By Jesse Robitaille
Saskatoon Stamp Centre (SSC), a long-time staple of Canada’s philatelic community, is closing its doors after more than 55 years in business.
Owner John Jamieson opened up shop as a retail store in 1965 before moving the mail-order business, something he supplemented by having a presence at major shows and conventions. All the while, Jamieson specialized in mostly high-quality Canadian and British North American stamps while making a name for himself with what he called “the unusual.” Compared to regular issues, even scarce ones, he deemed philatelic errors and varieties “far more interesting.”
“I tended to focus on unusual stuff, and it paid off. When I first got into the business, we had a retail store, and people would come in and ask for things – and they weren’t asking for Bluenoses,” Jamieson said, referring to Canada’s popular 1929 stamp honouring the iconic Nova Scotia schooner. “They were usually asking for something a little more obscure – rare, but not valuable. And I thought, ‘People are looking for these things because they don’t have them. They can’t find them, but why can’t they find them?’
“It’s because they really are truly scarce. I decided that having the unusual was a better way of making more sales.”
A bustling business with 12 employees at its peak, SSC downsized as Jamieson stopped staffing booths at most of the stamp shows and instead focused on the company’s mail-order business.
“Our business certainly has slid, but our business was originally built on stamp shows locally and further afield. That’s where I met people, and I met people who were looking for things. I took want lists and tried to find them and succeeded to some extent, so that’s where we built our client base originally.”
After building the company’s client base over several decades, Jamieson decided to move away from the show business as his costs began exceeding any income he would bring in at shows with dwindling attendance figures.
“Stamp shows were always a place I went to not thinking I was going to get rich but hoping to meet one or two new people. That’s where we got our client base from, doing that for decades, and I actually got to a point in the stamp business where I was reasonably successful and had lots to do. But later on, when it all kind of tapered off, it wasn’t as fun anymore.”
Jamieson’s retirement comes on the heels of a combination of contributing factors, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been doing this for 56 years, and that’s enough,” said Jamieson. “But the last year and a half have been really boring. There’s nothing happening, and you can’t go to shows – you can’t do anything – and that caused me to bring up the tough topic of, ‘Why are we still here?’ It all came of boredom.”
Overall, Jamieson is happy with a lifetime spent selling, buying and often reselling stamps.
“The stamp business has been a hell of a lot better than working for a living. We’ve had lots of fun and met lots of good people all over the place.”
Through his career, Jamieson handled “every stamp worth owning” as far as Canadian philately goes. He sold a unique black essay produced by Toronto engraver John Ellis for what would be the first stamp issued in present-day Canada, the three-penny “Beaver” (Scott #1). He also sold the only privately owned Beaver stamp die proof in black. Among the errors, he purchased and sold an iconic foldover error pane on the 1982 Christmas issue (SC #973), something he once called “Canada’s most amazing error.”
But when asked about his favourite item, Jamieson mentioned one in particular.
On several occasions, he sold a full sheet of Canada’s eight-cent registration stamp (SC #F3), which the British American Bank Note Company printed in 50-stamp sheets before the Post Office Department released them on April 21, 1876.
“That was a pretty impressive thing,” Jamieson said of the sheet. “It’s the only one there was – it’s the only complete sheet – and it’s a lovely stamp to begin with.”