‘Spectacular’ lathework to highlight February Eastern Auctions sale

By Jesse Robitaille

The John Smallman Collection of the Admiral Issue of Canada will be offered in a 646-lot sale by New Brunswick’s Eastern Auctions this February.

Described by auctioneers as “spectacular,” the Smallman Collection was assembled throughout four decades and includes extensive examples of strong lathework and imprint multiples.

“Looking at famous Admiral collections of the past and where this would rest, I think it’s certainly in the top three, and I think the lathework is the best that’s ever come to market at one time,” said auctioneer and owner Gary Lyon.

“John was at it for 40 years, and it was a real passion for him. He had a few other collections, but the Admirals were his main focus. He particularly liked lathework, and he always tried to get the strongest impression of lathework that he could find for each variety. He has some extremely rare and even unique things.”


“The star of the collection is undoubtedly lathework chosen for both quality and strength of impression,” said Lyon, who added there are several theories as to why they were used.

“Lathework is usually a fancy design in the lower margin of the sheet. They’re still not really sure why they did it; some people say it was to stop the sheet from flapping when the printing press went up and down, and others say it was used to obliterate previous plate markings like plate numbers and so on. Whatever the reason it got started, people have collected it for a long time.”

In 1916, the Canadian Bank Note Co. – then a subsidiary of the American Bank Note Co. – began engraving stamps with lathework in the selvedge or margins of stamp sheets.

Generally, Lyon said, there are four basic types of lathework (Types A through D) as well as “a couple additional minor types that are rarely seen.”


Among the highlights of the Feb. 23 sale will be Lot 224, a “visually striking mint block of four” 1923 50-cent stamps (Scott #120ii). Displaying “full strength Type D lathework,” this example is the only block with “full strength” Type D lathework known to exist. Described as a “great showpiece and one of the highlights of this collection,” this lot has a catalogue value of $24,000.

The following lot, Lot 225, is another mint block of four 1923 50-cent stamps (SC #120ii) showing “remarkable above-average strength (about 40 per cent) Type D lathework.” Described as “one of the very finest known and easily superior to almost all of the very few existing blocks,” this block has a catalogue value of $15,000.

Lot 226 is a “phenomenal Admiral showpiece” in the form of a single 1923 50-cent stamp (SC #120ii). Described as the “best available [example] combining overall quality, centering and strength of the lathework,” this lot has a catalogue value of $12,000.

“The 50-cent lathework is rare, but to get it with nice strength is extremely rare,” said Lyon. “With these three pieces, there may only be five or six pieces, and this fellow had three of them.”


Other highlights of the upcoming sale of the Smallman Collection is Lot 1, a “fabulous complete set of eight imperforate pairs [four cents to $1], plus the very difficult imperforate pair” of 1916 two- plus one-cent Die II War Tax stamps (SC #MR4c). Each of these imperforates originate from a single sheet, the upper-left pane of 100, from which a maximum of 50 pairs can still exist, according to auctioneers. Described as a “valuable and desirable positional set,” this lot has catalogue value of $46,000.

Lot 95 is an “outstanding mint block of six” 10-cent plum stamps (SC #116) showing rare full-strength Type B lathework. “Easily ranking among the most elusive lathework types,” this example is described as an “excellent showpiece of high caliber” and has a catalogue value of $14,000.

Lot 109 is an “outstanding horizontal strip of four” 1916 two- plus one-cent Die II War Tax stamps (SC #MR4) showing a “very rare and unusually strong impression” of Type B inverted lathework. Again, only a handful of inverted Type B lathework examples are known to exist, and this example is “quite possibly the only one known with clear double lathework,” according to auctioneers. Described as a “beautiful strip in an excellent state of preservation and of the utmost rarity,” this Very Fine showpiece has a catalogue value of $23,000.

Lot 127 is “phenomenal” block of four two-cent stamps, wet printing (SC #132) displaying “unusually complete and full strength Type C inverted lathework.” Described as a “very rare lathework multiple destined for a serious collection,” this lot has an estimate of $10,000.

Rounding out the highlights is Lot 154, an “extraordinary mint horizontal strip of four” 1924 two-cent stamps, wet printing (SC #133), showing the “exceedingly rare” Type D1 inverted lathework.

“This multiple demonstrates the longest uninterrupted lathework known to exist in private hands,” said Lyon, who added it’s “one of the highlights of this important collection and destined for a world-class collection.” It has a catalogue value of $20,000.


Lyon said the Smallman Collection has already seen “a lot of inquiries both from existing customers and from some new collectors as well,” adding these calls have come from around the world.

“Surprisingly – I’m always a bit surprised – they’re not always in Canada; they can call up from the strangest places and tell you that they specialize in something Canadian. That’s been the case with this collection.”

For more information, visit easternauctions.com.

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