Commentary No. 53 - 17 November, 2003
The Port Hood Provisional Stamps
On October 30,1986, Christie's Robson Lowe held an auction in New York City featuring The Isleham Collection of British North American Postage Stamps. Last year we managed to obtain a copy of Christie's catalogue for this sale from Saskatoon Stamp Centre's publication division. Auxano Philatelic Services of Calgary have since acquired this division.
There were only 62 lots in the sale, but oh! what extraordinary material those lots contained. They included the two extremely rare Port Hood Provisional stamps shown below:
1¢ on one-third
of 3¢ carmine
2¢ on two-thirds
of 3¢ carmine
(Above prices are in U.S. Dollars)
Lot 2128 was tied by Port Hood N.S., date stamped Jan.5 1899 on a small piece. The stamp has a tear at top and came with a B.P.A. certificate. Lot 2129 had original gum, a hinge remnant, was creased, and was otherwise very fine, signed Stanley Gibbons.
According to Scott catalogue, these two stamps were prepared and used at Port Hood, Nova Scotia without official authorization. Unitrade adds that covers seen by the editors are all dated January 4th or 5th, 1899. Covers need an expertizing certificate. The surcharge on the 1¢ overprint is blue, while that on the 2¢ is violet.
The present catalogue value for each of the two stamps on cover is $6250.
Other Port Hood examples
We have seen other examples of these provisional stamps offered at auction in the past. Here's how they've done:
J.N.Sissons Ltd. - June 25, 1974
2¢ on two-thirds of 3¢ tied by Port Hood JA 4 '99, Stanley Gibbons guarantee mark.
(This same cover was sold by R. Maresch & Son at its auction on Oct. 23, 1991, lot 604, for $4250)
R Maresch & Son - Oct. 7, 1997
2(¢) provisional surcharge in violet on two thirds of 3¢ carmine numeral, tied to small piece by Port Hood 5 JA 99 c.d.s., with 1968 B.P.A. cert. stating "genuine, of clandestine origin, as are all Port Hood provisionals" this is the way most of these have survived, except for a few remaining covers, sold as is, on the basis of this certificate.
In Holmes "Handbook and Catalogue of Canada and British North American", published in 1943, the following somewhat negative comments concerning the Port Hood provisionals were made:
These were 'home made' split stamps from the 3¢ value. This idea took effect on January 5th, 1899 at Port Hood, Nova Scotia, in the absence of the Postmaster by his assistant. The 3¢ stamps were cut into 1/3 and 2/3 portions and rubber-stamped 1¢ and 2¢ respectively. They were even used on some outgoing mail for local delivery. A Post Office Inspector was soon sent from Halifax (a few miles distant) and he brought back what could be found and they were destroyed. The Post Office declared them ' fakes' and, in consequence, of neither interest nor value to collectors. They were freaks that anyone could make.
The comments by Winthrop S. Boggs at p. 335 in his book "The Postage Stamps and Postal History of Canada", published in 1945, are more positive:
The reduction in the postage rate from 3¢ to2¢ for domestic letters (proclaimed December 29, 1898 and effective January 1,1899), had the immediate effect of vastly increasing the demand for 2¢ stamps, while rendering 3¢ stamps of comparatively little use. The short notice of such a change in the rates resulted in a number of Post Offices running short of 2¢ stamps, after having an over supply of 3¢ stamps.
Some offices bisected 3¢ stamps and used them without further ado but the postmaster at Port Hood apparently felt that it would be wise to apply some distinguishing mark to the bisected portions of the stamps used on letters going outside of the county.
The explanation given by the postmaster in reply to a query on these bisects is concise and clear, and we quote it herewith:
When the change in Canadian postage was made - of which we got notice by wire - I had only a very few two cent stamps in stock so that before I got my supply from Ottawa I ran completely out of them and, to keep my account straight, I was compelled to cut threes. This was for one day only and not over 300 stamps were cut. I would say about 200 2's and 100 1's were used. These stamps I put on letters for delivery within the county as much as possible. About 100 2's and probably nearly as many 1's were marked with the figures 2 and 1 as you describe and were placed on letters for delivery in towns throughout the Dominion. Those were the only provisional stamps used by this office
The postmaster endeavored to do the best he could under the circumstances. We should observe that only 300 stamps at most were cut, and of these only about 100 were surcharged "1" and ""2 respectively.
For reasons unknown, these particular bisects have been singled out for attack, and have been decried as not worthy of notice by serious philatelists, favors, etc.
We will limit our discussion to pointing out the facts which in our opinion entitled them to high consideration, in fact equal to that of any other Canadian bisect.
The argument that they were irregular and against regulations can have little weight, as all Canadian bisects were against the regulations, yet bisects of the 3p, 6p of 1851-57; the 1¢, 5¢, 10¢ of 1859 as well as those of the Large and Small Queens are held in high esteem. The stamps were bisected to meet a rate and were in use for only one day. Had speculation been the motive the period of use would have been longer, and more would have been surcharged. Instead only about 100 were surcharged. From this must be deducted those confiscated by the authorities, and others which were lost.
The reason given for bisecting is logical, and the surcharging was done by the postmaster. These are the only surcharged bisects. Furthermore bisection was an old habit in Nova Scotia.
The fact that Stanley Gibbons secured a few is not, per se, anything against them. We are indebted to the foresight and activity of many of the great dealers for some of our choicest items, particularly in the 19th Century.
The postmaster's explanation of the supply of 2¢ stamps from Ottawa failing to arrive before his stock of this value was exhausted is consonant with the facts. Port Hood is 221 miles from Halifax, and over 1000 miles from Ottawa. Even today Port Hood is some 10 hours from Halifax and over 36 hours from Ottawa by rail. The possibility of getting all the 2¢ stamps needed in a matter of a few hours is therefore doubtful.
Until we received the 1986 Christie's Robson Lowe catalogue, we had never paid much attention to these two unusual stamps. We found it very satisfying to discover that there were a number of commentaries that explained their origin. We enjoyed reading about the controversy surrounding their use and suspect that, if the Port Hood postmaster were around today, we would congratulate him for his enterprise in solving a temporary stamp shortage problem by creating these bisects and stamping them.
Port Hood Today
Port Hood is a small village on the western side of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. It has a population of approximately 1000. The main employment is from the fishing industry and the nearby pulp and paper mill in Port Hawkesbury. Their main fishery takes place in the May-June lobster season. September and October is Tuna season and many Bluefin tuna are landed at the Port Hood wharf, Murphy's Pond.
©2003, Canadian Stamp Auctions Ltd., Montréal, Québec, Canada