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Friday, June 14, 2019

Canal Zone 1904-1920 - a closer look

1904 Scott 12 5c blue "Map of Panama"
"Panama" (15 mm long) up left, down right
Overprint "Canal Zone" in black, "Panama" and Bar in red
Into the Deep Blue
June, 2019 Alert: The Big Blue Blog (active since 2011) has crossed over to two million total page views! Few stamp sites have reached that level - especially a non commercial collector driven blog as this one. I believe it is due to a healthy interest in WW collecting, and the 700+ quality blog posts. Now back to the topic at hand...Jim Jackson

The Canal Zone, ten miles wide and site of the Panama Canal (finished 1914), cuts through the isthmus of Panama from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans, The land was leased from Panama and administered or co-administered by the U.S. from 1904-1999.

Original Blog Post and BB Checklist

As the land was administered by the U.S., naturally it is found in the Scott catalogs attached after the U.S. listings. There is considerable interest in Canal Zone stamps in the U.S. and there is a Canal Zone Study Group.

The stamps are quite interesting - and a bit complicated. From 1904 to 1931, they consist of handstamped/overprinted/surcharged stamps of Colombia, U.S., and Panama stamps. Naturally, there are many variations (minor numbers) due to the overprints. Some overprint forgeries are known. The Canal Zone classic stamp era is truly a specialists playing ground.

Because of the rather complicated (and interesting) issues, I will divide the blog posts for the Canal Zone into two parts: This one will cover 1904-1920, and the next one will cover 1921-1939.

A Closer Look 1904-1920
100 Centavos = 1 Peso
100 Centesimos = 1 Balboa
100 Cents = 1 Dollar
1904 Scott 2 5c blue "Map of Panama"
"Panama" (15 mm) up left, down right
"Panama" and Bar in red
Violet - Violet Blue Handstamp "Canal Zone" on Panama Scott 78
The initial issue for the Canal Zone of June 24, 1904, consisted of three stamps - a 2c rose, a 5c blue, and a 10c yellow. They were handstamped in violet-violet blue "Canal Zone".  The handstamps were applied to stamps from Panama, which are overprinted  in red "Panama" up left, down right, and also having a red bar through "Colombia", as these stamps were originally from Colombia. ! Complicated.

These stamps were withdrawn July 17, 1904.

The CV is rather high (If genuine, the 5c blue unused above is CV $300), and the overprint can be found inverted or double for a much higher CV.

Scott has a warning: "Forgeries of the "Canal Zone" overprint and cancellations are numerous".

Is my stamp genuine? I have no idea, but the underlying Panama stamp unused (Scott 78) is only CV 30 cents, so probably doubtful. I would need to send it away for expertization.

1904 Scott 5 2c carmine "Washington"
U.S. Scott 319 Ovptd in black "Canal Zone...Panama"
On July 18, 1904, a five stamp issue using U.S. stamps was released. CV for the 2c carmine (unused) is $35. One has to also be aware of fake overprints.

1904 Scott 9 1c green "Map of Panama'
Black Overprint on Stamps of Panama
Between 1904-06, two stamps were released ( a 1c green and a 2c rose) that shows a black overprint on stamps of Panama. The overprint can be found as "Regular Type" and "Antique Type" - see Scott for specifics. CV is a modest $2+.

1904 Scott 13 10c yellow "Map of Panama"
"Panama" (15 mm long) up left, down right
Overprint "Canal Zone" in black, "Panama" and Bar in red
In addition, during 1904-06, three more stamps from Panama, that have been red overprinted "Panama" up left, down right, and have a red bar across "Colombia", were issued with the "Canal Zone" black overprint. CV is $5-$10+.

1904 Scott 19 8c on 50c bister brown
Panama Scott 74 Overprinted  "Canal Zone" in black
"Panama" both reading up; "Panama" & Bar in red
Surcharged in red "8 cts"
And another stamp was released during 1904-06 with a red "8 cts" surcharge. C V is $20+.

1906 Scott 26 10c violet & black "Jose de Obaldia"
Stamps of Panama overprinted in Black
Overprint reading down
Between 1906-07, five stamps of Panama were overprinted with the script reading down. CV ranges from $1-$8. Of course, variations in the OP (minor numbers) are worth considerably more (CV $thousands).

1909 Scott 29 8c violet & black "Hurtado'
Overprint reading down
In 1909, four stamps from Panama were overprinted with script reading down. CV ranges from $5 to $40+.

1909 Scott 34 8c violet & black "Hurtado"
Black Overprint reading up, Overprint Type I
In addition, between 1909-10, five stamps were issued (using stamps from Panama) with the script reading up. CV is $1+-$20. I should mention that this overprint is Type I. There are actually five types of overprints (Type I - V) identified by Scott in the catalog issued between 1909-1921.

Don't worry. I will compare/contrast the overprints in due course.

1911 Scott 36 10c on 13 gray 
Black Surcharge
In 1911, this 13c gray was released with a 10 cts surcharge, and overprinted "Canal Zone" as shown on this stamp of Panama. Actually, I don't believe this stamp was ever used by Panama. Of note, the same stamp with overprint, but without the 10 cts surcharge, was issued in 1914 (See "Out of the Blue" header for example).

