Philately and Cancellations


Cancellations are marks written on, stamped on, printed on, or pouched into postage stamps, usually to prevent reuse of stamps which have already served postally. They sometimes serve a dual purpose, giving certain information concerning place, date or time of mailing or receiving or a piece of mail. In fact, in certain instances cancellations have been the only indication showing where a letter was dispatched.

Materials used for early cancellations were sometimes easily removed from stamps for the purpose of illegal reuse; modern cancellations are usually made with black indelible ink. And while postally used, or cancelled, stamps are often less valuable than unused copies like them, in some cases certain cancellations actually add to the value of particular stamps. In the event of a rare and possibly valuable cancellation, the collector should leave a stamp on the envelope or paper on which it is found, as the stamp might be more valuable on cover than off cover. Many interesting cancellations can be found on stamps from various countries, in the form of unique designs, words, slogans, pictures of stars, animals, crosses, people and so on. In fact, many collectors accumulate stamps solely for their unusual or interesting cancellations. However, for collectors which more interest in topics or countries than with cancellations, light cancellations that does not obliterate the stamp design is more attractive than an unusual one that interferes with the design.

Bar Cancellation:

A cancellation in the form of bars, or lines. Bar cancellations are often used to cancel remainders, the stamps of a certain issue that are not to serve postally.


A stamp, such as an early issues, that has been cut in two, or bisected, by an authorized postal agent. Each half of the stamp is work half the stamp’s face denomination. Bisects have been utilized when quantities of a stamp normally used to provide that denomination have run out. For instance, if postmasters in the United States ran out of one-cent stamps many years ago, they might cut a two-cent stamp in half to “produce” two one-cent stamps. Cancellation is very important consideration when obtaining a bisect. The wise philatelist will purchase only a ‘tied on’ bisect, one still on its original cover. The cancellation should appear in its continuous design across both the stamp and the part of the cover adjacent to the cut side of the bisect. This caution helps assure that the bisect is a genuine one, not a fake that has been cut apart to resemble a bisect.

Blackout Cancellation:

A type of cancellation that does not give information about place, date, or approximate time of mailing.

Cancelled by favor:

A cancellation in a special design or position to please the purchaser of a stamp. This type of cancellation is usually found on First Day Covers.

Cancelled to Order (CTO):

A cancellation put on an unused stamp by request, on remainder stamps, or on extra stamps. Cancelled to Order (CTO) stamps do not actually serve postally, and their cancellations are usually light and unobtrusive.

Color Cancellation:

A cancellation made with a color of ink other than the black normally used. Color cancellations are usually made intentionally.

Cork Cancellation:

An unusual type of cancellation, usually found only on postage stamps issue in the 1800’s, applied with a cork or wooden hand stamp. Many unique and interesting cancellation designs can be found on stamps bearing cork cancels, such as crosses, leaves and stars.

Cut Cancellation:

A rare type of cancellation in which cancellation incisions are cut in a postage stamp. Cut cancellations can be found on revenue stamps of early period from many countries.

Fake Cancellation:

A cancellation applied to a stamp by someone other than an authorized postal agent, to make the stamp resemble a more valuable variety. Some stamps are worth more used than unused; fake cancellations are sometimes applied to expensive stamps of this type to be illegally sold as a used copy.

Fiscal Cancellation:

A type of cancellation indicates that the stamp has been used but has not served as postage. Fiscal cancellations are often made with pen and ink rather than by machine or hand stamp.

Hole Cancellation:

A type of cancellation in which a hole is punched into a stamp. Unlike printed, stamped or pen marked cancellations, hole cancellations apply no ink to the stamp.

Machine Cancellation:

A cancellation made by a machine designed for cancelling mail. Slogans and national symbols are often used for machine cancellations. Machine cancellations are usually more clearly defined than those made by hand stamping.

Manuscript Cancellation:

A pen cancellation written on stamps by authorized post office personnel. Manuscript cancellations are usually found on early stamps, used before the more modern cancelling machines were invented. A manuscript cancellation may consist of such designs as names, initials and dates.


A type of overprint cancellation applied before the stamp is sold. Precancels are used to save time, post office employees are able to bypass letters bearing precancelled stamps when running mail through cancellation machines. Therefore precancels have been used during busy seasons such as Christmas, when more mail than usual must be handled. They have also been utilized as an expedient by organizations making large mailings at one time.

Railroad Cancellation:

A Cancellation, sometimes called railway cancellation or postmark, indication that a piece of mail has been transported by train. The cancellations may be applied at a railroad terminal, a railway post office, or on the train.

Slogan Cancellation:

A type of postmark consisting of letters constituting a slogan. Slogan cancellations are used to advertise or commemorate events of national interest, draw attention to public concerns such as conservation, or remind people to wrap, address and send their mail correctly.

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