Friday, June 17, 2011

The Queen Elizabeth Karsh Issue
Stamps and Stationery

The Post Office Department began working on the first Queen Elizabeth definitive set one week after the death of George VI in February, 1952. Officials conferred on the selection of the photograph of the Queen from which a stamp model could be produced. A photo by noted Ottawa photographer Yousuf Karsh was chosen and approved by the Queen.


Essays of the 3 cent denomination shown below feature a medallion profile of the Queen.

National Archives of Canada

National Archives of Canada

The essay of the 5 cent denomination shown below was the accepted model for the stamp.

National Archives of Canada
Watercolour essay

Design Models

The design model was altered and improvements were made before the engraving began.

National Archives of Canada

National Archives of Canada
Photo approved model


The Karsh definitive stamps were among the most criticized stamps ever issued by the Canadian Post Office. Although the model was attractive (below, left), the engraved portrait of the Queen was a poor likeness.

National Archives of Canada

Photolithograph Plate Proof

An interesting Archive holding is plate proof of a block of four 1 cent stamps printed by photolithography. The image photographed for this process was of the stamp model (photograph of the Queen) and not the engraved die proof. Was photolithography considered as a possible solution to the unsatisfactory engraving?

National Archives of Canada

National Archives of Canada
Cut from plate proof CPA 325-20; mounted on card with wrapper 1¢ Queen Elizabeth II was released as steel engraving. Alternative printing process.

The Issued Stamps

The 1 cent- 5 cent Karsh stamps were issued on May 1, 1953.

The press and the public were critical of the new stamps. Walter Turnbull, deputy postmaster general who approved the engraved die later admitted being discouraged with the stamps. "We can't say we are entirely happy about the new stamps", he said in an interview. Mr. Turnbull explained that "special photo engraving" would have done a better job but was not available in Canada. Hand engraving, explained Mr. Turnbull, involved an inherent loss. "One line can be the difference between a smile and a frown", said Mr. Turnbull.

Mr. Turnbull's explanation for the poor rendering of the line engraved image is not persuasive given the impressive line engraved stamps previously issued by the Post Office.

Source : Views and Reviews By the Editor, BNA Topics 10 #7 (1953) 190-191


1. 1954 Wilding Definitives

The Post Office, under public pressure, replaced the Karsh definitive stamps the following year with a series featuring a photograph of the Queen taken by Dorothy Wilding. The Wilding portrait was superbly engraved by Silas Robert Adams , a master in steel engraving. Adam worked for the Canadian Bank Note Company for thirty-five years and engraved 78 postage stamps.

Wilding vignette
Engraved by Silas Robert Adams

The Wilding definitive issue was current from 1954 to 1962-63.

2. Karsh Stationery

Although the Karsh engraved stamp was a disaster, the photographic model was attractive and was used on postal stationery until 1965. Offset printing resulted in a stamp impression whose quality was suitable for stationery.

There were two designs. The second issue began to appear in 1960.

The ornaments in the first issue (left) were removed on the second issue. Other changes are apparent when the dies are viewed side by side.

1 cent

Post Band

2 cent

Reply Post Card

Precancelled Post Card

Post Band

2nd issue

Revalued 2nd issue

3 cent

The post card rate when the Karsh stationery was originally printed was 3 cents. The rate increased to 4 cents on April 1, 1954. The 3 cent post card was only released revalued to 4 cents.

4 cent

2nd issue

5 cents

2nd issue

Election Envelope
2nd Issue

Election Envelope
2nd Issue