Guest Post: Canadian-US Joint Issues Tell Tales Across Borders


By Charles Verge

Although they may lack physical beauty and monetary value, the 1959 St. Lawrence Seaway Opening stamps have tales to tell. Issued in both the US and Canada, hundreds of the Canadian versions of the stamps contained a printing error in which elements of the stamp are “inverted” in relation to one another. In a tale of intrigue and mystery, inverts were stolen, lost and recovered. Rumours circulated about how many, if any, were given to Queen Elizabeth II for The Royal Philatelic Collection. The lengths people went to in order to recover the “Inverts” they had posted is also a fascinating facet of the story.

5-cent Canadian stamp with inverted center
Notice something wrong here?

Joint issues are defined as stamps issued by two or more countries on the basis of the same event. Normally they have the same design and issue date; however, that is not necessary. The important factor is that the postal administrations of the issuing countries must cooperate in the development of the stamps.

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Sheets containing inverted stamps retrieved by post office officials

Officially there have been six joint issues of stamps between Canada and the US since the first one in 1959, the subject of the Sundman Lecture. The other five issues were the 25th anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1984; the 1976 celebration of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution; the 50th anniversary of the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, NY, and Fort Erie, ON, in 1977; the 1992 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway opening and the 2006 joint issue to celebrate the mapping of the Eastern seaboard of North America by Samuel de Champlain, the founder of New France.

In 1959 the idea of a commemorative joint issue was unheard of, certainly in the Americas. However, the project of creating access to an Inland Sea, its cost, the economic benefits, and the cooperation required completing it, worked in favour of producing a joint issue. Since nothing like this had been done before, the discussions were long and laborious.

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Trial watercolor and collage of the stamp—not quite the final design

Not only did the Post Office officials have to agree on a design, they also had to review the postal laws of each country, looking at regulations and procedures involved for the servicing of First Day Covers. They also had to deal with extensive lobbying about the design selected, the site of the first day of issue and whether special albums would be presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and President Eisenhower when they officially opened the Seaway together by sailing through the St. Lambert Locks on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Russian postcard
This is the only item mailed outside of Canada with an inverted stamp.

In addition to the stories behind these international negotiations, the remarkable invert error adds interest to the story. The error was not possible in the US issue because the US stamp was printed on a Giori press that allowed for the printing of up to three colors at the same time. In Canada, the sheets of stamps had to pass through the press twice—once for each color. For years, collectors believed that 600 inverted stamps had been released to the country’s post offices—200 of which had been recovered by Postal officials. Research now indicates that many more are in private hands than originally believed and thousands more were discovered in the stocks of the Canadian Bank Note Company which were destroyed on December 22, 1959.

Although the US Post Office did not produce an “error” there are some rare US philatelic items that can be collected in this 1959 issue.


About the Author
Charles Verge is the author of The 1959 St. Lawrence Seaway Joint Issue and Its Invert and the recipient of many philatelic recognitions and awards. He will speak at the 8th Annual Maynard Sundman Lecture on Sunday, September 19th at 1 p.m. ET in the museum's Discovery Center.