Designing the Six Pence Prince Albert Stamp

“Just imagine‚Ķ.” he muttered, staring at a Canadian six pence stamp of 1851. He compared the engraved portrait of Prince Albert on the stamp with the larger image on a steel engraving collected many years earlier.

The collector was quietly studying this stamp by kerosene lighting in his Vancouver Island home at Deerholme. And he concluded, based on close comparison, that the stamp engraver (Alfred Jones, working for Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson of New York) had used the larger image as his model for a new miniature stamp design.

This discovery solved a mystery to advanced philatelists about the origins of the six pence stamp portrait – and became an article, published in Popular Stamps, published by A. L. McCready in Cobden, Ontario, in April 1946. As you may recall, or perhaps forgot (!), Popular Stamps was a very successful Canadian stamp journal, serving 1942-47 for Royal Philatelic Society of Canada.

Perhaps you guessed already – the Vancouver Island philatelist and author was Gerald E. Wellburn. This short piece is a way for me to share reminisces about Gerry and his contributions to our hobby.

He was truly a scholar of history, and in his lifetime achieved philatelic recognition at world level. In 1936, he won a bronze medal for his first exhibit of Great Britain at New York. By 1947 Gerry was an International Jurist at the International Exhibition, again in New York, and was elected in 1951 to the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists.

I noticed that most of Gerry’s publications appeared in Canadian publications, on Canadian subjects. A large number of his articles were published in the 1940s and early 1950s. Now, many of the best philatelic publications have been digitized and information is available electronically.

In his day, Gerry connected by mail and through memberships in philatelic societies to enjoy the larger world of philately outside Victoria. He was a book lover, and also had opportunity and was able to acquire items that he liked, fueling his love for research. He assembled great collections of Great Britain and British North America, but British Columbia and Vancouver Island studies were favorites.

Gerry was born in 1900 in Yorkshire, England and his family emigrated to Victoria in 1911, where his father was a grocer. His love of steam trains was typical of UK schoolboys. Gerry recorded his first ride to Duncan on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway in 1911 to visit his relatives. 1912 saw him walk to Duncan and camping on the river as part of a Boy Scout Jamboree. In 1916 he earned King’s Scout status by walking, pacing and mapping the Esquimalt to Malahat areas. He loved maps and his draughtmanship was extraordinary. Examples of his penmanship often accompany stamps and postal history on the fine album pages crafted by Gerry Wellburn.

He got to know mail clerks on the E & N while delivering bundles of the Times newspaper “Up Island” and eventually Gerry took a CPR job in Vernon. But in 1918 Gerry became ill with influenza, and returned to Victoria to recover. For a while he helped with Scouts, then took a new job with the circulation department of the Victoria Times newspaper. A sales trip to Courtenay in 1922 led Gerry into the lumber business – he opened his own sawmill in 1928. After struggling through Depression years, he and the family moved to Deerholme, at Glenora, in 1938.

A scan of the first page of Gerry’s article is included below as a demonstration of his approach to history and his personal style of philatelic collecting. The remaining two pages of his Prince Albert design story outlined historical connections between the stamp and the early engraving.

Gerry described and well illustrated the context of the people involved, especially the engravers, and I consider him to be a “Social Philatelist”. We remember Gerry as a strong supporter of local stamp clubs and creator of the Gerald E. Wellburn Philatelic Foundation.

Originally published in the Victoria COVID Times, October 2020
by Peter Newroth

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