The Commemorative Issues of 1973-1976

The Commemorative Issues of 1973-1976


The period from 1973 to 1976 was one in which Canada post brought many of the changes that had been initiated in the late 1960's to full fruition. They had been trying to find a more cost effective way to print stamps that would still be able to retain cancels and would still allow for the continued mechanization of the mail handling and sorting process. Their breakthrough came when a private Toronto firm began printing some commemorative issues using 4-colour lithography, in 1970. Their work was of a sufficient standard and was much less expensive than what the Canadian Bank Note Company or British American Bank Note Company were charging for the normal, every day Canadian stamps, that the post office decided to award more and more of the printing contract to them. By 1973, they were printing the majority of Canada's stamps, with BABN only handling a few of the issues that required both engraving and photogravure printing. 

The change from Winnipeg tp Ottawa tagging, which had gotten off to a bad start in 1972, with the use of migratory OP-4 taggant was corrected in 1973 to a stable OP-2 formulation, and it was a very effective taggant, still being used to this day. The tagging bar widths started out quite narrow in 1973, but by 1974 had widened out to the usual 4 mm bars that most collectors are familiar with. 

This was also the period in which Canada Post solidified its position as a major player in the collectibles business and attempted to brand itself. Prior to this time, the information bulletins lacked a cohesive branding, being more like brochures from a government department. But in 1974, Canada Post adopts, the first, of what would be four different Canada Post Logos. The random appearance of the new issue brochures in 1973, gives way to a standardized, corporate, professional appearance, with a uniform colour scheme, layout and logo. Canada Post would change this colour scheme in 1976, and then again in 1977, as they got comfortable with what would present best to the public. They introduced sealed packs of singles, plate blocks, and first day covers, as well as the annual souvenir collections. 

As Canada Post solidified its position as a supplier of philatelic collectibles, many of the businesses that supplied collectors before went out of business. This is really the last period in which there were any significant amount of private cacheted first day covers produced, as most cachet makers had gone out of business by then, as they simply could not compete with Canada Post. 

What Are the Points Of Interest?

When I was a child, the Lyman's catalogue listed no varieties of any of these stamps. However, there are many, many variations that can be collected, but many are very subtle, and require careful comparison and skill to identify correctly. This is also the first period in which the study of constant varieties becomes super interesting, and constancy is much more difficult to prove, as both the number of sheets printed, and their arrangement is different for every issue, and is generally not a simple 4 or 6 panes arranged in a square or rectangle. This means that a lot of what were seen as flyspecks are actually much more significant than this. 

By far though, the greatest point of interest in this period is the study of paper. The papers used during this period vary in terms of:

  • Fluorescent reaction under long wave ultraviolet light.
  • Thickness, with a thin, crisp, translucent paper that Unitrade does not list, but which can be found on many issues. 
  • The texture of the surface coating, with horizontal ribbed, vertical ribbed and smooth surfaces. 
  • The appearance of the PVA gum, with a greenish gum, being experimented with in 1975, and quickly abandoned, presumably because it caused the sheets to curl too much. 

While Unitrade gets much of the identification right, their terminology and descriptions are not internally consistent, and this can lead to confusion amongst collectors who are trying to identify their stamps. I also find some of their pricing to be backwards, where a common variety is listed at a premium, and a much scarcer one is listed for a ridiculously low amount relative to how seldom these varieties are encountered. 

I will now discuss these aspects in more detail.

Paper Fluorescence

This is really the first period in which all of the stamps produced with very few exceptions are printed on some form of fluorescent paper, as a standard. There are a few stamps on dull, non-fluorescent paper, which are the standard, but these are the exception, rather than the norm. These issues are:

  • The 1974 Keep Fit Summer and Winter Sports issues.
  • The 1974 Welland Canal issue.
  • The 1975 Combat Sports Semi Postals.
  • The 1975 Canadian Personalities Issues.
  • The 1976 Olympic Ceremonies and Sites issues.
  • The 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics Issue.
  • The 1976 Habitat Conference Issue.
  • The 1976 Royal Military College Centenary Issue.
  • The 1976 Handicapped Olympics issue.
  • The 1976 Canadian Authors Issue.
  • The 1976 Christmas Issue.
  • The 1976 Inland Vessels Issue.

