The 1980-1982 Commemoratives

The 1980-1982 Commemoratives

The 1980's was a decade of change for the post office, just as the 70's were. Only in the 1980's the changes were not the result of technological innovation, but rather the result of business banktruptcy and the difficulties this caused in the supply chain that served Canada Post.

Once Ashton Potter became the default printer for the lithographed modern stamps of Canada in the early 1970's the supplier of paper was no longer the E.B. Eddy company, but rather, Abitibi-Price. They supplied a white, chalk-surfaced paper that was generally fluorescent, but varied quite greatly in terms of how strong the fluorescent reaction was under UV light on both the front and back of the stamp. This had become the norm throughout the early 70's, but then in about 1976 the paper fluorescence changed and dull and non-fluorescent paper became the norm, with the few fluorescent varieties becoming the premium varieties, once again, as had been the case in the 1960's. 

Abitibi-Price went bankrupt in 1983, so the first three years of the 1980's to the end of 1982 are the last years in which all the paper was supplied by this company. During this brief period the paper shows considerable variation from completely dead on the back to what I would call low fluorescent with sparse concentrations of both low and medium fluorescent fibres, making the paper look almost MF. From the front, the chalk coating on the paper tends to block the fluorescence and as a result only those stamps brightest on the back, will appear LF on the front, but most of the time the paper will appear either DF or NF on the front. 

Here is a picture to give you some idea of the contrast between the two ends of the spectrum:

The paper on the top pair is the low fluorescent flecked paper, while the paper on the bottom is the dull paper containing only a very few fluorescent flecks. 

Fluorescent Flecks Versus Pure Fluorescence

Most of the Abitibi papers contain at least some fluorescent fibres in the paper, that have the effect of making the paper look more fluorescent than it actually is. Quite often the base level of fluorescence is just NF or DF, but because of the number and brightness of the fibres contained within it, it can appear LF or MF. Both the concentration and brightness of the fibres can vary, and so it is often the case that two stamps that appear to have the same overall fluorescence, obtain it through different combinations of ambient fluorescence and fluorescent fibres. There are papers that are pure, in the sense that they contain no visible flecks, with NF, DF and LF, being the most prevalent. Very recently, in the past decade, a small discovery was made of 1980 Christmas stamps on hibrite paper. This is the only such issue we know of so far on this paper, but it could exist on other issues as well. 

The picture below shows a typical flecked stamp on the right and a pure NF paper. Note that the flecks are often not obvious, and sometimes you will need a loupe to see them clearly:


 Woodpulp Fibres

In addition to fluorescent flecks, Abitibi paper often contains woodpulp flecks, which appear brown under UV light and these have the opposite effect on the appearance of the paper under UV light, in that they make the paper appear less bright than it actually is. In my nomenclature I use the abbreviation "WP" for woodpulp fibres. 

Nomenclature For Classifying Paper Types

As you can imagine, it can get quite subjective and confusing to name and describe the papers, once you notice the different levels of brightness of the fluorescent fibres, and the different concentrations of them in the paper. My advice for those of you getting frustrated is: SLOW DOWN. This is a hobby of patience. It is not a race. Trust your eyes. If two papers look different under UV it is because they are. Take your time. Use your loupe and get a good look, and soon you will see what the difference is and how best to describe it. 

At this point some may ask, "why?". Well, because there are entire periods where the paper shows no variation at all. So, I tend to be of the opinion that when variations are present, they do have significance, even if we don't quite know what that is when we first become aware of it. 

The nomenclature I use takes the following form:

       Reading from the front/reading from the back, or as an example

       DF/DF-fl, LF, S, MF, VS

This can be interpreted as:

Dull fluorescent on the face. The back is dull fluorescent flecked, with a sparse concentration of LF fibres and a very sparse concentration of MF fibres. 

Now, it is these terms "sparse" and "very sparse" that are open to some subjectivity. They refer to the amount of the back covered by the fibres. The scale that I use goes from 1-2 fibres to high density, in which the stamp appears almost solidly fluorescent, with only a few gaps to indicate that there even are any fibres. Between these two extremes, I use the following terms:

  1. Medium density - the stamp is covered very densely with gaps of no more than 0.5 mm between fibres in any one part of the stamp.
  2. Low density - coverage is uniform across the surface of the stamp, but there are gaps up to 3/4 mm or 1 mm where there are no fibres.
  3. Sparse - coverage is uniform, but there are large gaps up to 3-5 mm where there are no fibres.
  4. Very sparse - coverage is very light, but even, with large gaps up to 10 mm where there are no fibres.
  5. Very, very sparse - very little coverage, probably no more than 20-30 fibres visible on the entire stamp.
  6. Very few - between 3-10 fibres on the entire stamp.

I find with this scale the classification becomes more objective and less subjective. Where some judgement remains are those scenarios where you have two different types of fibres, with different concentrations of each. It can take patience and experience to determine the relative concentrations of each, but as you practice it becomes much easier to do. 

