By Jesse Robitaille
This is the first story in a multi-part series exploring the recent history of the Unitrade Specialized Catalogue of Canadian Stamps.
An avid collector of modern Canadian stamps and purveyor of all things philatelic, Robin Harris was seemingly made for the role of editor of Unitrade’s long-running stamp catalogue.
Published annually for more than two decades, the Unitrade Specialized Catalogue of Canadian Stamps owes much of its evolution to long-time editor Robin Harris, of Manitoba, who started in that role in late 2004.
“It’s been a joy to be the editor for these last 15 years,” said Harris, who added the previous editor was an employee of Toronto’s Unitrade Associates who “wasn’t involved with stamps.”
There were dozens of updates made to the 2006 catalogue – Harris’ first at the helm – which began shipping in September 2005. A month later, it received a gold medal at Canada’s Seventh National Philatelic Literature Exhibition, which was held in conjunction with that year’s Stampex in Toronto.
“A lot happened that year,” said Harris, who added many “big, significant changes came in 2005 and 2006.”
A long-time collector, Harris is also no stranger to the role of editor. His latest endeavour, beginning in 2018, is editor of The Canadian Philatelist, the bimonthly journal of The Royal Philatelic Society of Canada (RPSC), of which he’s also a Fellow.
“We’re dedicated to the Elizabethan era, and that’s my primary interest – Elizabethan Canada,” he said, adding he’s “a modern Canada collector first and foremost.”
“The ‘Environment’ definitive series of 1977-87 is what I really started with. I really love that and have created an exhibit on that series.”
His collecting roots date back to the late ’60s, when a “long summer” led to Harris asking his late father Robert Harris, who died last year, what he could do to keep busy.
The elder Harris, who would later join the Winnipeg Philatelic Society with his son in 1975, offered him his stamp collection.
Given permission to take whatever he wanted, Harris decided on his father’s U.S. issues.
“I’ve always been a fan of U.S. stamps, and I prepared an exhibit on the American Revolution using those stamps,” he said, adding he’s also fond of Britain’s “Machin” definitives.
“Definitives are the way to go, and Great Britain’s Machin design is a worldwide classic of definitive stamps, but I also like the ‘Penny Black’ stamps.”
By the early 1970s, Harris was already making price lists of both the “Caricature” and “Landscape” definitive series, “thinking we needed a true specialized catalogue in Canada,” he added.
In 1997, he began writing several books on modern Canadian definitives – he’s published seven on the topic of post-1952 Canadian definitives – and soon after received a job offer.
Long-time dealer John Jamieson, owner of Saskatoon Stamp Centre, asked Harris to work for him in Saskatoon, where he moved and worked until 2002.
“I created their website, developed the database – which they still use to this day to track their stock and create invoices – and the background knowledge from the side of the dealer was especially helpful to look at stamps in a different way,” said Harris.
“You look at them for grading purposes a lot differently as a dealer than you do as a collector.”
WORKING WITH UNITRADE
In November 2004, Harris was contacted by Unitrade owner Gino Cassa, who asked him to come on as the company’s catalogue editor.
He worked on his first catalogue – the 2006 edition – throughout the following 12 months.
In the transition from 2005-06, Harris received Unitrade’s digital files through Ventura Publisher, a program made by the Ottawa-based suite software company Corel.
“At the time, I bled Word Perfect. I thought I’d convert it from Ventura to Word Perfect but realized very quickly the size of the catalogue was too big and Word Perfect was not a desktop publishing program,” said Harris, who’s also the webmaster of The RPSC and Philatelic Specialists Society of Canada.
Too “cumbersome” to prepare using Word Perfect, the catalogue has since been created using Adobe InDesign.
Some of the first changes Harris made were to address the catalogue’s various errors.
“Every year, people take the time to read the catalogue looking for mistakes and send me emails on that,” he said, adding the 2005 edition – the one just before he began as editor – mistakenly uses the same image for Scott #664 and #665.
“As I started to convert the catalogue, I noticed how many mistakes there actually were at that time, and I was very deliberate and took a lot of time to ensure there would be no mistakes in 2006,” he said, adding the 2006 edition mistakenly repeated another photo error, this for SC #1979 and #1980.
“Occasionally, I’ll get an email with a mistake that’s been around since the 2006 edition. They linger there, but I appreciate getting those because now, as soon as I hear about it, I make the change immediately so it’s not there in the next year.”
Harris’ website, adminware.ca, is updated regularly and features in-depth information on his areas of specialization, his books and the Unitrade catalogue, including typos, corrections and ongoing updates throughout the year.
In June 2011, he began writing his “Around the World” column with CSN, detailing international new issues.
The series’ next story will highlight the Unitrade catalogue’s yearly updates made by editor Robin Harris beginning in 2006.