JAIMIE VERNON: STAMPS & COINS & ROCKS & THINGS

vernon_1997At least once a week I get an excited phone call from my pal Rob Tyler – one-half of comedy/music duo Two For The Show – whose enthusiasm for everything is infectious. So much so that he always wants to share it. He loved my Encyclopedias so much he introduced me to the brain-trust at Long & McQuade Musical instruments and got me a distribution deal nationally with the company. My daughter showed an interest in recording a solo song – he offered his studio and production skills to see it through. I’m grateful he accommodated her. His biggest cheerleading is for his kids – a prouder Dad you would never meet.

I’ve been able to watch the rising star of his international known daughter Jessica Tyler (of ‘DeGrassi: The Next Generation’ and now opening shows, musically, for Nelly Furtado) through his eyes. He also happens to be the brother of Skylab_Envelopedrummer Marty Morin (ex-Truck, Goddo, Wireless) so we have a classic rock connectivity that has resulted in lunches at Johnny’s Hamburgers in Scarborough with Zero from The Kings (“This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide”).

This past week his call was a little different: “Dude, you’re a man of the world…what do you know about stamp collecting?”

StampCollectorWhat a strange question. But not really. Nobody…and I mean NOBODY could know that I once collected stamps. Or maybe it’s based on his assumption that at one point all geeks collected stamps. But that’s a big leap. One that he was correct to make. Turns out that Rob’s father-in-law was a massively dedicated philatelist (someone that studies stamps and postal history). Rob and his wife are in possession of professionally bound books of his extant collection – potentially containing thousands of stamps from around the world. Rob was curious to know where he could find out the value of the stamps.

Stamp CollcetionI was immediately curious. Most stamps are worth little more than the denominations printed on the front these days but occasionally, though rarely, there are one or two that crop up that are worth thousands to the right expert buyers. With so many stamps in this collection – some apparently dating back to WW2 (and probably earlier if he was a true collector) – the odds of a rare specimen was quite high.

I told Rob to focus on Canadian and American stamps pre-WW2. The old man had the stamps mounted and labeled so the task would be easy. Anything with Kings, Queens and Presidents was the best place to start – though often less rare during their initial run (some Canadian 1 cent stamps from the 1930’s had print runs of over a billion) the very fact that they were common meant people didn’t pay much attention to them…and often chucked them out with yesterday’s junk mail. I gave Rob a few tips on finding stamp catalogs online or tracking down the last remaining specialty stores in Toronto that would be able to appraise the entire collection – which would produce a bigger payday than breaking the collection apart.

Stamp_dealerThere used to be a high end coin and stamp dealer in the Scarborough Town Centre in the ‘70s. I used to buy coins for my collection there and, on occasions when I had a bit of money, a stamp or two. However, as clothing became more of a driving force at retail in the 1980s (did we really need more Miami Vice fashion accessories?), the store moved out and headed downtown. I couldn’t remember the name but told Rob that it’s most probably still around – it was one of the best in Toronto. Try the stock market district on Bay Street.

The notion of collecting something like a stamp or a coin – two objects that pass through our hands freely on a daily basis – must seem like a foreign concept to generations of kids who weren’t alive pre-email or Interac. Hell, I used to collect rocks and insects too…house flies, butterflies, moths and bee carcasses pinned to a wooden board seemed like a normal childhood pass-wood burningtime when I was growing up. As normal as playing with lethal weaponry like Clackers and Wood Burning kits.

When I got off the phone with Rob I was excited. I wanted to see his father-in-law’s collection for sure but I was now swimming in the notion that my own collection might actually have value. I’ve had it stored for 30 years – never giving it more than a cursory glance each time I had to repack it to move to a new house. I pulled out the specially padded bound book from a shelf and began skimming the pages…and suddenly, I was transported backwards in time.

It was Grade 1 and our school was having a science and hobby fair. We were to bring in something that we made or collected and put them on display where they’d be judged on presentation, originality and participation. This was in the days before children’s feelings were bubble wrapped for freshness and spared the humiliation of being told that what you’d done actually BarbieCollectionsucked. I proudly walked away with 3rd place in the hobby category – behind a girl with a kick-ass Barbie collection and another kid who managed to bring in a decade’s worth of mint hockey cards (many of them autographed).

