A Case for Modern Stamps - Why Collecting Modern Material is NOT a Poor Choice

A Case for Modern Stamps - Why Collecting Modern Material is NOT a Poor Choice

Anyone who is involved in this hobby for any significant length of time will no doubt have either encountered the perception that the only stamps worthy of serious study or collection are those issued before World War II, or they hold that belief themselves. However, it is my belief that while classic stamps are undoubtedly very appealing and beautiful, collectors who eschew modern material are limiting themselves quite significantly. Of course, if as a collector you simply do not like modern stamps, then there is no reason to collect them. However, I think that it always makes sense to periodically examine one's beliefs and fully understand what drives our perceptions and beliefs. The very process of doing this can result in those perceptions and beliefs changing and opening up new possibilities and opportunities for us in general. Doing this with our collecting can open up enjoyable avenues that before would have gone unconsidered.

Today's post has been inspired by observations I have made while spending a week organizing my modern Canadian stamps, getting ready to list them in my store, as well as my observation that daily readership has fallen since my topic posts have become more modern-centric. I am going to talk a little about my observations surrounding this widely held belief. Then I will discuss some of the many factors that I think drive this belief, many of which are themselves other widely held beliefs. Finally, I will make the case for why collecting modern Canada (i.e. those stamps issued after 1946) can be so enjoyable and rewarding to you as a philatelist.

This Attitude is Not New

The first thing to recognize is that this bias has always existed in organized philately, but the cut-off date keeps creeping forward with every passing decade. It is human nature to romanticize the past and collectors have done this for generations. If you look at literature from the 1950's you will notice that very little attention was paid to stamps issued in the 1890's and onward. Most of the interest at that time was limited to what we would now regard as the hardcore classics: the Pence Issues of Canada, Penny Blacks for Great Britain, the very first issues of the US up to the 1869 Pictorial Issue and so forth. Issues from the 1890's to about 1920 were collected, but not to any great depth. Most material issued after 1920 was treated back then in much the same way as modern post war material is treated today.

By the 1970's and 1980's the focus had shifted from the very earliest classics, which were now beyond the reach of most collectors to material issued between 1870 and about 1900. The early 20th century was just beginning to gain popularity, but not to anywhere near the extent that it is popular today. Material from 1900 to about 1940 was considered very collectible, but again not to any great depth: catalogues did not distinguish printings or shades beyond the most obvious varieties. And, once again material after 1945 was treated as mere postage.

This started to change again by the 1990's and 2000's. During this 20 year period, which is the period during which I came of age philatelically, material from before 1940 was considered worthy of specialist attention and for the first time modern definitive issues like the iconic Machin Heads of the UK began to receive really serious attention from a large body of collectors. Issues from the pre-1940 period in superb quality began to take off in popularity with the best material being offered at auctions where it realized astronomical prices relative to what it had been worth only a decade or two earlier. Issues like the 1938-1954 Prexies of the US, the 1909-1922 Washington Franklins of the US, the 1911-1928 Admiral Issue of Canada and the 1913-1937 Kangaroo and King George V issues of Australia are just a few examples of areas which always had a following of dedicated, forward-thinking philatelists, but whose following until very recently was extremely small in comparison to the following that material enjoys today.

The takeaway? All material is modern when it is first issued. There are no exceptions. The Small Queens and Large Queens were just ordinary postage stamps back in the 1890's. Packet material. There was nothing special about them. There are stories of collectors who in the 1930's were given bags containing hundreds of used 5c Beavers and Large Queens, who found them boring and traded them in for more colourful and exotic modern stamps, which today are worth much less than the stamps they traded in. So every issue has the potential to become a classic at some point in time. With the decline in issue quantities in recent years the potential for very modern issues to become scarce is actually quite excellent because they are getting overlooked.

