Did you know that since Royal Mail issued their first Christmas stamp in 1966, over 17 billion Christmas stamps have been printed in Britain? But as popular as they are today, Great Britain was late to the table when it came to issuing Christmas stamps. So which country can lay claim to issuing the first Christmas stamp?
Canada – 1898
The first country to lay claim is Canada, which produced a stamp bearing the words ‘Xmas 1898’. But many people question whether this was really a Christmas stamp at all…
Denmark – 1904
Denmark claims it printed the first Christmas stamp in 1904 after an idea from postmaster, Einar Holboell, to add an extra stamp to the Christmas mail and the money go to help sick children. However these “stamps” were actually labels and not issued for postage.
Austria – 1937
Austria issued two stamps on 12th December 1937 for use on Christmas mail and New Year greeting cards.
Hungary – 1943
Finally, there is Hungary. Many people think the 1943 Hungarian stamps to be the first real Christmas stamps as they feature religious imagery.
The secret behind the Canadian stamp
It is fair to say however that the issue of the Canadian Christmas stamp did not really have much to do with Christmas. In fact it was a result of then Canadian Postmaster General William Mulock lobbying to standardise postage rates across the Empire at one penny.
After failing to get the new rules introduced at the 1897 Universal Postal Union, Mulock returned the following year more determined than ever, with a new proposal. This time he succeeded, and in July 1898, the Imperial Penny Postage rate was unveiled. Canada made the move to be effective on Christmas day 1898.
As a result, the stamp was officially released on 7th December 1898 bearing Mercator’s famous map with the British Empire highlighted in red, and also the words “XMAS 1898”.
So who can lay claim to issuing the first Christmas stamp?
Well despite the controversy, to me, there is only one winner – and that is Canada. Whether it was issued specifically for Christmas or not, it bears the words ‘Xmas 1898‘ and therefore I think it rightly deserves the title of first Christmas stamp.
It’s every stamp collector’s dream to find a stamp that turns out to be truly unique. That dream became reality in 1873 for L. Vernon Vaughn, a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy living with his family in British Guiana.
Whilst rummaging through some family papers looking for stamps to add to his collection, he discovered, what would turn out to be, the sole surviving British Guiana One Cent Magenta.
The young philatelist added it to his collection. But unable to find any record of it in his stamp catalogue a few weeks later he decided to sell it to a local collector for six shillings.
Little did he know that 141 years later that that same stamp become the most expensive item by weight and size ever to be sold, selling for a world record $9.5m at Sotheby’s in New York earlier today.
The history of the stamp makes for interesting reading. The stamp itself only came about by chance. In 1856 storms had delayed the ships transporting the usual stamps from London from reaching the colony, as an emergency measure the colony issued their own definitive stamps to avoid running out of stamps completely!
It previously set the world record for a stamp back in 1922 when American collector Arthur Hind outbid the stamp-mad King George V and paid £7,343 for it. It was last owned by John Du Pont, heir to the DuPont chemical fortune, who paid almost $1m for it in 1980.
Although the stamp didn’t quite make the $20m that some experts forecast, it only took two minutes for this rarity to reclaim its crown as the world’s most expensive stamp. An anonymous bidder paid $9.5m – nearly four times the previous record for a stamp – the Swedish Treskilling Yellow.
Philatelic Legends like these are available to just a handful of collectors worldwide, however you may be interested to know that there are Philatelic Legends available that won’t cost you millions: