Canadian Small Queens – ink variations

Canadian Small Queens – ink variations

While doing research on the Small Queens a while ago, I ran into a couple of articles that listed inks were used. Problem is, for the life of me, I can’t remember which book. I suspect it was POSTAGE STAMPS AND POSTAL HISTORY OF CANADA by Winthrop Boggs. At any rate, what’s fascinating is the fact the inks were hand mixed for each run.

Printers had their own recipes, which explains the colour variations in the early stamps. Small Queens are a bonanza for stamp collectors. You can get some good colour charts, but if you’re like me, they still don’t help a lot. I struggle with the different and often subtle variations, plus trying to decide if it’s a changeling or a genuine rare colour. You’d think that someone who’s collected as long as I have would whistle through colour identification, but not so. It’s both maddening and fun. Often, my rare colour is a changeling.

There were 3 printing periods

  • The 1st Ottawa Period (1870-1872/3) at Wellington St. Ottawa
  • The Montreal Printing (1873-1889). The printing was moved from Ottawa to Montreal when the printers shifted the company to Montreal
  • The Second Ottawa Period (1889-1897). The printing was moved back to Ottawa when the government made the printer stick to the original contract location.

Two ink mixtures used in Canadian Small Queens

1c 2c
6lbs lemon chrome yellow 12lbs American chrome green
3lbs orange 4lbs common chrome green
1/2 lb Venetian red — ferric oxide or iron oxide 4lbs white lead
2lb white lead 1lb lemon chrome yellow
2lbs Paris white – aka cliff stone or chalk 4 lbs lime white – limestone

Note the ingredients, they were quite a toxic stew. If you’d like to read a bit about the pigments used in inks and paints, Web Exhibits – Pigments through the Ages has an excellent site that explores the evolution of colour pigments and the historic ingredients and how they were made. The colour variations can be dizzying to keep track of.

Rough Guide to Colour Mixtures

I pulled together a list of the major ones and use it as a rough guide (update – colours are taken from a variety of sources but mostly from Boggs excellent work mentioned above):

1/2c 1c 2c 3c 5c 6c 8c 10c 20c 50c
  • Black
  • Grey black
  • yellow
  • Orange
  • Deep red orange
  • Red orange
  • Bright orange
  • Lemon yellow
  • Yellow orange
  • orange yellow
  • Pale dull yellow
  • green
  • Blue green
  • Deep green
  • Dull sea green
  • orange red
  • Rose
  • Copper
  • Dull red
  • Dark rose
  • Deep red orange
  • Bright vermillion
  • Deep rose vermillion
  • Orange vermillion
  • Orange
  • Orange red
  • Rose carmine
  • slate green
  • Deep olive green
  • Grey
  • Pale olive grey
  • Brown grey
  • yellow brown
  • Dark yellow brown
  • Brown
  • Red brown
  • Chocolate
  • Chestnut
  • Deep chestnut
  • violet black
  • Blue grey
  • Slate
  • Grey
  • dull rose lilac
  • Deep lilac rose
  • Dull rose
  • Pale milky rose lilac
  • Light rose lilac
  • Brownish red
  • Pale lilac magenta
  • Deep lilac magenta
  • Carmine pink
  • Magenta
  • vermillion
  • Brown orange
  • deep blue






You can spend a life collecting nothing but Small Queens. The price differences are staggering.  For instance, a used 3c bright vermillion in VF condition can be had for $1 Cdn while a deep rose carmine variation can run about $40. A VG mint spans from $10 to $200 for the same set. Word of advice, before popping open a bottle of champagne about that rare deep rose carmine, get an expert to check it out.

Here’s a sampling of some of the variations from my own collection:

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To date, I’ve collected a couple hundred small queens. Of all the early QV stamps, they are my favourite.