Stamp designs seminar entertaining, revealing

By Ian Robertson

When it comes to subjects considered for Canadian stamps, as the Rolling Stones song goes: “You can’t always get what you want.”

But that doesn’t mean people should stop submitting ideas.

It may take time for approval, but dozens of topics are featured annually and catalogues clearly show expanded themes in recent decades.

Various tests are applied by Canada Post staff and Citizens Advisory Committee appointees, explained Jim Phillips, Ottawa-based director of stamp services, during a seminar at the National Postage Stamp and Coin Show in Mississauga, Ont. on March 25.

Commemoratives and definitives often require two years of planning.

Obvious exclusions include proposals considered criminal, in bad taste, overly foreign based and blatant commercial advertising.

Businesses have been featured, including in sponsored Prestige Booklets, but they were judged to have contributed to Canadian culture.

Some themes have wide appeal, including an individual’s contributions, entertainment, inventions, sports, scenery, community organizations, birds and animals past and present, medical achievements, political and religious leaders, plus planes, trains, automobiles and treks to the stars.

Historic sites and events are always popular. Most recently, the Vimy Ridge commemorative issued April 8 honours Canadians who fought there in 1917, with thousands remaining forever beneath the battle-scarred hillside landscape in France.

Other submissions promoting lesser-known subjects have succeeded, though not always immediately.

Another major factor is stamp sizes, shapes and colours. Several designs are commissioned, but what looks good in a large format may not appeal when reduced. Most participants agreed with final choices shown at the seminar, but some preferred several examples of rejected stamp art.

Anniversaries spark special interest. The 150th year of Canada’s founding will, of course, be featured on 2017 stamps, though Phillips said details remained under wraps. Asked if a commemorative would feature a 1967 painting of all delegates to the three pre-Confederation conferences, he got a few disappointed sighs after disclosing Canada Post decided it was too large for a Sesquicentennial stamp.

Based on an 1883 Robert Harris painting, a three-cent 1917 commemorative issued for the 50th anniversary did not show all of the 1864 Charlottetown, P.E.I. conference attendees, those at the Quebec city conference later that year, or the one in London, England in 1866. Some of the 36 ‘Fathers of Confederation’ were at only one or two sessions.

A 1927 two-cent commemorative included more figures, and a 1935 13-cent definitive showed the first 25 delegates, but another 32 years passed before 37 participants — including their secretary, Hewitt Bernard — were featured in a painting. Showing 34 figures, the Harris original was destroyed when fire gutted Parliament Hill’s centre block in 1916. An updated depiction was completed for Centennial Year by artist Rex Woods, who included Harris as a tribute.

Since Canada began issuing stamps in 1851, there have also been a few which left people pondering the motive behind a design or a topic, plus others who theorized about why a suggestion was grounded.

Ironically, in the case of some historic figures, starting with explorer Jacques Cartier on a 10-pence 1855 stamp, artistic license was required since no-known portrait exists.

Whether you like them or not, these tiny pieces of art serve to remind us of our wonderful country’s history. Some are immediately obvious, while others can open doors to reveal more.

Phillips said Canada Post plans to reduce the number of stamps being issued starting next year. That reflects a decline in personal mail, he said.

The post office has also been criticized by more than a few hobbyists for the cost of too many new issues.

Thankfully, ideas will still be considered. Watch for the decisions at post offices near you.

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