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United States/Covers & Postmarks : Tom's Day Off

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
31 Oct 2016
10:28:13pm

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I won't call it my Excellent Adventure because it really didn't go as I anticipated. I was off from work today since they realized I had worked for 21 days straight. I got the crazy idea of doing a post office road rally like I did in the old days. That is, I'd plan a route of post offices from which I needed cancels, set a course and hit them all in one day.

Of course this was fueled by my recent obsession to build my New Jersey town postmark collection. And I thought this would be cool using modern devices like Google and my GPS. I first consulted Google Maps, zooming into an area and asking for "post office". I'd note the towns in the area, figure out which ones I already have and set a logical route between those I want to acquire.

I put together an overambitious list of 35 towns. I then prepared plain white covers with a variety of current and recent stamps. I think I had about 50 covers ready. I even brought more white envelopes. Man was I too enthusiastic!

I had mapped the route to hug the New Jersey side of the Delaware River from the Turnpike bridge, winding down the waterfront to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. I thought that would be a good wander, and in an area of the state where we had no experience.

Last Friday over dinner I told my wife about my plan for my day off. Note that she did not have the day off. She decided that it sounded like an adventure of exploring NJ towns we'd never been to before so she wanted to come.

We hit the PA Turnpike headed towards New Jersey by 9:30. Not an unfamiliar ride since I drive this route every day. Two days a week I head over the Delaware to the NJ Turnpike. Right there is the sign for the town of Florence. I've always wondered exactly what was in this little town on the Delaware. In the book "Blue Highways - A Journey Into America" by William Least Heat-Moon, he wanders through Florence, so it was the logical point to start our postal journey. BTW, this is an excellent book!

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We quickly found the little town and the post office by 10:15am. It's a neat little place of older homes. The lone postal clerk was friendly but confused as to what I wanted. Once explained that I was collecting a postmark from every post office in NJ, she was fine and gave me a red circular cancel on my Ray Charles stamp. I was off and running until...

The second town on my list was Roebling, and this little town looked like it was completely built by brick in the late 1800s. There were streets and streets of attached row homes, then a few blocks away it changed to rather large brick duplexes. The downtown was unique, with brick storefronts around a central circle. There the postal service planted one of it's ugly mid 60s architecturally bland light brick buildings. Totally out of character for this little town.

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Here's a photo from the circle in Roebling. Why don't we have a cover? This was the start of things to come! The last time I went on a postmark crawl back in the 1970s I don't recall it ever being an issue. Here the clerk told me that she wouldn't give me a cancellation and said cancels were only for mail. She was nice enough to agree to call her superior. She went in the back but her voice was loud enough to hear her say, "I have this crazy man here..." She said her boss at the regional office said no go, and said if I addressed my cover and gave it to her, she'd cancel it and it would arrive through the mails. That would be legal. Of course my worry is that it will arrive with the regional sorting center usual smear across the town cancel. We will see.

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Figuring this was a one off experience, I moved forward. We hit Delanco, NJ without incident. This was where I discovered that modern day postal clerks aren't that great with their aim, even with a 4 bar killer cancel! I was surprised to see one in use since I hadn't seen one in a great while.

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Riverside, NJ was an interesting visit. The clerk asked another worker if she could cancel my cover. He said, "Sure you can do that for a collector." and watched as she delivered two totally unreadable under-inked cancels to my cover. She told me "That's the way it works".

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The fellow then said, "No, no, no that won't do!" He went to the backroom and came back with another cancel. I produced a second cover (I had figured there may be re-dos) and gave me this absolute winner of a perfect cancel. He wins the postal person of the day award!

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Next up was Willingboro, a suburban area and another winner of a cancel.

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Rancocas was a very small and very old town. The buildings all were from the late 1800s and the post office had the nicest antique woodwork of the day. This became my favorite stop of the day.

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It was lunch time so there was a line and I got into a conversation with a local resident who said he'd recommend living there. Put that in the Roladex for retirement. This little office was a 1930s addition onto an 1880s building.

I knew there would be a disconnect somewhere on my route. Westhampton proved to be that one. We went to the address and there was nothing there. Although there were signs for Westhampton businesses I'm now doubting a post office exists.

The next town on our list was Hainesport, which had a tiny little post office. The clerk there again refused to give me a cancel without actually mailing something. So again, I addressed a cover and handed it to him.

We had decided to look out for a nice place for lunch before Rancocas, and finally found one on our way out of Hainesport. We had a nice lunch at the Prospector's Saloon in Mount Laurel, which was our next stop.