1912 Scott 40 5c deep blue & black "Arosemena"
Black Overprint reading up, Overprint Type II
Between 1912-16, a four stamp issue (1c, 2c, 5c, 10c) with the black overprint reading up was released. The four stamps are identical to the same four denomination stamps found for the 1909 issue (five stamps-reading up) save that the OP here is Type II, rather than Type I.

Well, what is the difference with Type I and Type II?

Type I
"C" with serifs both top and bottom
"L", "Z", and "E" with slanting serifs
These are the characteristics of Type I.

I should mention that the 1c, 2c, and 5c, overprint can be also found with the much rarer Type III overprint that is similar to Type I. The Type III was released between 1915-20 (Scott 46-48), and has a CV of $60-$130. I don't have any.

Type III
Similar to Type I, but the letters appear thinner, particularly the lower bar of  "L", "Z", and "E". Impressions are often light, rough, and irregular, and not centered.

Type II
"C" with serif at top only
"L" and "E" with vertical serifs
"O" tilts to left
And here are the characteristics for Type II. Be aware that there are a total of five types, so one will need to learn how to identify all the types.

1915 Scott 45 10c orange & black "Culebra Cut"
Blue Overprint, Type II
In 1914, the Panama canal opened up for business. Panama released a bi-colored eight stamp pictorial set for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. Four of these stamps (1c, 2c, 5c, 10c) were used by the Canal Zone and overprinted in blue, Type II. Two of the stamps (5c, 10c) showed scenes of the canal.

1917 Scott 49 12c purple & black 
"S.S. Panama in Culebra Cut"
Blue Overprint, Type II
Panama in 1917 issued three more bi-colors showing scenes of the canal. These were also used by the Canal Zone in 1917 using a blue overprint, Type II. CV is $5+-$10+.

1918 Scott 52 1c green & black "Balboa"
Black Overprint (Type  IV) 
Black Overprint Reading Up
Between 1918-20, a three stamp issue (1c, 2c, 5c) was released for the Canal Zone with a Type IV overprint. What is the difference? - see below. CV is $6-$30+.

Type IV
"C" thick at bottom
"E" with center bar same length as top and bottom bars
(Compared to Type V): 2 mm high letters -"A" with pointed top
Here are the markers for Type IV. 

1920 Scott 56 2c orange vermilion & black 
"Fernandez de Cordoba"
Black Overprint (Type V) Reading Up 
Then, between 1920-21, another three stamp issue (using the same Panama stamps as the 1918-20 above) was released, but with Type V overprint. CV is $1+-$40+.

Type V
Smaller block type 1 3/4 mm high
"A" with flat top
As one should now be well aware, one needs to pay close attention to overprint types for Canal Zone issues, as often the same underlying denomination stamps of Panama were used. In other words, one can only identify for sure in many cases a particular Canal Zone stamp by identifying the type of overprint.

Deep Blue
Canal Zone 1915 Issue
Deep Blue (Steiner) has 4 1/2 pages for the regular issues of 1904-1920 Canal Zone. All of the Scott major numbers have a space. As I mentioned earlier, there are many minor numbers (usually with high CV) because of changes in the overprint (inverted, doubled etc). Obviously, if one was specializing or obtaining many of these specimens, the Steiner pages would no longer be adequate.

1915 Scott 37 10 gray
Black Surcharge
Out of the Blue
Well, that was interesting, especially with all the types!

We will continue with the Canal Zone 1921-1939 regular issues, as well as air mail and postage due categories with the next blog post.


Comments appreciated!


  1. Another terrific post, thanks. Having two million views is a great accomplishment, and with the high quality, not surprising. Will continue to add to the count.
    CZ set of 1915 bicolors is a real favorite. #42 is one of the best map stamps. Also # 59 of 1920, showing a USN collier 'Nereus' in the Pedro Miguel locks. Subsequently sold and lost in the Caribbean in Dec 1941 due to 'unknown causes'.
    The 1939 set Scott #120 to 135 is a wonderful way to start collecting CZ used, and a history lesson to boot.


    1. Thanks Roy for the comments and the value added information!

  2. Sounds like a particularly challenging area to collect with the myriad typefaces used for the overprints, high values due to rarity, and multitude of issues to collect. Lately I have begun to get interested in Indian States issues which are probably even worse and not very prevalent locally to boot. Hmm, maybe stamp collectors really are masochists. :)

    Congratulations on two million views, no question that the content makes it all worthwhile. It has definitely impacted my life, I think for the better, as I seem to be becoming curious about everything related to stamps whether production, political history that results in issues, even ship routes for communications to new settlements in the 1800's. Still not sure where it will lead but the journey is definitely proving interesting thanks to contributions like these from Jim and Bud. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the interesting observations albumfilling - yes, the Indian States are a world onto themselves.

  3. Nice to see the overprint types illustrated by being shown on stamps and enlarged.

    Your Scott #2 has a very good chance of being genuine, believe it or not. It passes all the basic tests that I can find including the handstamp ink color. Many forgeries are handstamped in black or gray black, done by the notorious forger de Thuin.

    - hy-brasil

    1. -hy-brasil- Well, that is encouraging news. :-)

      If I was to sub-specialize, Canal Zone would be highly tempting.

  4. There is Canal Zone Stamps by Plasser, Brewster and Salz, which is pretty comprehensive and well illustrated.

    I have semi-specialized in certain issues (worldwide) when I found a few varieties and tracked down a reference or two. I still maintain a worldwide interest otherwise with a lot of ground left to cover there.