The First Christmas Stamps

Christmas is celebrated in many ways throughout the world so it’s no surprise that the philately for the holiday includes thousands of stamps and covers, most created since the mid-20th century. The Christmas theme is among the world’s most popular topical areas to collect. So, in the spirit of Christmas giving, the APS blog team is presenting 10 holiday-themed blog posts. Happy holidays.

First Christmas Stamps
Whenever we talk about “firsts,” a lot of contenders line up to make claims so it’s no surprise that there are a lot of firsts when it comes to Christmas stamps. That said, there’s little doubt that Canada can claim the first Christmas postage stamp connection, even if the stamp was not intended to specifically celebrate the holiday.

The 1898 2-cent stamp features a collage of Queen Victoria’s crown at the top, a Mercator map of the world with the nations and colonies of the British Empire displayed in red, “Xmas 1898” and the phrase, “We hold a vaster empire than has been.”

Two varieties of what many philatelists consider the world’s first Christmas stamp, Canada’s Imperial Penny Postage stamp of 1898.
Two varieties of what many philatelists consider the world’s first Christmas stamp, Canada’s Imperial Penny Postage stamp of 1898.

It was Canada’s first bicolor stamp and has major color varieties involving the colors of the ocean and land (Scott 85–86).

But why does it say “Xmas 1898?” The stamp was issued December 7 and its use went into effect December 25, 1898, the inauguration of the Imperial Penny Postage rate (which was 2 cents in Canadian funds).

There is an oft-repeated story that Canadian Postmaster General William Mulock developed the stamp and proposed that it be issued on November 9  to “honor the prince,” meaning the Prince of Wales. But when Queen Victoria asked “what Prince?” in a displeased manner, Mulock realized the danger, and answered “Why, madam, the Prince of Peace.”

Here are some other Christmas stamp firsts:

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