Barrie philatelist researching retailers’ letters from Santa

By Jesse Robitaille

Barrie philatelist Dave Hanes is researching Canadian letters from Santa Claus for a forthcoming book slated to be published by the British North America Philatelic Society (BNAPS).

Hanes is compiling a listing of letters from Santa sent via iconic Canadian retailers T. Eaton Company (commonly known as Eaton’s) and the Robert Simpson Company (known as Simpsons since 1972).

“It’s history that a lot of people have seen, but they’ve never taken any great interest in it,” said Hanes, who has been a member of the Philatelic Specialists Society of Canada (PSSC) for about a decade. “I’m getting older now, and I’d like to see this stuff recorded for posterity.”

Eaton’s Toyland, which was the retailer’s fifth-floor Christmastime toy section, began writing letters from Santa as early as 1909. The earliest known letter – “so far,” added Hanes with cautious optimism – was written on Eaton’s letterhead.

“That’s the earliest I’ve been able to find, but I also have two that came out just after that, on eight-inch-by-13-inch sheets of paper, but they weren’t dated.”

By 1913, letters were being written on eight-inch-by-10-inch sheets of paper and sent out in envelopes.

“The envelopes have mostly been destroyed, but some have been found,” said Hanes.

A decade later, Eaton’s dropped the envelope and began folding the letters, to which they would affix a pre-cancelled stamp, which offers insight into the respective letter’s date.

“This practice continued into the 1960s, when Eaton’s stopped the letters.”

In 1928, the first letter from Santa appeared from Simpson’s Toyland. In 1930, a second issue by Simpson’s was released, this on a postcard from Santa. Nothing further has been reported from Simpson’s, Hanes said.

INSPIRED BY LATE DEALER

Hanes’ research into letters from Santa began several years ago, when late dealer Bill McCann, author of the Standard Catalogue of Canadian Booklet Stamps, showed him an early letter from Santa complete with the envelope.

“It was a 1918 letter from Santa, and it was a beautiful thing, so I more or less kept my eyes open for others,” said Hanes, who added he’s acquired “a few odds and ends” since then.

Hanes’ collection includes about 15 different letters from Santa, but he also has scans of other collections, including that of Tony Shaman, former editor of The Canadian Philatelist.

In 1982, Shaman published Letters from Santa – A Catalogue of Canada Post Santa H0H 0H0 Stationery, which offered a listing of contemporary letters from Santa, which are commonly referred to as the “Ho, ho, ho” letters in reference to the iconic postal code used by Santa to this day.

After referencing Shaman’s book, Hanes contacted the author to tell him he owned earlier letters from Santa sent in decades past. Hanes even offered to work with Shaman on compiling a listing of earlier letters; however, one area of concern for Shaman was dating the various items.

“You don’t know for sure, year by year, but you can go by era,” explained Hanes. “The various pre-cancelled stamps are the only way the letters can be dated. By checking the stamp, you can get a rough estimate of when these letters were used.”

ABOUT 51 LETTERS RECORDED

Including scans copied by the City of Toronto Archives, Hanes has about 51 letters from Santa recorded so far. Interestingly, only eight French-language letters have been reported with the majority being from the 1940s and ’50s.

Hanes said the earliest known French letter (provided by one of Shaman’s scans) was from 1930.

“I’m saying 1930 because it has a Arch stamp. That’s the earliest that I’ve been able to find, but then again there could’ve been more.”

“We’re quite short on the French ones, but I’ve gone through to three of the main clubs in Québec, and the editors of their publications, to request to publish this,” said Hanes, who added he’s also contacted The Royal Philatelic Society of Canada and its bimonthly journal The Canadian Philatelist; the Canadian Philatelic Society of Great Britain; the American Topical Association; and the aforementioned BNAPS, which has agreed to publish Hanes’ book.

He also has additional scans of Canadian letters from Jim Balog, of the U.S.-based Christmas Philatelic Club, which issues a quarterly publication known as The Yule Log.

OTHER AREAS OF INTEREST

Other areas of Hanes’ interest include first-day covers of Canada’s various Christmas issues, which began in 1964.

Yet another speciality includes Canadian astrophilately.

On Dec. 13, Hanes participated in the PSSC’s single-frame exhibit competition with about a dozen other exhibitors displaying 16 pages each.

“I’ve got 16 pages on ‘Canada in Space’ ready to go,” he said, adding this will be a warm-up for Orapex 2018, where he will enter his astrophilately exhibit as well as re-enter his “Camp Borden 1916-2016” exhibit, which earned a vermeil at Orapex 2016.

“For years I’ve collected military,” explained Hanes, who added next year’s Orapex theme is “the military.”

He’s also the author of Postal History of Camp Borden, 1916-2016, which was published by BNAPS in November, as well as various articles in philatelic journals.

Although the hobby’s future remains up in the air, Hanes said it’s important to ensure as much information is recorded for future philatelists as possible.

“There are still quite a few stamp collectors around, but we seem to be dying off. Young people don’t have the same interest, but who knows what will happen in five or 10 years.”

To contact Hanes about his ongoing research, email dhanes@sympatico.ca.

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