Fancy cancels include any stamps or covers marked with an interesting cancellation design to indicate used postage. While many collectors use the terms postmark and cancel synonymously, the earliest postmarks served only to denote the date a letter was accepted at an official post office; it wasn’t until the advent of adhesive stamps in 1840 that a separate system for indicating used stamps was required.

The most unique cancellation marks are the hand-stamps created before the advent of mail-processing machinery. Many local post offices designed and carved their own cancellation stamps, resulting in an array of diverse cancels to serve the basic purpose of defacing an official postage mark. Besides frequent variations on geometric forms like stars, crosses, and circles, some rare cancel marks featured initial letters or imagery like skulls or moons.

In 1840, Great Britain standardized its postmark system by adopting a generic “Maltese Cross” cancel design for all districts. However, the mark conveyed no additional information beyond the country of circulation, so the British Royal Mail soon incorporated numbers associated with specific postal routes, and finally date marks. The duplex cancel was first used in 1853 to print these two adjacent marks, one with location and date information and another to obliterate the postage.

As mail volume increased, faster methods for postmarking letters were needed. During the late 1850s, the British began testing prototypes of automatic cancellation machines. Many postmark styles were tried and rejected, but the circular duplex system quickly became the most popular and widely used.

Cancellations for special routes, like airmail or military correspondence, were adopted during the early 20th century, along with more decorative cancels for specific events or exhibitions. Around the same time, the traditional “Stars and Stripes” cancel mark was spreading across the United States, thanks to the proliferation of automatic postmarking machines. Though the stars were eventually scrapped, the original design’s row of wavy, parallel flag-lines is still featured in modern American cancellations.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

1847USA

1847USA

Bob Allen's beautiful and well organized catalog of US stamps from 1847 to 1970 is a fantastic resource for all US … [read review or visit site]

The Stamp Collecting Round-up

The Stamp Collecting Round-up

Don Schilling's long-running, in-depth blog on stamp collecting and postal operations. Schilling stays up on all th… [read review or visit site]

National Postal Museum

National Postal Museum

If you're into postal history or collectibles, check out the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum. This extensive s… [read review or visit site]

R. A. Siegel Auction Galleries

R. A. Siegel Auction Galleries

This auction house site offers an extensive online database of US stamp information. Includes PDF catalogs of past … [read review or visit site]

Post Office in Paradise

Post Office in Paradise

Post Office in Paradise showcases Hawaiian postal history from the years before Hawaii became a part of the United … [read review or visit site]

Private Die Proprietary Stamps

Private Die Proprietary Stamps

Bob Hohertz's impressive database of U.S. Private Die Proprietary stamps from the Civil War and Spanish American Wa… [read review or visit site]

Alphabetilately

Alphabetilately

First shown in 2008 to celebrate the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's 15th anniversary, Alphabetilately is esse… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Us Stamp:#65 3c Rose Washington 1861 Issue Stamp Fancy Cancel Rail Road=wow= Us# 138a, 7#120 * G Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelUs Stamp:#65 3c Rose Washington 1861 Issue Stamp Fancy Cancel "3 Paid"C7724: Us #158 Smiling Face Fancy Cancel; Sound; Look!!Civil War Patriotic Cover...fancy CancelScott Number 279b, Used. Clover Leaf Fancy Cancel, Red Color VarietyStamps Scott U.s. #65 Used,fine, Fancy Cancel, Very Sound (y794)Us Stamp:#65 3c Rose Washington 1861 Issue Stamp Fancy CancelScott Number 146, Used. Fancy CancelDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott C11 5c Beacon Air Mail Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveUs #141 Used / Fine - Fancy Cancel - Strong Grill; Scv $1,400.00Us #72 Used / No Faults With Partial Fancy Cancel; Scv $600.00Large Fancy Cancel Registered Genesee Depot Wi To Indianapolis In Scott#183 With Purple "wheel Of Fortune" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice (acz2)#73 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelLarge Fancy Cancel Registered Winchester In To Indianapolis IndianaDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 210 2c Washington Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveOldhal-east Brookfield, Ma/1886/fancy Cancel/bars.Usa 1870s Blue Fancy Cancel Grand Pacific Hotel Cover Chicago IllinoisLarge Fancy Cancel Registered Manawa Wi To Cleveland OhioPpc Ma Mass Massachusetts Erving Unusual Fancy Cancel Postmark 1907Fancy Cancel #210 "star In Ellipse" 1883 Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp X371Fancy Cancel #213 Collection On Page 1888 Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp Xx549Fancy Cancel #213 Collection On Page 1888 Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp X548Fancy Cancel #213 Collection On Page 1888 Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp X547Fancy Cancel "fl Beale South" 3 Ct Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp X161Scott #u134 With Madison Wi "star" Fancy Cancel- Very Nice (aco75)Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 65 3c Washington Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 65 3c Washington Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 183 2c Jackson Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveFancy Cancel Time, 1800's Cancel Lot24051 Georgetown, Texas To Fredericksburg, Virginia 1874 Fancy Cancel Post Card#491 2 Cent Washington Fancy Cancel Used A1860's Westerly, R.i. "star Of David" Fancy Cancel On 65 3ct CoverOldhal-sacramento, Ca/1886 To Oroville, Ca/fancy Cancel1864 New-york City Compass Rose Fancy Cancel Cover To New York Mills W/ LetterUs Lot Of Two Fancy Cancel StarUs Sc 26 3c Dull Red Used Lot Of 3 Washington 1857 Fancy Cancel Cat$75+Us O110 Treasury Dept Star Fancy Cancel#68 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelScott Number 63, Used. Fancy CancelScott Number 149, Used. Fancy CancelCover Usa 1860s Nashville Tennessee 3 Cent Washington Stamp Fancy CancelSc #89 Or #96 Us Stamp 1863 10c Washington: Red Fancy Cancel/nh With/grillBetter Fancy Cancel #210 "letter E" 1883 Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp X328Scott#210 With Railroad & "shield" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice (acz4)May 19 1933 First Special Flight Norwich New York Fancy Cancel 2 - 3 Cent StampsBetter Fancy Cancel #210 "letter B" 1883 Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp X325Number Fancy Cancel Collection Banknotes Bureaus Etc 19th Century Us Stamps X594#65 Freak Perf Shif Fancy Cancel 1861 Civil War Issue 19th Century Us Stamp X575#147 158 184 207 Number Fancy Cancel 3 C Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp X72Scott #uo2 With "pumpkin Head" Fancy Cancel- Very Nice (aco76)Us Stamps - #159 - Used - 6 Cent Lincoln Issue - Fancy Cancel - Cv $20Number Fancy Cancel Collection Banknotes Bureaus Etc 19th Century Us Stamps X593#94 Or ??? Grill Pen Fancy Cancel 1867 Issue 19th Century Us Stamp D749#213 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * Faults1870c Mason & Co. Stamp & Coin Dealer, Front Only, Sc #114 Fancy Cancel! BelascoUs# 78 ~ Fancy Cancel ~ Free Shipping ~ Low Price ~ Used#88 * E Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel