Mother Nature


Cancellations are ink marks made across a stamp to prevent it from being used again.

In the early days, many post offices had to make their own design of postmark to indicate acceptance of the letter in the system, but the design had to be authorized by the postal authorities.


Some dies were cut from wood blocks or cork, and were made in a variety of geometric shapes. Many of these were almost the size of the stamp, and frequently covered more than 50% of the image; they were called "killers", but now are referred to as “obliterators”. This type did not show a name of a town, but the design was specific to each town.

Above are six 'killer' type postmarks, all from Great Britain, and all on stamps of Queen Victoria.

  • oval with thin lines and '159' in the middle
  • large oval of thick lines and a diamond in the middle with the number '4' inside.
  • large oval of thick lines with 'W' above '40' in the centre
  • oval of thick lines with a diamond containing '98' (I think - could be it is '86' upside down)
  • oval of thick lines, with an oval border, and 'SE' and '13' in the middle
  • oval with a large '92' in a circle in the centre.

And now here are Canadian stamps with heavy ink marks.

  • a 6-ring cancellation on Queen Victoria, #53
  • a 7-bar marking on the same stamp, #53
  • a slightly blurry oval oblitorator with at least 8 bars, on a 3 cent George V "Admiral" stamp, issued in 1923.

Some obliterators were used in conjunction with a town name beside them, and for some time after this 'Admiral' was issued.

An American postcard follows, with the pre-printed postage cancelled by a large oval with the number "1" in the centre. It has the town name beside it: Coshocton, Ohio and the date AUG (day is not clear but ends in '0')with the year 98 (that's 1898), time 6:30 pm.

The postcard says across the top "Postal Card - One Cent", and the postage is Thomas Jefferson without a denomination. This particular card was commercially printed on the back as an acknowledgment card for an order (fill in the blank - calendars) from "The Tuscarora Advertising Company" of Coshocton, Ohio.

I couldn't resist one more. This one is boat-shaped, with a circle containing '3'. It is on US #709, one of the George Washington Bicentennial stamps of 1932.

There were also postmarks with numbers in concentric circles, where the number indicated the town. Subsequently, the town and date were printed in a circle as on the American postcard above, or similar design. Some of these hammers are quite rare and increase the value of the stamp (check the catalog).

Above is a simple town name (Nipigon) and date mark, and a second one (Peace River) that is called a Klusendorf. It has 2 rings with the town around the top arc, the province at the bottom, and a box in the centre with the date. This type has been used around the world.


There have been and continue to be a vast number of slogans or designs used with the location name. It might be a flag, exhortations to "Mail Early for Christmas", or to register to vote, or "Give Blood". Some special occasion cancellations were issued for a specific event, for use over a short period of time and in limited locations. These can become quite valuable.

Above are 4 slogan cancels. The first is a British cancellation wishing everyone a Happy Christmas from the Post Office.

Next is another British one, advertising Kit Kat chocolate bars!

And the British P.O. wants ads in the cancellation. The next one says "Advertising? This space could reach MILLIONS", and a phone number.

Last is a pictorial cancel of a pair of waterfalls in an oval, with "Howick, the Heart of Waterfall Country" across the 'stamp' (it is actually a stamp image printed on stationery). This is from the Republic of South Africa.

Lately, many Post Offices have changed to ink jet sprays which are not artistic, but do put ink marks across a stamp. They are applied by machine, so they are in a uniform location.

The cancellation shown above recalls the Battle of Vimy Ridge during World War I. The numbers starting the last line are "070411" which means "2007 - 4th month (April) - 11th day", the anniversary of the battle 90 years before, and the date of cancellation.


Some stamps have a cancellation mark printed on them before being adhered to the cover, to facilitate large mailings, so the item can skip some steps of the sorting and cancelling system. During the 1920's through to the 1960's, both Canada and the United States used precancels.

The first row of stamps above is Canadian, the others are American.

The Canadian precancels, all on Queen Elizabeth II stamps, have 3 double lines across but no words. This is called a Type X cancellation.

  • #338 - the Wilding portrait, 2¢ green
  • #405 - the Cameo 5¢ blue
  • #457 - the Centennial issue, 4¢ red

In Canada there were 25 styles of bar cancels, and well over 150 varieties of city names or numbers with bars. The United States had proportionately more names and styles.

The US stamps in the next 2 sets are different issues for the most part. Their cancellation mentions the city and state between parallel lines. This is only one of the styles used.

The first group has:

  • #553 - Warren Harding 1 1/2¢, with South Bend, Ind.
  • #561 - Thomas Jefferson 9¢, with Saint Paul, Minn.
  • #566 - Statue of Liberty 15¢, with Allentown, Pa.

The next group has:

  • #568 - Niagara Falls 25¢ with Dayton, Ohio
  • #570 - Arlington Amphitheater 50¢, with Chicago, Illinois
  • #570 - Arlington Amphitheater 50¢, with a different Chicago, Ill.
  • #571 - Lincoln Memorial $1.00, with San Francisco, California

Flag Cancels

Some countries, including Canada used patriotic themes like flags as cancellations.

The first 2 stamps above are cancelled with a portion of a flag cancel. They are Canada #53 and #77. The next image shows a Photo Shop image of a complete flag cancel on #53. As you can see, to make the last image, I used the first 2, and added the right hand end from a third stamp. It was quite impressive when complete.

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