,000 of the $1.85 mini-sheets, and 175,000 of the two-stamp sheetlets.
Two 63-cent stamps sold in booklets of 10, which feature black communities that city officials ordered demolished about half a century ago, despite opposition from residents and their defenders, were issued on Jan. 30 to coincide with Black Heritage Month.
Designed by Karen Smith, of Halifax, based on illustrations by Janice Kun, one stamp shows seven young girls in a posed photograph taken in Africville, set against an illustrated background of homes on the hills in Bedford Basin, in the provincial capital. The community, which was officially recognized by its name in 1867, was dismantled between 1964 and 1970, and its 400 residents were relocated. The Halifax Regional Council, whose successors apologized in 2010 for razing the almost century-old black community, wanted the now National Historic Site for industrial development, citing the poor condition of its housing.
The second stamp features Hogan’s Alley, a four-block Vancouver neighbourhood of mostly black residents, which was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a viaduct.
Artwork showing its buildings and old cars form a background for brown-tinted photographs of Fielding William Spotts, Jr., the first Baptist in western Canada, with veteran cook Nora Hendrix, grandmother of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
The Hendrix photo was provided by her family while the Spotts photo is from the Vancouver Archives.
Photos of the children – back row (left to right), Charlotte (Nonny) Carvery, Judy (Muddy) David, Bernice (Byers) Arsenault, Sylvia Mantley, with Denise (Shingy) Tolliver, Charlotte (Mi) Mantley, and Geneva (Dubadee) Cassidy in the front row, left to right – were used with permission from Africville, Halifax N.S.
Lowe-Martin used five litho colours to print two million of each commemorative.
NETTED BIG BUCKS
Sports commemoratives again took centre ice in 2014, with some attractive stamps and different formats.
My biggest quibble with any of the year’s issues however, is reserved for the pricey duplication of designs featuring top defencemen from the “Original Six” National Hockey League teams.
After the Brooklyn Americans team was disbanded in 1942, the 25-year-old league consisted of the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The number of teams was doubled in 1967.
On Oct. 3, Canada Post released 32 hockey-theme commemoratives, with a total face value of $37.10.
In addition to six “P” commemoratives depicting Tim Horton, Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr, Harry Howell, Pierre Pilote and Red Kelly, an attractive $5.10 pane was printed with two vertical rows of three se-tenant stamps divided by a gutter embossed with the NHL emblem. The players’ team logos were also embossed on the sides.
But wait. There was more.
The design on each of the 32-by-40 mm commemorative was enlarged and reprinted on six monster 52.5-by-79 mm die-cut, peelable self-stick hockey card-like souvenir sheets, each with a $2.50 denomination. To top that off, the 750,000 printed were available only in packs of six, sealed in a foil pouch, which cost $15.
Given the target audience, hockey fans, it is doubtful many of these large overseas-rate souvenirs were used as postage which – traditionally – is supposed to be the purpose for any stamp issue. I saw one set with square postmarks offered on eBay in December, with a $26 US opening bid.
Designed by Avi Dunkelman and Joseph Gault, of MIX Design Group, based on photos provided by the Hockey Hall of Fame, Lowe-Martin used seven lithographic transfer colours to print 750,000 booklets of six, with die-cut perfs and self-stick adhesive. There were 180,000 souvenir sheets produced, with pinhole perfs, moisture-activated gum, plus foil stamping and embossing.
Official first-day covers featuring stamps showing five of the players ranged from 12,000 to 16,000, with the largest number showing Orr commemoratives, which bear a special postmark for Parry Sound, Ont., his hometown.
Dunkelman and Gault also designed seven diecut, self-stick coil format commemoratives featuring NHL team Zambonis. Due to the size of the stamps, each ice-making machine is so small, you can barely make out the team logo, but at least the emblems were larger and easier to read on the ice surfaces.
Printed on rolls of 50, each coil stamp was also reproduced on a $5.95 souvenir sheet.
Lowe-Martin used six lithographic colours to print 40,000 of each coil stamp featuring Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs logos, 30,000 with logos of the Vancouver Canucks, plus 20,000 each with Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames logos. The souvenir sheet press run totalled 200,000.
Since the 85-cent Zamboni coils were printed in rolls of 50, each would cost $42.50, for a total of $297.50 for all seven.