Over lunch I searched the USPS website on my phone and found USPS rule "9-2.2 Special Materials on Which Postmarks Are Requested" which pretty much agrees with what I'm requesting.

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Now armed with 9-2.2, I headed into the Mount Laurel post office. This is a larger suburb, which is famous for the New Jersey Supreme Court finding on affordable housing. Since then builders have been forced to provide some below market value units in their developments for low income people. Those are known as the "Mount Laurel Units". So the clerk was a friendly older guy who again refused to give me a postmark. This time I presented my phone and he brought it back to his postmaster who agreed I could have a cancellation. He was friendly and said, Thanks he learned something today. Then he went out of his way to give me the best cancel possible.

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Delran, NJ was in a shopping center. Sometimes the GPS proclaims that it found the post office but I had to hunt for it, this was one of those situations. Again the clerk balked at giving me a postmark. The magic phone worked again. We were doing well at this point with the phone strategy. This was the only blue cancel of the day.

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The lady at Palymyra was so nice that I actually bought some stamps. She was interested in my project and wished me well.

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Maple Shade was another office where my motives were questioned. Again, some nice talk and the cell phone view of the USPS rule got me this very nice two bar cancel.

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I came out of the Maple Shade post office to find this news van sitting next to my Buick. I figured that the post offices had alerted them to the crazy man collecting post marks, but that was not the case. So I will not be on the news tonight.

The last visit of the day at 4:30 was Pennsauken, a large 1930s Federal building typical of the post office builds of that era. Again I came out empty handed. The two clerks refused to accept my phone view of their own USPS website. Instead they called their post master on the phone who said no. I got on the phone with him and he agreed to look up the regulation tomorrow and would mail me my stamped cover inside a USPS envelope if I am right. I can't wait to see if this one ever shows up.

In conclusion, it was a bittersweet day. I spent an entire day and only visited 13 post offices. Most of these were clustered and less than a few miles apart, but the average visit was a half hour or more, mainly due to postal workers not wanting to comply with my requests. That made it a stressful day.


Right now we have a mere ten covers in hand, and another three that "may" show up. I'm dismayed at the cooperation and apparent education of postal workers. They were suspicious that I was trying to scam them in some way. One said that once I had their cancel on an unaddressed envelope, I could use that for unlawful purposes. Few of them had any idea that someone may be collecting postmarks. Some scoffed at the idea.
It was a complete different experience from my last foray in the 1970s. I don't know if the USPS has trained them differently, or if this generation has written their own rules. I can say that they were concerned about doing their job right, which is a good thing. I don't know if I want to subject myself to this again, or even that I'd want to disrupt the postal process since most said they had never had anyone request a cancellation over the counter. All told it was an interesting day.


With this experience I can say I'd do better the next time. I would bring paper copies of the USPS regulation. I may report my experience with USPS management and ask why I experienced what I did. Still, I'm shaking my head.

Thoughts or comments welcome...




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ernieinjax
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01 Nov 2016
06:30:46am
re: Tom's Day Off

Tom, sounds like an adventure!

Yeah, I'm always amazed how there's no shortage of stories of postal workers who just don't know the rules.

I love the one with the jack o lantern. Very neat. I've used those cancellers and its not always easy to get a nice strike.

Glad you and your wife had a nice day of it. Anyone who would do that has a ZEST for life! Don't ever change my friend.

Ernie

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Guthrum
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01 Nov 2016
06:53:50am
re: Tom's Day Off

I'm reminded of one of my favourite Shakespeare quotations:

“But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured...
Plays such fantastic tricks against high heaven
As makes the angels weep
."

I do hope you find the time to press the case with USPS against those type of employees - while making sure to praise the others who perhaps went out of their way to help.

You obviously favour the blank cover against the addressed one - a feature less common over here. I hope you eventually succeed in acquiring the postmarks of your entire state!

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whitebuffalo
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01 Nov 2016
10:04:16am
re: Tom's Day Off

I had a few covers cancelled at our local post office, but our lone postmaster asked that I give her a day to check it out before going ahead. I said sure and went back a couple of days later. She hadn't forgotten and said her boss told her to go ahead. She went on to explain that the USPS's main concern was a strict rule of not creating a "product for profit", that their purpose was a service and not to produce a commercially saleable item.

I assured her that the covers were for my own collection and she's never balked at any of my other requests. She even went so far as to reset the cancel date for some airmail covers I made up, to correspond with the 100th anniversary of airmail service in the U.S. It was all based on the idea that cancelling an unused stamp and not sending it through the system was "free money" as far as the USPS was concerned.

