The Sanford Fleming 3 Pence Essay
Charles G. Firby
Sir Sandford Fleming was born Jan. 7,
1827 in Kilkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. After
normal school, he apprenticed in an
engineering office where he decorated
ornate maps. Arriving in Canada in
1845 aboard the ship "Brilliant",
Fleming eventually found work in
Peterborough as a draughtsman. It was
there that he worked to produce a map
of the Peterborough District which
lured him to the profession of
surveying. He moved to Weston in
1846 and three years later, the
Canadian government required junior
surveyors be tested in Montreal.
Apparently, while in Montreal, Fleming
witnessed the Elgin riots and the
burning of the Parliament buildings. It
was here that he rescued a painting of
Queen Victoria that apparently was
later employed for the design of the
12d black. He is most noted in
philatelic circles as the designer of Canada's first postage stamp the 3d Beaver.
Fleming's distinguished career included numerous other important contributions. He
was the founder of the "Intercolonial and Canadian Pacific Railway" and worked
diligently surveying and expanding the Canadian railway network. He was also
involved in the construction of the Pacific and Empire Cable. Perhaps his most
famous invention is the concept of Standard Time for which he was knighted by
Queen Victoria and received the title "Sir". Fleming died on July 22, 1915 at
Like most businessmen, Fleming was a regular postal patron. It is reported that he
grew weary of standing in line at the post office to have his letters individually rated.
H. Borden Clarke1 in reviewing Fleming's correspondence found numerous
references to "this post office nuisance" and his determination "to do something
about it". The idea of postage stamps being used in Canada was not a new one.
References can be found in the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Canada in
1849 calling for the issuance of postage stamps. Great Britain and the United States
had postage stamps in use since 1840 and 1847 respectively. A visionary was
needed to see the process through in Canada and more importantly to act when the
timing was right.
That moment came in August, 1850 when the new Post Office Act transferred the
operation of the Post Office to the Provincial Government effective April 6, 1851.
The Honorable James Morris was appointed February 22,1851 and it was a scant
two days later, on February 24, 1851, that Fleming accompanied by Sheriff Rutter
met with Morris to discuss the possibility of producing stamps. According to
Fleming's diary entry 2 , as shown on the front cover, Fleming met with Morris at
Toronto's Ellah Hotel.
In a January 2, 1888 letter 3 to PMG Morris's son, James Morris, Fleming recounts
these important first moments in Canadian philately
I duly received your note enclosing one of the early three pence postage stamps
which you have so kindly forwarded for my collection. I think I mentioned to you
that I have in my possession the proof of the first postage stamp issued in Canada.
It is now before me in my scrap book and I shall copy, on the other side, the
explanation written with it. "This is the first proof from the plate of the first postage
stamp issued in Canada designed by Sandford Fleming for the Post Master General,
the Hon. James Morris, Toronto February, 1851."
You ask me to inform you of the circumstances. I was then a young man about 24,
ready for anything whatever. I had been making designs of some sort for Sheriff
Rutten an intimate friend of your father. Your father had, in conversation, mentioned
what he had in view with the issue of three pence postage stamps. The Sheriff
referred him to me as a person who would make a design. I was sent for and was
introduced to your father (PMG Morris) one morning at Stone's Hotel (an error
actually Ellah's Hotel) on King Street, now occupied by the Romain Building.
According to my recollection you were present, 37 years younger than you are now.
The design was made, engraved approved and used for years. The first proof taken
from the plate by the engraver, is as I have stated in my collection of scraps.
Wishing you a happy new year and all other good things.
Yours Very Sincerely
On page 121 of his definitive work, Boggs attributes both the design and engraving
of the 3d Beaver essay to Fleming. It is now recognized that while Fleming was
responsible for the design, the lithograph die essay was executed by James Ellis, Ellis
and Co of Toronto. Ken Johnson4 notes listings in Brown's (1846-7) and Rowsell's
(1850-1) Toronto city directories for a John Ellis engravers and banknote engravers'
but no listings for a James Ellis and suggests that throughout history "perhaps by way
of transference, John has become James?".
PMG MORRIS' QUEST FOR A POSTAGE STAMP
New research has suggested that there was a little known intermediary step between
the die essays prepared by Toronto engraver Ellis and the eventually issued Rawdon,
Wright, Hatch and Edson (RWHE) postage stamps (Scott #1-3). There is substantial
evidence that PMG Morris verbally authorized Toronto lithographic printer Hugh
Scobie to immediately prepare a lithographed 3d postage stamp. As production of
these Scobie postage stamps progressed, concerns were raised over counterfeits
being made. These concerns were echoed by some members of Parliament who
reportedly remarked " these stickers would be counterfeited instantly and the
government would be carrying free mail in 30 days.
The very important revelation that Hugh Scobie may have prepared the first
officially sanctioned postage stamps will be dealt with in much greater detail
following a chronological examination of PMG Morris' actions and the resulting
contract with RWHE to prepare the second order of postage stamps which turned
out to be the first officially released issue.