My collection was sparse but diverse from two dozen countries around the world. My step-grandfather Larry, you see, ran a mail order business to supplement his retirement income. He dealt with importers and exporters in Toronto and Montreal, assembled catalogs of goods to sell overseas and mailed them to similar entrepreneurs around the world. When we visited him and my grandmother his office was filled with Tiki statues, Spanish swords (a set of which still graces the rec room in my parents’ house) and Japanese water colour wall art. As interesting as those things were, I was more interested in the packages they came in. Larry would carve out the postage from the wrapping paper or from the front of letters he’d received from Burundi or Kuwait or Madagascar and give them to me.

Larry_MasterVernonAs I got older he’d send me an envelope in the mail every month filled with these exotic postal works of art which always featured a freshly released Canadian stamp on the front addressed to “Master Vernon”. Strangely, the stamps became less significant and I began to cherish the letters more and as the priority of people over ‘things’ began to crystallize in my life I took less interest in stamp collecting. When my grandfather passed I gave it up all together. The fun in collecting was having him live vicariously through my joy. Only now, while looking at this book filled with stamps, can I see is his influence.

The question remains, though: are there riches buried amongst these gummy postal affixations?
I did some research. Collections Canada (through the National Archives in Ottawa, Ontario) have a pretty definitive website that identifies every stamp ever issued by our government (and the pre-Federated provinces) but stories about how and why the stamps exist. Even if you’re not a stamp enthusiast, the history of our postage is also a history of our country.

1851StampsFor those not aware, the first Canadian postage stamps were issued in 1851 when we were still a Province of Canada (our new designation as the Dominion of Canada was 26 years away). Therefore, we were still under the repressive thumb of England – and so, our postage was standardized as per Britain’s Royal Mail rules and regulations. That year the 3-pence beaver (wow, how cliché), the 6-pence His Royal Highness Prince Albert (it’s unknown whether this came with or without a can) and the 12-pence Her Royal Stuck-Up Queen Victoria were rolled out in quantities of 250,000, 100,000 and 51,000 respectively. Ironically, an American company – the American Bank Note Company – was given the contract to print all our stamps until we proclaimed Confederation in 1867 and told them to lick our gummy obverses. Instead, ABNC set up shop in Ottawa and managed to hold onto the contract well into the 20th Century.

Stamp_Canada_1954_5c_QE2 Given that my stamp interest began around 1970, it would be a rare find to have anything in my own collection that old – there are very few specimens of pre-industrialized Canadian postage still in existence all of which sit in the vaults of fatuous rich people who wouldn’t know a post mark from a Post Rice Krispies square. My collection is sorted, primarily, by era and within those eras, by similar stamp date of release. Canada Post was quite diligent in its annual issue of a new stamp designs which always featured a stuffy profile of the King of England year-after year until Elizabeth took the throne whereby they posed her in front of legendary photographer Karsh who forced her to wear a crown and smile just to shake things up.

st_pancras_stationEvery stamp release had to adhere to the world postal standards as established by 80 year-old Victorian-era mucilage gobblers at a meeting in a dusty broom closet near Track B of St. Pancras Station in London, England during the United Nations’ High Council of Narcoleptic Philatelists of 1920. In its time this meeting – which became an annual event featuring snuff snuffers and brandy sniffers – was considered the world’s fair of dull and set the tone for stamp colour and denomination uniformity for decades: Dark Green, Ochre, Carmine (which is dried-blood red), Red, Brown, Blue, Mauve, and Charcoal.  And, God forbid you wanted to create a special stamp to celebrate or commemorate something. It would take letters to all the participating countries and a special dispensation from King George the Roman Numeraled as well as Postmaster Dumbledore himself. Olive Green stamps were outlawed outright for no other reason than one of these codgers hated olives.

BluenoseEventually Canadian stamps stopped catering exclusively to the royalists and began reflecting Canadian life. Each year special stamps were released to celebrate the French explorers, Christmas, the aboriginals, the Canadian flag, the Group of Seven, industry and even hockey. But Elizabeth continues to dominate even if the cost of postage is now more than it would cost to get on a plane and go see the old biddy in person.

All of these transitional periods are reflected in my collection. None of them worth much, if anything…with the possible exception of two stamps.

KingGeorge_2centsWhen the House of Saxe-Cobourg and Gotha’s King Edward VII – son of Queen Victoria – died on the throne in May 1910 his son, King George V, took the crown. Not wanting anyone to put two and two together in discovering that he was the first cousin of both Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, he renamed the Germanic sounding royal lineage to the more Anglocentric ‘House of Windsor’. As the foremost philatelic expert in England, and the new head of state, Canada Post was obligated to celebrate the new monarch. On December 22, 1911 they issued a new series of stamps featuring the King in full naval regalia (he served in the Royal Fleet and was formerly the Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney). 3 billion each of the 1 cent dark green and 2 cent carmine stamps were released over a period leading into the early 1920s before a new design and photo of a much older King George V graced our postage. I have several of the 1920s editions.