Anyway, it sounds like you gave it a valiant effort, Tom and probably got to see some very nice scenery. Kudos!


WB

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smaier
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Sally
01 Nov 2016
02:14:21pm
re: Tom's Day Off

Wow! When I read your first paragraph, I thought, oh boy - wonder if you had the same experience that I had a couple years ago. And amazingly enough, almost identical (except I didn't have the usps regulations with me).

Kudos for persistence and sorry you had your "excellent adventure" kind of spoiled.

You did get some nice cancels for your efforts and had a day out with your wifeThumbs Up

Let us know if the other covers eventually show up in the mailstream. Thanks for sharing your day....

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Poodle_Mum
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01 Nov 2016
04:34:47pm
re: Tom's Day Off

Loved reading about your experience. Despite the downs, you no doubt had a great day off and you were able to experience new places and people.

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philatelia
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01 Nov 2016
10:36:41pm
re: Tom's Day Off

Fun story! This would be a great item for the Rambler, doncha think?

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Poodle_Mum
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01 Nov 2016
11:41:43pm
re: Tom's Day Off

Theresa - YES!

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
02 Nov 2016
09:24:44pm

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re: Tom's Day Off

Epilogue - Where did the missing covers go? All three of them arrived back at home in today's mail. And surprisingly none of them got the usual regional office inkjet smear.
So here's what we got...

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Roebling was the first of the refused cancels. The clerk said if I left the cover they would cancel it and mail it back. Well she was true to her word, but did a quick uncaring cancel that obscured the town name. I'll bet she still doubted she could give a cancel and made sure there was no evidence.

I did a look up of Roebling and found that this was a company town, founded by the Roebling steel company that supplied steel beams to famous buildings like the Empire State Building and George Washington Bridge. The uniformity of the town shows planning, so these homes were built to house the workers. The steel company is long gone, and the town, along with it's sister town Florence may be worthy of another wander just to see what's there.

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Hainesport was the second town where I had to mail my cover. At least the postmark is almost completely readable. Good enough for the collection. Note that both covers that did go through the mails received the USPS bar code proving they actually saw postal usage.

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Pennsauken also completed their mission. I received my cover neatly inside a USPS envelope with town cancel. I guess the postmaster found I was right! And they followed through as promised. Both covers will go into the collection since they represent a story.

I checked the USPS website to see how to send them an inquiry, but their "Contact Us" drove emails down a very specific path of response, none of which covers my situation. And I doubt it would do any good!

So end result was that I did get covers from all the towns I requested. Hard earned covers, not received without a fight. Still I'm happy to have 14 more towns in my collection.



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towards2112
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03 Nov 2016
11:41:27am
re: Tom's Day Off

Just as a passing thought. What do these Postal employees think that funny little
rubber stamp thingy is for ? Proof that you got your two hot dogs at the annual
employee picnic ? And when did all of this happen that they really don't like to
hand cancel envelopes ? I've been asleep since 1976.

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youpiao
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03 Nov 2016
07:28:43pm
re: Tom's Day Off

"She went on to explain that the USPS's main concern was a strict rule of not creating a "product for profit", that their purpose was a service and not to produce a commercially saleable item."

Yet Artcraft and Colorano, et al, seem to have no trouble getting all of their "products for profit" first-day cancelled.

Ted

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
03 Nov 2016
09:12:09pm

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re: Tom's Day Off

Quote:

"What do these Postal employees think that funny little
rubber stamp thingy is for ? I've been asleep since 1976."



It was a rude awakening for me too. I hadn't gone postmark collecting since the 1970s so I was not prepared for the reception I received. Plus the way some of these postal folks wielded the postmark that left an illegible postmark...

Here's a few facts..

9-2.2 Special Materials on Which Postmarks Are Requested

A. The materials described in this section may be postmarked as indicated as long as they bear unused postage stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate.
Plain Cards, Slips of Paper, and Blank Envelopes. Postal Service personnel may place postmarks for customers on plain slips of paper, plain cards, or blank envelopes provided that such items bear unused postage stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate.

B. Picture Postcards (Maximum Cards). Picture postcards with the stamp placed on the face of the card rather than on the address side are known as “maximum cards.” Postal personnel may postmark these cards and hand them back to the person presenting them at the day of the event.

C. Posters, Portfolios, and Other Memorabilia. These items may be postmarked when presented in person for hand–back service provided that such items bear unused postage stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate. However, such items cannot be submitted and returned through the mail.

