OTD: Bighorn sheep stamp produced using lithography, engraving

On today’s date in 2018, Canada Post issued an engraved high-value definitive featuring the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Produced by a combination of lithography and engraving (also known as intaglio), the stamp was designed and engraved by Canadian Bank Note Company master engraver Jorge Peral, who son Rodrigo provided the illustration.

“Every artist has different goals,” said the elder Peral, whose work has graced several high-value definitives, other stamps and paper money issued by Canada and other countries.

“I love to make something that the public can appreciate with the bare eye.”

Finding the right level of detail is among the main challenges in creating an engraved stamp: with too little detail, the intricate beauty of a subject – such as the fine fleece of the sheep or the grass bent gently in the breeze – can be lost. With too much detail, it can only be appreciated under a magnifying glass.

As with previous stamps in the high-value series, the bighorn sheep issue incorporates hidden security features.

To read about the series’ security features, click here for the second story in a three-part series exploring the state-of-the-art forensic technology used by the expert committee of the Vincent Graves Greene Philatelic Research Foundation.

The bighorn sheep issue includes a pane of four gummed stamps.


The stamp’s background was created using lithography, the process used to create most modern Canadian stamps.

This base was then overprinted with a four-colour intaglio plate to add the detailed engraving of the sheep, mountains and foliage.

Before 1970, nearly all Canadian stamps were engraved. Lithography was introduced to Canadian postage in 1952 and is now the most widely used production method.

“When the artwork for a stamp is created and approved, experienced engravers employed by the printers of bank notes and other currency accurately transfer the original artist’s design on to a soft steel sheet, called a die, using special engraving tools,” reads a 2010 article on stamp production by Library and Archives Canada.

“Originally, a large number of designs were created using the same dimensions as the stamp, but today the artwork is usually five times larger than the stamp. The dimensions of the engraved ‘mirror image’ are often greatly reduced compared with the original artwork, and this reduction work requires patience and skill on the engraver’s part, because the design must be transferred accurately from one medium to another.

An uncut press sheet with nine four-stamp panes was also issued on Oct. 10, 2018.


The issue includes a pane of four gummed stamps and an official first-day cover (OFDC), both designed by David Craib, of Parable Communications.

Also available as part of the 2018 issue are an uncut press sheet with nine panes of four stamps signed by master engraver Peral; a framed and numbered lithographic print with the stamp signed by his son Rodrigo; and a framed enlargement of the stamp image alongside the actual stamp.

The OFDC was serviced with a cancel from Jasper, Alta.


A four-cent stamp (Scott #324) depicting a bighorn sheep was issued by Canada’s Post Office Department (a predecessor to today’s Canada Post) in 1953.

Designed by iconic Canadian sculptor Emanuel Hahn, the stamp was engraved by Silas Robert Allen and printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company.

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