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Canadian Stamp Auctions

Commentary No. 107 - 17 May, 2008

Early Canadian Stamps
A Survey of Prices 1983 to 2008

As we watch the annual ups and downs of the prices in each year’s Scott catalogue, we sometimes wonder how it all fits into the big picture. One way of judging this is to look at the price changes over a large number of years. This is the exercise we plan to do in this commentary. We have chosen the 25 year period from 1983 to 2008.

Our survey focuses on Canada’s early stamps from Scott 1 to 20 and includes both mint and used stamps. The full survey can be seen by clicking here. We were a bit surprised to find that the prices for five of the stamps had actually declined.

Largest price increases:

Scott 1
$10,500 increase

Because they are so rare, very fine mint copies of Canada’s first three stamps, Scott 1-3, have received special attention from buyers whenever they were offered. In the case of Scott 1, this demand pushed the value up $10,500 over the 25 year period to $20,000. Surprisingly we cannot see evidence of this at auction. The highest price we have recorded for a Scott 1 over the past 25 years was $12,500 and this was back in 1989. This makes it extra difficult to determine a current value. Most of the recorded mint copies have no gum.

Scott 2
$10,500 increase
Mint copies of Scott 2 also increased by $10,500 to $20,000. We have recorded 4 copies in the period. Two years ago, a copy sold for $51,000. It, like all the other very fine mint copies of this stamp in our records, had no gum.

Scott 3
$20,000 increase
Over the past 25 years, 13 mint copies of Scott 3 have sold with prices ranging from $62,000 to $214,500. An unhinged copy recently sold at auction in Geneva for $206,700. The catalogue value of Scott 3 in mint condition increased over the period by $20,000 to $80,000. Unlike Scott 1 and 2, most of the Scott 3 stamps found at auction did have gum. In 2006, a used copy sold in the U.S. for $229,600, well above the $60,000 catalogue price and better than any price for a mint copy.

Scott 4b
$12,500 increase
This bisect on cover has consistently attracted strong bids. Only three copies have appeared in auction in the past 25 years and over this period, its price increased from $17,500 to $30,000. Last year, a copy sold in the U.S. for $42,720 ($40,000 U.S.), a remarkable price.

Scott 5a
$10,750 increase
We are not surprised by this price increase which brought the value of a mint copy up to $17,500. Why? Because, during the past 25 years, we have no record of a Scott 5a in mint condition being sold at auction. This is one elusive stamp.

Scott 5d
$7,000 increase
Similar comments can be made concerning this stamp. The catalogue value for a mint copy increased from $7,000 to $14,000 but, during this period, we only recorded one sale. In 2006, a copy with original gum sold in New York for $30,800 at the Sir Gawaine Baillie sale.

Scott 13
$6,500 increas
We have recorded the sale of more copies of this stamp at auction than any of the others above. 17 mint copies have sold since 1987. Its price jumped 144% from $4,500 to $11,000. Most copies come with original gum. On two occasions, copies have sold for over $23,000.

Scott 13a
$7,000 increase
Copies of this stamp are much rarer with only two recorded sales in the past 25 years. Its price increased from $4,500 to $11,500. This makes its value slightly higher than a Scott 13, but perhaps it could have been set even higher in view of its scarcity.

Scott 16 used
$2,950 increase
In the past 8 years, two very fine mint copies and three used copies were sold at auction. It is a huge challenge to get a well centered copy. Scott increased the value of a mint copy by 38% and a used copy by 164%. The used copy jumped $2,950 to $4,750.

Scott 17c
$5,000 increase

This stamp jumped from $5,000 to $10,000. In 25 years, we have only recorded 3 imperforate pairs at auction, but none in the past 16 years. This is pretty discouraging for collectors hoping to get one.


Having spent some time reviewing the prices and auction history for these rare stamps, we can better understand how hard it must be for the Scott editors to reasonably value them.

For most of the stamps, used copies are plentiful and mint ones very scarce. For earlier stamps without perforations, value is largely affected by the size of their borders, the lack of thins and other paper defects. Surprisingly, many record prices are paid for outstanding stamps from this period even thought they had no gum. For the later perforated stamps (Scott 11-20), value is determined to a large degree by their centering and good even perforations.

Most of us will seldom see mint copies of these early stamps, except for a few of the more common ones. We’ll see plenty of used ones and, as the accompanying schedule shows, a good number of these have increased in value appreciably. Unlike modern stamps, which are normally well centered, unhinged and printed on good paper , these old classics had been handled by different collectors and subjected to climate change for over 140 years. That they have survived in any kind of decent shape is quite remarkable.

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©2008, Canadian Stamp Auctions Ltd., Montréal, Québec, Canada