Semi-postals serve to help communities

Great Britain funds helped postal workers

The main purpose of stamps, of course, is to prove pre-payment of postage, but sometimes they can do good work for society as well.

That is the case of semi-postals, a special sort of stamp that also raises money for good causes. The concept goes back much further than many collectors realize. In 1890, Great Britain issued the first semi-postal, a postcard with a five-penny surcharge over the penny postage rate. The extra money was put into a fund to benefit postal workers.

The idea caught on quick, and by the early 1900s they were becoming quite popular in Europe. In 1913 Switzerland issued the first semi-postal in the Pro Juvente series.

The series, which supports a charity of the same name that provides programs for children with mental and physical handicaps, continues to this day. The first stamps in the series go back even further, to a group of three 10-centime labels with no postage value and sold through the post office.

The next year stamps were issued and sold for 10 centimes, with half the money paying the postage and the rest going to the charity. In 1936 Switzerland began showing the postage rate and the charity amount as two separate values on the stamp.

During the First World War, semi-postals were issued to raise money for the Red Cross.

Another long-running series of semi-postals is from New Zealand, which issued its first health stamp in 1929.

Modern semi-postals usually follow the format of showing the two values, and although they are valid for postage, most catalogues list them separately as “back of the book” items and not part of the regular stamp issues.

In North America, Canada was the first nation to issue semi-postals, with a series of four stamps issued between 1974 and 1976, to support the Montreal Summer Olympic Games, which were held in 1976.

The government of Canada had committed to paying for the games by selling collector coins and semi-postal stamps. At one point, Postmaster General Andre Ouellete predicted that sales to collectors alone would be sufficient to pay for the games.

The first series (Unitrade #B1-B3), was issued on April 17, 1974, and consisted of three stamps sharing a similar design, a series of Olympic rings forming the Montreal Games logo. Designer Alois Matanovic used the design with three background colours representing the Olympic medals. The stamps were valued at 8+2 cents for bronze, 10+5 cents for silver, and 15+5 cents for gold. The stamps were printed by Ashton-Potter. The post office ambitiously ordered more than 118 million stamps.

The second series was issued in 1975, with decidedly lower production figures.

The Water Sports series was introduced on Feb. 8 and consisted of three stamps with the same values as the earlier series. The multi-colour stamps, (Unitrde #B4-B6) designed by Hal Wallis, showed Swimming, 8+2 cents; rowing, 10+5 cents, and sailing, 15+5 cents. The total production, by Canadian Bank Note Company (CBN), was 64 million stamps.

On Aug. 6, a further three stamps were issued commemorating combat sports (Unitrade B7-B9).

Designed by James Hill, the three stamps showed dramatic views of individual athletes. The commemorated sports were fending, 8+2 cents; boxing, 10+5 cents; and judo, 15+5 cents. CBN again printed the issue, with total production of 53,000.

On Jan. 7, 1976, just six months before the games were to start; a final three stamps were issued (Unitrade #B10-B12). Again designed by Hill, the stamps honoured team sports, but again concentrated on images of individual athletes. The three sports honoured were basketball, 8+2 cents; gymnastics, 10+5 cents; and soccer, with a new value of 20+5 cents. They were printed by Ashton-Potter, with a total production of 39 million stamps.

Even if all the stamps had been sold, the total money raised would have fallen far short of the more than $10 billion the games eventually cost.

After that Canada Post stayed away from semi-postal stamps for another two decades.

In 1996 a new stamp was issued to support ABC Canada’s family literacy programs (Unitrade #B12).

Designed by Debbie Adams, the stamp showed a pair of hands putting together a puzzle, and the inscription “Literacy begins at home” in both English and French. The innovative design had a die-cut hole in the centre, representing the missing part of the puzzle.

It had a value of 45+5 cents, and was produced in booklet panes of 10. Ashton-Potter produced 10 million stamps.

In 2007 Moya Greene, then president of Canada Post, rolled out a new series of semi-postals issued to support mental health programs. Rather than select a specific charity, the Canada Post Foundation for Mental Health was created.

As a way of engaging Canadians, Canada Post launched a public competition both in the design and design selection process. The first stamp in the series was issued in 2008.

The stamps were printed by the Ottawa firm of Lowe-Martin and had the then-new Permanent rate, with a 10-cent surcharge.

In 2012 the program was changed to support a new foundation, the Canada Post Community Foundation, which supports programs for Canadian children and youth. In 2015, the foundation raised more than $1.2 million, which is allocated to registered charities, school programs, and community organizations. Semi-postal stamps continue to be a significant portion of its funding.

Production of the stamps has been low, starting at 10 million and dropping to a third of that in recent years.

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