Online Resources and Exhibits

St. Lawrence Seaway Invert Errors

John Jamieson

(Updated version of an article published on the Saskatoon Stamp Centre website in November 2005)


All prices in this article are in Canadian funds, unless noted. The Canadian and U.S. dollar were pretty close to par in 1959.

With the recent sale of the U.S. Inverted Jenny plate block for the incredible price of US$2,970,000 (about C$3,500,000) and the choice single that brought US$577,500 (C$678,500) only a few months ago, there has been a tremendous interest in invert errors of the world.

Canada has only three invert errors on regular issue stamps:

  • 1959 5¢ St. Lawrence Seaway stamp with inverted centre
  • 1992 Canadian Bank Note Co. printing of the $1 Runnymede Library definitive with inverted inscriptions
  • 1995 Canadian Bank Note Co. printing of the $2 Truro School with inverted inscriptions

The St. Lawrence Seaway stamp of 1959 with inverted centre is by far the most famous of these. Having been “the first”, it will always remain the collectors’ favorite ... the most famous Canadian error.

The first report of the discovery of the Seaway inverts was when a young office boy from the Marlborough Hotel in Winnipeg purchased 30 stamps from a post office outlet in the Eaton’s store on 20 August 1959. Kasimir Bileski told me he purchased 26 of them in early September of 1959 from the office employees for $1,000 each. In Charles Verge’s article in Scott Stamp Monthly, April 2003, he reported that the remaining four were used on letters mailed by Mildred Mason, the lady responsible for the mail at the Marlborough Hotel on that same day.

The other 20 copies from the Winnipeg pane of 50 had been sold through the Eaton’s post office and were apparently all used on mail. Covers that exist attest to this. The known covers bearing the Seaway Invert errors are the main topic of this article.

This was the beginning of the story that led to national news reports and the Post Office Department scurrying to track down other error sheets still in post office stocks. Kas Bileski even appeared on national television's “Front Page Challenge”, the very popular current events quiz show at the time, and “stumped the panel” with the story of the find.

Charles Verge goes on to report that, on 11 September 1959, a pane of 50 was found in the postal stocks at the Winnipeg Post Office and a postal clerk in Peterborough, Ontario, found another pane of 50. Both were sent back to Ottawa.

Inverts also were found in Picton, Ontario. Charles Verge states that 25 from that sheet were used on mail from the Bank of Nova Scotia on 10 August 1959. Proof is shown by the first cover in the listing below, which is cancelled 10 August 1959. This is the earliest recorded cover bearing one of these great errors. Charles says that the discoverer kept two copies and gave a third to a friend. The remaining 22 were sold through Jim Sissons of Toronto to Kasimir Bileski for the then princely sum of $21,250. Charles reports that the lot included a copy used on card and a damaged copy used on cover.

Covers are also known from Ottawa, Smith Falls and Southampton, all in Ontario. The one used on cover from Montreal on 8 September 1959 addressed to Miss Gladys Allen is almost certainly from the Winnipeg finds as there is a cover mailed on 25 August 1959 to Miss Iris Allen in Swan River from Winnipeg. The names and the handwriting on the two covers are far too similar to be coincidence. Someone must have taken one of the stamps with them on a trip to Montreal and mailed a card back out West.

Some years ago an ex-post office employee had a block of 10 Seaway Inverts for sale. This reportedly was from a third sheet found in Winnipeg. It was quietly put away and only sold many years later. The owner was selling one or two stamps from his sheet each year, through Harmer’s auctions in New York, to pay for his summer vacations.

Charles Verge also gave details of a pane of 50 found in Joliette, Quebec. Rolland Perreault told this story to Montreal, Quebec, philatelic writer, Larry McInnis. Three had already been used on mail. Seventeen had been stuck on window envelopes before the discovery and were sold to stamp dealer Herman Herst. Of the 30 left, over 10 were sold in New York. The remaining 20 were sold to Bileski for $11,900 ... about the price of an average “single” today.