Having already issued an order for lithographed postage stamps, PMG Morris quickly
searched for an alternative that might better prevent counterfeiting. As a result, he
searched out experts in steel plate engraving.
PMG Morris met with Montreal engraver George Matthews to discuss engraving
these stamps as a means to prevent counterfeiting. Apparently Matthews offered to
produce a counterfeit of the lithographed stamps prepared in Toronto. This is an
important turning point in the saga of Canadian postage stamps because the mere
suggestion by Matthews that he could counterfeit the Scobie lithograph stamps
caused PMG Morris to pursue a steel engraved plate process. Matthews, the
Canadian agent for RWHE referred Morris to his company's New York Headquarters.
Morris happened to be in Montreal to visit Matthews because he was enroute to
Washington where he signed a postal convention with the United States. The March
27, 1851 Hamilton Spectator6 notes "The new Postmaster General has departed for
Washington to endeavor to effect better Postal arrangement with the United States".
As part of his trip to Washington PMG Morris stopped in New York where he
visited RWHE and gave a second verbal contract for postage stamps.
This second verbal contract for postage stamps was confirmed by RWHE to PMG
Morris in a letter7 dated March 27, 1851,
We have received your verbal order for engraving and furnishing Canada Postage
Stamps of the denominations of Three Pence, Six Pence and Twelve Pence The
plate for the Three Pence Stamps will be finished on or before the 7th April next,
that for the Six Pence Stamps, on or before the 20th April and that for the Twelve
Pence Stamps on or before 30th April. We shall be prepared to enter into a wider
contract embracing the above, when required by you.
RWHE worked quickly to produce the dies and begin printing, recognizing the
urgency that PMG Morris had placed in securing the stamps as soon as possible. In
a letter8 to PMG Morris dated April 5, 1851, RWHE wrote,
Enclosed herewith we beg leave to hand you proofs of the die just finished for the
Three Pence stamps, which we hope will be found satisfactory, -- the die will be
hardened today, and the plate for printing from, will be finished on Monday next,
and we shall commence printing on the 8th inst and will forward the impressions as
In perhaps one of the most important letters relating to the RWHE verbal contract
for printing postage stamps, we find that PMG Morris himself informs RWHE that the
postage stamps (not dies or proofs) prepared in Toronto would not be used. In the
letter dated April 9, PMG9 Morris responded to RWHE,
I have this morning received your letter of the 5th ins. covering proofs of the three
pence stamps which is in every way satisfactory. As I do not intend to use the
stamps which were executed here, you will please strike off two hundred and fifty
thousand of the three pence stamps at your earliest convenience, a portion of which
from what you say I shall expect to receive in the course of three or four days
Even though RWHE sent two letters7,8 confirming PMG Morris' verbal order, this
letter is the first instance where there is a written order from Morris himself for
postage stamps. His declaration not to use the stamps executed in Toronto supports
Scobie's claim that he was contracted to prepare postage stamps first. This
important revelation will be dealt with shortly.
On April 10th, RWHE sent a letter10 to PMG Morris stating,
Enclosed herewith we hand you a proof impression of the plate of Three Pence
Stamps, which we hope will be found satisfactory. We will finish printing 100,000
of these stamps this day, and we will have them dried, pressed and gummed as fast
as possible, and we now intend to send them on Tuesday next, the 15th inst. which
will be the earliest moment at which they can be got ready.
The first shipment of postage stamps was sent from RWHE with a letter11 dated April
15, 1851 that reads,
We send you this day through the Post Office, the 100,000 Three Pence stamps,
ordered when here last, which we hope will reach you in due course, and be found
satisfactory. We are in receipt of your favor of 9th inst. and we are gratified to learn
that the proofs sent you were approved. We shall immediately prepare the
additional 150,000 Three Pence stamps ordered therein and will forward them as
soon as they can be got ready. We shall send you, in a few days, proofs of the other
The balance was sent with another letter12 dated April 25, 1851 stating As promised
in ours of 23rd inst., we send by this mail 150,000 Three Pence Stamps, ordered per
your favor of 9th inst.
As a result of the hurried work of RWHE, Canadian P.O. Circular 413 dated April
21, 1851 announced the release of Canada's first postage stamps which reads in
Postage stamps are about to be issued, one representing the Beaver, of the
denomination of Three pence, the second representing the head of Prince Albert,
of the denomination of Six pence, and the third, representing the head of Her
Majesty, of the denomination of One Shilling; which will shortly be transmitted to
the Post Masters at important points, for sale.
It is widely accepted that the postage stamps prepared by RWHE were verbally
ordered and then brought under a formal contract14 dated June 25, 1851. These are
recognized as Canada's first issue of postage stamps. There exists, however,
considerable evidence supporting the fact that there was an earlier issue of
postage stamps prepared by Toronto printer Hugh Scobie which were officially
sanctioned and prepared by the Postmaster General but not released.
DID SCOBIE PRINT CANADA'S FIRST POSTAGE STAMP?
While it is largely recognized that RWHE printed the first Canadian postage stamps
(Scott #1-3) as a result of this research it is suggested that there was an earlier, Post
Office sanctioned order placed for stamps that were prepared before the RWHE
issued stamps which were not placed into public use by PMG Morris.
It is believed by members of this firm that Toronto printer Hugh Scobie played a
large yet little known role in the saga of Canada's first postage stamps. A letter
written by Hugh Scobie and reproduced in Walker's article15 gives considerable
insight into the events of the time. Scobie claims in this letter that he was verbally
instructed to produce the postage stamps but that PMG Morris later issued a second
verbal order to Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson (RWHE) to produce the same
stamps with a formal contract being delivered after the stamps were completed.
Scobie's letter was apparently written some 18 months after the stamps were issued
but it is undated. Scobie was one of the largest printers in Toronto and served as the
Editor of the Toronto newspaper British Colonist. His once complimentary editorials
turned critical of PMG Morris because Toronto printers were deprived of work that
was contracted out to foreign interests even though the stamps produced in Toronto
were of much better quality. Scobie never revealed who the injured parties were in
Toronto as he tried to rally public pressure to force PMG Morris to have production
of the stamps moved to Canada. We now realize why Scobie never mentioned who
the printer in Toronto was since it was himself. The Scobie letter may have been an
unpublished editorial written to fully expose the circumstances surrounding the
printing of Canada's first postage stamps. The Scobie letter in the Walker article15
I deem it proper to give an account of the negotiations and transactions which have
taken place between the Post Master General and me, in order that there may be
no room for misapprehension.
In March, 1851, the Post Master General called at my place of business (King St.,
south side, just east of Yonge), having with him a Copper-plate upon which was
engraved a design for three penny postage stamps. He informed me that the design
had been furnished by Mr. Fleming and that the engraving had been executed by
With both of these he expressed much satisfaction. He further informed me that his
object in calling upon me was to learn whether he could get a supply of stamps
printed immediately from the plate. He said that reduced rates of postage would go
into force on the 6th of April and he would require a considerable supply of stamps
before the end of March in order to have them distributed to the different points of
the province for the use of the Post Office on the 6th of April.
He also told me that there were in the hands of Mr. Ellis, in the process of
engraving, one for six penny stamps and another for one shilling stamps and that he
would likely require a supply printed from each of them.
Altogether the number of stamps which he required to be struck off was very large
and I informed him that it would be impossible to obtain them even if the printers
worked night and day without ceasing, for the reason that one plate would only
produce one stamp at once, and that he would require to have plates made
containing at least a dozen engravings to obtain the number of stamps he desired
in the time specified.
He told me that the work must be done in some manner. In reply this I informed
him that it could be done on stone by transfers. He said that he was unacquainted
with the process and I therefore had a transfer made, in his presence, with which
he expressed his satisfaction. He then asked me if I would undertake to print the
stamps in that manner in the time specified and I replied in the affirmative.
Arrangements of detail were made and I in consequence sent a press and workmen
to one of the Government buildings where they remained for five weeks under the
supervision of Government officers and printed the requisite number of stamps.
I was afterwards informed that the Post Master General has made arrangements for
a supply of stamps in New York; and those which he obtained there are now in
general use. They are no better quality than those produced by transfers of the
engravings of Mr. Ellis and I challenge the decision of any competent judge upon
this assertion of mine.
The whole amount paid me for the affair was only £25. The number of stamps
furnished by me was 581,500. I have made no statement in this letter with reference
to the interviews with the Post Master General with me, which he would not be
obliged to corroborate, if he were called upon to speak in the witness box: and I
will leave you and the public to be the judge of the part which I took in a common
Contemporary newspaper reports further support the contention that there was a
previous P.O. issued order for postage stamps to be prepared in Toronto. Scobie's
British Colonist editorial regarding the Post Office dated Mar. 7, 1851 , reads in part
"We understand that the Postmaster General, has already made arrangements to
have a supply of stamps for the pre-payment of postage, ready for use, and
distributed all over the province, against the 5th of April"16. This is perhaps one of
the most important contemporary facts. Quite simply, if a contract had been
awarded, it had to have been to Scobie since PMG Morris did not have contact
with RWHE until three weeks later.
Further supporting the claim that Scobie was contracted to print the first issue of
stamps is the evident change in Scobie's attitude towards PMG Morris. When Scobie
apparently had the contract to prepare the stamps, he publicly praised Morris in the
Mar. 7, 1851 British Colonist,
In putting in force a new (postal) system, it required a practical man to do it, and
the Ministry may consider themselves fortunate in having secured a colleague, of the
character for integrity and uprightness, and good business habits, which Mr. Morris
possesses. The new postage law holds out the prospect of a great boon to the
people, if faithfully carried out in its true spirit. We confidently rely that it will be
so introduced and enforced by Mr. Morris, as Provincial Postmaster General. 16
Scobie's discovery that his stamps had been substituted by an American product
upset him deeply. His editorial in the April 29, 1851 British Colonist17 remarks,
Mr. Morris applied to the British Colonist and to one of the best engravers in
Toronto on the subject of post office stamps and was informed that steel plate
engravings could not be furnished in Canada but that Mr. Scobie had a lithographic
press. Anxious to encourage Canadian industry the Post Master General at once
gave an order for a quantity of three penny stamps which were supplied. These
stamps were shown to Mr. Matthews, a clever and intelligent engraver of Montreal.
He was asked, if they would be easily counterfeited, when he offered in 24 hours
to produce a sheet exactly the same. This determined the Post Master General to
have his stamps from steel plate which he found with regret were not to be had in
Canada. Still anxious to have as much of the work as possible done in Canada, the
Post Master General applied to the New York House (RWHE) for the steel plates
alone; intending to have the impressions thrown off here; but the House expressed
unwillingness to furnish them unless they were allowed throw off the stamps
required; also stating that there was no press in Canada for throwing off steel plate
impressions. If the House had been prevailed upon to send the plates, the charge
would have been as large as both plates and impressions will cost. Enough has
surely been said on this matter. The moral should be as soon as possible, let us
have a good steel plate engraver, with a suitable press in Canada and neither the
Government nor the Bank will require to send beyond the lines.
Scobie's attitude towards PMG Morris changes dramatically over the course of a few
months. Scobie is furious that his work has been replaced with American products
that he feels are inferior. Scobie allows PMG Morris a graceful means of recourse
in a May 9, 1851 British Colonist article, "the Postmaster General had been misled,
and we expressed a hope that he would take the earliest opportunity to remedy the
mistake into which he was betrayed"18.
The awarding of the printing contract to an American firm caused a considerable
uproar in the local press. This public criticism of PMG Morris was relayed in a letter
dated May 17, 1851 to RWHE, "I would call your attention to the fact that the
Press of Canada have found much fault with the execution of the Three Penny
RWHE responded to PMG Morris in a letter20 dated Nov. 22, 1851, offering a reason
for the poor quality,
We shall be happy to furnish the further supply of 3d you mention and will
endeavour to print them on a better paper than the last proved to be. Please have
the kindness to order these as long before you actually require them as possible as
we shall then be able to furnish them in better order than if we are obliged to hurry
the various processes as was the case heretofore.
The May 30, 1851 British Colonist21 further suports Scobie's claim,
We are not aware what steps the Post Master General took to procure stamps in
Canada. We do happen to know this much, that he ordered certain work to be
done, and that it was done to order, in a satisfactory manner. We know moreover,
that the plate which was engraved here by Mr. Ellis is much superior in point of
workmanship to that which has been substituted for it from New York. And we
know further that the Stamps which were lithographed in this city from that plate
were fully as secure and as fit for use as those now in use in the (Post Office)
Scobie was further upset by alleged improprieties in tendering additional Post Office
work and attacked PMG Morris in a June 10, 1851 British Colonist editorial, "The
Postmaster General has been himself a successful tradesman in Canada, and we
hope that his success is to be attributed to more honourable practices than that
which, in his new and elevated position, he has employed to injure other
Morris tried to appease the public outcry for his decision to send the work to the
United States by having the plates only prepared by RWHE and have the production
carried out in Toronto. Such an arrangement was refused by RWHE in a letter23 to
PMG Morris dated June 27, 1851 that reads in part,
We regret to give you this trouble, but we presumed you will readily admit the
propriety of the proposed additions, as it was not contemplated on our part, to do
more than to furnish Dies and plates without charge therefor, so long as we were
employed to furnish all the stamps required from the same, at a given rate per 1000
stamps, and we should not have undertaken to supply our own P.O. Dept. on those
terms without the verbal assurance that we were to have the furnishing of all the
stamps, of every denomination, that might be required on the same terms.
Additional evidence lending credence to Scobie's claim to have been contracted and
paid to print the postage stamps can be found in the Post Office Accounts
themselves. The Post Office accounts24 for the period ending April 5, 1851 shows
that Hugh Scobie was paid £20/17/6 and £49/16/6 for services to the Post Office
Thus it can be seen that there is considerable evidence supporting the fact that
Canada's first postage stamp was printed by Toronto printer Hugh Scobie who
lithographed stamps which were officially sanctioned by PMG Morris but who
later chose to replace them with the engraved issues prepared by RWHE.
THE FIRST DESIGN OF THE ESSAY
It is largely accepted that Fleming designed the postage stamp and that Ellis executed
an engraved copper plate. There are many similar design elements between a
woodcut print entitled "Beaver Hunting in Canada" which accompanies the 3d
Venetian Red mounted on Fleming's diary page (See Photo Back cover). The
woodcut measures 168 x 245 mm with a pen notation at the bottom which reveals
"The old 1780 print which gave Sir Sandford the inspiration for the Beaver and
Waterfall". Clarke's "Announcement"25 states "Letter of certificate signed by Mr.
Fleming, Mr. Edward Fleming and myself is attached; also a 1750 (noted as 1780)
woodcut of a Beaver Family at Work in Canada, the property of Sir Sandford
Fleming and which inspired the stamp design".
It was at RWHE that engraver Alfred Jones, under the supervision of James Parsons
Major, produced the portraits of Prince Albert and Victoria that were used for the
balance of Canada's first issue. It is assumed that Jones also engraved the Beaver
design but since he was a portrait engraver, it is most probable that another engraver
executed the frame and lettering engraving26.
The dramatic similarities between the woodcut and the Fleming design include the
beaver centrally located in a beaver pond with vegetation in both the background
and foreground with a waterfall in the near foreground. The serifed lettering "Beaver
Hunting in Canada" with its horizontal shading lines are similarly incorporated into
the essay with the serifed, shaded "THREE PENCE".
Fleming included a similar large sky scene but omitted the clouds and substituted
a Sun. A single English rose (a symbol of English heraldry) similar to those draped
along the outside of the print is incorporated into the essay beneath the crown.
Fleming's depiction of the vegetation in the essay is a far more accurate
representation of Canada than the 1780 print. Fleming shows a line of coniferous
trees at the right and scrub brush at the left rather than using the "palm-like" trees
depicted in the 1780 print. The Fleming essay also shows a rather indistinct clump
of vegetation to the lower right of the beaver which would be strengthened later to
portray Ontario's abundant trilliums.
Design elements from the 1780 print not incorporated into Fleming's essay include
the beaver house, native Indians hunting the beavers with rifles and bow and arrow.
ESSAY OR STAMP?
To date, the two 3d black and two 3d Venetian Red plus the lone 1 shilling black
have been assumed to be essays executed by Ellis and Co. It is at this time that a
new theory is put forward for consideration by students of Canadian philately.
It is accepted that the two 3d black Beavers and the 1 shilling black beaver are die
essays produced by Ellis. It is suggested that the 3d Venetian Red Beaver mounted
on the Fleming scrapbook is a die essay executed by Toronto lithographer Hugh
Scobie and is not an Ellis essay.
More stunning is the suggestion that the 3d Venetian Red Beaver mounted on
Fleming's diary page (the present lot) is actually the only surviving example of the
lithographed 3d beaver stamp prepared by Hugh Scobie under direction of PMG
Morris prior to the printing of the stamps by Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson.
The Black examples are typical of essays in that they are printed on non-postage
stamp paper (thin, brittle, yellowish paper) and have the typical large margins
associated with essays. In addition, like essays, these examples are executed in black
which is the preferred color for showing details in design. Similarly, RWHE sent
black essays8 to PMG Morris for design acceptance. In contrast, the 3d Venetian
Red beaver essays are in the final color of issue further supporting the claim that the
Fleming essay is actually the final stamp product prepared by Scobie.
For a thorough examination of the lithographic printing process, readers are directed
to Fundamentals of Philately27. A summary of the lithographic plate preparation
process follows. During the preparation of a lithograph plate, the design is
transferred from the copper plate to stone and a number of "pulls" are made each
having an impression of the design. The excess paper around the design of each of
these pulls is trimmed and a number of these designs are arranged on a "base sheet"
or "patching sheet". The stamp designs are held in place with a special paste or with
a process known as "pricking through" or "stabbing". This occurs,
"at several positions on each pull (of course, normally avoiding colored portions of
the design) a needle point is pushed through the superimposed transfer paper and
patching sheet and then removed, leaving the two pieces of paper adhering to one
another. This assemblage, for which a short descriptive term in English is wanting,
is termed in French, bloc report'. The patching sheet with the adherent pulls is then
turned face down on to the primary stone, and the designs transferred to it in the
With a copper plate, this "laying down" process is known as a "plate to stone
transfer" and it is during this process that small minute flaws will occur in the design
due to the minute variations in the surface of the stone. In addition, the small
needlepoint holes created when preparing the plate can show up subsequently in
the final stamp product as small colored specks. A close examination of the 3d
Venetian Red Beaver mounted on Fleming's diary page shows two distinct red dots
which could be attributed to the "pricking through" and "bloc report" process.
Two distinct red dots are located to the right of the lower right numeral "3" in the
margin and to the right of "A" in "Postage". This is indicative of a stamp impression
taken from a plate, which is a feature that does not show up on the black essays (3d
and 1 shilling) nor does it appear on the 3d Venetian Red Beaver mounted on
Additionally, there is considerable offset of the same 3d beaver design in venetian
red on the reverse of the Fleming diary page 3d. This offset resembles the offset seen
on the Small Queen issue as well as the 1859 issue including the 5c beaver (Scott
#15). This offset is typical of the production of sheet stamps stacked on top of each
other as they are pulled from the press.
More importantly, this offset also shows the frameline of the next stamp above the
offset example on the reverse. The fact that portions of two different stamp images
are offset on the reverse of this 3d beaver proves that this example was taken from
a sheet of stamps and was not a single impression die essay.
Taking these facts into account, it seems apparent that the Venetian Red 3d Beavers
are clearly two different entities. The 3d Venetian Red beaver on the scrapbook page
is properly described as a die essay prepared by Toronto printer Hugh Scobie.
The 3d Venetian Red beaver mounted on the Fleming diary page is actually the
only recorded example of the lithographed 3d beaver postage stamp prepared by
Toronto printer Hugh Scobie taken from one of the Post Office ordered, final
printed sheets. Because PMG Morris never actually issued this stamp, it is properly
termed a plate essay. One may actually consider this unique example to be
Canada's first postage stamp.
COMPARISON OF BLACK AND VENETIAN RED ESSAYS
While the Venetian Red and black essays may appear at first glance to be identical
designs, a closer examination reveals a number of subtle differences. References
have been made to the Venetian Red Essay as vermillion or red but the most
accurate description remains Venetian Red.
The 3d black die essays are on thin brittle, yellowish paper with large margins. The
3d Venetian Red die essay in the Canadian Postal Archives is printed on a very large
piece of wove paper and mounted in Fleming's scrapbook. The 3d Venetian Red
plate essay mounted on Fleming's diary page is trimmed to postage stamp size and
is on thin soft creamed colored wove paper.
Johnson's article4 identifies the differences between the black and Venetian Red
essays held by the National Archives of Canada. The features on the black essay that
differ from the Venetian Red essays include a highly curved beaver's back, an
indented snout, a straight mouth, lightly detailed waterfall, circular shaped rose
center, elongated spur on "R" of "VR", and no horizontal lines below "V" of "VR".
The corresponding features on the Venetian Red essay include a flattened beaver
back, a rounded snout, an up-curving mouth, heavily detailed waterfalls, linear
shaped center of rose, rounded spur on "R" of "VR" and horizontal lines below letter
"V" of "VR". These differences are shown on the next page. The Venetian Red essay
mounted on Fleming's diary page offered has the same distinguishing features as the
Venetian Red essay in the National Archives of Canada.
We attribute these major design differences to Scobie's efforts to improve the final
In addition to the design variations between the Black and Red essays, there are
minute differences between the Red Die and Plate Essays as well. These variations
are a result of the lithographic printing process.
HISTORY OF THE ESSAYS
There are two black die essays, one Venetian Red die essay and one Venetian Red
plate essay. One of each color resides in the Canadian National Archives thus only
one of each color is available to collectors. The appeal of the only Venetian Red
essay in private hands is enhanced by the fact that it is the unique plate essay
mounted on Fleming's own diary page and represents the first Post Office ordered
postage stamp of Canada. A detailed provenance of each essay follows the Summary.
A One Shilling beaver essay was also designed and was rejected in favor of the
Victoria Chalon head portrait. One copy is known to exist and is in the Canadian
Postal Archives, National Archives of Canada.
HISTORY OF THE FLEMING DIARY PAGE ESSAY
The 3d Venetian Red essay is mounted on Fleming's diary page under the date of
"Monday, February 24, 1851." with Fleming's own note, "Breakfasted at Ellah's
Hotel with Mr. Rutter and Honble. Jas Morris Post Master General Designing postage
stamps for him".
The 3d Venetian Red beaver remainded the property of Sir Sandford Fleming and
later Fleming's son until November 24, 1934, Sandford Fleming Jr. gifted the essay
to dealer H. Borden Clarke of Ottawa. In a signed and witnessed letter28, the item
is described in detail noting that Fleming Jr. personally removed the page dated Feb.
24, 1934 from Fleming's diary. The record of provenance was also witnessed and
signed by Dorothy Fertin and H. Borden Clarke. The letter states the gift was "in
recognition of certain good and valuable services he (Clarke) has rendered to me".
Clarke's "Announcement"25 states "Mr. Fleming (Jr.) had already gifted a wing of
Fleming Historical documents to the Dominion Government Archives and only
strong petition by us prevented this Beaver treasure from going from the Philatelic
World to a cold Museum vault." According to the Hobbies magazine1, Clarke stated
the essay was finally located in Sir Sandford's cellar amongst many trunks of letters,
The extensive press this item received always mentioned his valuation of $10,000
and his "Announcement" noted that "The Dominion Government may yet bid
successfully but meanwhile mail or offers from interested parties will be considered
and courteously treated." To help promote the essay, Clarke produced an "Infra Red
Screen Formula"29 large flimsy reproduction of the essay which he sold for $1 each
with a limited production of 100.
A 1936 letter30 from Senator Calder offers assistance to Clarke should he pursue a
sale to the Dominion Government. Reports suggest that Clarke was in negotiations
to sell the essay to the Dominion Government Archives but such negotiations came
to a halt with the start of World War II. Clarke sold the essay to noted geologist and
collector Bruce Robson of Ottawa on March 25, 1941. A typewritten receipt31 and
a cheque in the amount of $235 also accompany the essay. On the reverse of the
cheque is written the note "Being payment in full for Beaver stamp and two Rideau
Canal maps". One may assume that the essay was sold for $200 and the two maps
for $35. A 1941 letter32 from Fred Jarrett invites Mr. Robson to bring the essay to
Toronto "and we will get some of the boys to come for a little stamp gathering". Not
to be outdone, W.S. Boggs reproduced the diary page in Volume 2 of his definitive
Robson submitted the essay to the Philatelic Foundation in the Fall of 1949 and
received an acknowledgment form signed by noted philatelist W.S. Boggs. The Jan.
9, 1950 Philatelic Foundation certificate describes the essay as "Canada 1851, 3p
Beaver essay affixed to a page from the diary of Sanford Fleming . it is a proof from
the plate prepared in 1851 by Ellis of Toronto - said plate never having been used
for issued stamps" and signed by among others, Louise Boyd Dale.
The essay remained in the Robson family and in 1988 the Robson family
contemplated selling the essay and a brochure inviting proposals was circulated by
the Saskatoon Stamp Company.
The essay mounted on Fleming's diary page will be offered for the first time at
public auction by Charles G. Firby on behalf of the Robson family.
Canada's first postage stamp and the world's first stamp to portray an animal was
designed by Sir Sandford Fleming a visionary whose accomplishments are not
limited to postage stamps.
The 3d Venetian Red essay mounted on Fleming's own diary page with his personal
notes represents more than a simple essay but contains within it a rich history of the
infancy of Canadian postage stamps and represents the very foundation of Canadian
This research, building on the foundation of work already conducted by others, has
brought together additional evidence supporting the notion that there was an earlier
Post Office sanctioned printing of postage stamps before those produced by RWHE.
Although unissued and apparently destroyed, these stamps represent Canada's first
officaly sanctioned postage stamp. It was through concern over countefeiting that
PMG chose not to release the prepared stamps and thus arranged for steel engraved
stamps be prepared by the firm of RWHE.
The 3d Venetian Red Beaver plate essay represents the unique example of the
lithographed postage stamps prepared by Hugh Scobie and represents the first true
postage stamp of Canada.
PROVENANCE OF THE KNOWN ESSAYS
#1 BLACK 3D BEAVER ESSAY
3d black on thin brittle, yellowish paper, attributed to Ellis
(Plus the 1 shilling black essay which accompanied each sale)
1851 Ellis + Co to PMG Morris(?) As a
Sample obtained by PMG Morris
Feb 28, 1950 Dr Lewis Reford to Alfred Lichtenstein
Harmer, Rooke + Co., NY, Lot 61, 62
Nov 18, 1968 A.F. Dale Lichtenstein to "Consort"
H.R. Harmer Inc., NY Lot 2
Nov 24, 1977 "Consort" to Canadian Postal Archives
Stanley Gibbons, London, Lot 15
1977 to date Canadian Postal Archives
National Archives of Canada
#2 BLACK 3D BEAVER ESSAY
3d black on thin brittle, yellowish paper, attributed to Ellis
1851 Ellis + Co. to PMG Morris
Oct 14, 1959 Fred Jarret to ?
J.N. Sissons, Toronto Lot 3
1988 W.E. Lea to "Lindemann"
1988 to date "Lindemann" Collection
#3 VENETIAN RED 3D BEAVER ESSAY
3d Venetian Red mounted on Fleming scrapbook page, historically attributed to Ellis,
probably prepared by Hugh Scobie
Mar 1851 Scobie to PMG Morris
Jan 1888 James Morris Jr. to Sir Sandford Fleming
(Gift from PMG Morris' son)
1915 Donated to Dominion Government Archives
of Canada with Fleming Papers and now
resides in the Canadian Postal Archives,
National Archives of Canada
#4 VENETIAN RED 3D BEAVER ESSAY
3d Venetian Red on thin soft cream colored wove paper mounted on Fleming's diary
page, historically attributed to Ellis, probably prepared by Hugh Scobie.
1851 ? Hugh Scobie to Sir Sandford Fleming(?)
Sample obtained by Fleming
1915 Sir Sandford Fleming to Sandford Fleming Jr.
Transferred upon death of Sir Fleming
Nov. 24, 1934 Sandford Fleming Jr. to H. Borden Clarke
Mar. 25, 1941 H. Borden Clarke to Bruce Robson
1941 to date Robson Family
Transferred to Robson family upon death of Bruce Robson
We are indebted to Cimon Morin, Chief of the Canadian Postal Archives, National
Archives of Canada for his assistance and kind loan of photographs that help make
this reference work complete. We are grateful to Mr. Ken Johnson, National Archives
of Canada and Mr. Steve Thorning Editor of The Canadian Philatelist (Royal
Philatelic Association of Canada) for the kind permission to reproduce the
photographs of the Johnson article identifying the differences between the black and
Venetian Red essays. We would also like to thank Mr. Tom Hillman of the National
Archives for his assistance in researching the Post Office Account data.
1. Hobbies, The Magazine for Collectors, Jan, 1939, pp 40-1.
2. Fleming 3d Venetian Red Beaver mounted on Sir Sandford Fleming's diary
page under the heading Monday, February 24, 1851 with the notation
"Breakfasted at Ellah's Hotel with Mr Rutter + Honble Jas Morris Post
Master General Designing postage stamps for him.
3. Fleming, Sir Sandford, Jan 2, 1888 letter to James Morris Jr. in Jackes,
Lyman B. How Canada Got its First Postage Stamps, Canadian Philatelic
Society Annual Convention, April 21-3, 1949, Canadian Historical Press,
4. Johnson, Ken R. (1992). "The 3 Pence Beaver' Postage Stamp and the
Search for a Printer" in The Canadian Philatelist, Vol. 43(5), pp. 400-408.
5. The Hansard in Pietro Serrago "Forgetfulness and Foibles"in Canadian
Stamp News, March 19, 1996.
6. Hamilton Spectator, March 27, 1851
7. Boggs, W.S. (1945). The Postage Stamps and Postal History of Canada,
Chambers Publishing Co., Kalamazoo, MI, USA, Vol. 2, p.1-H.
8. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 2-H.
9. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 2-H.
10. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 2-H.
11. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 3-H.
12. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 4-H.
13. Canadian P.O. Circular #4 dated April 21, 1851 in Boggs (1945), Vol.
2, p. 11-B.
14. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p.7-H.
15. Hugh Scobie letter in Walker, Dr. F. N. The Three Penny Beaver,
unpublished manuscript, 1951, Archives of Ontario, Ref MU2138, 5pp.
16. "The Post Office", British Colonist, Mar 7, 1851.
17. "The Post Office", British Colonist, April 29, 1851.
18. "The Post Office", British Colonist, May 9, 1851.
19. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 5-H.
20. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 9-H.
21. British Colonist, May 30, 1851.
22. British Colonist, June 10, 1851.
23. Boggs (1945), Vol. 2, p. 5-H.
24. Post Office Accounts Annual Report for year ending April 5, 1852, Personal
Communication, Tom Hillman, National Archives of Canada.
25. Clarke, H. Borden, "Announcement of Three Very Startling and Priceless
Philatelic Discoveries in Canada", Old Authors Shop, Ottawa, undated
26. Brazer, Clarence W. "Canada 1851 Issue Designer and Engravers" in Essay
Proof Journal No. 32, pp 226-7.
27. Williams, L.N. and M. Fundamentals of Philately, APS, Maple Press Co.,
York, Pa, 1971, 692 pp.
28. November 24, 1934 letter, Sandford Fleming Jr. to H. Borden Clarke, 1 p.
29. Printed "Infra Red Screen Formula" flimsy (1934) produced by H. Borden
Clarke promoting Fleming Essay.
30. May 1, 1936 letter, Senator Calder to H. Borden Clarke.
31. Reciept, H. Borden Clarke to Bruce Robson for sale of Fleming Essay.
32. Letter June 17, 1941 Fred Jarret to Bruce Robson relating to Fleming Essay
Chambers Stamp Journal, Stamps of the World at a Glance, April, 1951, Vol
XXXIV(1), Whole #858, pp. 4-6
Clarke, H. Borden, "Canada's Rarest Stamp - Valued at $10,000.00", ltd ed(100),
enlarged photostat, 1935
Jackes, Lyman B. How Canada Got its First Postage Stamps, Canadian Philatelic
Society Annual Convention, April 21-3, 1949. Canadian Historical Press, 16 pp.
Jarrett, Fred. "Standard B.N.A. Catalogue", 1929, pp 135
Lowe, Robson. "Encyclopedia of the British Empire Postage Stamps: Vol V - North
America", pp 151
Maclean's Magazine "The Forgotton Whirlwind", December 1, 1954
Morin, Cimon, Chief, Canadian Postal Archives, National Archives of Canada,
Personal Communication, August 1996
Ottawa Journal Newspaper articles, undated.
Robertson, Ian. "Private Writings" in Canadian Stamps News, July 6, 1996, pp 5-6.
Saskatoon Stamp Centre, "Canada's First Postage Stamp", 1988
Weekly Philatelic Gossip "The Canadian Roundtable", March 18, 1959
Weekly Philatelic Gossip "The find of the Century", R. Federoff, March 25, 1959
Also included with the Essay are Fleming's 1780 Beaver Hunting in Canada print,
1934 receipt from Fleming to Clarke, 1934 receipt Clarke to Fleming, 1941 receipt
Clarke to Robson, 1941 cheque for $235 from Robson to Clarke, 1949 PF
application acknowledgment, 1950 PF certificate, 1935 Clarke promotional flimsy
"Infra Red Screen Formula" large reproduction of essay, 1996 letter of provenance
from Robson family plus numerous letters from prominent philatelists (Jarrett, Calder,
Holmes) and numerous articles related to the essay.
Provenance: Sir Sandford Fleming (1851), Sandford Fleming Jr.(1934 found), H.
Borden Clarke (1934), Bruce Robson (1941), Robson Family.