Tuesday, 4 December 2012




Rock Island Quebec is a small town today and was even smaller in the 1930’s when it was issued precancel stamps.  It merged with three other towns in 1995 to form Stanstead which has a combined population of 3000 people.  It is located on the US/Canadian border.  The nearby Haskell Free Library and Opera House straddles the border.  Haskell Free Library and Opera House 

Haskell Free Library and Opera House                               

Haskell Library & Opera House

It sits astride the US-Canadian Border.


US-Canadian Border
Located in the reading room of the Haskell
    Library & Opera House in Derby Line,


Rock Island was settled in 1798 by Samuel and Selah Pomroy from Massachusetts. In 1802, a bridge was built across the Tomifobia River to ease access to Derby Line. The following year, Col. Charles Kilborn built a saw mill and a corn mill, then set up a dam on the river to feed them. A few years later, a channel was dug in the bend of the river. The territory located between the channel and the river was named Rock Island.  Rock Island was incorporated as a village in 1892, and became a city in 1957.

The wife of Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin in 1922 is a native of Rock Island and a park is named in their honor.

The town is on the US border and was one of the many smuggling points into the USA for liquor in the 20’s and 30’s and eventually back into Canada for consumer goods.


It is also the home of the Dairy Association Company, the manufacturers of Bag Balm. Bag Balm is a salve developed in 1899 to soothe irritation on cows’ udders after milking!  It also is used for "squeaky bed springs, psoriasis, dry facial skin, cracked fingers, burns, zits, diaper rash, saddle sores, sunburn, pruned trees, rifles, shell casings, bed sores and radiation burns."  Would it help philatelists with tweezer rash?

Bag Balm was taken to the North Pole by Admiral Byrd, it was used by Allied troops in World War II (to protect weapons from rust), it was used at Ground Zero in New York after 9/11 for the paws of cadaver-sniffing dogs, and it has been used by American troops in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rock Island was also issued precancelled postage stamps and since it was such a small town, were these stamps used to help sell Bag Balm?   A Bag Balm PC cover would be a great find! 
                                                                 Style 1                          Style 2
More interesting, perhaps, than a combined library/opera house existing, much less  straddling an international border, and an udder balm that works miracles on saddle sores and radiation burns, are a couple of precancels issued to Rock Island in 1935; the Jubilee Issue 1-211 one cent green and 1-212 two cent brown and the main reason for the article.

                                                                    1-211                      1-212
 I find them interesting for three reasons.  First they are part of the King George V Silver Jubilee issue and are the only “commemoratives” after the 1897 “Jubilees” of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.  Second, they both have portraits of future monarchs; King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.  Indeed the issue also contained a third future monarch, Edward VIII who became king in January 1936 after his father died aged 70 injecting with an overdose of morphine and cocaine.  He abdicated within a year and this was the only Canadian stamp with his portrait as Prince of Wales. The third interesting point about 211 and 212 is that no other town in Canada was issued these particular stamps precancelled and no other town specific stamps were so narrowly issued.  In this sense, at least, they are rare and the reason for this unusual situation is explained below.

There were two main users of precancels in Rock Island as explained in the Handbook and as expanded upon by Lussey in his exhibit.  One user was Butterfield Tools which had an operation in Rock Island for many years until it was closed down in 1982 after a long and bitter industrial dispute.  For more information:

The main user of precancels was probably Spencer Corsets, Canada, Ltd.  The General Manager at the time, J.D. Ferguson was a philatelist and a keen collector of precancels.  The reason that Rock Island is the only town issued with the 1935 Jubilees is because he specifically requested them and persisted at a higher level when his request was originally denied by the Post Office.  Whether his company was the only user is not clear but since his was a special request he was almost certainly the exclusive user.  According to Lussey, H.L. Chandler of Montreal recorded on February 16th 1938 the following information which he obtained from Mr. Ferguson that, of the two Jubilees, between one and five thousand of the one cent were printed but only one thousand of the two cent.  As far as the Medallion  and KGV issue are concerned, a large number of the Medallion one cent were used, less than two thousand of the two cent and only one thousand of the three cent.  Both George V items were used at a rate of about 1500 per month.

 http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Fashions_And_Figures  for information on Spencer Corsets.

Two styles of 1142 Moon PC’s were issued to Rock Island.  There are a total of 13 stamps to collect one of which is elusive [to me at least].  It is the 1-197 3 cent carmine Die 1.  It is listed at $150.  I have it in my $150 want list which is longer than expected leading me to believe that there are many very scarce stamps priced at $150 and Rock Island has one.  If only ten panes of the Medallion three cents were printed, is it likely that both dies were available as per the catalogue? 

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