D. Already Canceled Stamps/Multiple Cancellations. Items bearing previously canceled stamps and postmarks are acceptable for additional postmarking only when they bear unused postage stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate. The new postmark must strike the unused postage. The previously canceled stamps or postmarks also may be hit with the same stroke.

E. Currency. Currency, or items bearing currency, having stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate affixed or adjacent thereto may be canceled when presented in person for hand–back service. However, such items cannot be submitted and returned through the mail. The Postal Service does not accept responsibility for currency in its possession in conjunction with philatelic services.

F. Backs of Envelopes. Envelopes having canceled stamps on the front can still be postmarked if they bear on the back unused stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate. These items may be postmarked when presented in person for hand–back service. However, such items cannot be submitted and returned through the mail, even when outer envelopes are provided. Such a postmark denotes only that the item was presented to the temporary philatelic station or philatelic outlet for postmarking on that date; it does not denote that the envelope was carried by the Postal Service.

G.Foreign Postage Stamps. Unused foreign postage stamps may be canceled with a U.S. Postal Service postmark only when unused U.S. postage stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate is canceled with the same stroke.

H. Photo Stamps, Personalized Postage; PC Postage; Postage Validation Imprinter Strips; Bulk, Nonprofit, and Presorted First–Class Stamps; or Metered Postage. Items may be canceled with a U.S. Postal Service postmark only when unused U.S. postage stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate is canceled with the same stroke.

11-1Clear and Legible Postmarks

Postal Service personnel should strive to furnish clear and legible postmarks to collectors by ensuring that handstamp devices are properly inked. Postal Service personnel must give special attention to requests for light postmarks and to mail bearing an endorsement of philatelic value, and they should avoid postmarking stamps by pen or illegible smudging. However, stamps must be postmarked sufficiently to protect Postal Service revenue. See Exhibit 11–1.


Exhibit 11–1
Clear and Legible Postmarks


Properly ink handstamp devices.
Postmarks should be clear and legible.
Postmark stamps sufficiently to protect Postal Service revenue.
Postmark only a small part of the stamp to satisfy collectors.


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smaier
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Sally
04 Nov 2016
10:28:08am
re: Tom's Day Off

Note the word "may" in all of those passages. Not "shall" or "will" or "must".

Having experienced the same "can't do that" attitude with the reason being that "you might use this postmark to cheat in some lottery", I have been thrilled to find a new post office with extremely friendly and accomodating clerks. Haven't taken in any uncancelled but may have to try soon.

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malcolm197
30 Nov 2016
07:52:22am
re: Tom's Day Off

If you do get to claim - as well as praising those who went out of their way, please do not criticize the others - unless they were rude.

The fault here is not with the staff but with their training - for which their superiors ( or even head office ) is to blame.

A combination of poor training, and over complex rules (where the cost of errors is more likely greater than what the correct procedures earn) is the problem here.

Well educated and motivated managers often overestimate the capacity of their employees to act on or even comprehend complex situations. Creating stressful complex possibly confrontational situations such as you experienced, is often a demotivating factor to lower level staff. This is true of all large organisations not just the postal service.

I find this quite strange as most U.S.owned companies in the UK have a good reputation in this regard. Perhaps our benchmark is lower?

Malcolm,

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ikeyPikey
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30 Nov 2016
08:27:10am
re: Tom's Day Off

Quote:

"... I checked the USPS website to see how to send them an inquiry, but their "Contact Us" drove emails down a very specific path of response, none of which covers my situation ..."



I had a parcel that was 'noticed' and not attempted.

I know, because I let the carrier into the building over the intercom.

I tried to complain via the website. After much drilling down and filling blanks, I hit {submit} only to get a) an error message that the system was not available right now, and b) no way to go back & cut'n'paste'n'save my carefully crafted complaint.

The different ways that the clerks looked at your handback request(s) show how much of life is convention, practice, and repitition.

If nothing else, my travels (& travailles) have shown me how differently different people can approach the same problem.

That you might want an unaddressed cover to back fill an address to create proof of mailing is not an unreasonable suspicion.

That the service should be a non-profit courtesy to an individual and not enable an entire cottage industry is not and unreasonable thought (if you've never seen an FDC).

I'd go easy on the 'poor training' shtick. We're talking about one of a zillion regulations, most of which are never encountered during the work year and, therefor, are going to be hard to recall even if the clerk read it once ... some years ago.