While certainly not as rare as the U.S. Inverted Jenny (there are about 200 mint Seaway Inverts in private hands vs. 100 of the Jenny), quite a few of the Seaway Inverts were actually used by the public before they realized what they had. The used are rare, but those that exist used on covers or post card are vastly rarer than the Jenny with only 17 used on cover or post card recorded.

Due to two fortunate purchases, Saskatoon Stamp Centre in November 2005 owned five of those 17 known covers. This was the first time where this number of covers had been assembled in one offering that we know of.

ONLY 17 “USED” on Covers or Post Cards Recorded

The following is the listing of the 17 recorded covers and cards. We have shown photos and given descriptions as detailed as possible of those that we currently do not have photos of. They are listed in chronological order based on the dates of use. Where the cancellations are not known, we have simply listed that cover “after” any other covers from the same city.

1) The earliest recorded usage on cover. PICTON, ONTARIO, 10 AUGUST 1959 tied on #10 “BANK OF NOVA SCOTIA” envelope cover along with a 3¢ Wilding QE II definitive, by “PICTON ONT. 10 VIII 59” cds cancel paying the 2oz. double weight rate of 8¢. This is the earliest recorded date on cover. The cover has a vertical file crease at left of centre.

The cover was in Greg Manning’s “LONDON ’80 RARITY AUCTION on 10 May 1980 where it was correctly described as “FIRST DAY COVER” and sold for £7,500.00, C$22,500 at the time. I was told after the sale by a little bird that the “book” at that sale had a top bid of £11,500 or about C$34,500 at the time. The cover was acquired by Toronto dealer Art Leggett sometime prior to June of 1987 when it was sold to the “G. Marnier” collection. It was purchased for stock by Saskatoon Stamp Centre in October of 2005.

2) PICTON, ONTARIO, 11 AUGUST 1959 tied on post card from the “BANK OF NOVA SCOTIA” to the Royal Bank at Young and Grenville Dr. in Toronto by “Help Prevent Forest Fires” slogan cancel. Post card contains “Notice re $1,000 settlement”. We do not have a photo of this card but it was on display in the Robert Cunliffe “Inverts of the World” collection at Anphilex in New York, December 1996. It was reportedly purchased by Mr. Cunliffe within a few months of the discovery and has been in his collection ever since. NO PHOTO.

3) OTTAWA, ONTARIO, 11(?) AUGUST 1959. While the cancel on this is not perfectly clear on the photo we have of this cover taken from the May 1992 Christies of London auction catalogue, we feel it is likely the date we have listed. Hopefully one day we will see this cover in the flesh and be able to confirm the date. This cover was addressed to G. W. Dunlop Esq., 404 - 7th Avenue East, Vancouver, BC. The auction catalogue stated that the stamp had “trivial wrinkling” which might have occurred as the stamp was being applied to the envelope. Regardless, it sold for £4,950.00, about C$11,500 at the time.

4) WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, AUGUST 25, 1959. The stamp on this greeting card size envelope is tied by a “WINNIPEG MAN, CANADA 25 VIII 5 PM 1959 — USE POSTAL ZONE NUMBER ON ALL MAIL” slogan cancel. The envelope did indeed contain a birthday card. It is addressed to Miss Iris Allen c/o Alfred Benson, Swan River, Manitoba. Please also see cover #11, below, mailed from Montreal, addressed to “Miss Gladys Allen, Bank of Montreal, Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is tied by “MONTREAL PQ, CANADA 8 PM 8 IX 1959” wavy line machine cancel. We feel the stamp on cover #11 was from the same pane as this one as the name of the addressee and the handwriting are very similar.

I recall being offered this cover by a Winnipeg dealer in October of 1990. It was subsequently sold to Kasimir Bileski who was asking US$15,000 for it in 1992. Either we did not offer enough, or it was simply easier to sell it to Kas, as he was the hometown dealer. It was subsequently sold to dealer Gary Lyon in June of 1996 who in turn sold it to a Montreal collector with a particular affinity for the Seaway Invert. I expect it is still in that collection.

There is also a single used on piece with the same slogan cancellation as this cover, dated the day before, “WINNIPEG MAN. CANADA 24 VIII 9:30 PM 1959”. This was sold in a Shreve auction, 21 June 1996.

5) WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, AUGUST 29, 1959. This cover has the stamp just overlapping the envelope at right and has a few rough perfs on the right edge of the stamp as a result. It is tied by the “WINNIPEG MAN, CANADA 29 VIII 12:30 PM 1959 — ADVISE CORRESPONDENTS TO USE POSTAL ZONE NUMBER” slogan cancel, the same cancel as the cover below. It was from a Mrs. H. S. Currie, 1754 Main Street, in Winnipeg to Mrs. J. L. Hamilton in Hull, Quebec. Obviously Mrs. Hamilton was not in Hull and it was re-addressed to Flin Flon, Manitoba. This is in the Brigham collection and was also sold in May 2004.

6) WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, AUGUST 31, 1959. This stamp is tied on a bank reply form addressed to “THE MANAGER, THE ROYAL BANK OF CANADA, 216 — 218 PORTAGE AVENUE, WINNIPEG, MAN Personal Chequing Department” by the “WINNIPEG MAN, CANADA 31 VIII 11:30 PM 1959 — ADVISE CORRESPONDENTS TO USE POSTAL ZONE NUMBER” slogan cancel. The Winnipeg Post Office had changed the slogan in their canceling machine in the week since the mailing of #4 above. This cover sold in a Maresch auction on 10 June 1981 for C$11,550.00. It was in the Brigham collection and was, reportedly, sold to a collector of “Inverts of the World” in May of 2004 for an undisclosed sum.

7) SMITH FALLS, ONTARIO, SEPTEMBER 3, 1959. This stamp is tied on cover addressed to “The Protective Association of Canada, 72 Main Street, Granby, Que. by “SMITH FALLS ONTARIO 4 PM 3 IX 1959” wavy line machine cancel. The envelope has “THE PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, HEAD OFFICE, GRANBY, QUE” return address in the upper left corner. The cover has opening tears at top that do not affect the stamp, which is a lovely left sheet margin single. This cover was sold as lot #497 in a Sissons auction in April of 1968 for $1,800. I recall being offered this cover by noted collector Sam Nickle in November of 1985. He stated at the time he had bought it from Jim Sissons on a private treaty sale for $16,000 some time earlier. “G. Marnier” purchased it many years ago, and Saskatoon Stamp Centre purchased it again for its stock in October of 2005.

There is also this beautiful top margin single tied on piece by a “SMITH FALLS ONT. 16 3 IX 1959” cds cancel which was sold in Sissons’ February 1979 sale as lot 895 for $17,000 against a catalogue value at the time of $3,750.

8) OTTAWA, ONTARIO, 4 SEPTEMBER 1959. This stamp is tied on cover addressed to Miss Grace Ada FULLER, The Saskatchewan Hospital, P. O. Box 1056, WEYBURN, Sask. by “OTTAWA ONTARIO CANADA SEP 4 10 PM 1959” wavy line machine cancel. The return address “typed” at the upper left corner is “55 Prince Albert St., Ottawa 2, Ontario”. The cover has “Aug 13/48 2 M.C.” in blue pen at left. We are not sure what this is all about but is likely a notation put on the cover upon receipt by someone at the hospital. This cover was offered in a Sissons auction.

This cover is certainly related to cover #10, below, which has the same return address written in pen at the upper left corner. I wonder if these folks mailed any other covers with Seaway Inverts on them. Did this person buy a whole pane?

9) SMITH FALLS, ONTARIO, 5 SEPTEMBER 1959. This stamp is tied on cover addressed to “Mrs. Eldred Lean, Camborne, Ontario” by “SMITH FALLS ONTARIO 11 AM 5 IX 1959” wavy line machine cancel. The envelope has “The Woman’s Missionary Society, THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA, BAY OF QUINTE, CONFERENCE BRANCH” return address in the upper left corner with “Box 105 Smith Falls” in pen above the return address. The cover has a tiny stain in the upper left corner, not affecting the stamp. This cover was sold in the Kaufman “GEMS” auction sale on 7 December 1985. We have a note stating that a U.S. dealer told us that the cover sold for US$19,000 in this sale but we do not have the prices realized for this sale to confirm this. It then appeared in a Steve Ivy auction sale in July 1993 where Saskatoon Stamp Centre was the buyer. Saskatoon Stamp Centre sold it to “G. Marnier” shortly after, and subsequently purchased it back for stock in October of 2005. The cover had an APS Expertization Certificate #7937 issued in June of 1971.

10) OTTAWA, ONTARIO, 8 SEPTEMBER 1959. This stamp is tied on cover addressed to Miss M. D. Comille, Box 69, Elburn, Ill, U.S.A.” by “OTTAWA ONTARIO CANADA SEP 8 10 PM 1959” wavy line machine cancel. The return address at the upper left corner is “55 Prince Albert St., Ottawa 2, Ontario”, same as cover #8 above, but this time the addresses are both hand written in pen. The stamp has a corner fault at bottom right, and was placed on the cover rather carelessly as a few perfs extend over the edge of the cover at top and at right. The faults on the stamp have certainly lowered the realizations that we have been able to find on this cover. It sold in the “Pipkin” sale at Sissons in June of 1974 for $1,700.00 against a catalogue value of $2,500.00 at that time. Subsequently it sold in an Ivy-Mader sale, 28 March 1996, as lot #1777 for a mere US$3,500 plus the buyer’s premium or about C$5,479.00 at that time. That certainly shows how important quality is when valuing stamps.

11) MONTREAL P.Q. 8 SEPTEMBER 1959. This stamp is on cover addressed to “Miss Gladys Allen, Bank of Montreal, Winnipeg, Manitoba” with “Main Office” at lower left corner of the cover. It is tied by “MONTREAL P.Q. CANADA 8 PM 8 IX 1959” wavy line machine cancel. The stamp is a lovely top margin single. This cover appeared in Eastern Auctions sale of 24 August 2002. where it stated that this cover was last sold in 1959, just after it was discovered. The cover sold for $16,000, plus the 15% buyers premium and our pesky 7% GST for a total of C$19,688.00 to a collector in British Columbia.

This cover is obviously related to cover #4 above. I feel this was from the same pane as the one on cover #4 as the name and handwriting are very similar. Probably the writer had purchased the stamp in Winnipeg and taken it with them to Montreal. That one was addressed to Miss Iris Allen c/o Alfred Benson, Swan River, Manitoba. As claimed by the auctioneer, it is definitely one of the finest of the 16 covers.

12) SMITH FALLS, ONTARIO, 13 SEPTEMBER 1959. This stamp is tied on a “blue” greeting card size cover addressed to “Mrs. William Giggs, 1620 Broadview Rd., Calgary Alberta” by “SMITH FALLS ONTARIO 8 PM 13 IX 1959” wavy line machine cancel. The cover has a portion of the back flap missing. The stamp is a lovely example of this error. This cover was sold in an October 1976 Sissons auction as lot #1121 where it sold for $2,600 against a catalogue value of $2,500 at the time. It subsequently appeared on one of the last Sissons sales on 24 February 1998 where Saskatoon Stamp Centre purchased it for its stock. CS catalogue at the time was $17,500. As is usually the case with these great rarities, Saskatoon Stamp Centre sold it quickly and it now resides in a collection in the USA.

13) OTTAWA, ONTARIO, 16 SEPTEMBER 1959 POST CARD. This is one of the most interesting of the Seaway Inverts, having been used on a post card to London England with the addition of a 2¢ Wilding QE II definitive to make up the 7¢ rate at that time. The message was written by a Russian immigrant lamenting to a friend in England about life’s difficulties in Canada, saying; “... plans have shattered in the heart and in living conditions.” If only the poor immigrant had known how valuable that little stamp he stuck on the post card really was. At the time the Russian put the card into the mail, the newspapers had already carried stories about the rare Seaway Invert errors, and dealers were offering $300.00 to $500.00 each ... about six times the weekly salary of a shop clerk or secretary at the time. The stamps are tied by “OTTAWA ONTARIO CANADA SEP 16 11 AM 1959” slogan cancel.

