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Stamp Market Commentary

Commentary No. 87 - 17 September, 2006

Stamps with Pyramid Guidelines

It has been quite the year for Canadian stamps. We’ve seen the most new record prices and some of the highest increases, some which could only be described as giant leaps. We’ve also seen some really outstanding collections come to auction, such as the Sir Gawaine Baillie and Malibu collections. These were both held last May, one in New York and one in Washington. For the first time we can remember, non-Canadian auction houses played a clearly significant role in the sale of Canadian stamps.

In this year’s commentaries, we have ventured into some specialized areas such as re-entries and booklets. We assume there are lots of you who have an interest in these areas. In this commentary, we venture out once again into a specialized area, one dealing with “pyramid guidelines”.

From what we can see, not many collectors know why theses guidelines were printed on the sheet margins. Presumably a guideline is meant to guide somehow. Were they there as an indication of the position on the sheet like the “position dots” seen on the Small Queen stamps. Or alternatively, were they there to show the colours used in the stamp, or maybe, like the lathework work on the Admiral stamps, were they used to indicate when the plate was wearing out.

Pyramid guidelines defined:

We found the answers after some research. The term “guidelines” is defined in The Postage Stamps and Postal History of Canada by Winthrop S. Boggs, published in Kalamazoo Michigan in 1946. Here’s what Mr. Boggs says:

“Horizontal or vertical colored lines between the stamps and extending wholly or partially across the sheet are known as “guide lines”, and serve as guides for the operators of perforating machines, or to indicate the line of separation of the sheet into panes.”

Further details were provided in the booklet “Canada - the Admiral issue 1911-1925 by George C. Marler, published by Unitrade press in 1980. There it states:

“In 1922…it became customary to engrave either on the right or left hand margin two guides, each consisting of six parallel vertical lines of different lengths bisected by a single horizontal line. These appeared just opposite the 5th. and 6th. horizontal rows of the upper and lower panes. Their purpose would appear to be to assure the accurate perforation of the printed sheets which, after the margin had been trimmed on the guillotine cutter, were separated into various sizes according to the number of vertical guide lines visible in the margin after the trimming operation on the guillotine cutter.”

Examples from Brigham Auctions Ltd.


Lot 597
Unitrade 108iv
Catalogue $800
Realized $1,500

Lot 615
Unitrade 117iv

Catalogue $3,250
Realized $4,400

The above stamps were described as F-VF NH, i.e. they were not perfect, but definitely in very respectable condition. We reviewed our research files to see if we had a record of earlier sales of these unusual varieties. We had no earlier record of a sale of a Scott 108 with guidelines. However we did find an earlier sale of a Scott 117 (Robert A. Lee - June 26, 2004, lot 2312). There, a pair with guidelines, with an estimate of $1,000, sold for $2,200. It was NH and described as superb. These few details give some idea of how much in demand this particular variety is and also how rare.

We called Lex de Ment at Brigham Auctions to ask why the prices were so high. He replied that these were the two most actively bid on lots in the auction, particularly the 10¢ Admiral block. In the end, both lots went to the same collector in the UK.


Was Google helpful?

When in trouble we often turn to Google on the internet. What were these guidelines really for? We turned on the search engine and plugged in “pyramid guidelines”. Out came all sorts of odd answers that we looked through until we spotted the one dealing with stamps. To our utter amazement, it turned out to be a 2006 news report from The People’s Daily Newspaper in Beijing.

The title to their story was “Stamp Pyramid-Selling Costs Investors Life Savings.”

The article was about the more than 200,000 private investors across Spain who, earlier this year, are believed to have fallen victim to an alleged pyramid-selling scam involving rare postage stamps. In Spain, the company in question denied any wrongdoing.

And some people say that stamp collecting isn’t exciting!

We’re sure there’s much more that could be said about pyramid guidelines, but hope this brief summary would be of interest to you.


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©2006, Canadian Stamp Auctions Ltd., Montréal, Québec, Canada