In Episode 31, we delve into the story of the Christmas 1970 issue, and the first Canadian stamp to depict Santa Claus
Episode released December 21st, 2021. Subscribe for free to the podcast here.
Before we delve into the 1970 Christmas stamps, I’d like to give some background of Canadian Stamps and Christmas. As you may or may not know, the first Christmas stamp in the world was what is called the 1898 Xmas stamp — made here in by Canada. We actually have a whole episode dedicated to it — all the way back in Episode 8. You can listen to it in your favourite Podcast player.
Now although Canada produced a stamp bearing the words “Xmas 1898” in 1898, Canada would have to wait until 1964, for the next Christmas stamps. And it was that issue which was intended especially for use on Christmas mails. It was known as “The Family”
Here is a bit more info about the stamps from the press release at the time.
“The stamps, which will be printed by the steel engraving intaglio process, will show a family group of a man, a woman, and two children in silhouette, walking off towards a Christmas star in a typical Canadian winter scene. The design is intended to express the feeling of Christmas as a religious and family occasion, and at the same time to portray the scene in a Canadian environment. It is also meant to tie in with the study of the family’s place in contemporary Canadian life which was held last summer under the sponsorship of the Governor General and Madame Vanier. The three cent denomination is the stamp used for unsealed Christmas greeting cards, and the five cent value is the usual rate for first class or sealed letters.”
However, even before this 1964 issues which lays the way to the 1970 issue — we need to go back to issues the Postmaster General had struggled with since the 1950s. They were having real issues on how to approach Christmas stamps for many years. As I worked on this episode I came across a fascinating document from the Canadian Archives from Privy Council notes talking about this exact topic in 1956. Here is the relevant bits.
As you can see it was decided to hold off due to concerns over the possible controversy and lack of qualified engravers to do a proper job.
By 1964 it seems the quality issue must have subsided as the 1964 issues as noted were printed by the steel engraving intaglio process.
This was followed up by a release in 1965, with another distinctive Christmas design. The design was a symbolic and formal presentation of the traditional gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In 1966, the third year stamps were released were “praying hands” , a reproduction of a drawing by Albrecht Dürer.
In 1969, the Post Office released “Faces of Children” for Christmas, and they proudly announced these were the first Canadian Christmas stamps produced in full colour.
Shortly after this release Canada Post created a contest that was announced mid-November 1969. The idea was for children to draw “What Christmas Means to Me”. The contest was open to all school children in Canada under 13. Brochures were sent home to children and there were some fantastic prizes besides having their drawing on the stamps, they could win an all-expense paid trip to Ottawa. The contest would run from Dec 1st 1969 until February 1st 1970.
As Canada Post would note in a press release at the time “the designation of 1970 as International Education Year placed an added significance on the use of children’s designs on Canada’s Christmas stamps”. Also because of this connection the departments of education throughout Canada lightened the administrative burden of the contest for Canada post. They also had assistance of art gallery directors and other educators to aid in the preliminary selection of designs. Thank goodness for that help. Over 50000 submissions came in, and with the help of the art galleries between forty or fifty paintings and drawings were referred to Ottawa from each of the regional judging centres established at the museums.
All told about 500 submissions arrived at Post Office Headquarters in Ottawa. The selected children were notified by Mail in May 1970 by Eric Keirans, Postmaster General from 1968–1971.
“Your picture will be included in the Post Office Christmas Art Exhibition that will tour the provinces in the Fall, so that many people throughout Canada will have the opportunity to see and admire it.”
The letter ended with “best of luck in the the final selection process”
I should take a movement here to thank to Robin Harris, who has compiled an amazing issue of Corgi Times dedicated to the 1970 Christmas issue. Also thanks to Donna Niskla one of the winners, who kept this correspondence for all to see.
Over the month of May the Canada Posts Design Advisory Committee, would make the final selections. The result would be the selection of twelve brush and crayon creations would become stamps — and Allan Robb Fleming would be the lead Graphic Stamp Designer for this issue.
While work on making the drawing the stamps a reality, the children were informed of their wins. Donna’s drawing of a sleigh ride was selected and she was advised of her win in June 1970 by Eric Keirans. She and her mother were invited to a special week in Ottawa during the week of August 23–30.
The Postmaster goes on the write “I am sure you will enjoy meeting the other eleven children from across Canada, and touring parliament, and other famous historical sites in the national capital. We have also arranged a special tour of the stamp printing company for you. There you will be able to watch the whole process that is being used to produce millions of Christmas stamps from your drawing”.