This postcard sold in a Sissons July 1961 auction sale, lot #1243, for $1,600 where it was accurately described as “Only known over seas usage and the only sound post card”. Sissons offered it again in the May 1979 auction sale, lot #634, where it sold for C$12,500 against a catalogue value of only $3,750 at that time. This was just when the Seaway Inverts’ prices were really starting to take off.

It next appeared in the Siegel Rarity Sale in April 1981 where it sold for US$14,300.00. Then it appeared in the 30 April 1995 Charles Firby auction as lot #362 where it sold for only US$9,350 including the 10% buyer’s commission, about C$12,740 at that time. Reportedly it has sold privately in 2005 to a collector of “joint issues” of the USA and other countries. Certainly one of the most interesting of all the Seaway Invert covers.

14) SOUTHAMPTON ONTARIO, 21 SEPTEMBER 1959. This stamp is tied on cover addressed to “Mrs. B. B. Hillary, Corunna, Ont.” by faint and somewhat smudged “SOUTHAMPTON ONT. SP 21/59” cds cancel. The return address at the upper left corner is “1231 Colborne Rd. Sarnia, Ont”. The cover has some small tears at top from rough opening, but the stamp is a choice right sheet margin single. This cover appeared in an Ivy Shreve & Mader auction, 20 March 1993, where Saskatoon Stamp Centre purchased it for stock, subsequently selling it to the G. Marnier collection. Saskatoon Stamp Centre bought this cover back in October of 2005.

This cover is certainly related to cover #16, below, which is addressed to the same address as the return address written in pen at the upper left corner of this cover. I wonder if these folks mailed any other covers with Seaway Inverts on them. Did this person buy a whole pane?

15) SOUTHAMPTON ONTARIO, 1959. This stamp is tied on cover addressed to “Office of Registrar General, 70 Lombard St. Toronto 1, Ont.” by a weak, indistinct strike of “SOUTHAMPTON ONT. ?/59” cds cancel. While the date is illegible on the photos we have available, we would expect it is sometime in September of 1959. This cover was in the Virgil Brand collection auction of Steve Ivy in December 1986, then in the Kelleher sale of September 1987. Unfortunately we do not have the prices realized from either of these sales in our library. The stamp was affixed slightly above the top edge of the envelope and was slightly creased as a result. The cover was re-folded along the top to preserve the stamp. We do not know the whereabouts of this cover at present but it is undoubtedly safely tucked away in some collection.

16) SOUTHAMPTON ONTARIO, 1959. Stamp is tied on post card addressed to “Master Allen Hubbard, 1231 Colborne Rd., Sarnia, Ontario” by a weak, indistinct strike of “SOUTHAMPTON ONT. ?/59” cds cancel. While the date is illegible on the photos we have available, we would expect it is sometime in September of 1959. This cover is certainly related to cover #14, above, which was mailed from the same address as this cover is addressed to. I wonder if these folks mailed any other covers with Seaway Inverts on them. Did this person buy a whole pane? Did they eventually realize what they had?

This post card was one of the three Seaway Invert covers sold from the Brigham collection in May of 2004 at an undisclosed price. Apparently it now resides in an “Inverts of the World” collection in Florida, with the other two “Brigham” covers.

17) SMITH FALLS ONTARIO, 3 SEPTEMBER 1959. Stamp is tied on “SMITH FALLS” post card addressed to “Jean Jones, 54 Baby Paint Rd., Toronto, Ont.” by a “SMITH FALLS 3 IX 1959” machine cancel. The cover was first announced to the philatelic community in late 2018, and appeared in the Eastern Auctions sale of 16 February 2019. It was purchased by Saskatoon Stamp Centre for stock, and listed in its Catalogue #627, Sept. 2019, for $19,500. VGG cert #27156.

18) COVER #18. DO YOU HAVE IT? We would be very interested to hear from anyone who has a genuine Seaway Invert error on a cover or post card that is NOT listed above. Please contact us if you are the lucky owner of such a great Canadian showpiece.

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