For this period, the highest concentration is generally low density. I haven't seen anything higher. 

Relative Scarcity

The scarcity of the paper varieties varies considerably as one progresses through the decade. Unfortunately, Unitrade does not give an accurate impression of this scarcity, as the catalogue prices are often set at more or less the same level - $2.50 to $5 a stamp, which can give the misleading impression that all one needs to do is buy a large lot and it will be teaming with these varieties. But in some cases, the varieties are exceedingly scarce, with just a few copies in several hundred stamps. What's more, there is no general rule as to which variety is better: most often it is the fluorescent paper, but sometimes the dull paper is better. 

Another frustrating aspect to Unitrade is their lack of consistency: on some issues they will list LF paper on one stamp, but not the other values in the set, even though it exists for all of them. Also, I believe that they do, in some cases get the pricing backwards as well, assigning a lower price to the scarcer type. I will say that generally on most issues the flecked papers are collectively the most common and that papers containing no flecks are generally always the scarcest for issues after 1980. 


On some stamps you will notice marked shade differences between printings. The issues where I have noticed considerable differences are:

  1. Academy of Arts - the colour of the dress on #849.
  2. Rehabilitation - the copper and gold on the hands vary in brightness.
  3. Endangered Wildlife - the ocean colour on #853.
  4. O'Canada - the intensity of blue inscription on #858.
  5. Diefenbaker - violet and brighter blue can be found.
  6. Look of Music - black versus black brown background.
  7. Canadian feminists - most noticeable with the grey-green on Emily Stowe.
  8. Endangered Wildlife - the sky colour on the marmot stamp.
  9. 1981 Canada Day - the dark blue of the oceans, the grey and the violet of the Northwest Territories all show considerable variation.
  10. 1982 Canada Day - the sky on Newfoundland and all colours of Nova Scotia are the most noticeable. 
  11. Regina Centennial - brown versus deep red ground.

Constant Varieties

This period has its share of constant varieties, just like any other period. However, most of them are quite hard to find, as they are tertiary flaws only, which means that they do not occur on every pane. The only ones that occur on every pane are the Border Patrol variety on the Arctic Islands issue, and the Pink Brooch on the Feminists issue. This is why most of them catalogue upwards of $5 in Unitrade. These are not pie-in-the-sky prices, as you may have to look through 200-300 stamps to have a chance of finding one example, and even then there is a chance that none of your stamps will have the variety. 

A Look at Each Year in Terms of Variation and Scarcity

1980 - In 1980 most of the stamps are on paper that is either DF on the back or NF, with very few having any significant amount of fluorescent flecks. Both the Lake Placcid and Arctic Islands issues are listed on LF paper and priced the same, but I believe this to be a gross error, as in my experience any LF paper in 1980 is very scarce. The Academy of Arts issue exists with several different flecked papers that all read as LF on the back, but the true LF paper that looks almost MF because of the fluorescent flecks is very scarce and should be catalogued at much more than $2 a stamp. The HB papers on the Christmas issue are the scarcest of all, and I have only ever sold a single, solitary stamp on this paper, for more than full Unitrade, if memory serves. 

1981 - By 1981 we begin to see more LF-fl papers appearing. Some of these are still not listed, the most notable being on the Look of Music Exhibition, which exists thus, the Feminists issue, and the Botanists issue. The Paintings issue is really the first issue where we begin to see a very wide variety of variations. I have my doubts about the correctness of Unitrade's pricing on this issue, as in my experience the dull papers seem more common to me than the fluorescent ones, but that could just be what I have handled so far. The fluorescent paper of the Niagara-on-the-Lake stamp is really close to MF in appearance and is probably the scarcest of the 1981 issues. The Christmas issues are confusing, as there are several DF flecked papers that look almost LF, and are what I believe Unitrade is listing when they price them at $3. But then, there are also true LF flecked papers that are much scarcer and I have only seen a handful of times. 

The 35c stamps of the aircraft issue exist with the same variations as the 17c stamps, even though Unitrade only lists the varieties on the 17c value. 

1982 - The Canada 82 and Salvation Army issues are the first ones to appear on paper without a chalk coating. In this year, there is a shift, with some issues being markedly more common on fluorescent paper, and some issues being scarcer on dull paper. The Terry Fox issue, is one such example. Unitrade finally added a listing for the LF paper on Jules Leger, and the Bush Aircraft issue, but they are still missing listings on most of the other issues, including Canada '82, Salvation Army, Canada Day, Regina and Christmas. I would say generally that the DF flecked papers are the most common on most issues, with the true LF flecked papers continuing to be the most scarce. 

And there you have it. Hopefully you will be able to gain a new appreciation for the study and collection of these issues, once you see that there can be upwards of 5 collectible varieties of each issue. 



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