Many stamp collectors agree that Canada stamps are some of the most beautiful to collect. Many stamps are popular either due to their design or because of their rarity. Canada’s first postage stamp falls under both categories.
The three pence beaver stamp was the first of the Province of Canada, issued in 1851 and designed by Sandford Fleming. Most stamps of the time featured the reigning monarch, but Canada’s first stamp proudly displayed an engraving of a beaver by a river. In fact, it is the first official stamp in the world to be issued with an animal on it instead of a person. That alone makes it special. Why was the image of a beaver chosen?
The first explorers of North America wanted to find a passage to the spice rich continent of India. Explorers soon realized that this land was not a shortcut to India, but that the continent had its own riches. Trade in furs became a lucrative enterprise, with the price for beaver pelts soon selling in France and England for 20 times their original price. Unhappily for these little creatures, the new fashion style in Europe was for beaver felt hats!
The Hudson’s Bay Company was instrumental in establishing a fur trade and cooperation with Indigenous peoples. The beaver was so prized by the company that it eventually became a part of the design of the HBC’s coat of arms. The beaver’s image was also used by other companies and on city emblems as well, so it seemed appropriate to portray the animal on a stamp representing this new world.
At one time, there were an estimated 100 to 200 million beavers in North America, prompting explorer David Thompson to say that the continent was home to «two distinct….beings, Man and the Beaver.» A taste for fur hats almost brought it to extinction, but the beaver population has rebounded and now estimates place the number of beavers in North America at about 15 million. Conservation has helped, and the fact that Europe, starting in the 19th century now wanted silk top hats instead of beaver felt!
In addition to being the first animal stamp in the world, what makes the three pence beaver distinct is the fact that is was made of «laid paper», and was the first adhesive stamp in Canada. The «laid paper» manufacturing process actually leaves thin, parallel lines on the paper that are visible when held up to light. Unfortunately, laid paper does not stick well and its use had to be discontinued. Also, the currency of Canada changed, and the beaver stamp had to be reissued with a 5¢ denomination. All of these factors contribute to the original, imperforate, mint, three pence beaver on laid paper being among the rarest stamps in the world.
Only 250,000 were issued.
Other beaver facts:
- In 1975, the beaver became an official symbol of Canada
- The beaver is the largest rodent in North America
- Beavers do not eat fish; they only feed on leaves, buds and the inner bark of trees
- The construction of their dams contributes to the biodiversity of a forest
- The striped, coloured, Hudson’s Bay Company blankets were originally made in order to trade with Indigenous peoples for beaver pelts. They can still be purchased today and are emblematic of Canadian culture.
- The catalogue value for a three pence beaver in Very Fine condition with Original Gum is $120,000.00 (CAD), according to the 2010 Unitrade Specialized Catalogue of Canadian Stamps