Stamp Cancellations - Part 2

Early United States stamps bearing postmarks - often called "town" cancellations - with year dates are scarce and much sought after. In fact, any unusual cancellation on a stamp is a collectable item. In addition to the postmark and the killer the Post Office often used other marks upon stamps and letters which are of interest to collectors. The stamps on all foreign addressed mail that passed through the New York Post Office from 1871 to 1877 were canceled with a killer in the shape of fancy stars and designed usually in a circle. There are about one hundred different types of these New York foreign mail killers and all are eagerly sought after. Still other markings have been applied to stamps or letters to indicate special handling by the Post Office Department - Thus a small rectangle inclosing the words "Supplementary Mail" or the same words with a circular "town" postmark indicated that an extra fee had been paid by the sender to get the letter aboard an outgoing ship after the regular mail had closed. Letters carried on the Mississippi River packet boats often were canceled with the name of the steamer or perhaps merely "WAY" - indicating the letter had been picked up along the way-or "SHIP" or "STEAM." Letters carried by stagecoaches carry cancellations of the "Central Overland, California & Pike's Peak Express" and others. "Pony Express" cancellations often feature a running pony and sometimes private carriers would apply markings, one of the most famous of the latter being the "Noisy Carrier" of San Francisco.

New York foreign mail cancellations
New York foreign mail cancellations.

Other stamps have been killed with the letters "N," "S," "E" or "W," indicating to the postal clerks in which direction the letter was to travel. All of these things contribute to the interest and value of stamps and letters. Indeed, no stamp should ever be removed from its original letter where anything in the way of a cancellation or postmark occurs either upon the stamp or the envelope itself. Some stamps are more valuable "on cover," that is, attached to the letters on which they were mailed. This is especially true of some of the higher denomination stamps of the nineteenth century. But the cover collector will demand that the stamp be "tied," that is, that the postmark or cancellation must cover part of the envelope and part of the stamp, both under the same mark, thus "tieing" the stamp to the cover.

Steamboat postmarks. Pony express.
Steamboat postmarks. Pony express.
Cover carried by Langton's Pioneer Express
Cover carried by Langton's Pioneer Express, one of the early express companies operating in California about 1865. There were many of these express companies who carried mail, most famous of which would be Wells, Fargo, & Co. The company "franks," usually printed at upper left are greatly prized by collectors when on covers properly used and cancelled. Such covers were often carried completely outside of the mail being handled entirely by the express companies.

Among our modern stamps, which are mostly canceled by machines, it is very unusual to find the postmark itself upon the stamp because the machine is set up so that the postmark will fall some distance to the left of where the stamp is usually placed. Hence collectors seek to obtain such postmarks, especially on commemorative stamps, by placing the stamp far to the left on the envelope. When this is done "just so" and the envelope is fed into the machine "just right," the postmark will fall exactly in the center of the stamp. Such cancellations are called by collectors "socked on the nose" and not a few philatelists make a specialty of such postmarks. The subject of postmarks and cancellations is in itself a very broad field of collecting and research. In a very general way we have tried here merely to indicate just what to look for. Summed up, the whole idea may be wrapped up into a very few words: when looking for cancellations and postmarks it's the unusual that counts.