The First Christmas Stamps?
On December 7, 1898, Canada Post issued a stamp to commemorate the uniform postage rate that would be valid throughout the British Empire. A beautiful stamp displaying in red on a world map all areas belonging to the Empire. An Empire where the sun never set.
The stamp was based on a design by George R. Parkin – a respected educator and author, and ardent believer in empirical rule – who was requested by the then Canadian Postmaster General, Sir William Mulock, to provide a suitable subject for a stamp intended to emphasise the unity of the British Empire, and accepted his recommendation of the map as an appropriate subject. Parkin told a friend, “It will be a miniature reproduction of my map of the empire with Canada in the centre, with a strong Imperial Motto, and various other Imperial embellishments.” The motto “We Hold a Vaster Empire Than Has Been” was a sentence taken from a poem written by Sir Lew Morris in 1887.
We consider this to be possibly the first release of a postage stamp mentioning Christmas.
Below the map is printed XMAS 1898, and at the bottom the rather boastful proclamation “WE HOLD A VASTER EMPIRE THAN HAS BEEN”. In the English-speaking world Xmas is frequently used as a shortening of the word Christmas.
The red colour indicates parts of the British Empire. However, the empire it indicates is “vaster” than reality. German South Africa, Portuguese East Africa and the Dutch-influenced Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and Borneo are coloured red, but were not British.
The stamp appeared in several editions with some colour differences. The most common are those with the background colour in various shades of blue. But there were examples where the background colour is grey instead of blue.
The Christmas cards above are interestingly decorated and contain both the long “Merry Christmas” and shortened “Merry Xmas” festive greeting.
In 1998, 100 years after The Map Stamp was issued, that occasion was commemorated by the issuing of a stamp-on-stamp of The Map Stamp.
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