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United States/Covers & Postmarks : "Look Ma, I'm Posting Cancels"

26 Dec 2008
OMG what will my friends think now? :-)

Oh well, throwing caution to the wind, I was actually looking through a pile of old postcards (yes, checking the postmarks and cancels) and came across these two. First is a normal postmark from Norfolk, MA. The second is a similar postmark, but I noted that the date was upside down. Must be an explanation, eh?

right side up.jpg
upside down.jpg

Next, I found these two. First a really clean and really neat postmark on a card from 1911, but without a year in the postmark. Then, one that just begs the question, "Did they really have a post office out there on Block Island?"

no year.jpg
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27 Dec 2008
re: "Look Ma, I'm Posting Cancels"

Well, Bob, cancellations are fun. I am away from home and all my reference books. Also, even with my reference books I am still a lightweight when it comes to hand cancels. Show me machine cancels and you get answers. Nevertheless, here is some information to start.

The first two cancels are rubber cancels which are called (believe or not) "4-bars." Standardization of postmarking equipment in the US was really slow. The 4-bar cancels where issued to 4th class post offices beginning in the 1910s (if I recall correctly). They replaced the Doane cancels (again, if I recall correctly). There is no collectors' market for these cancels per se of which there are thousands. Rather, collecting interest in 4-bars is strictly on a state or local postal history basis. Because they were issued to 4th class post offices only, 4-bars are a treasure trove for small towns and discontinued POs (so called "dead post offices" = "DPOs"). The upside down year-date is a careless clerk error; the slug was inserted the wrong way. By the way, the smallest POs had 4-bar cancels that only had an AM/PM slug without hour.

The next two cancels are duplex cancels. From the earliest day, U.S. postal regulations required that stamps be defaced, but that use of the date-stamp for that purpose was not allowed. So for decades postal clerks had to cancel all mail twice: once to deface the stamp and once more to imprint the date and place of origin. What a simplification was the duplex cancel, where killer and circular date were attached side by side and both jobs could be done in one stroke.

Duplex cancels of various design were issued to 3rd class and up POs (and also to RPOs etc.). These were steel cancels which explains the crisp impression. I believe the Block Island cancel is a standard 3rd class PO cancel. You should find letters or numbers inside the killer in 1st and 2nd class PO postmarks (for identification of the postal clerk who was issued the cancel).

The Saylesville cancel I cannot exactly pin. However, it is not an uncommon type. Here the year was placed between the postmark and the killer. Because the stamp is missing it is of course hard to tell, but I have seen enough of these cancels to know. There is a tiny little black ink spot at the bottom to the right of the CDS --that's where the year would have been in this type of cancel.

(Message edited by rhinelander on December 27, 2008)

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28 Dec 2008
re: "Look Ma, I'm Posting Cancels"

I appreciate the information, especially the part about DPOs. If I ever decide to get into this aspect of collecting, I could see this as both challenging and a lot of fun.


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31 Dec 2008
re: "Look Ma, I'm Posting Cancels"

Postmark collecting = instant geography lesson !


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