There are several factors that have influenced philatelists over the years and have served to reinforce this belief that modern material is not worth collecting seriously:

1. There is a belief that modern stamps are too common and will never have any real value.
2. There is a belief that modern stamps are too contrived and philatelic unlike the classic stamps which are believed to have been issued only for valid postal use. Closely related to this is a belief that there are just too many stamps issued nowadays.
3. There is a belief that modern material is too mass produced unlike the old days when everything was done by hand and engraved.
4. Some collectors believe that there is little to interest a specialist unless you are collecting definitive stamps - that there just aren't the same kinds of varieties available in the modern period.
5. A very large majority of collectors believe that modern stamps are a bad investment.
6. There are many who would opine that modern stamps have little artistic appeal.

I'm going to spend some time now, discussing each of these in greater depth and offering a different perspective of my own.

Modern Stamps Are Too Common And Will Never Be Worth Anything

Value ultimately comes down to supply and demand as anyone with a basic understanding of economics knows. The supply of all stamps is fixed and finite at the time of issue, and only decreases over time, as stamps are mishandled, neglected and otherwise lost to philately. Of course, general handling and storage practices have improved greatly over the last 60 years, with the result that the amount of material that is lost to accidental destruction now is probably much less than it was 60 years ago. However, there was a greater number of amateur participants in the hobby 60 years ago and consequently there was a larger demand for the more common stamps than there is today. This means that much of the destruction of material that took place 60 years ago that was not the result of mail being thrown out was accidental. Of course, most non-collectors threw their envelopes from their mail out and didn't save their stamps at all, so the vast majority of used stamps 60 years ago did not survive. But, that element of destruction is probably greater today than it was back then as fewer people know stamp collectors than was the case 60 years ago and therefore fewer non-collectors are taking steps to preserve stamps for collectors that they know or charities that they support than they used to. The long term consequence of this is that many of the modern issues other than the most common first-class stamps are hard to find in nice used condition, particularly on cover. I have said this before, but if you want a truly impossible challenge, pick any country that interests you and try to find all the se-tenant issues and souvenir sheets properly used on in-period commercial covers. I can almost guarantee you that you will never be able to complete such a collection, or if you can, it will take a very, very long time to do.

That is the supply side of things. But what about demand? Demand is influenced by several factors. One is people's tastes in terms of what they consider to have historic or artistic merit and it is these two things that drive most collector interest. People either think the stamps are beautiful, or they are fascinated by the history that the stamps evoke. One reason why very modern stamps tend to be in less demand when first issued is that they do not yet evoke any sense of historic interest because they are too new. Thus it is almost a certainty that this element of demand will develop as time elapses. The stamps of the 1960's can seem like "just yesterday" to a collector in their 80's who remembers when they were on sale at the post office. But those same stamps are very old to someone born in 1980 for example. Aesthetic tastes also change over time and we have a strong tendency to romanticize that which is old. The most recent example I can think of is the 1950's and 1960's modern minimalist aesthetic. I can remember in the early 1980's when buildings were being renovated to rip out all the teak panels , wall to wall carpeting, terrazzo flooring, chrome railings and other elements of design from this period. Today, with TV shows like Mad Men glorifying the era and vintage shops, you regularly see items from this period selling for hundreds and thousands of dollars - stuff that was junk a decade or two before. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a time 20 years from now when the entire concept of anything printed is considered quaint and of interest to people who have spent their entire lives online and in a digital world.

Another driver of demand is fascination with the technical complexity of the stamps. There will always be a small minority of collectors that like the challenge of collecting that which is complex and trying to form a complete collection consisting of one of each possible variety. We have seen this type of demand serve as the driving force behind the increasing  prices being paid for specialized paper, perforation varieties, shade varieties and cancellations on issues which until relatively recently were fairly inexpensive and plentiful. What happened was that a core group of collectors studied these issues and quickly discovered that there was more to them than met the eye. Then they began to pursue the varieties and found over time that while many of them were readily available, there was always that 10-20% of the existing varieties that were highly elusive. That scarcity only served to heighten their interest in the issue at hand because it represented a challenge. It also helped attract other collectors who may not have paid much attention to this material before.

The takeaway here is that every period will always have a very large number of stamps whose value in real economic terms is no greater today, or not much greater than when first issued. Sure, many stamps that could be bought for 5 cents each in 1970 or 1980 are 50 cents or $1 today. But $1 today does not buy very much more than 5 cents bought in 1970, so the relative value of many stamps has not changed that much. But for every period in philately, there are elusive varieties that are valuable and whose value has risen steadily over the years. The modern period is no exception to this, with many rarities and scarcer items that are definitely worth more in real terms than when they were issued. A second takeaway is that the demand for any given issue will tend to increase over time as its historical appeal increases and as people begin to perceive it as having artistic merit relative to the current prevailing design aesthetic within the larger society. So it is not really correct to say that modern stamps will never be worth anything. It may be correct to say that many stamps in general are too common to ever be worth very much, and that this applies to classic and modern stamps, but my experience has shown me that being modern does not automatically doom a stamp to being worthless forever.

That being said, the fact that the majority of the material available is common and not worth much financially, is not in and of itself a bad thing. For one thing, it is important when you are trying to determine your interest level in a particular philatelic field to have a ready supply of relatively inexpensive material available. That way, if it turns out that you aren't really all that interested, you can switch to something else before you have sunk too much money in. The other thing is that a hobby should be something you can pursue without having to stretch yourself too much financially. While it is important to have some rare and expensive items to offer a challenge and sense of accomplishment, it is no good if most of the stamps in your area of interest are beyond your means. That will only lead to immense frustration down the line when you run out of affordable material and cannot add to your collection. As a professional philatelist, I have encountered this a lot and would say that it is one of the leading reasons why a collector who is not giving up the hobby winds up selling their collection.

A good rule of thumb that I like to use to gauge how affordable an area that piques my interest is what I call the "pack of smokes" or the "case of beer" rule. Most people of modest means could find a way to afford a regular pack of cigarettes or a case of beer when these things were widely consumed. Today the habits are different, but the principle is the same. Maybe today, it is the "Starbucks Rule". In any event the idea here is that if you can buy a stamp and the financial impact feels similar to what you would experience if you bought a pack of smokes, a case of beer or a regular drink at Starbucks, then you are likely collecting within your means. If you are regularly stretching yourself financially for your acquisitions, going into debt and the like, then you are probably not collecting within your means and will eventually become frustrated by your inability to afford to advance your collection. One of the nice things about modern material is that most of it fits very nicely within this rule. If you are a collector who only likes to collect visually different stamps and are not interested in pursuing specialized varieties, then modern material is one of the few areas that offers so much affordable scope. It is very difficult to achieve that with early material unless you either cast your collecting net very wide, compromise on condition or both. But with modern material, you do not have to do either. You can choose to collect one country, or a small group of countries and potentially never run out of affordable material to collect.

Modern Material is Too Contrived and Philatelic

Another common objection to modern material is that it is completely contrived and produced only to be sold to collectors and not for true postal purposes. It is this belief in particular that has hurt the market for First Day Covers and has caused the collecting of First Day Covers to fall very much out of favour in recent years. Many traditional collectors who grew up at a time when only a few issues were released each year point to the proliferation of new issues as a blight on the hobby.

However, what many do not realize is that many classic rarities were also contrived as well. The provisional surcharges of the Niger Coast Protectorate, issued between 1893 and 1894 and worth thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars today were completely philatelic, being produced in such a manner as to create artificial scarcity. The special reprints of the classic US stamps made between 1875 and 1880 that are also worth tens of thousands each were philatelic also and had no particular postal reason to exist. Nearly all British Colonial stamps with a value over 1 shilling or 1 rupee or its equivalent were issued only for fiscal use and were never intended to be used in the postal system. Finally, there were those issues that are worth a lot of money today, but which had no postal reason whatsoever to exist and were only produced largely in anticipation of the revenue that could be raised from collectors. Some iconic, well known examples are:

  • The 1893 Columbian Issue of the US, and the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Issue.
  • The 1897 Diamond Jubilee issue of Canada.
  • The 1929 PUC pound of Great Britain.
  • The 1948 Royal Silver Wedding high values.
All the above were philatelic. At the time these issues came out, their philatelic nature had a very negative impact on collector demand for them. The Columbians, Trans Mississippis and Diamond Jubilees could still be bought for little more than face value as recently as the late 1930's. When the 1948 Silver Wedding Omnibus Issue was released by the Crown Agents in the UK there was an outcry and boycott of the issue due to the perception of collectors that the post office was exploiting collectors. Considerable pressure was exerted in the UK to have the Crown Agents surcharge the high values down to low values so that more collectors could afford them. However, such efforts did not succeed, and today all the above issues are highly prized and are some of the most sought-after stamps in the world. All of them are iconic and almost instantly recognizable to collectors who do not even collect the countries which they hail from. 
Am I suggesting that most philatelic items are going to eventually be this highly sought after? No, of course I'm not. But the point that I am trying to make is that the fact that a particular stamp, cover or souvenir sheet is of philatelic origin does not automatically relegate it to the philatelic scrap heap forever. Eventually, with the passage of time those items that possess historic, artistic or technical merit, or are otherwise scarce will be in demand. 

Modern Material is Mass Produced, Not Like The Good Old Days When Everything Was Engraved

Another commonly held sentiment among those that eschew modern stamps is the idea that the classic stamps were produced "by hand" and that modern stamps are mass produced by computerized printing machines. It is true that some issues were indeed printed with a very large degree of manual labour. One example that comes to mind are the early line-engraved imperforate Perkins Bacon classic stamps of the British Empire. Perkins Bacon printed using mechanical presses, but the laying down of the printing plates was done by hand and it is the in-exactitude of the platemakers who worked for Perkins Bacon at the time that has made superb examples of these stamps so rare today. It is also true that stamp designs up to the mid 20th century were generally engraved by a master engraver working from a sketch prepared by the stamp's designer. The engraver was using the best technology available at the time to translate the artist's sketch into a workable copy that could be reproduced en-masse. We are very much kidding ourselves to think that Perkins Bacon, De La Rue, Waterlow, Bradbury Wilkinson, Canadian Bank Note Company or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing were not mass producing stamps in the 19th century - they absolutely were. They used the cheapest and most efficient technology available at the time, which was either engraving, lithography, typography or embossing. If modern photogravure printing existed back then you could be sure they would have used it.

As it stands now, all stamps are still designed by an individual. That individual is still calling upon their creative talents to conceive of their design. So in a sense, the milieu of current stamp designs after 1945 represents a world wide pool of creative artistic talent from around the globe and across the generations and cultures. This is another way to look at modern stamp design, whereas the classic stamps were designed by a relatively small number of career men who worked all their lives for the above mentioned firms who prepared the stamps in question. To study classic 19th century stamps of most countries in detail is to appreciate the artistic work of one, two, or maybe three men at most. To study the modern stamps of most countries is to appreciate the artistic work of many individuals from a variety of different cultures, generations and genders. The only aspect to stamp production today that is faster and simpler than 100 years ago is the step of taking the artist's design and producing the stamp. But in my opinion, this is just a technical step.

However, the main takeaway here is that all stamps are mass produced, even the Penny Black, the world's most famous stamp that was issued in May 1840.

There Just Isn't Much to Interest A Specialist Unless You Collect Definitives

Another widely held perception among those that dislike modern philately is the belief that there is little to interest a specialist since most stamps issued since 1945 are commemoratives and since they are typically issued over such a short time, there wouldn't be any significant collectible varieties worth pursuing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The postal administrations of the world since 1945 have faced different challenges from the postal administrations of the 19th century, with the main challenge being to devise a more efficient way to process the growing volume of mail in a way that would not expose them to loss of revenue from fraudulent re-use of stamps. Handling the growing volume of mail in a timely manner meant that mechanization of the mail sorting and cancelling processes was necessary and that this, in turn required new technology, which, in order to work properly required stamps to be re-engineered to exacting specifications. As postal administrations experimented with different ways to do this, they also had to adapt to issues they encountered with the papers and inks used, as well as the ability of the printed product to properly absorb the cancellation ink.

