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    

Noblespirit No Reserve (sb) Select Of Us Classics Banknote Imperf Fancy CancelScott #65 With San Francisco "cogwheel" (ge-p 31) Fancy Cancel "son" (alh2)#35 Strip Of 3 On 1860 Cover Fancy Cancel Stars Downieville Ca ? To France2c Black Jack # 73 On 1860`s Commission Dealers Advertising Fancy Cancel Ny City#99 * F Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelScott #65 With New York "steam Boat" (pm-sb 3) Fancy Cancel "son" (alh3)1882 Fancy Cancel Star Braidwood Illinois Il Postage Due Cover Forwarded2c Black Jack # 73 On 1866 Fancy Cancel Star Printed Circular Ny City Drop Lett#11 Tied On 1852 Folded Cover Steamboat Baltimore Md Fancy Cancel#100 * F Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsBuffalo Stamps: Scott #97 Washington F Grill, Fine W/ Fancy Cancel, Cv = $325Scott #64 Nicely Centered With Blue Circular "grid" Fancy Cancel "son" (alb46)2c Black Jack # U50 Stationery Leominster Ma Fancy Cancel 7, Used 1¢ Xf-sup With Blue Grid Fancy Cancel Cat $142.50 - Stuart KatzScott #73 Gorgeous "black Jack" With Circled "star" Fancy Cancel "son" (alh1)Scott #114 Pictorial With Rare Brown Fancy Cancel - Nicely Centered (alh5)Us Scott 149 Old 7c Stanton Banknote U/vf Fancy Cancel Cv $100#11 Four Margin Fancy Cancel Used# C6 On 1930 Special Delivery Air Mail Fancy Cancel Crestline Oh To Cleveland OhBuffalo Stamps: Scott #155, 90c 1870 Banknote, F/vf W/ Fancy Cancel, Cv = $35010c Washington On 1866 Cover Boston Ma Fancy Cancel To Kennebunk MeHawaii #11s With Meyer Harris Fancy Cancel #1171883 Cocolamus Pa Manuscript Cancel Postage Due Fancy Cancel Due 2 To Phila PaScott #78b With San Francisco "cogwheel" (ge-p 29) Fancy Cancel "son" (alg2)Scott #86 One Cent Franklin With Interesting Fancy Cancel - Very Nice(alc10)Nystamps Us Stamp Fancy Cancel Masonic Us Stamps Fancy Cancel Cover Dr Jim Stamps Us General Pulaski Fdc Air Mail Cover 1931 Fancy Cancel[/03] Usa 1871 Scott#138a I-grill Used Pair With Superb Fancy Cancel Cv:$2,800Buffalo, New York 2 Sided With Fancy Cancel On #65Us 2c Z. Grill 1867 Sc# 85b Fancy Cancel Rare And $ 1200 Cat.1884 Volcano Wv Fancy Cancel Dpo R4 Wood Co (1866-1906) ! To Parkersburg West Va1887 Elgin Il Cancel Postage Due Fancy Cancel To Vicksburgh PaUs 165 (1874) 30 Cent Hamilton - Used, Average, Fancy Cancel[/32] Usa 1869 Scott#121 Used Cv:$450 With Nice Fancy CancelUs Used 1879 - Hv Postage Due - J6 30c Brown - "fancy Cancel" - Clean #11a Tied On 1852 Handmade Cover Kingston Pennsylvania Pa Geometric Fancy Cancel#150 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 290 10c Trans-mississippi Used Fancy CancelDr Jim Stamps Us Buffalo, Ny Fancy Cancel Cover 1891 Fancy ScriptRare Leeds Md Fancy Cancel Dpo R5 Cecil Co (1886-1908) ! Ny Frankenheimer Deaf !1891 Tustin Michigan Octagon Fancy Cancel ! Grand Rapids Mi B/s ! 2c Stamp CoverUs Stamps Fancy Cancel Cover, April 15, 1865 - Day Lincoln DiedColorado 1880`s Mesa Co Fancy Cancel Star Registered To Alexandria VaScott #114 Perf Freak Fancy Cancel Locomotive Grill 1869 3 Cent Us Stamp 731Us Used 1863 Black Jack Sc#73. Fancy Cancel.Goldpath Us Cover 1887, Fancy Cancel _c33[/59] Usa 1873 Scott#157 Used Cv:$25 With Very Nice Fancy Cancel "full Strike"[/67] Usa 1869 Scott#113 Used Cv:$135 With Blue Fancy Cancel[/a11] Usa 1869 Scott#112 Used Cv:$150 With Nice Fancy CancelUs Scott 76 Old 5c Jefferson U/f Trimmed Perfs, Fancy Cancel Cv $120Dr Jim Stamps Us Atlanta, Ga Air Mail Cover 1931 Fancy CancelDr Jim Stamps Us 1c Ben Franklin Postal Stationery Cover Fancy CancelTjs: Scott 231 "1892 2c "landing Of Columbus" Smq $250 - Fancy CancelGrilled Stamp Fancy Cancel To Manchester New Hampshire#34 Hawaii United States Used Well Centered Fancy CancelOldhal-canton, Oh-1878-fancy Cancel " Star " To Orrville, OhOldhal-civil War/norwich, Ct/fancy Cancel/1864 To Brooklyn, NyU.s. Scott's #159 Used Lincoln 6c With Fancy Cancel1870s Bucksport Maine Fancy Cancel Hurricance Island Kennec Dpo! Rockland Swasey