The era of fancy cancels ranged from the first U.S. Stamps issued in 1847 through the 1890’s, when the Post Office Department standardized cancellations and ended the practice of allowing individual local postmasters to express some personal artistry in meeting the requirement to deface stamps to prevent their reuse.
The modern era has produced some interesting cancels, and now the USPS has introduced some very elaborate First Day of Issue Cancels, artistically pleasing on First Day Covers and Souvenir Pages. But the focus of Fancy Cancel Collectors is on the traditional early covers, primarily the cork cancels and the 19th Century.
The earliest cancellations were often ‘pen cancels’ where the postmaster literally defaced the stamp using a fountain pen. While of lesser value to collectors, the upside of these cancels is they generally do not obliterate the stamps the way some heavy cancels do.
Another popular cancellation is the use of a ‘PAID’ handstamp, often left over from the pre-stamp era when the handstamp were applied to the ‘stampless’ covers to indicate the postage has been paid at the post office of origin.
The first cork cancels are mostly tragic obliterations as the cork bottle stoppers dipped in ink were used making the stamp nearly indiscernible. This practice created its own problem, as the obliteration often defaced the stamp to the extent that the denomination paid could not be seen. In response, postal clerks began to carve a groove across the middle of the cork, creating two semi-circles.
From this point the wheels of creativity began to spin, as four and then eight segment cork cancels appear, and soon designs began to appear ranging from stars and crosses, to geometrical shapes, animals, plants, birds, and even devils with pitchforks.
The developing art of fancy cancels found their high point in Waterbury, Connecticut where new cancels were created for every holiday and special occasions. The “Waterbury Running Chicken” cancel, which was probably actually a turkey since it appeared close to Thanksgiving of 1869, was in use for only a few days and is now the most prized of all 19th century cancels, with covers fetching very high prices.
The Fancy Cancels that we list on our iHobb.com website include some of the artistic high points of stars, cogwheels, crosses, pies, grills, concentric and bull’s-eyes, plus some early, plainer cork cancels and a few pen cancels. These later examples are outside the range of what a purest would call a fancy cancel, but are of the era and we include them, priced accordingly.
Of course, the treasures are the fancy cancels that are intact on the full cover as originally mailed. We are very pleased with the iHobb.com selection of these cancels, but maintaining a fresh stock is difficult as they are in strong demand and not readily available except in the occasion auction. Collect cancels for the sake of cancels, or seek out stamps with interesting cancels when filling spaces in your album and the result is an interesting collection with personality.