All of this meant that postal administrations throughout the 1950's through the 1970's experimented heavily with tagging, printing inks and papers. Most of this experimentation would have straddled the commemorative issues that were in use at the time that new papers or inks were tested. The result is that there are several commemorative issues where you can find differences in tagging, paper and ink. Some administrations introduced new perforating machines as well, whose gauge differed from previous machines. The differences are of course much smaller than with 19th century material, but they are incredibly exact and consistent over a very large number of stamps. So it is possible, if you know what to look for, and are patient to find collectible varieties on most commemorative issues.

Modern Material is a Bad Investment

This belief is closely related to the first argument about the stamps being too common to ever be worth anything. However, it has been fueled by the fact that for a time in the 1970's there were a number of outfits that promoted "investment portfolios" consisting of quantities of modern mint never hinged stamps, and that much of this material was overvalued due to speculation and collapsed in the period from 1981-1982 when short term interest rates went into the double digits. However, this didn't happen because the material was modern. It happened for the same reasons as any other market crash. One of these reasons is that the investors knew nothing about stamps.

Any investment is a bad investment if the price paid is too high relative to the expected increase in value. Of course the projected value increase for any particular investment depends on what your holding period is going to be. A stamp that is a superb long term investment, may be a very poor short term investment and vice versa. One of the surest ways I can think of to go broke is to amass a large collection of 4-margin Penny Blacks buying them all at full retail prices and then attempting to sell them at auction within 5 years. Why? Because Penny Blacks are not rare, they are just expensive. So if you buy a bunch of them for top dollar and attempt to turn them over in the short run for a profit, that is an extremely risky investment. On the other hand forming a collection of modern mint singles that includes one example of each of the elusive and scarce printing varieties that you form over a 20 year period and then selling that at auction is probably not risky at all. Even though most of the stamps in the collection will not be worth what you paid, the 10-20% of your material that is scarce will probably be worth, far, far more than you paid. If you look at the price of many of the better perforation varieties in the 1988-2000 period for Canada, they are much, much higher today than they were just a few years ago. So it is not necessarily the case at all that modern stamps are a poor investment. Any stamps from any period and any country can be a poor investment if you pay too much for them and do not hold them long enough, or if you only buy the most common stamps.

As with any investment, knowledge of scarcity, and acquisition of quality is key. Neither has anything to do with age. Going back to the Penny Black example, that same collection could be an excellent long term investment if you were to study the plating of the stamps and the cancellations and the stamps you acquired were all better cancellations or undiscovered plate varieties. In that case, even if you paid top dollar today as basic Penny Blacks you might find that the scarce plate varieties or cancellations increased significantly in value over the time held. It all depends on how you approach the collection and what your timeline is for forming, holding and selling your collection.

Modern Material Has No Artistic Appeal

Many collectors simply do not like the appearance of multi-colour modern stamps and find that they have no artistic appeal from a collector's point of view. I believe that part of this perception stems from the incredible diversity that exists in today's stamp designs. There are so many different styles that it is very unlikely that you are going to love every single one of them as a collector. With the classic stamps, they were all designed by a relatively small number of individuals. Consequently, the style will generally be the same, so that if you like the stamps of a particular classic issue, there is a very good chance that you would like all, or most of the stamps of that country, since the styles are so similar. It follows with modern stamps that there will be a large number of stamps that do not appeal to you. However, there will be some that you will find just as beautiful as the classic stamps. There is certainly no rule written in stone that says you have to include every stamp issued in your collection. You could simply decide to focus on collecting the stamps that speak to you and appeal to your artistic tastes.

