A Stamp Design Story

From Victoria, British Columbia, we can see many mountains – but to the East on a clear day the dominant giant is Mount Baker.

Mount Baker

Rising nearly 8000 feet in the State of Washington (Figure 1), Mount Baker was first illustrated in 1790 on a Spanish map – then named La Gran Montana Carmelo. The indigenous native name for this mountain is Kulshan (see web article – http://arcadianabe.blogspot.ca/2012/12/koma-kulshan-mysterious-mountain-moniker.html).

One of my favorite Canadian stamp designs, the 1935 Six Cents airmail incorporates both geographic and classical elements (Figure 2). Dominant in the foreground is a winged figure, depicting the mythical “Daedalus”. The background shows Mount Baker and small islands in the lowest parts of the design. It is testimony to the innovation and high quality output of stamp designers of the time.

Figure 2. Die Proof image

After my fun exploring the origins of this stunning stamp – I thought the findings were worth sharing.

This stamp was issued 1 June 1935, replacing the 1928 and 1930 Five Cents airmail issues. Both of these stamps were surcharged to six cents in 1932 after domestic airmail rates were raised. Concurrent with the new airmail stamp, new definitive/pictorial and Twenty Cents Special Delivery stamps were issued. All were printed by Canadian Bank Note Co., which had been newly awarded the printing contract by Canada Post Office.

I found little information on the policy or process of selecting printers or designs for postage stamps in the 1930s. However, A. Stanley Deaville provided contemporary insight in his 1936 article. He wrote that the Post Office Department (in which he served as an employee) decided in 1928 to depict Canadian life and industry “throughout the Dominion” on higher denomination stamps. This policy apparently was pursued by the Department, which selected the designs no matter which company were awarded the printing contract. An effort was made to show, on stamps, geography and features from across the nation.

Resources for philatelists on the Internet grow more interesting and useful each day. The Archives Canada website and Postal Archives (http://www.collectionscanada. gc.ca/postal-archives/080608_e.html) proved valuable for my review. Also, details of this design were presented in 2005 in a printed article by Charles Verge.

According to Canadian Postal Archives, Alonzo Earl Foringer (1878-1948) was commissioned to prepare the overall design, with mountains below and beyond the winged man. His painted artwork (see photograph of the original – Figure 3) was approved by the Postmaster-General in February 1935, then crafted into the final stamp image by several other designers and engravers (listed by Postal Archives). Comparison of his image with Figure 2 shows how the engraver, William Adolph, remained true to the original art.

Figure 3. Photographic image

Foringer also made the artwork of the allegorical figure of “Progress” shown on the Special Delivery stamp issued at the same time.

I became interested in locating the point of view for the airmail stamp’s landscape elements, including Mount Baker and the foreground islands. Postal Archives files include a card concerning this stamp (apparently originating from the printers) which listed materials used by the designers. Items listed include the photo reduction shown in Figure 3 and a photo postcard of Mt. Baker, Oak Bay, Victoria, B.C., both to be used for backgrounds by artist. It also mentions that the original Foringer oil painting was presented to Canada Post in September 1935 – I have not yet located its current home.

My photograph of Mount Baker in Figure 1 was taken at the best point I could access – from a balcony of the newly constructed Oak Bay Beach Hotel. This is built on the site of two hotels bearing that name (built in 1927 and 1931). Probably the postcard photograph was taken from that building, or nearby. The perspective of the original photographic postcard must have been from further south, judging from the position of the mountain peak between the islands as shown on the stamp.

Recent searches on the internet have shown a few older postcards with images close to the view of the original artwork.

Along with the Fifty Cents 1935 Victoria Parliament Buildings stamp, the Six Cents airmail depicts parts of British Columbia. Dominant Canadian islands shown on the stamp are Chatham to the left and Discovery Island behind the feet of Daedalus. Other islands and Mount Baker are in the United States.

By Peter Newroth


Canadian Postal Archives Database: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/archivianet/02011703_e.html
Deaville, A. S. 1936. Canadian Geography and Stamps. Canadian Geographical Journal. Volume XIII, No. 5, pp. 223-239.
Verge, C.J.G. 2005. Daedalus takes flight on 1935 airmail. Scott Stamp Monthly. December 2005, pp. 46-49.

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