I was fascinated when I acquired my first Wheel of Fortune cancellation cover. As an engineer, I have always been attracted to intricate detail, which led me to study and collect this cancel.
In 1880, the F.P. Hammond Co. of Aurora, Illinois, produced a rubber device that would make this cancellation (Figure 1). From the start, this fancy rubber canceller has been called the Wheel of Fortune (nothing to do with the popular television game show of the same name). The Wheel of Fortune should not be confused with other cancellations with similar designs – notably, the Wheel has 24 equal sized segments. Figure 2 is a look-alike cancellation, a 32-segment postmark used on a cover from Florida, New York.
Figure 1. An enlarged view (above) of the intricate Wheel of Fortune cancellation.
Figure 2. Left, a look-alike cancel, as used in Florida, New York. Right, enhanced view.
The highly detailed stamper was made possible by Charles Goodyear’s invention of vulcanized rubber in 1844. Vulcanized rubber is more durable than natural rubber. The “Peerless Vulcanizer” machine shown on the 1898 cover (Figure 3) may have been the type of machine to make the Wheel of Fortune device.
Figure 3. An illustrated advertising cover dated April 2, 1898, from the J.F.W. Dorman Company in Baltimore promoting the “Peerless Vulcanizers,” which made rubber handstamp device like the Wheel of Fortune killer possible.
There is only one size of the Wheel cancellation, but if more pressure was used to apply the handstamp, the diameter could increase slightly. The Wheel cancellations were of high quality initially, but as the stamp was used ink and paper fibers began to fill in the fine detail. As the rubber aged and hardened, the cancellation began to spread out, the wheel became larger, and pieces of the outer rim of the rubber sometimes broke off. This degradation shows in the cancellation becoming blurred and incomplete.
The first advertisement for this detailed cancellation appeared in the January 1881 U.S. Official Postal Guide (Figure 4). In the advertisement under “The Best Offer Yet,” this canceller and kit cost $3. If only we could find one of these hand cancellers today.
Figure 4. The first advertisement for the Wheel of Fortune handstamp cancellation is from January 1881.
Hammond sold both duplex and simplex cancellations. Any post office’s circular datestamp could be used in conjunction with the simplex Wheel of Fortune cancellation. Although the Figure 4 ad depicts postmarks dating in the 1870s, the earliest Wheel postmark found to date is February 26, 1880, from New Lisbon, Wisconsin. One of the highest quality Wheel of Fortune covers known (Figure 5) is dated August 8, 1885, from Welcome, West Virginia.
Figure 5. A Wheel of Fortune duplex canceler was used August 8, 1886, on this cover sent from Welcome, West Virginia.
The lifetime of usage of the Wheel of Fortune lasted only from 1880 to 1887 with its peak occurring in 1884. Use of Wheel of Fortune cancellations declined after 1887, when the U.S. Post Office issued the following rule: “The department furnishes metal postmarking stamps. The use of rubber stamps is not authorized, as the ink furnished by the Department cannot be used with them."
Therefore, most usage of the rubber Wheel of Fortune cancellation ended by 1888. Only eleven covers dated after 1900 have been found. The last cover known was postmarked 30 years later, dated August 5, 1917, from Wheeler, Oregon (Figure 6).
Figure 6. The last known use of the Wheel cancel, August 5, 1917.
The 1995 book Cancellations and Killers of the Banknote Era 1870-1894 by James M. Cole listed a total of 353 U.S. towns using the Wheel cancel; today, I have identified 1,123 towns and two foreign countries – Mexico and Guatemala – in which the canceller was used. The 2011 Arthur Beane sale from Kelleher Auctions had 700 U.S. Wheel of Fortune towns listed. I’ll end with a few more examples of Wheel of Fortune covers (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Here are two other uses on cover. Left, used twice in different colors on a cover from 1888, first on April 6 in Medford, Oregon and as a receiving mark on April 11 in Jacksonville, Oregon. Right: August 6, 1887, from Guaymas, Mexico.
Wheel of Fortune cancellations off cover can be found frequently on the internet and fairly inexpensively, especially for 2- and 3-cent stamps. Higher denominations are more difficult to find. You might find a cover using the Wheel of Fortune cancellation weekly, and there are hundreds of towns with only a few covers identified. My 2019 book Wheel of Fortune Cancellation lists the towns known to have used the cancellation. There are certainly unidentified towns out there – I have added 50 new towns to my list since my book was published. A free pdf copy can be downloaded at the Rochester (NY) Philatelic Association website: http://www.rpastamps.org/wof.html. Print copies are also available via $20 donation to the U.S. Cancellation Club: https://www.uscancelclub.org/. I will mail you a spiral bound copy of my book.
If you have covers using the Wheel of Fortune cancel or you identify a town not on my list, I welcome your comments and scans: [email protected].
Larry Rausch lives in Rochester, New York. In 2019 he authored the monograph Wheel of Fortune Cancellation. Larry has concentrated most of his time on collecting U.S. fancy cancels and the study of Great Britain four corner Penny Reds and G.B. Perfins. He is currently president of the U.S. Cancellation Club, former president of the Rochester, NY Philatelic Association, and former treasurer of the U.S. Precancel Club.
About the U.S. Cancellation Club
The U.S. Cancellation Club, APS Affiliate 75, is now online at http://www.uscancelclub.org with its new website. Key features of membership include the society’s quarterly journal, U.S. Cancellation Club News, access the journal’s archive, the society publications for sale and links to other pertinent societies.
All the back issues of the News are available to members at the website. These are fully word searchable to facilitate efficient cancel research. They can be viewed in formats compatible with your computer, tablet, or cell phone. Free access is provided to non-members for 311 back issues (all but the most recent three years).
The society’s webpage has also created a showcase for studies beyond those published by the USCC, as well as a photo gallery of cancels covering specific subjects. This section is expected to grow considerably. With the current and growing interest in 19th century U.S. fancy cancels and with the impressive prices many are finding in today’s marketplace, this webpage is ideal to meet current collector and researcher needs. Members can now conveniently pay annual dues through PayPal or use the application on the webpage to join by personal check.
For Further Learning
Recommendations from the APRL research staff:
“Fancy Wheel of Fortune Postmarks” by anon. U.S. Cancellation Club News, 1968.
“Sources of Wheel of Fortune Cancels” by Robert A. Truax. Postal Markings, February 20, 1938.
“Wheel of Fortune” by William H. Reynolds. Stamps (US), January 9, 1943.
“Wheel-of-Fortune Cancels Were Widely Used” by Richard B. Graham. Linn's Stamp News, July 24, 1989.
Wheel of Fortune Cancellation by Larry L. Rausch. Rochester, NY: Larry L. Rausch, 2019. [IP72092, IP72093]