The Case For Collecting Modern Canada From 1947 to Date

So what I have tried to show up to this point is that most of the reasons that collectors give for not collecting modern stamps are not really completely valid when you scratch beneath the surface. It is entirely possible to form a very rewarding, fun and impressive collection of modern stamps.  If you are only interested in engraved stamps the stamps from 1947 until 1968, offer an uninterrupted run of engraved stamps, with the exception of just two stamps: the 1965 Churchill Memorial issue and the 1967 Votes for Women issue. After 1968, there are many fewer engraved stamps and several that combine engraving with either photogravure or lithography. However, the Centennial issue of 1967-1973 is a fantastic series of beautifully engraved stamps that are among the finest in the world from this period. If you like colourful stamps, then the best period is probably after 1971 when multi-colour printing became the norm.

Modern Canada can be divided into several different periods, each of which is defined by either some predominant technological innovation, or aspect of production that distinguishes it from the others. Each one has something different to offer in terms of complexity for specialization, potential for rare items, artistic merit and the like. No matter what your predilections are, I am fairly certain that you would find plenty of appeal in specializing in one of more of the six periods below

The Karsh and Wilding  Period - 1947 to 1962

The first period of the modern era gets its name from Yousuf Karsh and Dorothy Wilding, who took the royal portraits of King George VI and then Queen Elizabeth II that adorned the stamps issued during this period. The design aesthetic during this period is the early modern design of the late 1940's and early 1950's with very clean lines and uncluttered designs. Lettering and frames are very simple, with no ornate corner ornaments and extra elements. Many collectors find these stamps plain, but there are also collectors who appreciate the fine engraving work that they represent.

This is the period before electronic mail sorting was introduced, so the appearance of tagging and other forms of luminescence is confined to the very tail end of the period in 1962. However, some experimentation was done with paper fluorescence during this period, though it is very limited. Other paper changes were made throughout the period with papers having different textures being used, and there were also experiments with different inks as well. Finally, there were two perforation changes, which although small, were consistent and can add an interesting layer of complexity to those so inclined.

This is a good period in which to specialize if you want to focus mostly on postal history and cancellations without being distracted too much by shade and paper varieties, since these varieties are kept to a minimum during this period. There were a lot of historic world events that took place during this period as these are the early years of the cold war. Not only that, but the Canadian political history saw some important changes during these years whose stories can be told through the stamps and postal history.

This is also a good period for those interested in stamp booklets, as the complex dotted covers were still in use and there are many, many different types of booklet covers that can be collected for the definitive issues. Also the large cellophane packs of 25 or 50 stamps that sold for $1 were introduced during this period and continued into the next period. Finally, this period encompasses almost the entire life span of the overprinted official stamps that were in use from 1949 until 1963. So this represents another aspect of Canadian philately that can be studied to completion and that fits within this period.

Most all of the material issued during this period is very affordable. There are some pricier paper varieties, but by and large there are very few expensive items. One notable exception is the very rare St. Lawrence Seaway invert from 1959 which is worth between $6,000 and $10,000 depending on condition.

The Cameo Period - 1962 to 1967

This period which covers the middle half of the 1960's gets its name from the very simple design of the Queen on the definitive stamps. Most of the stamps during this period are nicely engraved stamps whose designs are a little more substantial than the stamps of the prior period. There is a beautiful provincial flowers issue that was released between 1964 and 1966, and many other very attractive stamps that are printed in rich colours.

It is during this period that Winnipeg Tagging to aid in the use of automatic cancelling machines becomes fully established, and the experimentation that took place to ensure the right chemical makeup of the taggant, the right intensity of tagging, placement and paper can keep a specialist occupied for years and years. of all the varieties that can be found on stamps, it is in the tagging that most of the complexity of this period lies. For the shade collector, there are some shades, but not a huge number. This is a good period for the flyspeck hunter, as constant plate flaws start to appear more regularly in this period, though the later periods have many more items in that regard than this one does. However, it is a fantastic period for those who want to focus on engraved stamps and who want to focus on postal history. If you like paper fluorescence varieties, there are several to collect in this period, though they are not overwhelming.

