The 1999 flood of Christmas stamps is beginning to strike the marketplace, so it is timely to set the stage for what could be one of the biggest finds of the year. Special finds are always lurking in most unsuspecting spots, but this week's celebrated stamp is most likely somewhere in the United States.
The story begins very innocently during the spring/summer of 1994 when Canada Post Corporation anticipated a postal increase to go into effect around the first of November which would have coincided with the release of the annual Canada Christmas issue. As it turned out, the anticipated postal increase did not get federal government approval until almost a year later in mid 1995, and it only went into effect on August 1.
Consequently, it paved the way for what is enfolding as a significant stamp story. On November 3, 1994, Canada Post launched its special Christmas stamps in the usual four denominations. One was the undenominated stamp designed for domestic greeting cards and often referred to as GREET MORE stamps. They were available at a discount price to encourage more card greetings by mail. Canada's GREET MORE stamps were discontinued with the 1995 issue.
The other 1994 Canada Christmas stamps included a 43-cent item for domestic mail, a 50-cent stamp for mail to the United States, and an 88-cent stamp for other international mail. The stamps were a commemorative issue to celebrate carolling and choirs, considered essential elements of the wonderfully festive music enjoyed during the holiday season. The stamps especially honored the 100th anniversary of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the 100th anniversary of Massey Hall, the Mendelssohn Choir's home and where it has performed the Messiah faithfully since 1942.
Now that you have the introduction, it is time to test your wits. The illustrations that accompany this column provide a good glimpse at what we are looking for. Because of the proposed price increase, there were actually two printings of the 1994 Canada Christmas stamps - one for the proposed rate and one for the actual rate at the time.
There is considerable evidence of the two printings. The GREET MORE booklets, for example, had a peelable cover affixed to the original. By careful peeling the adhesive cover, one could see the proposed price increase for those stamps. Since the GREET MORES were undenominated, all that the postal authority had to do was replace the booklet cover.
As the plot thickens, questions arise as to how some of the proposed rate stamps get into public hands. Ah, t'will always be a mystery because the best laid plans of stamp issuers oft go awry.
Good stories always take time to season, but this one took longer than usual. The true proof of the existence of the proposed rate 1994 Christmas stamps only came to attention four years later in 1998.
A prominent Canadian dealer reported recently that a Mr. Holmes of Halifax, Nova Scotia approached him in September 1998 to sell a sheet of the 1994 Christmas choir stamp in an unusual denomination of 52 cents, which he could not find in Scott or any other catalogue. Then in the November-December issue of The Canadian Philatelist, the same Mr. Holmes wrote the editor his complete story of buying the stamps at a Halifax flea market. He had purchased three sheets. Mr. Holmes' letter traces the kind of background with speculation that I outlined above.
The dealer, however, was not deterred. He refused to pay Holmes what he thought "his treasures were worth." He did, however, learn that the flea market seller had more than the three sheets. At the BNAPS show in Orlando, Florida in October 1998, the same Canadian dealer was given an opportunity to purchase three sheets of the 1994 52-cent Canadian Christmas stamp which he assumed came from the same source as Mr. Holmes' stamps.. The dealer purchased the stamps and made arrangements to purchase any others that might exist. That he ultimately did. He does not indicate how many he bought. Nonetheless, he did make a deal to split what he had with another Canadian dealer.
Both dealers are now running major advertisements in the Canadian and American philatelic press. They will probably sell out in short order because these varieties are of prime interest and scarce.
In due course, a few of the 1994 Christmas stamps in a 90-cent denomination appeared which the dealers are reserving for customers who purchase the 52-cent variety.
But the story does not end here.
Mint stamps in the two varieties exist (these are not errors, they're varieties), but to date, no used copies are known. Although they were never officially released, they were sold over a post office counter for use as postage.
The most logical place for used copies of the 52-cent stamp will be in the United States. When the variety was discovered in 1998, the cost of first class mail to the U.S. from Canada was 52 cents. It is quite possible, therefore, that some of the stamps were postally used. If the 90-cent stamp was used for postage, it could be found anywhere in the world. What a needle and haystack search that would be!
Chances are good, though, that some used copies of the 52-cent will appear. What will they be worth? A princely sum, probably. On cover with a clear cancellation date preceding September 1998 would be a excellent find, and definitely postally used.
Mint singles of the 52-cent stamp are advertised for sale at CAN$195 or US$129, while blocks of four are available for CAN$695 or US$459. If you really want to treat yourself this Christmas, get a matched set of four inscription blocks for a mere CAN$2,900 or US$1,950.
Stories like this are remarkable in our hobby. This one is particularly interesting because it took so long for the variety stamps to surface - almost four years - and because no used copies have yet been detected, five years later.
The sun will shine brightly on a collector some day in the future when he or she proudly boasts of a good used copy of the 1994 Canada Christmas stamp in a 52-cent denomination.
'Tis the magic of Christmas!
Good hunting. It may not be a good idea to go door to door searching everyone's mail box. It now costs 55 cents for a letter to travel from Canada to the United States. Someone's hoard of old letters, especially from Atlantic Canada could be a good starting point. Good luck! I'd love to report such a find here on Stamp Universe!
Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for CANADIAN STAMP NEWS, GIBBONS INTERNATIONAL STAMP NEWS, and other philatelic publications.