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Stamp Market Commentary

Commentary No. 93 - 17 March, 2007

Scott 1 - Canada's First Stamp

Canada’s first stamp, the 3d beaver, was issued on April 23, 1851. How this came about was described by R.E.Bowley in 1983 in his book "Sir Sanford Fleming and the Unfolding of Canada":

“ The Honorable James Morris’, postmaster general for the Province of Canada from 1851, wanted a distinctive adhesive stamp such as the “penny black” developed by Roland Hill in Britain back in 1840. Morris conceived a design showing a beaver at work building a dam as a central theme. The beaver symbolized the hard work necessary to develop a new country as well as, according to Morris, the early medium of exchange or barter in trade for the French and British settlers.

Sanford, hearing of this design idea, arranged to meet and have breakfast with Morris on February 24, 1851. He offered to make a proof for such a stamp. This was done and the proof was accepted. The plates were engraved and the stamps printed in New York by a firm of security printers. Perforations had not yet been invented, so the page of printed stamps had to be cut with scissors. This design has found many uses and is in the crest of the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada.”

My great grandfather, Thomas Richard Burpe, worked for Sir Sanford in Halifax and Ottawa in the 1860’s and 1870’s, during the time that the railways were being built across Canada and so this story and the many other significant exploits of this amazing man have been of particular interest. The fact that he designed Canada’s first stamp has naturally added to my fascination with Canada’s stamps.

What follows is a collection of the finest copies of the 3d beaver we could find that have been offered at auction over the past 30 years. If any of our viewers know of other examples of this quality, we would be glad to consider adding them.

Single copies – mint

R. Maresch & Son
1 Nov., 1989
Lot 143

Eastern Auctions
21 Feb., 2004
Lot 476

Single copies - used

Sotheby Parke
28 Sept., 1977
Lot 3

R. Maresch & Son
16 June
., 1987
Lot 8

Matthew Bennett
20 May, 2006

Lot 1

Pair – mint

R. Maresch & Son
30 Jan., 1985

Lot 48


Block of 4 – mint

J.N. Sissons (Hussey),
1 Nov., 1973 Lot 75
Maresch Private Treaty,
17 July, 1977, Lot 8
Irwin Weinberg (Foxbridge),
20 Nov., 1987, Pg. 1

Sotheby Parke (Hilmer)

28 Sept., 1977
Lot 1

Strip of 3 – used

Sotheby Parke (Hilmer)

28 Sept., 1977

Lot 5

Strip of 4 – used

Eaton & Sons

17 June, 1988

Lot 759

Charles Firby (Nickle)
29 Oct., 1988

Lot 140

Charles Firby
26 June, 2004

Lot 24

Block of 4 – used

Charles Firby (Nickle)
29 Oct., 1988
Lot 139

Matther Bennett

21 Feb., 2007
Lot 157



Shreves (Dr. Tang)

30 Sept., 2006
Lot 607

Scott 1a - Canada’s First Stamp
(orange red)

Sotheby Parke
27 Sept., 1977
Lot 2

Charles Firby (Midland)
24 Jan., 2004

Lot 127

R. Maresch & Son
7 Oct., 1977

Lot 88

Plate Essay


The many controversies surrounding the stamp’s production were well documented in Firby’s booklet “The Sanford Fleming 3 Pence Essay” issued in 1996. As he explains, the 3d Venetian Red beaver remained the property of Sir Sanford Fleming and later his son from 1851 until 1934 when it was gifted to a dealer in Ottawa, H. Borden Clarke. In 1941 Clarke sold it for $200 to Bruce Robson, a collector in Ottawa and there it remained until sold at auction through Firby for the first time in 1996.

The above essay of the 3p beaver was sold at Charles G. Firby’s auction of The “Midland” Collection of Canada on January 24, 2004. The estimated price before the auction began was $90,000 US but, by the time the bidding was over, it reached $110,000 US. This was the 2nd. time the essay had passed through Firby’s hands.


We hope our viewers have enjoyed this review of Canada’s first stamp. The little beaver has always been noted for its simple life and industrious energy. While not a beautiful animal, it has many qualities that we can admire and are still proud to associate with our country.

Thomas R. Burpee, President
Canadian Stamp Auctions
Montreal, Canada.

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©2007, Canadian Stamp Auctions Ltd., Montréal, Québec, Canada