It is not a great period for booklet collecting, as the range of booklet varieties is somewhat limited. If booklets are your thing then either the Centennial period, the Bankruptcy Period of the Millennial Period is where you want to focus your attention.

There are very few major rarities from this period, though there re about 5 or six items that will cost more than $3,000 to buy if you can find them. However, all the other material is very affordable.

The Centennial Period - 1967-1972

I named this period after the definitive issue that has come to define it: the Centennial Issue, which was in use from 1967 to 1972. This period saw the most experimentation in stamp production than any of the others bar none. During this period we see:

  • The introduction of integral booklets, i.e. those whose pane is glued to the booklet cover rather than being stapled, which allows the booklet to be opened out and displayed without dismantling it. 
  • The introduction of multi-colour photogravure printing, the hybrid of engraving and photogravure printing and colour lithography.
  • The switch from dextrose, cellulose based gum to polyvinyl alcohol gum and some hybrid forms of gum that were very short lived. 
  • The switch from line perforating to comb perforating. 
  • The introduction of general Ottawa tagging to replace the less effective Winnipeg tagging.
  • Massive experimentation with different papers.
The experimentation during this period has resulted in one of the most highly collected and specialized definitive sets in the world. Much of the experimentation extended to the commemorative issues as well, so there is lots and lots of scope for the specialist. There are fewer engraved stamps during this period, but lots and lots of very attractive early multicolour stamps. 
This is a fantastic period for postal history due to the fact that there were several rate changes during this period, with four major ones:
  • Increase in the domestic forwarded rate from 5c to 6c in 1968.
  • A further 1c increase to 7c in 1971,
  • A further 1c increase of 8c in 1972, and finally,
  • The introduction of a flat 15c all-up airmail rate which replaced the tiered rates in effect before. 

This period again is very affordable with only a few rarities in the centennial issue, and most of these are highly specialized paper varieties that you could leave out if you weren't interested in getting that deep. The basic issues themselves are all completely affordable with nothing costing more than $50 or so.

The Ashton Potter Period - 1972 to 1983

This is one of my favourite periods out of all the periods in the modern era. I used to think there was very little to it, but after many years of working with these stamps it turns out that this period is almost as complex as the Centennial period, with many, many varieties of paper, that have only just begun to be listed in Unitrade over the last 10 years or so. I have named this period after the firm Ashton Potter, which became the primary printer of Canadian multi-colour lithographed stamps.

This is the period in which very modern design takes over and the 70's vibe really takes hold.

It is during this period that general Ottawa tagging completely replaces Winnipeg tagging and experiments are done with the width and depth of the tagging bars. There are experiments done not only with the fluorescence of the paper, but also the thickness and texture of the paper surface, with various ribbed and smooth papers existing on many issues. Almost none of these varieties were listed anywhere 10 years ago, but the scarcity of several of them has become apparent over the years, and it is doubtful whether all of them have been discovered yet. Also every single stamp issued during this period exists without tagging, which is an error, and in every case these stamps are typically in the $75 to $100 range. This period starts with Scott #559 and ends with #975, so there are over 400 such varieties that could be sought out, all of which are scarce to rare.

There are several errors that exist during this period that are worth several thousand dollars each, but none of the basic issues are particularly expensive.

It is a challenging period for postal history due to the large number of se-tenant issues. Although there are only two major rate increases during the period, there are a lot of se-tenant pairs and blocks that you can seek out on cover that will be very, very difficult to find. It is ideal for the postal historian who wants to focus on destinations and usages rather than rates, as the rate increases during this time were minimal.

