Stamping Our History: The Story of Canadian Business as Portrayed by Postage Stamps

Article excerpt


This paper reviews Canadian postage stamps issued for the past 100 years to identify business-related subjects and to ascertain how business history has been reflected. For the first half of the period studied, staples produced from agriculture and natural resources dominated stamp issues. During the second half of the period, stamp issues reflected more diversified Canadian business activity. The paper also describes the business implications of philately and presents observations regarding past and future business-related stamp issues.


On examine les timbres-poste canadiens emis depuis une centaine d'annees pour identifier les sujets relies aux activates commerciales et pour voir comment l'histoire de ces activates a gte representee. En ce qui concerne la premiere moitie de la periode etudiee, ce sont surtout les produits agricoles de premiere necessite et les ressources naturelles qui etaient representes sur les timbres. Quant a la deuxieme moitie de la periode, on representait plutot sur les timbres des activates commerciales canadiennes diverses. On decrit aussi les implications de la philatelie sur les affaires et on presente des observations en ce qui concerne les emissions passees et futures de timbres-poste relies aux affaires.

History is the recording and interpretation of what is significant in the human experience. The history of Canadian business has been recorded and interpreted in various ways. Comprehensive manuscripts have been written that record business activities since the 1500s with two recent examples being Bliss (1987) and Taylor and Baskerville (1994). Numerous corporate histories have been compiled as well as hundreds of biographies and autobiographies of Canadian businesspeople. The history has also been recorded on film and video through the documentaries prepared by the National Film Board and the television networks. In addition, there are other sources of business history recorded in corporate museums, at corporate websites, and in occasional periodical articles. These efforts have recognized various aspects of Canadian business achievements, challenges, and failures.

An area that has not received significant attention is the inclusion of business topics or themes in the issuance of Canadian postage stamps. The first purpose of this paper is to analyze the topics or themes of stamps issued in the past 100 years to identify the proportion of business-related issues.

Stamps are issued to recognize various accomplishments, institutions, and people in society. Since the business system is the primary vehicle through which economic activity is conducted in Canada, its accomplishments should likewise receive recognition through the national medium of postage stamps.

Thus, another purpose of this paper is to identify and assess the recognition received by business in stamp topics, and to comment on its appropriateness. Supplementary to the analysis of stamp topics and themes, other forms of business involvement in Canadian philately are described and their contribution to recording business history assessed. A concluding section provides observations on the recognition received by Canadian business as portrayed by postage stamps.


The first Canadian postage stamps were issued in 1851 by the governments of the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, followed by Newfoundland in 1857, British Columbia in 1860, and Prince Edward Island in 1861. Prior to 1851, the postal system was administered by the British government. All provinces ceased to issue their own stamps when they joined the Dominion of Canada. The first Canadian stamp was issued April 23, 1851, and was the ThreePence Beaver designed by Sir Sandford Fleming [Scott #12; reissued Scott #314]. This stamp is also significant in that it is the world's first pictorial stamp as stamps prior to this depicted the head of the ruler or some official device (Rowe, 1985). …