World Stamps

Canada’s King George V Medallions weathered the Depression

Apr 28, 2021, 9 PM

Issued late in 1932, Canada’s George V Medallion definitives were used until mid-1935, a short span during the hardest years of the century for many Canadians.

I had cheap used examples of these stamps in my callow youth, but barely noticed them.

The bearded profiles lined up across my album page like jobless men at a soup kitchen, a brief queue between more elegant portraits of the graying, medal-bedecked king that preceded and followed them. You get a sense of the contrast in the three stamps shown below.

Equipped by my fellow collectors with half a century of insight, I now know the Medallions merit a more appreciative look.

The first to show me so was John Burnett, whose Collecting Canada column in Linn’s I edited 20 years ago.

You can read Burnett’s take on these “modern classics” on the website of the British North American Philatelic Society,

As “sculptor to the king,” Edgar Mackennal won the important commission for the obverse design (based on his bas-relief portrait of George V) for coinage used for the reign of the new monarch beginning in 1911, from which the new portraits used on British postage stamps were subsequently adapted. It is based on the latter that the 1932 Canadian stamps are known as the Medallions.

The austere, unadorned image of the king on the Medallions was an abrupt departure from 30 years of royal finery that began with ermine-draped Edward VII in 1903, but this new choice was thoughtfully made, as three stamps grouped nearby reveal.

The Medallions may have been inspired in part by two stamps honoring the Fathers of Confederation, Canadian schoolroom shorthand for the men who helped unify the old colonies of British North America into a single nation in 1867.

First of these was a 5¢ violet stamp, issued in 1927, with a pleasing frame and an oval portrait of Thomas D’Arcy McGee (Scott 146).

Four years later in 1931, additional maple leaves, a more readable inscription, and “POSTES/POSTAGE” appeared on a 10¢ dark green definitive saluting George-Etienne Cartier (Scott 190).

These elements were first combined with the profile of George V created by Australian sculptor Mackennal on a 3¢ red letter-rate stamp (Scott 192), one of three commemoratives released July 12, 1932, to herald the Imperial Economic Conference in Ottawa.

Amid positive reviews for that stamp, 1¢ to 8¢ monochrome Medallion definitives of similar design were issued December 1, 1932 (Scott 195-200). So too was a large 13¢ pictorial stamp of the old Citadel at Quebec City (Scott 201), which paid the combined registry and domestic letter rate.

Following in 1933 were the workhorse 1¢ to 3¢ Medallion stamps in horizontal coil format (Scott 205-207), along with precancels, postal stationery and, in 1933-34, booklets (Unitrade BK20-BK23). Examples of the 1¢ green Medallion in all these formats are shown nearby.

Having outlined the extent and background of the series, let’s look at some of its covers, still surprisingly accessible and affordable considering that they are more than 80 years old.

On page 27 is a 3¢ Medallion on a multicolored advertising envelope for Vi-Tone, “An extraction of malt and milk — rich in proteins and vitamins of the soya bean.”

This “tonic beverage” was first marketed in the 1920s and was still advertised in the early 1950s before it finally left Canadian grocery shelves.

Mailed in 1934 from Vancouver, British Columbia, probably by a West Coast distributor, back to company headquarters in Hamilton, Ontario, this cover is enhanced by a clear strike of a “CIVIC VOTERS REGISTER NOW” machine slogan.

A slightly less common use is the No. 10 envelope with a 2¢ dark brown Medallion (Scott 196) and a 10¢ George-Etienne Cartier (Scott 190) paying the rate for a registered letter mailed within Toronto, returned when the address proved to be incorrect.

It is one of a number of such covers offered for about $10 each on eBay by a seller named “sportster,” shown here with his permission.

On another registered cover, the 13¢ Citadel at Quebec pays the letter rate and registration from Hamilton to Woodstock, Ontario, about 50 miles west.

The size and weight of the envelope, and wrinkling near the flap edge, makes it likely that the 4¢ ocher Medallion (Scott 198) paid for the two additional ounces of a 3-ounce letter.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of a short-lived, modest issue from the dark days of “the Dirty Thirties.” But before we leave, I have one more little gem — one that underscores how much I have learned from, and owe to, the fellowship of philately.

Pictured nearby is a remarkable roller-canceled card showing payment of the rural route distribution rate of 1¢ apiece for household circulars up to 1 ounce in 1934.

The card is franked with a miraculously undamaged 50¢ Acadian Memorial Church pictorial of 1930 (Scott 176), another 10¢ Cartier, plus 4¢ and 5¢ Medallions. That’s 69¢, precisely matching the number of circulars being distributed along Rural Route 5, Watford, Ontario.

I came across this item months ago at a marvelous Canadian postal history website called Postal History Corner, and I knew it would be perfect for this column. So I e-mailed the proprietor, who goes by the handle “Philcovex” — a collector who at his peak was posting 200 to 300 times a year, each post fortified with scores of color images from the ample archive he had obviously spent decades assembling.

I wanted to let him know how much I enjoyed his work, how it was full of information I’d not seen elsewhere, and how I’d appreciate his permission to use some of his art in this article.

Ten days later, I received this reply:

“Hi Fred,

“This is Philcovex’s wife with the sad news that my husband has passed away. Sorry for the delay, but I don’t come to his website every day.

“My husband had great respect for Linn’s Stamp News and would have loved to co-operate with you in informing new collectors. I therefore grant you permission to refer your readers to his Postal History blog for the purposes of instruction or presentation. I also grant permission to use one of the images on the Medallions …

“Postal history was a passion for my husband for over 40 years. I think it is wonderful that you are introducing others to this great hobby. I have been contacted by different members of postal history societies who want to preserve Philcovex’s wealth of information … It is my hope that his blog will inspire others to continue collecting, organizing and explaining Canadian postal history.

“I applaud you for exhibiting the same purpose.”

That e-mail gave me a lot to think about, beginning with the generosity, clarity, and selfless, sharing spirit of Philcovex’s wife, and the beautiful way in which she honors what was clearly her husband’s great passion for the stamp hobby.

It got me to appreciate, as I should more often, how much my loving spouse enriches collecting — along with every other waking minute of my life.

What is it we all try to do with our collecting? What feeds our eager interest, and what does our enthusiasm create? What, if anything, would we most like to leave behind?

Philcovex’s website is as pleasant a monument as any of the books, journals and exhibits philately has fostered in other men and women. It is a fitting memorial to a life well spent in a world he clearly loved.

I hope you enjoyed the image I borrowed with the kind permission of Philcovex’s wife. If you’d like to see the other 86 pieces of Medallion postal history he assembled — just one of hundreds of fascinating treatments of the subjects he explored — then, by all means, be his guest.

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