Taxing Canada’s Domestic Mail during the Great War

On March 25, 1915, under the provisions of the Special War Revenue Act, Canada’s Post Office Department issued a notice to the public concerning the imposition of a War Tax on letters and postcards [see Fig. 1]. This was to be displayed in post offices and other prominent locations. It announces that the new tax will be imposed ‘On and After April 15, 1915′.

Figure 1

On April 9, 1915 a notice, with the signature of R. M. Coulter, Deputy Postmaster General, was sent to postmasters that elaborated on the upcoming tax [Fig. 2]. The second paragraph under item 1 is significant. It reads “When the sender is not known, such letter or postcard must be date-stamped and endorsed ‘War Tax’ and sent immediately in a special return to the nearest Branch Dead Letter Office.”

Figure 2

The item shown below [Editor’s note: Figure 3 is missing from the archive.] is a cover from an unknown sender in Victoria to a local recipient, George Pack, a house decorator living at 3052 Carroll Street. Although apparently well-intentioned in his attempt to comply with the new regulation and pay the appropriate postage for a drop letter [1¢ drop rate plus 1¢ War Tax], the sender fell afoul of another postal regulation. The additional postage applied by the sender was in the form of a postal stationery ‘cut-out’, something prohibited by Canada’s postal regulations.

According to Michael Peach writing in the May-June 2003 issue of the Canadian Philatelist and quoting from the Canada Official Postal Guide of 1912 item #161, “The impressed stamp cut from an envelope or postal band cannot be used for prepayment of postage, but when so detached, loses all value as a postage stamp”.

This was clearly a problem for the post office as the Monthly Supplement to the Canada Official Postal Guide of May 19152 contains the caution to postmasters that “war taxes on letters and postcards, postal notes and post office money orders must be prepaid by means of postage stamps”.

This cover, likely mailed May 6, 1915, was sent in a 1¢ King Edward VII postal stationery envelope and the war tax was paid with a cut-out stamp from a King George V postal card, Die1a, type undetermined. In compliance with the regulations, the cover was marked RETURNED FOR WAR TAX, date-stamped and forwarded to the Branch Dead Letter Office in Victoria for processing and collection of the added postage (Fig. 4) [Editor’s note: Figure 4 is missing from the archive].

The remainder of the story is obscure, however a 1¢ Admiral stamp was added and canceled by an indistinct magenta-colored Dead Letter Office oval hand stamp. Whether the stamp fee was collected from the addressee or the stamp was added as a courtesy by the post office is not known. Comments from Gray Scrimgeour: The circular says that “The War Tax may be prepaid in any convenient way.” The writer found this method to be convenient. Perhaps a quick-thinking PO clerk agreed with the letter of the law.

From Victoria COVID Times, July 2020
by Brian Plain

1 Michael Peach, The Canadian Philatelist, Vol. 54, #3, Whole #316, May-June 2003, Page 164, British Postal Stationery Cut-outs

2 Monthly Supplement to Canada Official Postal Guide; May 1915, P7, Item 7

Scroll to Top