And so in August of 1970, The Christmas Canada Kids came to Ottawa, and were given a wonderful tour of the city of Ottawa, met the governor general Roland Michener, find themselves in Upper Canada Village, took in a Montreal Expos baseball game and saw how their stamps were being printed. The stamps were slated to be released October 7th 1970.
For you history buffs, and anyone interested in Canadian history I would be remiss to not also note that October 1970 when these stamps sadly coincided with a dark time in Canadian History. On 5 October 1970, the Front de Liberation of Quebec kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross in Montreal. Within the next two weeks, FLQ members would also kidnapped and kill Quebec Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte. Quebec premier Robert Bourassa and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau called for federal help to deal with the crisis. In response, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau deployed the Armed Forces and invoked the War Measures Act — the only time it has been applied during peacetime in Canadian history. I debated if I should include this information in this episode, but I felt it improper not to note the turmoil happening as these stamps were released.
I am certain the fanfare of the release was certainly muted by this crisis. However over the years the 1970 Christmas issue has become very popular. One of the reasons is that there are almost 1700 different varieties of the stamps found. I am not sure any issue ever has had so many. There are also some other interesting general tidbits. The stamps were printed by the Canadian Banknote Company in Four-colour process lithography using the colour red, blue, yellow and black to reproduce the bright colour the children used in the original drawings.
As I mentioned before the stamps were recreations by Allan Robb Fleming who took great care in the reproductions. He was a fantastic choice, and a well known and respected graphic designer. He created the CN logo (among others), he also worked for Maclean’s magazine and University of Toronto Press.
Besides having an amazing design, they needed creativity with stamp layout as well, especially with 12 stamps. Here is how they solved this. The 5 cent and 6 cent stamp were alternated over each sheet — with a pane of 100. They were arranged in what’s called a Philatelic Latin Square Pane Arrangement, which was done with this release first (and never since).
However it was to save the post office from having multiple sheets for each stamp. It also led to their being one block of quadruplets per sheet, which are much rarer to find.
However the 10 and 15 cent stamps sheets carried one design each on a pane of 50. All twelve stamps were released untagged and Winnipeg tags. The 5c stamps had a 4mm vertical bar running down the middle of the stamp. The other denominations were tagged with 8 mm vertical bar running down the middle of the perforations.
The 5c stamps are known to be on ribbed and non-ribbed paper. The 6 cent stamps are on ribbed paper. 220 million pop the 5 cent stamps were printed. 136 million of 6 cent stamps. The two higher denomination stamps were for use on parcels and internal mail. 27 million for the 10 cent, 22 million of the 15 cent.
So enough stats — who were the winners and what were their stamps? Glad you asked. Here they are:
If you kept track up to now on the 10 stamps named, all provinces were represented. Then come the next two high denomination stamps. Manitoba has two extra winners, which were the design of the 10 and 15 cent issues. According to some sources the two choices were meant to represent the Yukon and NorthWest Territories. No children from this area of the country were given a chance to be part of the contest. According to Michael Pierce, who wrote a piece in the corgi times, and I agree with his assessment, the time frame and logistics of this contest would not have worked for these two parts of Canada. Nonetheless, as he also noted, and I agree you can see these stamps selected did a good job to reflect this area, by use of the snowmobile and the christ child under what looks like a northern sky devoid of anything but the stars of the night.
Besides the stamps there was also a Thematic Collection called “Children look at Christmas” released in 1970.
It was a keepsake with all the stamps mounted, with the winner’s names and locations included. It’s a fun postal item with bright colours that can be a great addition for those who want to get a unique item related to these stamps.
Overall, I think is one of the most fun and endlessly fascinating Christmas releases by Canada Post. So much so, I think we should end with a bit of trivia of why. This issues was full of a number of firsts
First Canadian Christmas stamps to be:
- Designed by Children
- Have more than 2 stamps in an issue
- Bear the image of Santa
- Bear the image of Baby Jesus
- Have year of the issue clearly in the design of the stamp prominently
As you can see there are lots of reasons to add this issue to your collection. If nothing else you can find a lifetime searching for varieties. What fun!
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Thanks again everyone. See you soon and happy collecting!
Links for more reading
Robin Harris has done such a great job, his website is the best place to start your exploration.