The Bankruptcy Period - 1983 to 1995

I give this period its name due to the fact that the primary supplier of paper which Canada Post had come to rely on, Abitibi Price, went bankrupt. This forced Ashton Potter to look for different paper suppliers and it is during this period that we begin to see the appearance of Clark, Harrison, Slater, Peterborough and Coated Papers papers. Toward the end of the period, Ashton Potter itself also went bankrupt and was re-named Ashton Potter Corporation. However, there was a brief period during which the printing of Canada's stamps had to be contracted out to an Australian firm, Leigh Mardon. It is possible, with a great deal of skill and patience to distinguish between the work of the two printing firms. The Canadian Bank Note Company also got involved in printing some of the definitive issues during this period as well.

This period is important because we begin to see the use of different papers with different supplier names being used on specific issues. Of course this always raises the possibility that some issues will exist on more than one paper, with one being common and the other one being very rare. Only a few such instances have been discovered so far, but I am certain that other instances have occurred and have simply not been discovered yet. The same goes for perforation differences. There were several unannounced perforation changes during this period, many of which have turned out to be extremely elusive and once again, I am sure that many more are waiting to be discovered by a collector with  keen eye.

Tagging starts to appear on all four sides of stamps during this period and fluorescence of paper becomes a lot less varied with most stamps being on non-fluorescent paper. However most of these issues can be found with additional, unlisted tagging varieties.

Some really beautiful stamps were issued during this period, such as the Art Canada series, which appears in 1988 and ran until the early 2000's in the following period. It is during this period that we begin to see many more novel designs that were not featured before. Booklet production exploded during this period with many commemorative issues that were only issued in booklet form and we also begin to see many, many more se-tenants and souvenir sheets.

Unlike the previous period, this period is very challenging in terms of the postal history as there were rate increases almost every year, and the large number of booklet panes, souvenir sheets and se-tenant blocks or pairs means that in addition to seeking out rates, a postal historian can also focus on scarce usages of the booklet panes, se-tenants and souvenir sheets.

The first self-adhesive stamps appear in 1988, but they do not become regular issues until 1995. The first hologram stamp makes its appearance in 1992.

The Millennial Period from 1995 to Date

During this period the self-adhesive stamp replaces the gummed sheet stamp as the primary form in which stamps are issued. There are several multi-year commemorative series during this period that were issued in both booklet form and as souvenir sheets. The coolness factor of the designs goes up astronomically with some truly unique subject matter, as well as some interesting shapes for stamps, such as triangles, ovals and irregular shapes. The first lenticular stamps printed on plastic appear during this period, as does the first stamp of the Canadian flag printed on fabric.

Permanent stamps, whose value is basically whatever the first class postage rate in effect at the time of use is, make their appearance during this period and replace the denominated stamps as the predominant domestic stamps in use.

Picture postage also makes its appearance during this period. Picture postage were basically blank stamp frames that you could attach a personalized photo to to create a never ending number of personalized stamps - a very novel concept.

By now the paper type in use has become Tullis Russell Coatings paper for most all issues, with very little if any fluorescence, very few tagging and perforation varieties that we know of. However, it is very unlikely that much of what actually exists has even been discovered yet. So I think this period is ripe with possibilities.

Postal history continues to be extremely challenging for this period, as there are so many souvenir sheets, booklets and se-tenants, combined with the annual rate increases, that finding proper commercial usages is very difficult, as so little mail from this period has been preserved because of how new it is. Most souvenir sheets during this period are issued in relatively small quantities too - 200,000 to 300,000 of each, which in the grand scheme of philately is nothing. So these are going to be very highly prized items 50 years from now I think.

Finally, there are many issues during this period that were issued in a form that could only be bought through special promotions, the quarterly packs and souvenir collections. Many of these were printed in much smaller quantities than you would expect, and are going to be expensive in the future.

This brings me to the end of my discussion about the merits of collecting modern Canadian stamps. Hopefully it has given you some food for thought and a reason to seriously consider this period of Canadian philately. Next week I will resume my regular posts with my final post about the 1962-1967 Cameo Issue.

Previous article The 2c Pacific Coast Totem Pole Stamp of the 1967-73 Centennial Issue Part Two


Thomas Heckbert - May 20, 2020

Another excellent, well written and thought provoking article. Thank you.

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields