Grizzly History

by Tony Brown


15 October 1997. That’s an historic date in philatelic circles for it saw the issue of the $8 Grizzly, Canada’s highest value stamp. The previous highest value stamps have been $5 varieties, beginning with the 1897 olive green Diamond Jubilee issue, and, in more recent times, issues featuring Point Pelée National Park (1983), La Maurice National Park (1986), Bonsecours Market (1990) and the Victoria Public Library (1996). Used mainly on overseas parcels, the Grizzly provides an attractive alternative to postal meter adhesives.

The Monarch of the Wilderness

Besides its high value, the Grizzly is special in another sense, for the Canadian Bank Note Company Ltd. has manufactured it using a combination of the lithography process and line engraving, or intaglio process. Although line engraving is used primarily to prevent counterfeiting, many philatelists consider stamps that are manufactured by this method to be of superior quality in terms of texture and fineness of detail as compared with those that are made by other means. At the time of writing, the only Canadian stamp that is made entirely by the intaglio process is the 45-cent Flag coil. The last line engraved commemorative stamps made in Canada were the 1977 Famous Canadians issues, a se tenant pair featuring Joseph Bernier, an explorer, and Sir Sandford Fleming, who designed the three-pence Beaver stamp of 1851.

The Line Engraving Method

With this method, the portions of the stamp design that are meant to be white when printed are left raised, and the part of the design that is meant to be coloured is engraved out of the surface of the steel block.

An original or master die of the basic design is engraved in recess as a reverse image onto a steel block. Fine lines are cut into the steel, where the colour is supposed to be, to hold the ink during the printing process.

Once hardened, the master die is used to prepare a transfer roll, with the design in relief, that is, the raised portions of the design on the master die become indented portions of the design on the transfer roll. This roll is a soft steel cylinder and is placed in a transfer press to be rolled, or rocked, under extreme pressure over the die. A die, when placed on a device such as a transfer roll, is often referred to as a roller die.

The transfer roll is then used to make up the subjects on the printing plate. This process too needs great pressure, and rocking applications are made with great skill and precision to achieve the required result.

Finally, the plates are inked and used to print the design onto sheets of paper. In the case of the Grizzly, the sheets are completed by further printing the remaining colours using the lithographic process. The sheets are then perforated (13+) and severed into panes before being issued to post offices and retail outlets.

Graphical Description of Line Engraving

Stamp Details

The stamp’s high value and huge size of its 400 kg subject is complemented by its dimensions, 64 x 48.9 mm, making it the largest postage stamp ever issued in Canada. No tagging was used for the 10,000,000 production run, presumably because of the stamp’s intended purpose for use on overseas parcels, which are not scanned by phosphor sensing machines. The Official First Day Cover is postmarked Banff, Alberta, where Canada’s "Monarch of the Wilderness" is often seen. (Roaming as far east as Manitoba a hundred years ago, Canada's approximately 25,00O grizzlies are now found only in western Alberta, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and British Columbia.)

Canada's $8 High Value Definitive Stamp

The stamp contains several unique features. The traditional "Postage/Postes" has been replaced with extremely small lettering that, without a magnifying glass, could be mistaken for two black lines in the upper right corner of the stamp. These lines, which are meant to discourage counterfeiting, are actually the word "MAILPOSTE" repeated 14 times (seven per row). Small coloured images of bears were used to form the sky and grass, which "hides" the 1997 copyright date under the bear's front paw, and the number "8" has been worked into the design of the bear's right hind leg as an anti-counterfeiting device.

Blow-up of Right Hind Leg

The selvedge inscription identifies the designer, Alain Leduc, and engraver, Jorge Peral. It also identifies the paper manufacturer, Coated Papers Limited, as evidenced by the letter "C," and the printer, Canadian Bank Note. Finally, the traffic lights, which are in the form of four tiny bears, reflect the stamp's five colours. Presumably, one of the traffic light bears, which is white with a black outline, is meant to portray two colours. This bear also contains the numeral "1," which identifies the sheet as coming from the first printing.

Selvedge Inscription

Finally, the words "GRIZZLY BEAR" and "OURS BRUN" appear at the bottom of the stamp, serving to identify the animal's species in English and French. While this meets Canada's official language requirements, it would perhaps have been helpful also to include the bear's Latin name - "Ursus Horribilis" - because flora and fauna are a favourite of international topical collectors who appreciate the preciseness of Latin designations.

The Future

If it is true as many believe that postage stamps help define a nation, both to its own population and to the rest of the world, then these new definitives, beginning with the Grizzly Bear, undoubtedly reflect Canada - big, vast, strong, yet so beautiful. The Grizzly is the first of a new series of high value engraved definitives that will feature indigenous wild animals of Canada. Having begun its postal history with the three penny Beaver, it is perhaps fitting for Canada to commemorate the Millennium with the wild animals definitive series, all of which should be released by 2000. It is expected that the higher value stamps ($1 and up) will be engraved; the lower values (under $1), lithographed.

As for the future of philately, the new definitive series featuring wild animals will appeal to topical collectors around the world, especially to children.

Canada Post has captured a unique icon of Canada's vast and wonderful wilderness in the Grizzly Bear. With other unique animals to come, Canada Post is to be congratulated for this insightful choice of subject matter and for returning, even if in a limited fashion, to the traditional line engraving method of manufacturing postage stamps.

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Updated: 1 Nov 97