Canada Post, however, also sold them in strips of four and 10 from its philatelic centre, which cost $23.80, or $59.50, respectively, for a set of seven. That offer greatly reduced the overall cost, although a collector still had to pay much more than the $5.95 face value for one of each coil stamp.
There was one other bargain option: The fourth 2014 quarterly pack contained one of each “P” hockey-theme stamp plus the two regular souvenir sheets, costing a total of $22.10, but the $15 worth of six large-format $2.50 defencemen commemoratives/souvenir sheets were not included.
Two “P” letter-rate football-theme stamps were issued on June 19.
One, featuring an Ottawa Redblacks player, was sold in booklets of 10. Small-format coil stamps showing the new team’s “R” sawblade-style logo were produced in rolls of 50, but were also sold in strips of four and 10.
The team was formed this year, following the demise of Ottawa Renegades, a Canadian Football League team that lasted from 2002 until the end of the 2005 season. It succeeded the Ottawa Roughriders, which played from 1876 until 1996.
Designed by Filip Mroz and David Rosenberg, of Bensimon Byrne, based on an illustration by Ron Dollekamp, the CBNC used six litho colours to print 150,000 of the self-stick, die-cut perf booklet stamps. Lowe-Martin used two litho colours to print just 20,000 of the logo-image coil stamps.
In other sports stamp news, three “Pioneers of Winter Sports” were featured on stylish 63-cent commemoratives that went on sale Feb. 3.
Released in booklets of 10, the self-stick, die-cut perf stamps feature Barbara Ann Scott, who won numerous national and international prizes, including gold in women’s single figure skating at the 1948 Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland; Sandra Schmirler, skip of one of Canada’s most successful curling teams, which won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s curling at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games, in Nagano, Japan; and freestyle skier Sarah Burke, whose successes include four gold medals at the 2011 Winter X Games.
Designed by Paprika, a Montreal firm, and based on illustrations by Louis Hebert, each stamp shows the honoured athlete in action.
Lowe-Martin printed 200,000 each of the booklet stamps, using six litho colours for the Scott commemorative, seven litho colours each for the Schmirler and Burke stamps, plus eight colours for a three-stamp $1.89 souvenir sheet, of which 200,000 were produced.
BABY CRITTER SMALL-
FORMAT DEFINITIVES HAVE DIFFERENT PERFS
As mentioned earlier, an additional denomination was added to the annual lineup of new-rate small-format definitives.
Contrary to illustrations in the second 2014 Details catalogue, only one version of the $1 baby burrowing owls definitive was produced for regular mail use, not two.
Showing a trio of the brown-and-white owls standing behind tufts of green grass, Lowe-Martin used five litho colours to print them in rolls of 50, with self-stick gum and all-round die-cut gauge 13.5 perforations. As I reported last summer, the catalogue mistakenly also showed an enlarged version with larger horizontal top and bottom perfs and imperf sides.
The same process was used to produce continuous printings of 85-cent “P” stamps featuring two baby beavers in rolls of 100; a $1.20 U.S.-rate stamp featuring a baby mountain goat; a $1.80 stamp showing two young puffins; and a $2.50 rate stamp showing a young wapiti. The latter three were sold in rolls of 50 and on booklet cards of six, with horizontal top and bottom perfs plus imperforate sides.
They were reprinted on a five-stamp mini-sheet, which also includes the $1 burrowing owls definitive. In addition to having all-round pin-punched 13.4-by-13-gauge perfs and moisture-activated gum, the images are somewhat sharper due to Lowe-Martin using nine litho colours for the press run of 155,000.
The attractive set was designed by Canada Post regulars Monique Dufour and Sophie Lafortune. They used photos of the baby animals by Robert McCaw, John E. Marriott, AllCanada Photos, Lorrie McAllister, Bryan Eveleigh, and Jonathan M. Johnson.
The “P,” $1.20, $1.80 and $2.50 stamps were also sold in strips of four and 10 by the philatelic centre.
Perforations on the coil versions were different than those sold on booklet cards, measuring gauge 8.15-to-8.5 horizontally, and 9.2, respectively.
The “P” stamps were also sold in rolls of 5,000 for use by large-volume mailers, with perfs measuring in gauge 9.2, compared with perf 8.15 on those produced in rolls of 50. On May 1, rolls of 300 and 500 were introduced for commercial customers, with Canada Post saying they did not differ from those produced on larger rolls. W
Series continues in next issue