By Jesse Robitaille
The designation bestowed upon Canada Post’s first-day locations is meant to be an honour, but some collectors are concerned about the Crown corporation’s apparent lack of promotion.
The first-day location for the recent Flowers issue was Waterdown, Ont., which is near the Royal Botanical Gardens; however, according to collector and North Toronto Stamp Club webmaster Leon Matthys, post office staff in Waterdown were unaware of the honour. There was no first-day ceremony and no first-day postmark available at the Waterdown Post Office on 17 Main St. N.
“This echoes my own recent discoveries,” said another long-time collector, Wayne Adam, of Toronto. “In November, the secular Christmas stamps were issued at Cardinal, Ont. No one there knew about it.”
Earlier this year, on the day of issue for the “From Far and Wide” stamps, Adam said he called the post office in Leamington, Ont., which was chosen as the cancel location for the definitive marking Point Pelee’s 100th anniversary.
“They had no clue they’d been chosen as the first-day city, had no FDCs (first-day covers) and no postmark,” Adam said, adding this means Canada Post’s official first-day covers (OFDCs) have “with limited exceptions come to symbolize that nothing ever happened at the first-day location, and that even postal staff are not made aware of the honour.”
“It wouldn’t take much to send each town a bulletin, would it,” he said, “or to have the first-day postmark available at the counter on the day?”
Canada Post Director of Stamp Services Jim Phillips said the “honour of being selected as the cancellation site for a stamp does not entail anything specific – nor does it require any special action by the chosen post office.”
“The site is simply featured as an added honour to reflect the fact that the community holds a special connection with the stamp subject,” he said, adding all OFDCs issued for the stamp bear a “special” cancellation mark featuring the post office’s location; the issue date; and “in some cases” an image of relevance to the stamp subject.
“For example, for the Star Trek series, one of the first-day cancellation marks featured a shuttlecraft.”
The cancellation locations are chosen because they share a “special connection to the stamp subject itself,” according to Phillips.
“For example, a stamp issued to honour a prominent Canadian might have that person’s birthplace as its first-day cancel site,” he said, adding Canada Post’s recent hockey issue featured cancels from each of the players’ respective birthplaces. “There must also be a post office at the cancel location, the site of which would appear on the cancellation mark.”
Phillips said all of Canada Post’s retail outlets, including its post offices, receive “regular material,” including Details magazine and the Focus on Retail Sales newsletter, both of which indicate the date and location of issue for all new stamps in advance of their launch. Details is issued between eight and 10 times a year while Focus on Retail Sales is released bi-monthly.
“Post offices have their own cancellation marks, and while they will also have copies of the official first-day covers for sale, they do not have the ‘special’ first-day cancel at their location as all first-day covers are cancelled centrally and in limited quantities,” he said, adding all first-day-of-issue cancels are available through the National Philatelic Centre for 60 days after their issue date for a “nominal affixing and cancellation fee.”
“This practice is common in many postal administrations, including the USPS.”
Adam said he was “grateful” Canada Post had Lunar New Year postmarks available at recent sales events in the Greater Toronto Area, although they were not first-day postmarks.
“And they weren’t exactly promoted much,” he said, adding people “need to know about them.”
“That creates interest, demand, more sales. I’m especially thinking of first-day postmarks, which are almost never available in the first-day cities I’ve been to.”
Adam said he previously pushed Canada Post to consider featuring first-day locations other than Ottawa, and to feature them on a consistent basis.
“They used to issue everything in the capital, with postmarks reading ‘Ottawa, Canada’ – a real bugaboo for me,” he said. “Provinces were ignored, and failed to use the ‘city, province’ style, which Canada Post, itself, was asking customers to use, including using the then-new two-letter provincial abbreviations.”
After his “frequent suggestions,” Canada Post began issuing stamps in different locations – although many were still released in Ottawa – and amended the postmarks to read, for example, “Welland, ON, Canada.”
This was followed by another suggestion, this proposing to drop “Canada,” as Adam believed a “simple ‘Welland, ON’” would suffice.
“They eventually dropped the ‘Canada’ and started issuing even more outside Ottawa,” he said. “So now we have a good situation, except that the honour is not effectively communicated – not just to the community selected, but even to postal workers.
First-day postmarks are rarely available at the first-day city, unless it’s an event associated with a stamp show. And the postmarks, of late, have been so small as to approach micro-printing.”
Phillips said whether communities embrace the honour of being selected “varies widely” from one issue to another.
“In some cases, special events are held by community organizations, institutions or individuals to celebrate the issue; however, this is not a standardized or required practice.”