Canada: The accidental forger


Arthur Bartlett from New Brunswick was a trader in dry goods and drapery. But in his spare time he was a philatelist, no doubt itching to become a stamp dealer.

Fortunately, one of his friends was none other than Donald King, the Postmaster of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and this acquaintance was to provide him with a unique opportunity.

In the early 1870s, King made a wonderful discovery in the attics of the old Parliament Building in Ottawa. Stored in boxes were 350,000 mint stamps from Nova Scotia’s 1863 issue, left redundant when the province became part of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. These included five of the six denominations, totalling more than $18,000 in face value. Even in the absence of the rare 5c blue, they would be worth considerably more in the collectors’ market.

King and Bartlett together made a formal approach to purchase the remainders. After some negotiation they were offered the entire hoard at about face value, and purchased it with the backing of a consortium of investors.

To help him market the stamps to the philatelic world, Bartlett then had some very superior headed notepaper printed by chromolithography in Germany. Illustrated boldly across the top of each sheet, in full colour, were stamps from the Nova Scotia hoard, along with further remainders procured from Prince Edward Island and British Columbia.

It was an impressive piece of publicity material for its day, but that brought its own problems. In a time when high-quality colour reproductions were rare, and closely associated with criminal activity, its level of realism was too much for the authorities. Bartlett was taken to court and effectively charged with forgery, on the grounds that his notepaper could easily be cut up and the illustrations passed off as the real thing!

Ironically, a single sheet of his notepaper can fetch more than $100 in Canada today, while none of the remainders he sold even approaches that price!