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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 Halifax, NS.

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 Sandford Fleming

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?".


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 soon thereafter.

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 denominations.

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 part, 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.


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 reads,

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 Mr. Ellis.

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 business transaction

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 Beaver." 19

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) Department.

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 tradesmen". 22

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 Department.

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.


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.


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 press."27.

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 Fleming's scrapbook.

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.


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 postage stamp.

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.


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.


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, etc.

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 work.

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 philately.

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.



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


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"
        Private Sale
1988 to date "Lindemann" Collection


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


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
        Private Transaction
Mar. 25, 1941     H. Borden Clarke to Bruce Robson
        Private Transaction
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,
     16 pp.

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

Additional References

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.

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