While some of the issues where fluorescent paper was the standard, do exist on dull paper, the issues above are the ones for which dull paper was the default. As you can see, it starts off with very few issues in 1974 and 1975, until by 1976, most of the stamp issues have gone back to being on dull fluorescent paper. 

One important point that needs to be made here concerns the identification of dull fluorescent, as it is listed in the Unitrade catalogue. it is not always consistent from issue to issue. Generally speaking, how the paper appears under UV will depend on the printer. Issues printed by BABN, when they are on dull paper, will have a "clean" appearance, with few to no fluorescent fibre inclusions. Even the fluorescent stamps usually will display a uniform bluish white fluorescence of varying brightness levels. 

On the other hand, stamps printed by Ashton Potter on Abitibi paper will usually contain some fluorescent flecks in the paper. It is unusual to find a dull paper that is like the BABN paper, containing no fluorescent fibres at all. It does exist, and is usually thinner and translucent as well. However it is not a common paper type. Some of the other papers described as DF or NF are so only on the face, and on the back, they are still LF-fl or DF-fl, so if you are looking for completely dull backs you might miss them. The potentially confusing DF papers listed in Unitrade are:

  • 50c Hurdles from 1975. This paper is DF or NF on the front, but is either DF-fl or LF-fl on the back. 
  • 8c Flame Ceremony from 1976 - this stamp is listed as LF for the standard stamp, but most all copies you will come across are almost DF, with a sparse concentration of LF flecks in the paper. There are very few examples of this stamp on what would usually be thought of as a true low fluorescent paper. The true DF paper is very scarce and it is usually a thin, translucent paper and contains no fluorescent fibres at all. 
  • 10c US Bicentennial from 1976 - as above, this stamp usually contains at least a few very fine LF fibres, but the DF paper will appear much duller than the LF paper. 
  • 8c Authors from 1976 - again, the DF paper listed as the less expensive variety is a DF paper containing a sparse concentration of LF fibres, that is not great enough to make it appear LF overall. There is a thin, translucent paper, without any flecks at all that is similar to the paper found on the 8c flame ceremony, but again it is very scarce. 

The 1976 Inland Vessels issue is footnoted to exist on both DF and NF papers. The NF paper on this issue is again, different from the NF paper listed on other issues, in the sense that it is still translucent, but lacks the slight bluish white or greyish white glow under UV that the DF paper has. 

At the other extreme is what Unitrade means by HB. They use the term fairly loosely, and on some issues the stamps really do exist on a hibrite paper that is really scarce, while on others there really are no hibrites, but stamps that are really just MF or at most HF. Again, this leads to a great deal of confusion, and only a collector with experience can hope to consistently get the identifications correct. The issues that actually exist on HB paper, and are scarce, are:

  • 8c 1973 Royal Visit.
  • 15c 1973 COJO symbol. 
  • 15c 1974 UPU Centenary.
  • 20c 1976 Handicapped Olympics (HB on back).
  • 8c + 8c 1974 Olympic Semi-Postal issue is HB on the front, with the back being HF. 

The issues that Unitrade lists as being on HB paper, but aren't quite are:

  • The 1973 Algonkian couple and thunderbird on the translucent paper. This is more MF than HB.This is a unique, unsurfaced paper that was only used for this issue.
  • 8c 1974 Cycling Championships issue. This is really more of a MF or at best HF paper.
  • 8c 1974 Keep Fit Summer and Winter Sports issues. The Summer Sports issue is generally MF overall, but some are on LF paper as well. The Winter Sports issue is on LF, MF and HF paper, but nothing higher.
  • 8c 1974 Pacific Coast Indians issue Chief: MF/MF or HF/HF.
  • 8c 1975 Coastal Vessels issue. Again, the so called HB paper is really more of a MF or HF. 

In between the extremes are the coated Abitibi papers that are some variation of LF, MF, HF and HB. They present difficulty, because even the dullest paper, is still much brighter than any of the fluorescent papers from the 1960's. It is almost akin to the difference between say HB paper on the Wilding Issue versus HB paper on the Centennial issue. So, to study the paper properly and avoid clumsy names, we really have to re-set the scale for these issues and recognize that they are brighter at all fluorescence levels than any of the earlier papers.  

The paper coating, being a chalk compound, has the effect of dulling the fluorescence  and it would appear that at least some of the difference in the brightness of the papers, at least from the front, will be due to differences in the thickness of this coating. Usually, the difference between papers will be most apparent on the back. Most of the issues will be found to exist in LF, MF and HF versions. Careful comparison is still the best way to positively identify these. However there are certain paper fluorescence levels that seem to dominate on each issue, and these are different, as follows:

  • Bishop Laval - HF/HF or MF/MF.
  • RCMP - HF/HF and MF/HF.
  • Jeanne Mance and Joseph Howe  - MF/MF.
  • JEH Macdonald - HF/HF.
  • Scottish Settlers - MF/MF.
  • Nellie McClung - MF/MF.
  • 1973 COJO symbol - HF/HF.
  • 1973 Christmas - MF/MF or MF/HF - this paper usually has no inclusions ands looks very "clean", but there is a scarce HB back paper that looks "dirty", and I have only seen a handful of times on 1 or 2 values. 
  • Algonkian Indians - HF/HF.
  • Pacific Coast Indians: MF/MF.
  • 1974 Olympic Semi-postals: MF/MF and HF/HF.
  • Winnipeg Centennial - HF/HF.
  • Letter Carrier service - HF/HF or MF/MF. 
  • Agriculture Education - HB/HB. This paper does not contain fluorescent flecks. 
  • Telephone Centenary - HB/HB. This paper does not contain fluorescent flecks. 
  • Mennonite Settlers - HF/HF and MF/MF.
  • 1974 Christmas - LF/HF. 
  • Marconi - HF/HF. 
  • Olympic Sculptures: HF/HF.
  • Water sports semi-posrtals: LF/LF and HF/HF.
  • Subarctic Indians: MF/MF and HF/HF.
  • 1975 Authors: MF/HF. 
  • Track and field sports: HF/LF.
  • Calgary Centennial : HF/HF.
  • 1975 Combat Sports Semi-Postals - DF/DF.
  • Supreme Court: HB/HB.
  • 1975 Christmas: MF/HF and HF/HF. 
  • Olympic Arts and Culture: HF/HF.

Paper Thickness

Unitrade does not deal with potential differences in paper thickness. There actually does exist a thinner paper that gives a completely DF reaction when examined under UV light. This paper is translucent as well. It first appears in 1976 with the Olympic Ceremonies issue and is found beyond 1976 on some of the 1977 Christmas stamps. 

Tagging Variations

The tagging bars on the 1973 issues started off 3 mm wide and was then widened to 3.75 mm with the Winnipeg Centennial issue, on an experimental basis. Then, eventually by the end of 1974 the standard tagging width is 4 mm. 

For the stamps printed on unsurfaced paper, the tagging appears slightly different colours, with some stamps having dark yellow tagging, and others where the tagging compound is such a light colour that the stamps almost appear untagged. 

Paper Surfacing

Several of the issues exist with differences in the texturing of the paper coating itself. On some issues this coating has a ribbed appearance, while on others it is smooth. The two issues where this is the case are:

  • 1974 UPU Issue.
  • 1974 Cycling Championships. 
  • 1975 Canadian Personalities issue. 

Pricing Anomalies

Unitrade has at least a few instances in the catalogue where the price bears no relation to the scarcity. The issues where I feel this is the case are:

  • 1973 Algonkians Issue - here, nearly everything I see is either MF/HF or HF/HF. I have yet to see a HB/DF stamp, and yet they only price it at 50 cents a single. This can't possibly be right.
  • 1973 Royal Visit - nearly all the stamps I see are either LF or MF. I see very few DF or DF-fl stamps, and so I feel that the pricing should be the opposite of what it is now. 
  • 1975 Alphonse Desjardins - almost all stamps I see are the DF horizontal ribbed paper. I see very few smooth papers. So, I think the pricing in Unitrade should be flipped, so that DF smooth paper should be the premium paper and the ribbed paper should be the inexpensive one, just as it is on the Marguerite Bourgeoys issue. 
  • 1976 Olympic Sites - The $2 is almost always DF, so any fluorescent paper in my opinion should carry a larger than $2 premium. 


These are my opening observations in studying these issues, and there will undoubtedly be more points to make in the coming weeks and years as more material comes to light. I hope you found them helpful. 




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