Marcophily. Some won’t dare to pronounce it (just another philatelic term that doesn’t roll easily off the tongue!). But the meaning is very simple: the study of postmarks. More accurately, marcophily can encompass study and collection of postmarks, cancellations, and postal markings (as I’ll explain below, there are nuances of meaning between these pretty similar terms). This is the broad, broad subgenre of philately that this issue seeks to cover. And as with any themed issue, we can’t hope to scratch the surface of what lies out there to collect in only 100 pages.
First, some simple definitions that may help you through this issue.
A postmark indicates the place, date and time (or a combination) that an item was received by a postal service. Postmarks can be used as a cancellation, and can be applied by hand, by machine, or digitally.
A cancellation is applied to a stamp or postal stationery to prevent its reuse. A postmark often serves this purpose, but there are cancellations without date/location information. You may see terms “obliteration” or “killer” in connection with cancels – this acknowledges a cancellation’s purpose of defacing the franking.
A precancel is a pre-printed or stamped cancellation on a stamp, which means the stamp does not need to be canceled once affixed to mail.
Postal markings is an umbrella term for any kind of mark applied on a letter by a postal service. Postal markings can include postmarks and cancellations, and typically provide some kind of additional information to the sender, the recipient, the next stage of the postal service, or another outside source. You might see a postal marking notifying the recipient of damage due to fire or flood, or one on a pre-stamp letter noting that the fee was paid by the sender.
So what is marcophily all about, and why devote a full issue to the topic?
Some marcophilists are interested in postal markings alone. With countless types of markings, used by postal systems worldwide, and within those systems countless designs, you could spend 100 years looking for all there is to see and not find everything. You could easily ignore the stamps, the addresses, the other elements of the cover in favor of studying the postmark alone, virtually lifting it off the page to compare with other examples. There exist books studying one single cancellation design as used in hundreds of U.S. towns, and there are books of all cancellations known from one single city. You might comb through many examples looking for that one, clean, perfect strike.
Some marcophilists are interested in postal markings for the information they convey – these essential details of use, evidence of how the mail moved. Postal markings explain the wear and tear you see on covers, the intentions and failures of the postal service. For postal history collectors, marcophily is a requirement.
Like all aspects of philately, marcophily offers the collector exactly as much as they want to get out of it. Collecting postal markings can be fun. It can be demanding and intellectually rigorous. For many, it’s both. This is what we hope to convey in these pages.
In this issue
We open with an article exploring the earliest dated postmarks in the world, the Bishop mark, created in England in the late 1600s and adopted by Scotland. Kathryn Johnson authors this article on the evolution of Scotland Bishop marks used in Edinburgh for over 100 years, based in part on research for her award-winning exhibit on the same topic. Kathy’s study focuses in part on why Scotland and England’s postal services thought it necessary to introduce a factor of accountability to mail delivery: dates, to account for public perception of delays.
Next, we come to the United States for a brief account of a very stunning single cancellation design, the Wheel of Fortune cancellation. U.S. Cancellation Club president Larry Rausch explains his specialty in this single design, found on covers across the U.S. in hundreds of unique towns.
Gary Wayne Loew returns to these pages again with insights gained from Ted Proud’s vast published works on the British Empire. With over 70 volumes encompassing British Commonwealth, British colonies, occupations, and other topics, Proud’s great accomplishment was his study and organization of postmarks. Using Proud’s taxonomy and examples from Antigua and more, Gary shows the wide variety of postmark types and uses that collectors typically run into.
In November 2021, Tom Geurts wrote on the WWII German airmail routes established to service the field posts on the front in Russia. In this issue, we return to German military airmail via a special category of cancellations, “converted cancellations.” The all-important “location” information in these postmarks was intended to obscure the actual location of military field posts. Tom offers several examples of airmail-labeled letters, the movements of which were not so easy to track.
In this month’s “Collector of Revenue,” Ron Lesher brings precancels into the conversation with the Emerson Drug Company precancels, which were a number code printed on Emerson’s private die proprietary issues to indicate the precise date of shipping.
Also in this issue
Who among us spent the early days of the COVID pandemic very carefully handling our mail? I remember reading a fair few articles in March and April 2020 debating whether the virus could survive on paper or cardboard products. My parents enlisted some help carrying the mail, just in case. While these particular fears quickly subsided, we know that fears over disease carried on mail have been common for centuries. James Milgram weighs in, showing examples of mail that underwent fumigation and quarantine as a guard against spreading disease.
My parents’ dog, Gomez, did his part to safely carry their mail in March 2020.
In the latest from the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, Carmen Puliafito shares just a taste of the independent mail companies that successfully competed with the U.S. Post Office Department from 1843 to 1845, until the U.S. established a postal reform system that would lead to the country’s first postage stamps.
Finally, the wait is over and the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., is again open for visitors. The highlight of your visit, of course, is the brand new Baseball: America’s Home Run exhibit. The sheer volume and variety of material compiled in this collection is amazing: take a look at Daniel Piazza’s walk-through of the exhibit in NPM Notebook.
Finally, I want to point you to two columns. The first is Director of Digital Content Ross Jones’ “Onscreen Philately.” The APS has a new and much-improved website, still at stamps.org, that will enhance your experience as a member in many ways. I urge you to read his explanation of the new website and then take a look yourself at the improvements.
The second is Scott English’s “Our Story,” which concerns in part the state of the printing and paper industry today, and its effects on the production of The American Philatelist. As Scott explains, magazine delivery has and will continue to be delayed for the immediate future. As you might imagine, as editor this has been a stressful situation, but the good news is that we are hitting our deadlines, adapting, and can continue publishing 100 pages every month. I personally appreciate your understanding.
Survey results to come
In May, we launched the AP Reader Survey, an online questionnaire with the aim of gathering concrete data about the magazine and your experiences reading it. The survey closed at the end of June (after my writing of this column). Thank you to everyone who participated. Your answers will help us understand your priorities as a reader, and allow us to share insights with advertisers, current and future, so the buying and selling opportunities in the magazine are relevant and useful to you.
The survey results (and prize drawing winners) will be compiled and published. Thank you again!
Please keep your feedback coming and share your views. Remember: if you wish to see an always-improving American Philatelist, you – our readers and APS members – must become a part of this exciting journey. Reach out with your questions, concerns, and suggestions. Write a letter to the editor (LetterToTheEditor@stamps.org.) More importantly, volunteer to participate. This is your American Philatelist. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters by regular mail are always welcome and will be responded to in kind.