The Beauty of Cancelled Stamps (USA)

To be clear, I collect predominantly cancelled stamps. Since my first “stamp” experience: my Mom giving me at age 4 or 5 the envelopes from incoming mail and letting me cut the stamps off (primarly 3¢Jeffersons) and paste them in rows on cardboard (think “busy work”), I’ve been attracted to used stamps vs. mint. To each his own, of course, but that extra cancel layer for me can add immeasurabley to the visual appeal of a stamp, not to mention the fact that stamps were made to be used. (Call me a purist…or crazy.)

Rooting through a box of used U.S. stamps, the cancellations on the three stamps shown here called out to me. The purple Iowa Territory Centennial issue of 1938 is cancelled with the classic numbered shoe-print killer. One look makes it clear why this cancel is called a killer.  The barred elliptical mark cancel was invented by John Goldsborough of Philadelphia, and his device, first used in 1875, became the most widely used in the U.S. It’s actually one part of a duplex cancel with part of the circle defining the other portion of the cancel seen on the left side of the stamp. That circle contained the name of the post office where the stamp was cancelled as well as the date. The information is too light to see clearly here, but for me the visual appeal is the powerful black shoe-print killer overlaying the deep purple stamp.

The second stamp that drew may attention was the green 1951 Centennial of the Settlement of Nevada stamp. The cancel doesn’t have the visual appeal of the Iowa Centennial stamp, but the slogan is spot-on  appropriate for the scene that includes forested mountains in a rugged western landscape: “Remember Only you can PREVENT FOREST FIRES.” That slogan was adopted by the Smokey Bear campaign in 1947 and continued more than five decades.

Finally, there’s the 2¢postage due stamp from the 1984-95 Bureau of Engraving and Printing series. The strong PHILADELPHIA PA precancel overlaying the rich intricate claret design is for me a thing of beauty. Though the stamp is nicked along the top edge, it’s the visual power of the stamp/cancel combination I find so satisfying.

Your thoughts about cancellations and philatley?

6 thoughts on “The Beauty of Cancelled Stamps (USA)

  1. My preferences with regards to canceled stamps are a little different. I like to be able to see the design of the stamp (or most of it) clearly, so I prefer stamps with a light cancel or a cancel that does not hide a significant part of the design. I also like stamps where the cancel itself is notable, like the numeral cancel shown above or a cancel socked-on-the-nose (perfectly centered on the stamp). If I save a stamp with such a cancel, I would consider it a second copy, having one with the visible design as my primary one.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Your used stamp preferences are the same as mine. This post elaborated on a secondary interest of mine in used stamps that have graphically interesting cancels. That extra layer of visual interest supplements my main interest in lightly cancelled stamps that allow the stamp design to be truly appreciated.

  2. I prefer cancelled stamps like the above, bold, strong duplex or triplex, or slogan, or even lines, but strongly imprinted. I’ve been slowly working through a mid 20th century kiloware for years and years now, and the vast majority of the stamps are from the liberty series, especially the 4c red violet Lincoln. And despite Wikipedia saying that duplex cancellers fell out of use in the 1940s, I still have in that vast number of line and slogan canceled Lincolns some 10-15 that have ‘shoeprints’. And these on stamps that are unlikely to have been used before postage changed to 4c standard in 1958, some 20 years after duplex use dropped off. I love finding them and I would love to build a 1940-1960 (or later) collection entirely with duplex cancelled stamps.

  3. Hello
    I have 2 pairs of US stamps of washington 2 cents Red 1923-1926 with shoe cancelation with Nomber 10 and 11, can you please tell me what exact year ?
    Thank you
    Zvia ben ami

    1. The number (or letter) appearing in the killer section of the duplex postmark may indicate the canceller number (possibly connected to the clerk responsible for its use) or they may also refer to the postal station where the duplex postmark may have been used. The year of the cancel would appear in the postmark section of the cancellation which normally appeared to the left of the stamp. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond.

  4. I really prefer mint stamps, because they fully display the beauty of the artist’s creation, as well as the colors, without being partially obscured by the cancel, or having faded a bit by soaking to remove cancelled stamps from their envelope. My choice has certainly been an expensive one, particularly for older stamps. Probably my favorite US mint stamp is SC 292, the 1898 $1 “Western Cattle in a Storm”, a true work of art! Each of that series is also a gem.

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