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General Philatelic/Newcomer Cnr : CTO's are not precancels!

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Bob Ingraham (Bobstamp)
18 Jan 2004
10:48:15am
About CTO's, Precancels & Favor Cancels

I've recently noticed some Stamporama auction listings have identified CTO (Cancelled to Order) stamps as "precancelled" stamps. They are not the same thing! And then there are "Favor Cancelled" stamps, which also cause confusion.

CTO's:

CTO stamps are normally easy to identify. They have gum (which may, of course, have been hinged at some time), and they normally have one forth of a Circular Date Stamp cancel placed in one corner.

Many countries, including most Eastern European countries, have long sold such CTO stamps to dealers to include in approval packets and inexpensive mixes. The "cancels" aren't cancellations at all, but printed "defacers" to make the stamps useless as postage. CTO's, which are neither used nor mint, are usually shunned by collectors, although some of them -- notably Russian commemoratives and pictorials issued during the Second World War -- actually command high prices.

The biggest challenge related to CTO stamps is finding copies of same stamps that have been legitimately cancelled. Some CTO's are issued by countries that have virtually no postal service all, and you may never seen one of their stamps with a real cancellation.

The cancels of CTO stamps are usually printed on entire sheets of stamps all at once, as part of the printing process, or later, on sheets of unsold stamps. Some countries, notably Germany in the 1920s, sold CTO's that had been hand cancelled right at the post office. If the gum has been removed from these German stamps, it may be impossible to differentiate them from legitimately cancelled stamps.

Precancels

Pre-cancelled stamps are sold by some postal administrations (notably the United States, Canada, and Belgium and France). Since they are already cancelled, they can skip the cancellation step at the post office, a convenience and cost-saving measure mainly to post office. There doesn't seem to be much advantage to the companies using them.

U.S. and Canadian precancels normally show the name of the originating city printed between parallel lines, although there are a few other types. Collectors like them because there are thousands of varieties and they are generally inexpensive. The French and Belgian precancels are circular.

Favor Cancels

Finally, there is another class of stamps known as "Favor Cancelled" stamps. These are stamps purchased at a post office and cancelled on the spot by a postal clerk. Some collectors do this to obtain "used" copies of the stamps, and some unscrupulous dealers offer them as used stamps. I once bought a "used" set of the U.S. Columbian reprints only to receive favor-cancelled copies. One reason that dealers can get away with this is that it is so very difficult to obtain nice-looking copies of modern stamps in postally used condition. But they should be honest and describe the stamps as favor cancelled!

Bob Ingraham
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John DeBoo {Grandpa}
18 Jan 2004
11:20:23pm
re: CTO's are not precancels!

Out of curiosity, why wouldn't any of these examples be just as desireable from a collectors standpoint as a normal cancelled or used stamp? Is it the fact that they have not actually been attached to an envelope and run the gauntlet so to speak?

Grandpa

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Dakota
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19 Jan 2004
12:15:04am

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re: CTO's are not precancels!

John:

It's sorta like - they're not real stamps at all. They were never issued to be valid postage. They were issued in vast quantities (already cancelled)to fulfill the 'collector' niche.

Which would you prefer, a real stamp or a picture of one that had been clipped from a magazine? CTOs are pretty much on equal with a clipped picture.

It's like having a new Ford that you can jump in and tootle on up to Santa Fe - or having a new Ford with no motor, transmission, wheels or interior.

This isn't precise, but you get the idea. :-))

Handshakes,


Dakota

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www.hipstamp.com/store/dakota-stamps
Bob Ingraham (Bobstamp)
19 Jan 2004
12:22:48pm
re: CTO's are not precancels!

At the end of the day, there is no difference at all between postally used stamps and their CTO counterparts -- except in the eye of the beholder.

CTO's are cheap, easily available, and often very attractive. Of course, many of the are also the worst kind of trash from concept through design through production, and are rarely used as postage.

Most European CTO's are real postage stamps that have been overprinted with fake cancels. As far as I know, the stamps themselves, underneath that neat cancel, are no different than the same stamps that have been used as postage. Other CTO's, notably the "Dunes" of the Arab Emirates, can hardly be said to be pictures of real stamps, since the real stamps scarcely exist.

I don't buy the argument that since CTO's aren't worthy of collecting because they haven't
"done their duty" by paying postage. Neither have mint stamps, and post offices today print huge quanitities of stamps with the hope that few will ever be used as postage, which is exactly what happens. A significant portion of their profit comes from the sale of mint stamps to collectors. If a CTO is little more than a printed label, then the same is true of most commemorative and pictorial stamps today.

Most collectors understand that stamps aren't a great investment. Simple government savings bonds are better. But at the same time, most collectors probably hope that their collections will some day return some cash to their pocket, or the pockets of their heirs. A collection composed of large numbers of CTOs will not do that. Most dealers won't even take a second glance at a collection of CTO's, which are a certain tip-off that the collector really doesn't understand philately.

There is one caveat which I have mentioned before: some stamps that are very expensive in mint condition are hard to find in postally used condition, and if the collector wants examples of these stamps in his or her collection, CTO's are virtually the only alternative. I have many Russian CTO's from the 1930s and 1940s which help a great deal to illuminate the history of those years. Mint stamps, which I couldn't afford anyway, would not serve my purposes any better, and I've never even seen postally used copies of most of them.

Bob

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John DeBoo {Grandpa}
19 Jan 2004
12:46:27pm
re: CTO's are not precancels!

Just trying to expand my knowledge and understand here.

So how does one distinguish a CTO from a 'normal' stamp? If many look the same it seems it would be easy to dupe a newbie like myself once a sheet is proken up. Is there something different about the cancel itself that raises a flag or does one research as best they can then take their chances?

The precancels I've seen (US) in my limited time at this hobby have had horizonal lines but no city name within those bounds. I expect there are other examples I'm not familiar with. Would any that might have a city name but no bars also be probable precancels?

Favor cancels I'd assume typically would still have gum on the back but be cancelled, until such time as someone soaks them to make them appear used, which in fact, to my mind anyway, they would be. If I read your description correctly then it would be almost impossible to distinguish these from normal used stamps, especially since its quite possible for someone to place a group of 4 on an envelope as valid postage, and for the PO to cancel them once, at the intersection of those 4 stamps. An example might be 4ea 15 cents for postage from the US to Canada or 4ea 20 cents for postage from the US to the UK.

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Bob Ingraham (Bobstamp)
19 Jan 2004
05:21:23pm
re: CTO's are not precancels!

John said, "So how does one distinguish a CTO from a 'normal' stamp?

In some cases, it would be difficult or impossible. This is particularly true of Inflation Era German stamps (see note in Scott), and seems to be true of Russian CTO's as well. Most of these appear to have had the cancellations applied by hand, so they look like they could be postally used stamps, if the gum has been removed. If they have gum and are cancelled, then they are likely CTO's; it's possible that such gummed stamps are favor cancelled copies.

bombs falling At the left is a Russian "Peace Propaganda" stamp issued in 1935. It is definitely a CTO; I only soaked the gum off because it was curling and warping the stamp. It could easily be mistaken for a postally used stamp, but in fact very few of these issues were used for postage.

Most modern CTO's have sharp cancellations consist of a one quarter of a circular cancellation placed precisely in a corner of the stamp. Careful examination will show that many of them have clearly been created not in a post office by a postal clerk but in a printing plant. In addition, 99% of CTO's will be gummed. Few experienced collectors would bother washing the gum off a CTO, and novices probably would see no reason to do so.

Bob Ingraham

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