There Are Many Kinds Of Stamps - Part 1

When the first stamp was issued, and for a number of years thereafter, stamps were completely functional. They were issued to pay postage on letters. It was not long, however, before other ideas crept in. Naturally enough, if a postage stamp could carry a picture of the ruling monarch it could also be the means of publicizing other things. Probably the first country to break away from the traditional portrait of the sovereign or the national coat of arms as the design for stamps was the Province of Canada, whose first stamp was issued in 1851 and carried as its central motif a beaver. This is the more remarkable for Canada was among the first few nations of the world to issue postage stamps and, being a British possession, one would have thought that the traditional portrait of Queen Victoria would have been used.

The reason for this break away from tradition, a tradition by the way that still persists to this very day in Great Britain, is not known. The beaver was an important animal in the economy of Canada at that time and evidently was considered of greater importance for picturing on a postage stamp than the ruling monarch. Indeed, there were three stamps in this first series of Canada and the portrait of the Queen occupied the highest denomination, that of her consort, Albert, occupying the intermediate denomination of the trio. Perhaps it was felt that the Queen by occupying the highest denomination had received the place of honor.

Whatever the reason for Canada's break away from the tradition, the idea of pictorial stamps found wide expression so that by the turn of the century countries everywhere were picturing the scenic spots of their land, products that were of importance or statuary of prominent people. So far so good. A postage stamp was still a postage stamp whatever picture it carried. In 1876 an entirely new idea was introduced, and by no less a nation than the United States when, to commemorate the Centennial Exposition, the Government caused to be issued a special stamped envelope. Thus was born the commemorative stamp, an idea that was eventually to capture the imagination of nations throughout the world and to be used by a few small countries to replenish from collectors' pocketbooks the national treasuries. A commemorative stamp such as was first issued was still an ordinary postage stamp. It differed from the ordinary stamp only in that it wag issued for a short period of time and in honor of a special event.