OTD: Marco Polo born in Venice

On today’s date in 1254, Italian merchant Marco Polo, known for his far-reaching travels through Asia, was born in the Republic of Venice.

The three-masted wooden clipper ship Marco Polo, which owes its name to Marco Polo – the man – was commemorated by Canada Post in March 1999.

The ship, which launched in 1851 at Saint John, N.B., is depicted on a 46-cent multi-coloured stamp (Scott #1779) plus a souvenir sheet of two stamps (SC #1779a). Printed by Ashton-Potter on Tullis Russell paper using six-colour lithography, the stamp was designed by A. Lee Sackett based on a painting by J. Franklin Wright and has general tagging along each side.

The set’s other stamp – an 85-cent Marco Polo stamp issued by Australia as part of a joint issue – is catalogued as Australia #1631a.


Once hailed as “the fastest ship in the world” the Marco Polo was one of many to come out of the Maritimes during the 19th century.

In 1875, about 500 ships were built in Canada. Three years later, Canada had a merchant fleet of more than 7,000 vessels and ranked fourth in the world among ship-owning nations.

Canada Post also issued a souvenir sheet of two stamps as part of the release.

A souvenir sheet of two stamps (SC #1779a) was also released as part of the 1999 ‘Marco Polo’ issue.

As such, time was a valuable commodity for trans-Atlantic traders, and 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 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 for this stamp, which shows the Marco Polo under sail and leaving Saint John.

Marco Polo, the man, is believed to have died on Jan. 8, 1324 at the age of 69.

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