KingGeorge_WarTax2However, I also have one of the 2 cent carmine stamps issued between 1911 and 1912. It’s the oldest stamp in my collection. How I came to have a 100 year-old postage stamp is beyond my 49 year recall. Needless to say it’s a keepsake. However, it’s not the rarest stamp I have. At the on-set of the First World War Europe fell into a financial crisis trying to fund the defense of its borders from German attack. Emergency council meetings were held by governments all over Europe as well as countries controlled by the British Empire. King George decried a war tax to help off-set the cost of sending young Brits to their deaths on the front line (hmmm…where have I heard that story before?).

KingGeorge_WarTaxIn Canada, existing 1914 postage stamps still in the American Bank Note Companies warehouse reserve were branded with a 1c tax notice in black ink. A 2 cent stamp would now cost 3 cents to mail. The post offices collected the tax and sent it back to Ottawa to fuel the war chest. In March 1915 a special order was issued to engrave a new plate of King George’s existing 1 cent and 2 cent stamps and the words ‘War Tax’ were clearly marked as part of the new design.

This was temporary, however, as England wanted the  Empire countries to have uniform looking War Tax postage and a second set of engravings reading 1tC (1 cent tax) and 2tC (2 cent tax) were issued in June 1915 and replaced the earlier stamps. I have the rarer single 2 cent ‘War Tax’ stamp from March 1915.

PostOffice_full

The true collector value of these two historic postage stamps remains unknown. The Canada Collection doesn’t give prices so it’s up to me to do some digging and see if I can’t find someone to give them a valuation. I’m not sure I really want to know. I’m loathe to part with these treasures as they represent a more innocent time in my life. I’ll leave them to my children and maybe the stamps will have a much higher value in 2062 when they turn 150 years old. Hell, maybe these two stamps featuring images of postal workers will be worth something to remind future generations how we used to ‘text’.

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.
Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS_ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia (http://www.bullseyecanada.com) and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

16 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON: STAMPS & COINS & ROCKS & THINGS”

  1. I have one cent queen Victoria stamps found in my grandfathers bible, my sister now has his collection, I would imagine some old stuff in there. I enjoyed this read, thanks.

  2. […] Rob Tyler, stamps, War Tax, World War 1. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

    • i have approx 200 canada’s rare stamp collection i want to sell
      this collection but dont know tru valu of this set. pl. reply

  3. I need to expand my horizons. I have a list of words I always wanted to use in my writings, one of which is “mucilage”. Unfortunately, it was seldom used in pressing records. I have now crossed it off my list, realizing that I could never have used it as wisely nor as poetically. Please stay away from “nutria”, “Wondra” and “pusillanimous”. Now that “mucilage” has been axed, they top my new list and will be used in the near future.

    As usual— in fact, weekly— you raise the writing bar.

  4. Frank,
    You have a deal…as long as you stay away from the words Corbomite, dowager and sanguine.

  5. hi I have some canadien stamps if you would be interested

  6. I have 1 of those Canada 5c stamps with women’s head on in mint condition is it worth owt if so advice wot t du with it wud be appreciated

  7. siphan soudary Says:

    who can buy 1cent between 1911-1912 ,3billion each of the 1cent dark green,i knew 1c was auction in newyork on March 2015.

  8. I have 3 of the 5c stamp of Queen Elizabeth Canada I wane know how much its worth

  9. I have 3 of Elizabeth Canada stamps I wane now how much its wort

  10. I have 3 Canada stamps l wane know how much its worth

  11. Hi I’m not one of those rich people however we do have two things in common i also don’t know the difference between post rice Krispies or post mark and I also own one of these Canada 5 cent stamps,
    If interested contact me email.

  12. Hi i have a blue canadian 5 stamp how much is its value? Thanks

  13. Georgina Gilham Says:

    I was looking at your page and going through my own stamp album and have the Canadian 5c blue stamp that is shown on your web page. Would this be of interest to you ?

  14. john engstrom Says:

    I have several stamps you might be looking for

  15. Fred Roberts Says:

    I recently was given a enormous collection of old post cards. Good to excellent condition. Most have stamps. The cards range from 1906 to 1950’s. (Some you are looking for) Let’s chat!

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