I would not expect every IRS window employee to be current on the carried interest rule, and I would not expect them to be swayed by something on some nutter's phone.

I'm glad that they all kept their word, and that the wife came along for the ride makes the thought of re-marriage a little more attractive.

Cheers,

/s/ ikeyPikey
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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
30 Nov 2016
09:24:29am

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re: Tom's Day Off

Quote:

"If you do get to claim - as well as praising those who went out of their way, please do not criticize the others - unless they were rude."



Note that my conclusion on the original post (which is now a Rambler article!) was:

Quote:

"It was a complete different experience from my last foray in the 1970s. I don't know if the USPS has trained them differently, or if this generation has written their own rules. [b]I can say that they were concerned about doing their job right, which is a good thing.[/b]"




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I had said that I hadn't done this since the 1970s, but I had forgotten my trip to my namesake town in 2012. I was greeted like a long lost relative and the postmaster was very happy to restamp my postcard from 1976 and hand cancel all our Christmas cards!



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Poodle_Mum
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30 Nov 2016
11:44:12pm
re: Tom's Day Off

Tom - hope you don't mind I put this story into the Rambler - it was just too good to pass up. It shows the hopes and spirits of the collector, the ambition of clerks doing the job the best way they know and especially with the follow-up cover that was sent to you within an envelope - that showed me the true spirit of the postal service. AND hopefully it will also help others to now know what the code is so that if they decide to pursue the same endeavour, they'll be prepared. Your journey showed three different perspectives and really "popped" - I couldn't resist putting it in the Rambler.

Forgive me?

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
01 Dec 2016
08:47:38am

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re: Tom's Day Off

Quote:

"Forgive me?"



Nothing to forgive! I was honored!

With the recent thread on the difficulty of getting submissions for The Rambler, it's a good idea to use good posts from the message board. There are certainly some good ones, and it will reach the audience you email, some of which don't read the message board.

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Poodle_Mum
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01 Dec 2016
12:12:35pm
re: Tom's Day Off

My thought exactly.

I'm glad you didn't mind.


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carabop
02 Dec 2016
11:25:57pm
re: Tom's Day Off

I did this a year ago in Yellowstone National Park post offices. I didn't have any trouble getting the cancel as long as I was willing to send the piece thru the mail system, if I didn't want to send it thru the system they didn't want to do the cancel. I agreed to send it thru the system because I didn't have any regulations with me to back me up. I did ask all of them to please not send it thru the machine as it didn't need to be because they just cancelled it already. I received most of them in my mailbox with a nice cancel but I think it was 2 of them had the hand cancel and a machine cancel. It was quite fun to do.

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michael78651
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SOR Auctioneer
02 Dec 2016
11:58:38pm
re: Tom's Day Off

If you really want to freak them out, ask to cancel the items yourself! Yes, the regulations permit this. The one caveat is that you have to remain in visual contact with the postal clerk while you are in possession of the cancelling device. I have cancelled my own items, and they sure do get nervous when you ask them the first time.

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
03 Dec 2016
09:53:51am

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re: Tom's Day Off

Quote:

"I did this a year ago in Yellowstone National Park post offices. I didn't have any trouble getting the cancel as long as I was willing to send the piece thru the mail system, if I didn't want to send it thru the system they didn't want to do the cancel. "



Cara, I'm surprised since that's a tourist destination and people would likely want a souvenir postmark. Back in the 1970s the post office had the Bicentennial Passports and encouraged people to get postmarks in their book at tourist destinations. Many of them had pictorial cancels just for this purpose!

Quote:

"If you really want to freak them out, ask to cancel the items yourself! Yes, the regulations permit this. "



One of the clerks on my run, I believe it was Mt Laurel, NJ, mentioned that when people came in with stacks of wedding invitations they'd set them up on a side counter with the cancel to do it themselves. My daughter's wedding invitations got ruined by passing them through the ink jet machine. Bad enough to get ink on your hands. These were invitations that cost something like $10 each so she was devastated.
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joshtanski
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03 Dec 2016
10:00:34am
re: Tom's Day Off

One thing I was thinking about when I read the article in the Rambler - if the clerks insist an item has to be mailed - you could mail it to yourself General Delivery (Poste Restante) at the same post office so the clerk could deiliver it by handing it right back to you. Of cource, that assumes clerks would know how General Delivery is supposed to work...

Josh

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michael78651
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SOR Auctioneer
03 Dec 2016
10:03:47am
re: Tom's Day Off

Josh, I can see some clerks' brains freezing up like a clunky computer if someone did that to them! Laughing

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