During the years 1862 to 1869 New York City employed unusual hand-carved cancellations on stamps and stamped envelopes for both domestic and foreign mail. Most of these markings appear to have been carved from wood, so with the large volume of mail, each cancellation device only lasted a short time. It appears from an analysis of the markings that one individual made the more unusual carvings.
Most of the markings are geometric types as shown in the examples here, although others were more simple grids. Many can be found struck with sharp clear impressions, which are quite attractive to collectors. New York City cancellations of this period are the largest grouping of a type known as “fancy cancellations.” There were also very fancy types that showed specific objects, like stars, shields and even people and animals, but by and large most of the markings were not representational.
Figure 1. A 1-cent 1861 stamp used on a drop rate cover to New York with the postmark, “NEW YORK MAY 17 1863” and a huge cancellation called a four-wedge type with triple wedges. Each marking will bear a descriptive name in the final listing.
I have digitally recorded more than 450 different types on domestic mail and am seeking copies of new designs for a planned publication illustrating each marking from an actual example, not a drawing.
Many of these markings are shown in United States Cancellations 1845-1869 (1980) by Hubert Skinner and Amos Eno. The book shows many of the fancy cancellations and markings as drawings because they have not been located on covers. Scans from real covers are needed both as images for a new article and also to confirm that New York was the origin of the markings shown in the drawings.
Figure 2. A 3-cent 1861 stamp on mourning-type envelope with black border. The postmarking device appears to be a duplex, that is, the two parts are connected to each other. Thus, on this small envelope one strike was used to postmark the same, but a second strike shows the date postmark with New York name. This marking is a very elaborate geometric marking.
The illustrations planned for the new publication, a monograph, will include both the cancellation on the stamp or entire and the town postmark showing the date of usage, but not the full envelope. We also have found many new markings not listed in the book, so those reading this article may own other new markings. The listings will include the local uses on drop letters, many of which were in colors that render them quite attractive.
Figure 3. An illustrated envelope with original 3-cent stamp in upper left overpaying the 2-cent drop letter charge for a letter addressed to the city from within the city. The stamp is canceled by a blue postmark called 8 circular hollow petals, but probably is not a duplex. Blue ink was used because the letter was a drop letter. The town postmark reads “NEW-YORK CITY JUL 25” (1868). The cover was forwarded and an additional stamp at upper right was added to pay the new postage charge of 3 cents. This black postmark appears to be a duplex since in both strikes the two parts maintain the same relationship to each other (and thus were joined). The addressee had left the postage to prepay forwarding, but otherwise forwarding charges would have been collected on receipt.
In addition to these markings found on domestic mail, there were other, different markings that have been seen only on mail going to Europe or other countries. The foreign usage markings are not a part of this study. Some of the foreign markings resemble those used on letters sent within the country (domestic). The same person may have carved both sets of wooden killers.
Readers can send copies of their covers to me at [email protected] or contact me for an address to which photocopies can be mailed. Please send only unusual types, not the common grids.
The result of this study will be the first of four more comprehensive articles on the subject, with a plan of four sequential articles on cancellations. It is likely that a monograph will be produced after publication.
U.S. PHILATELIC CLASSICS SOCIETY
Articles written by members of the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, an APS affiliate, appear periodically in The American Philatelist.
The U.S. Philatelic Classics Society is a non-profit association of people interested in the pre-1894 stamps and postal history of the United States. Our goal is to encourage philatelic research and the exchange of information among our members and other philatelic organizations. We welcome anyone interested in the classic era of United States philately to join. More information can be found on the society website at www.uspcs.org.
James W. Milgram is a retired orthopaedic surgeon who has been a member of the APS since 1958. He has written many philatelic magazines, including more than 65 articles for The American Philatelist. The study described here is his first major project on the subject of stamp cancellations. He collects United States postal history covers before 1900 and interesting historical letters.