Sébastien Delcampe, philatelist and founder of delcampe.net, reveals one of his favourite philatelic items.
One of my philatelic interests consists in collecting the first stamp of each country on cover. I am still far from having a cover for each country, and I remain attentive to any possible addition I can make to this collection.
Last year, I was browsing my website (Delcampe.net) to check the newly listed items. A cover with a Penny Black, listed by Christoph Gärtner’s auction house, caught my attention. I placed a bid through Delcampe. I was then in competition with in-room bidders, but I was lucky enough to win the auction!
At first, the cover did not seem visually appealing for my collection but, after taking a closer look and carrying out thorough research, I found out that it has a special story and I am now convinced that I have discovered a rare gem. I would like to share with you the results of my study.
Apparently, this folded cover was sent by post from London to Edinburgh. It was franked with a plate VIII Penny Black (BD) cancelled by a red Maltese Cross. On the back flap, we can see a red circular datestamp of 7 May 1841 from London, as well as another one in black, which probably coincides with the cover’s arrival in Edinburgh.
However, the sender’s note caught my attention: ‘1841 Colonial, London 5th FEB/Alex Gillespie Jr./Constitution for Queen’s College Canada’, in manuscript form and handstamped on the back flap. I wondered why 5 February was mentioned and whether the cover had any connection with ‘Queen’s College Canada’. These elements led me to carry out further research, and here is what I found out.
Alex Gillespie Jr, a Scottish Presbyterian lawyer, was a British consular tasked with developing and submitting the constitution. Most interestingly, he never resided in the UK! From the Queen’s University archives, it is possible to piece together some historical information about Alexander Gillespie. Acting as agent for the board in London, the charter for the university was forwarded to him. When this was found to be irregular in a number of areas, Gillespie advised the board on 5 November 1840 that the best course of action would be to include the whole constitution of the university in the charter – a process he said would be both long and expensive.
The recipient of the cover, William Young, was a member of the UK Parliament tasked with approving funds.
Queen’s University was finally established in Kingston, Ontario, by a charter signed by Queen Victoria on 16 October 1841. In that same year, Upper and Lower Canada were unified and became the Province of Canada. Queen’s University was generally modelled on the democratic ideals of the older Scottish Universities. Queen’s University was founded when its first Principal, Thomas Lindell, arrived in Kingston from Scotland carrying the Royal Charter of Queen Victoria, which established Queen’s College as an educational institution. The current Prince of Wales presented a replica of the 1841 Royal Charter granted by Queen Victoria to the university to mark its 150th anniversary.
Therefore, based on my research, there is a significant probability that the cover was sent from Canada: firstly, by private vessel or ship, or by diplomatic mail, to London, and then redirected (forwarded) from London to Edinburgh by affixing a Penny Black for domestic postage.
There are supposedly only four or five covers known to date from Canada bearing a Penny Black.
I am convinced that this is a very interesting, unusual and historical Penny Black cover related to Canada. What a chance I found this rare cover!
Special thanks to Jack Zhang and Patrick Maselis for their kind help and advice.
Sources: Christoph Gärtner Auction Catalogue No. 45; delcampe.net; Queen’s University Archives 1841–1917, Vol 1, pp. 27–28.
Article by Sébastien Delcampe