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Stamp Market Commentary

Commentary No. 182 - 17 September, 2014

The Origins of Scott 1


Back in 2007, we wrote a commentary on Scott 1, Canada’s first stamp. Examples were provided of the finest images we could find, both mint and used, together with a number of varieties and multiples. You can see the details at our Commentary No. 93. The original 3p beaver was designed by Sanford Fleming, who later in life was to be knighted.

Recently, while perusing the books in my library at home, we came across an old family book that appears to have been published in 1939 entitled “Greater Toronto – Picture Souvenir, Canadian National Exhibition” by Barbara Duff. One of the chapters in the book was entitled “Birthplace of Canada’s First Postage Stamp”. Included in the commentary were details of the origins of Scott 1 we had never seen before and here they are:

“Birthplace of Canada’s First Postage Stamp”

The Romain Building, South of King Street, between Bay and York Streets, Toronto, was the birthplace of Canada’s first postage stamps. In 1850, the Government of United Canada (Upper and Lower Canada) announced a competition for designs suited for a series of postage stamps. Fleming and Schreiber were partners of civil engineers and surveyors with offices in that building. Mr. Fleming was Sanford A. Fleming, who was to become famous within a few years as the inventor of Standard Time. These partners decided to enter the competition for the postage stamps. The conditions for the competition called for the designs for three stamps. There was to be a three-penny, a six-penny and a shilling stamp. Mr. Fleming was a natural artist and had been carefully trained in draughtsmanship before leaving the Old Country for Canada. He prepared a design displaying a beaver for the lowest denomination. A portrait of H.R.H. Prince Albert adorned the six-penny type, and a shilling stamp of his design was very similar to the three-penny, a beaver being the chief item in the design. In due course word was received that Mr. Fleming’s designs had been accepted, and he was declared the winner of the competition.

Steel dies were ordered for the designs, and all was in readiness for printing, when some alert civil servant succeeded in reaching the ear of authority. It was pointed out that a stamp of one shilling face value would entail serious complications owing to various exchange rates then in force between the various portions of British North America. To overcome the difficulty, the Government quickly substituted a new stamp with a face value of twelve pence. This stamp bore a reproduction of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes. So far as is known, only one copy as a proof was taken from the steel block of the shilling stamp designed by Mr. Fleming. It is known as an essay stamp and when last heard of was in a famous collection in Montreal.


As mentioned in our earlier Commentary, my particular interest in this part of Canada’s stamp history stems from the fact that my great grandfather, Thomas Burpe, worked for Sir Sanford for many years in his office in Halifax and Ottawa. Yes, there was only one “e” on Burpee in the family in those days. I started collecting stamps at the age of 9, long before having any knowledge of Scott 1 and the family’s connection with Sir Sanford. Now, looking at things in retrospective over 66 years later, I am fascinated by this connection with the history of Canada’s first stamp.

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