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”)

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    

Trotting Horse Fancy Cancel On 65Us Scott 119 Old 15c Landing Of Columbus Type Ii U/f Fancy Cancel Cv $275Scott #163 With Beautiful Strike "nyfm" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son" (alz4)Mortar And Pestle Fancy CancelScott #98 Used With Very Nice Centering And A Light Fancy Cancel (alx10)Us Classic 12c Washington Stamp 69 W/ Fancy CancelUs Used 1861-62 - #71 30c Orange Franklin - "light Blue Fancy Cancel" Very NiceScott #26 Very Fine 3c Wash Issue - Blue Oval Grid Fancy Cancel - No FaultsUs Stamp:#65 3c Rose Washington 1861 Issue Fancy Cancel Cover + Watkins CacelScott #159 Gorgeous With Great Strike Blue "target" Fancy Cancel "son" (alt16)Scott #114 Very Nicely Centered & Great Color With "leaf" Fancy Cancel (aly5)Us Classic 5c Jefferson Stamp 76 Fancy CancelUs Stamp:#65 3c Rose Washington 1861 Issue Used Stamp #5 Fancy CancelSkull And Crossbones Fancy CancelScott #63 Orange Newspaper Precancel "paid" (pm-pd 32) Fancy Cancel (alz3)Short Set Of Us 19th Century Large Banknote Stamps 145 - 151 Fancy Cancel On 149Scott 65 1861 3 Cent Washington Regular Issue Used Fancy Cancel Vg!#148 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel#208a * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelScott #213 - (1887) - 2 Cent Washington - Green - On 1889 Cover - Fancy CancelScott #114 Nicely Centered/great Color With "segmented Grid" Fancy Cancel (aly7)1¢ Wonders - Us Classic #65 Pair Used Marquette Mar 23 Mich & Fancy Cancel #m869Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 186 6c Lincoln Used Fancy Cancel No Reserve#23 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelFancy CancelUs Scott 115 Old 6c Washington U/f "5 Point Star" Fancy Cancel Cv $225Us Scott 78a Old 24c Washington Grayish-lilac Sunburst Fancy Cancel U/f Cv $425Us Used 1861-66 - #73 2c Black Jackson - "light Fancy Cancel" - Clean & NiceUs Stamps Old 1ct Franklin Buff Fancy Cancel W/grill Scott #112 $85Scott #65 Son Fancy Cancel Washington 3 Cent 1861-62 Civil War Us Stamps 1628#148 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelUs Classic 30c Hamliton Banknote Stamp 154 W/ Fancy CancelUs Scott 153 Old 24c Scott Banknote U/f Blue Fancy Cancel Cv $230Scott #26 Light Dbl Frame Ln - Left "paid" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son"(alz5)1863 United States Cover Ties 3c Washington Stamp Fancy Cancel1¢ Wonders - Us Classic #65 Used Target Fancy Cancel 3¢ Washington #m868Us Scott 112 Old 1c Franklin U/f "6 Point Star" Fancy Cancel Cv $150Us Used 1869 Pictorial - #116 10c Yellow "shield & Eagle" - Blue Fancy Cancel1861 "george Washington" Used Sc #68 With Fancy Cancel#85 3 Cent Washington Fancy Cancel Used BScott #159 Nicely Centered With Cds & Large "star" Fancy Cancel "son" (alt19)Scott #65 3c Wash Son Blk St - O23 Outline Star Fancy Cancel Of 1861 & Boston,maScott #113 2c Pictorial Issue Of 1869 - Cat $100.00+ Black Grid Fancy Cancel1936 Hotel Mckay, Advertising Cover, Duluth, Minn. Cds, W/fancy CancelUs Scott # Ux7 1800s Lot #2 Includes 7 Postal Cards Fancy Cancel Killer TargetScott #65 3c Wash Son Blk Boxed Paid Fancy Cancel Pm- Pf11 Of Hanover, N.h.-niceScott #65 3c Wash Son Blk Paid In Circle Fancy Cancel Pm- Pc6 Of Fall River, MaUs Scott 116 Old 10c Shield And Eagle U/f Fancy Cancel Nse Cv $150Scott #65 Fancy Cancel Son Washington 3 Cent 1861-62 Civil War Us Stamps 1874Us Stamps - #73 - Used - 2 Cent Black Jack Issue - Cv $65 - Fancy CancelScott #65 Fine 3c Wash Son Black #3522 Geometric Radial Fancy Cancel /no Faults#25 3 Cent Washington Fancy Cancel Used D#125 3 Cent Locomotive Fancy Cancel 1875 Very Rare No Grill Used AScott #65 Cole Gep-27 "c" Fancy Cancel Washington 3 Cent 1861-62 Us Stamps 1612Scott #65 Fancy Cancel Son Washington 3 Cent 1861-62 Civil War Us Stamps 1878Scott #65 3c Wash Son Blk Ge - 87 Geometric Crossroads Fancy Cancel Of N.y, N.y.Scott #184 With A Large Thin "paid" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son" (alz5)#136 * H Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelScott #65 With Very Nice Double Stamped "paid" (pm-pd 13) Fancy Cancel (alz2)Scott #65 With Three Leaf "clover" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son" (alt17)