Charles Connell and His Stamp - The Stamp's Survival
by J.J. MacDonald
as published in the September-October 2000 issue of The Canadian Philatelist.

Connell ProofThe American Bank Note Company of New York City printed 5,000 sheets (unknown quantity of stamps) and sent them to New Brunswick in early April 1860. Maybe some were distributed but none were ever used despite rumours to the contrary. The topic became too hot a political potato, too soon, to entice anyone, especially a post-master or mail clerk to pass a letter through the post with Connell's picture on it. Thus one should never believe the stories occasionally reported of the stamp on envelope.

The stamps were recalled and Charles Connell, in a fit of peeve, said he would pay for them, but there is no evidence that he ever did. He made a big show of burning them on his own back lawn in Woodstock.

Premier Tilley sent a young clerk of the House to round-up all the stamps, a Frederick Dibblee , who, years later, spoke freely of the affair He admitted he had not destroyed a sheet of 100 and a single copy from one other sheet. But Dibblee may not have been terribly diligent in his search because he had married one of Charles Connell's daughters, Ella. We know also from other correspondence that Charles Connell gave a sheet to his daughter Mrs. Dibblee, and one to another daughter, Mice Gardner. There is a reliable set of correspondence that indicates that both sisters destroyed their sheets as they felt they should not benefit from an affair that had caused the family so much distress.

Undoubtedly not all the stamps were burned on Charles Connell's lawn nor destroyed by young Dibblee as there are just too many accounts of their presence around New Brunswick in the early 18605.

For instance:

a) Craig and Melvin, stamp dealers, of St John, advertised in the Stamp Collectors Monthly Gazette in June of 1865, only five years alter the affair, "that they had 'one genuine stamp still remaining"'. A number of other New Brunswick dealers did likewise.

b) IR. Hooper, writing in the Eastern Philatelist in 1890 reports that Charles Connell gave six copies to a post office official and others to friends.

c) R.W. Hanington, on the other hand, reported in the Eastern Philatelist of December 1892 that he had scoured the province for three years and found only two genuine Connells.

d) Dr. George Frederick Clarke, a Woodstock dentist, found the lone known pair in a shed attached to the Dibblee house in Woodstock.

Thus, although today their origin may be uncertain, genuine Connell stamps do exist. How many have survived is the question! Some previous estimates have been made. Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Ralph G. Hay, quoted IN. Sissons, one of the deans of North American philately and a Toronto auctioneer, that he "has sold somewhere between 15 and 20 Connells in the period that he has been in business. Probably some of them were the same copy being resold." Robson Lowe in 1973 estimated that as many as 50 existed and that half possessed Royal Philatelic Society certificates. Argenti had estimated as many as 100 in 1963. A Mr. Charles L. Flint of Bangor, who had gotten Dibblee's corner copy, searched for many years and in the 195Os stated that only about 20 were then in existence. In 1996 a Montreal firm offered Flint's copy for $10,000 Canadian and stated only 5 or 6 were known. (1t was again sold in late March, 1996 for $4500 in a Gary Lyons Auction in Halifax.)

So what are we to believe? Undoubtedly the international auction houses of H.R. Harmer, Christie-Robson Lowe, or Sothebys could give a more reliable estimate from their own archives. Expertising agencies, such as the British Philatelic Association, may have kept records for the past century but unfortunately none of this information is available today, as far as is known. Failing this information, what can we do then? if the author may be so bold to suggest the problem is not as difficult as it might first appear.

To look more closely consider:

a) All Connell stamps are unique in appearance. The Connell stamps had the beneficial characteristic of 'adhering perforations' as did many other stamps perforated around 1860, when the technique was young. This fact, coupled with the centering of the stamp and the early habit of users to continue to cut stamps apart' not tear them along the separation lines of the perforations, as they had had to do with the pence issues, produces unique appearing items.

b) When a stamp has a history, is rare, and becomes valuable every auctioneer shows its picture. While photographs are very uncommon before 1925, rare stamps of the last eight decades have had their picture prints recorded in auction catalogues.

c) Finally, consider the buying and selling of rare stamps. Most collectors, there are always exceptions, don't have sufficient spare resources to purchase such stamps until they are, say 35 years old. By the time the same collector has reached 70 plus years he disposes of his better material; thus the average period that a stamp resides in a collection is about thirty-five years. Therefore in general, all Connells should come to auction by double that time, say 70 years! So, if a survey of auction catalogues back to 1925 is now conducted the vast majority of Connell stamps will be found and their picture print recorded.

The author has undertaken this type of survey, using personal auction catalogues gathered over the past 60 years and supplemented by the vast collection that the Postal Archives of Canada held when it was located at Laurier and Kent Streets in Ottawa. This could not have been done without the courtesy of the staff, especially Mr. Cimon Morin. How one would do a similar study today I cannot imagine, when the 3000 catalogues are now not conveniently available.

The auction catalogues of over forty firms were studied, covering the general period from the early 1930s to the early 1990s. Of course, most firms did not exist over the whole sixty years and about half were not the type that would handle Connells. It must be noted that little study was conducted of European, particularly German auction catalogues, as experience had shown that the preeminent collectors of Connells were from North America and Britain. There was a much lower chance of finding examples in foreign auctions.

The survey findings cannot be regarded as complete as other auction houses may have offered examples but the number of different copies found is likely almost complete. One problem has always existed, namely that the auctioneer did not know a genuine Connell from a perforated proof whose colour is often very dose to the genuine and some findings were obviously not genuine stamps. However, almost always such lots would not be sold.

There are some interesting facts that emerge from this survey in addition to the actual census of Connells. The earliest copy noted is that from the Tapling collection which has resided in the British Museum since it was acquired in 1891. The only existing multiple, a pair, has been offered seven or eight times in the last 65 years, two other copies have also been auctioned in this period six times and three copies four times. Three copies have 'disappeared' into collections and not reappeared since 1931, 1940 or 1945. These were likely victims of World War II.

Yet new copies continue to turn up in auction catalogues, one in the Ivy-Shreve-Mader Sale in October 1993 and the Burrus copy appeared in an Eastern Auctions sale of late March, 1996. On average a copy has appeared about twice over the 35 year period but some years have produced a true bonanza of sales. There were eight offered in 1968 alone and six in 1974 and 1980. Only in 1953, 1975, 1978, 1982, 1984 and 1985 were no auction lots recorded for Connells. This performance is closely tied to the strength of the stamp market and the prices realized.

The 'amount realized' at auction for Connells is influenced by the same forces as all other valuable stamps. It depends on a) the strength of the general economy to some degree; b) the strength of the stamp market in particular; c) the reputation of the auction firm and their distribution capabilities to attract collectors with money and d) of course, the condition of the stamp itself. Comparing the results of the sales of the same copy over time does not yield much information when inflation is factored out. For example, one copy owned by the author sold for 50 pounds in November 1967 and again in May 1969 for $250. The famous pair sold in November 1963 for $4,200 and yet almost 20 years later fetched only $6,000. Another in the same November 1963 sale brought $420 which increased to $1,350 in October 1979. The first sale for which a 'price realized' has been found was in January 1931 and was for 40 pounds.

Turning at last to the stamps identified in the survey, what do we find? There are over 125 records in total, four of which are almost certainly proofs with faked perforations. Sixty-five copies, including the pair, can without equivocation be declared distinctive. Twenty4our of them appeared at auction more than once. Thirty copies can be said to have adhering perforations, a major distinguishing feature is the centering.

Is it possible to go one step beyond the 65 surviving items? Almost certainly a few have been missed so the best estimate of today's number 'alive' might be 75 stamps. To tie these surviving 75 to what we know of the sheets that were not destroyed consider some examples of the perforating results of the American Bank Note Company in the 18605. There were very few gross errors that escaped the plant. Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had possibly two partially imperforate vertically sheets. One Nova Scotia sheet with badly shifted vertical perfs also exists and one or two show mis-perfs due to folding of the paper at the corner.

However consider the New Brunswick block of 12 and the 20 or so full sheets of the Nova Scotia cents issue seen by the author. All are very similar, that is, if they are off centre slightly in any direction this characteristic will continue across or down the entire sheet, which is to be expected considering the manner in which the paper was fed to the perforator.

Since we find groups of stamps off-centered to the top and to top and right as well as those that are well centered, it may be concluded our 65 surviving stamps come from at least seven sheets or part-sheets. Therefore someone must have saved or stolen part-sheets, at least, over and above those documented and discussed before. Regrettably beyond this we can not go with any certainty.

If five sheets survived initially then the rate of survival was 1 in a thousand sheets. Today with about 75 stamps, around 15 per cent of these five sheets (75/500), have made it to the present time - a not unreasonable survival rate.

The Other Values

The Affair focused attention on the five-cent, first-class rate stamp with Charles Connell's picture on it, but the other values in the set are also very interesting and their uniqueness has been almost totally ignored. They also, it must be remembered, were produced by, or with the approval and imagination of Charles Connell. They, too, were of unique design.

Up until this issue in the Spring of 1860, designs consisted exclusively of portraits of (a) the country's rulers or the head of state, king, queen, emperor or president, living or dead; (b) numerals of value (Thurin and Taxis) (c) Heraldic symbols, coats of arms (Finland) or royal emblems (Denmark) (d) national symbols - the beaver of Canada, the eagle of Germany, the lion of Tuscany, the swan of Western Australia, (e) allegorical figures - Ceres, Hermes of Greece, or Liberty seated (Liberia).

Charles Connell and the American Bank Note Company produced a one cent with a picture of a train on it, the Ossekeag #9, or possibly the Prince of Wales, of the European and North American Railroad, (likely because Charles Connell had just been made a director of the company). The 12- 1/2-cent, paying the ocean postage to Great Britain, showed a steamer, the Washington, of the Ocean Ship Navigation Company. Why? Likely because Charles Connell had just adjusted the mail route from Saint John to Halifax to improve mail communication to Britain. Even more remarkable an additional value, 17 cents, was added to the original four and ordered in March 1860 which showed the Prince of Wales, in Highland dress, no less. The future King Edward VII had just announced his intention to visit New Brunswick in August of 1860 and this was to commemorate the impending event. Thus Charles Connell possibly issued the world's first commemorative stamp, plus two others recognizing transportation, and his own humble portrait. He was original certainly, but was he arrogant?

Consider that Connell apparently had little love for the trappings of the British monarchy, despite his father's possible loyalist sentiments. He was adamantly opposed to the establishment of the Anglican "King's" colleges, one in Ontario, one in Windsor, Nova Scotia and the progenitor of the University of New Brunswick at Fredericton. He wanted to have the last King's College closed. Premier Fisher, who had studied there, hoped King's would, in the course of time, evolve into a non-denominational institution. Connell, likely for religious reasons, was a supporter of Mount Allison. Of even greater embarrassment to his former Premier brother-in-law was his strong attempt to have a bill passed that would have the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick elected and not appointed by the Queen. So his anti-royalist sentiments were there for all to see. 15 it any wonder then that he might suggest or at least accept a suggestion that the Queen's portrait be removed from the five cent stamp, after all it remained on the ten cent, did it not?

However, arrogance or pride clouded his judgment when it came to the replacement portrait. But possibly the first commemorative stamp and the first locomotive topical stamp should excuse this lapse - at least in the eyes of philatelists.

Copyright 2001-10, 2011 The Royal Philatelic Society of Canada

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