My philatelic heroes

Stamp collecting has a bit of a dull reputation.

We all know that it’s true; in fact, I’m not even embarrassed when my friends roll their eyes when I talk about how excited I was to discover a third two-cent Large Queen existed on laid paper.

Anyone who thinks stamp collecting is a dull, boring hobby hasn’t looked at the people.

There are more than a few colourful characters out there, even among philatelists of today. There is a dealer who uses his ex-wife as a reference when meeting new girlfriends, a few rascals, at least one rogue, and some people who have achieved so much.

But I think pride of place goes to some of the great people of the past who gave us the modern post, and by association modern stamps.

I suspect many of you are thinking of reformers such as Sir Rowland Hill, and he is a contender, but for me it boils down to two individuals.

Charles Connel, the New Brunswick postmaster general who put his own image on postage stamps, and Sir William Muclock.

I know it is kind of an odd pairing, but I just like Connel’s boldness; besides, Connel is who showed us what can happen without competent government oversight of postal activities, an issue close to my heart.

Muclock, on the other hand, is a much more positive reformer. A lawyer and politician, he found himself appointed to the cabinet of Sir Wilfrid Laurier as postmaster general in 1896. When he got the job it wasn’t exactly a plum posting. The postal service was losing nearly a million dollars a year, a huge portion of the national budget.

While Muclock started reforms, including firing incompetent and corrupt officials. In fact his dismissal of a politically connected postmaster saw him run into conflict with the prime minister. Muclock reinstated the miscreant, but never forgave Laurier for putting politics ahead of profit.

Muclock decided that lower rates would make the mail more affordable and increase business. He even campaigned for lower rates throughout the British Empire. Nobody thought the idea was a good one, so he went ahead with plans to lower the rate from Canada to Britain. His actions led to a conference of postal authorities and implementation of Imperial penny postage in 1898.

He marked the event with a new stamp showing a map of the world with the British Empire in red, the famous map stamp. Along the way he also was responsible for the transpacific cable linking Canada and Australia, financed Marconi setting up radio service between Europe and North America, and paved the way for regulated telecommunications something he won because he was suspect of private ownership of telephone service in Canada.

In terms of disabilities, Muclock was a century ahead of most Canadians. His other postal reforms included giving free postage for braille materials and books for the blind, and a program to hire the deaf.

He also led the way in corporate responsibility, refusing to accept advertising for patent medicines which made extravagant and improbably promises.

By the time he left the job of postmaster general in 1905, the post office was making a profit of nearly $1 million a year.

He was also involved in the creation of the Toronto Dominion Bank, the Toronto Star, and helped create the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Clearly he was a remarkable man of great achievement. But to be my hero you need a bit of managed insanity.

He pushed a plan to have the Newmarket Canal built in his riding. The canal was impractical and would have been useless most of the year, but its construction poured money into his riding of North York. An obvious case of feathering his own nest, it was cancelled before completion.

His crazy plan never saw completion, but that combination of brilliance and madness is exactly what I look for in a hero.

Who is your philatelic hero? Send a quick note or email to Canadian Stamp News ( telling the story of your stamp collecting icon.

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