Tiny Pieces of History

My Dad, the Boy Scout

It wasn't until this project came up that I found out that my father had quite an expansive stamp collection. He had started collecting stamps in 1970, when he was twelve years old. He was a part of the boy scouts' 122nd troop in Calgary, Alberta of from 1970 to 1971. When I asked him why he joined the boy scouts he replied, "To keep myself out of trouble." He was only joking but it was really just a chance to get to know other boys his age and to join a club. My dad had originally been a part of the cub scouts in Hemer, Germany in 1968 to 1969. His father was actually a part of the Canadian Armed Forces so their family was moved around quite often. But it was within the boy scouts in Calgary that he began his stamp collection.

In the boy scouts young boys can collect various merit badges, such as for camping, athletics or  wood working, by completing certain requirements. At the time my dad had decided to go for his collection badge and settled on collecting stamps. He had collected enough stamps and kept them organized enough to receive his merit badge. When his family was moved to Oromocto, New Brunswick in 1971 my dad had quit the scouts, but didn't give up on his stamp collection and continued on in New Brunswick, in Germany when his family was reposted again, and even continued up to the 1990s. That would have been almost twenty-five years of stamp collecting. Even now, he can pull out his boy scouts sash and show off his well earned merit badges, especially the round one with a coin and a stamp embroidered on it.
dad's boy scout sash

The Collection

Stamps could be acquired through stamp traders conventions, but my dad got most of his through the Canada Post mail system, or he took them off of letters and parcels. When he first started out his mother and father bought some stamps for him. Eventually he was able to buy some of the  stamps himself. At lot of the time other family members contributed to his collection as gifts. It was through one of his family members that he was able to obtain a particularly interesting stamp; it is not interesting because of how it looked but it was the story behind it made it fascinating. My father's great-aunt Marianne had gave him a envelope with a couple of stamps attached to it. The envelope was from a letter from World War II. Marianne's brother, my dad's great-uncle Edmond, was a prisoner of war in Germany during the early part the war. He had been injured but the Canadian troops walked right by him and eventually a group of German soldiers later picked him up. Apparently he was treated really well by his captors and every once in a while he was allowed to send letters to his family. All the mail went through the Red Cross in World War II. This particular letter had been sent  to his mother in Nova Scotia. Edmond wasn't released until the war ended.  

When I was asking my dad about his stamp collection he also mentioned having another stamp on an envelope, but this one came from someone outside his family; it had came from my mother's side of the family. It was a later addition to his collection, but it is also one of his oldest stamps. The five cent stamp with Queen Elizabeth's portrait on it was dated 1955. The letter had been sent to Mrs. Rees Evans, my mother's grandmother. It had been mailed from Vancouver, BC. Stamps and the envelopes attached to them can tell us a lot of the history of not only the stamp, where it has been and how old it is, but it can also tell us about the people who were sending letters between each other. Both of these envelopes, the one from Edmond and the one sent to Mrs. Evans, had simple enough looking stamps, but that didn't matter, it was the story behind those letters and those stamps that was important.

The special stamps without stories are the imperfect, defect stamps. They are stamps that at the time they were printed by Canada Post may have received on them. Even though it may seem odd to want a defect of something, these mistakes actually increase the value of a stamp for collectors. A defect might be a number or letter turned upside down, a letter misplaced, wrong colours were used. One specific example of a defect stamp that my dad has are four Canadian stamps with a purple triangle over the Queen's head.

Canadian Stamps

When my dad first started collecting stamps he only had Canadian stamps available to him at the time. Even so, Canadian stamps are said to be the most colourful and are considered some of the best looking stamps in the world. Some examples of Canadian stamps he has collected are of the Ottawa Car Company street vehicles. Those stamps are six stamps in a block, ranging from 43 to 88 cents. His collection also includes stamps featuring the works of Canadian artists. They show replications of certain pieces of the artists' work and they print the name of the artist as well. These artist reproduction stamps, and some other stamps, list the colour codes used to create the image in the corner of the sheets. His collection also includes stamps for all the Canadian provinces and territories, at least all the territories at were around in the 1970s. These stamps help recall a time in history when there were only two territories. A specific set of stamps he has is a block of stamps celebrating Canada in 1994. These stamps portray the trees from each province. Some of the older Canadian stamps in the collection have depictions of King George, Queen Elizabeth's father, who ruled from 1936 to 1952. There were also stamps with the image of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. The greatest amount of stamps that my dad has have Queen Elizabeth's portrait on them. Looking at those stamps you can see the progression of her rule as the constitutional monarch over Canada and see how she has aged.  It is clear that these stamp are marking events and people within Canadian history.
various Queen Elizabeth stamps

various Canadian stamps

German Stamps

Once again my dad's family travelled from Canada all the way to Lars, Germany because, as I have mentioned before, my grandfather was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. At the time their family moved to Lars that part of the country was still referred to as West Germany. They were in Germany from 1974 to 1978. There my dad continued his stamp collecting but started to add German stamps to collection. He was also able to add other European countries' stamps. Of course there were not many Canadian stamps being added during this time because the German stamps were more accessible, but the German post did have Canadian stamps available. Some of his oldest stamps date back to WW II. The stamps from the time of Nazi Germany have Hitler on them, though according to my dad they are not of great value. These stamps are marking a turbulent time in not only German history but within the history of the world. He also picked out the stamp marking the 750th anniversary of Berlin in 1987 to tell me about. My dad really enjoyed his time in Germany so they are not only marking German history, they are also marking an enjoyable time in his life.
750 Years Berlin stamps

The Meaning

The collection of these stamps started out merely as a project for a boy scouts merit badge, but I think they have taken on an even greater meaning through the years for my dad. They represent more than twenty-five years of history, and twenty-five years of enjoyment. Now after all that time he has collected roughly around two thousand stamps, if not more. Of those two thousand stamps he has a book and a half of just Canadian stamps. He cannot put a value on them in the metaphoric sense, but also because they haven't been appraised. However, he says that some of his individual stamps could be worth as much as eighteen to twenty dollars. These stamps have been collected from envelopes, corners of boxes,  and sheets of stamps. They had been given to him as gifts from family members. They are also a reminder of all the hard work he had to do to buy the stamps. The ones that described Canadian artwork, such ast the "Masterpiece of Canadian Art", are his favourites. The stamps show what the real paintings would have been like. He also liked the ones from Germany the most because they were a reminder of how he really enjoyed his time over there. My dad had stopped his stamp collecting because it had become too expensive and too time consuming. Even though he has stopped collecting he still has all his stamps and he still looks at them every once in a while.
artist stamp

Marking History

When someone is sending their mail, they probably don't pay much attention to the image on the stamp or the meaning behind that stamp. It seems that history can be marked with something as simple and small as a stamp. An example of stamps showing history is that you can tell the price of the stamps at the time they were originally printed. Stamps can also demonstrate amazing artists' work, they also allow for miniaturized versions of their artwork to travel around the world. Stamps can also portray images of political leaders such as Queen Elizabeth and Adolf Hitler. Postage stamps are also a part of the commemoration of events such as Canada Day and the anniversary of a city like Berlin. The stories behind the little postage stamps is a history in its own, like how a prisoner of war was able to send letters to his family back in Canada. It also marks the collector's history. They can recall where the stamps came from, how they came about these stamps, and retell the story behind the stamps. I think I have pointed this out in all three of my blog posts but I think I should reiterate that history can come from the most unexpected places and even from the smallest things.


  1. My father is also a fan of collection stamps. I think the stamps are more like the photoshot of important events or commemoration. My family lives in China, when the Royal family celebrate the marriage of prince. I bought a set of stamps and sent them back to China as a gift for my father. I feel it is a good memory for me, when one day I open the collection album, I would remember how the life was when I studied in Canada. It is a good way to memorize the past and save them as part of history.

  2. Very cool story, and really demonstrated how so much history can be embedded within items we don't think to have great historical value. When your father was collecting stamps, and family members contributed, it must have been a great opportunity to grow closer together. The interaction involved in the collecting process, and displaying the collection seems to contribute to a personal family history as well.