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    

Drbobstamps Us Large Classical Fancy Cancel Collection Of Scott #114Buffalo Stamps, Scott Usa #121 Eagle & Shield, Vf W/ Fancy Cancel, Cv = $500Noblespirit Noreserve My/1090 Marvelous High Value Fancy Cancel & Rarities Drbobstamps Us Large Classical Fancy Cancel CollectionScott #70 Used 1860's Washington Fancy Cancel Th Cv $300.00Drbobstamps Us Large Classical Fancy Cancel Collection#93 * F Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsScott #147 West Gardner Ma "skull & Crossbones" Fancy Cancel "son" (aej16)Drbobstamps Us Classical Fancy Cancel Collection Of #185#97 * F Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsNystamps G Old Us & Fancy Cancel Stamp Collection High Value#118 * G Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * Faults#70 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * Faults1867 Fancy Cancel Star Atlanta Ga + Let To Dr Geo Clymer Us Navy Surgeon Wash DcDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 153 24c Scott Used $230 Cv Fancy Cancel No ReserveNystamps X Old Us Stamp & Fancy Cancel Collection#115 * G Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel#117 * G Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel#24 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelScott #158 Very Nice "shield" Fancy Cancel "son" (adv65)Scott #207 Very Rare Newark Nj "anchor"(po-an 39) Fancy Cancel "son" (adv64)#276 * One Dollar * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsNoblespirit No Reserve (951c) Excellent 1800's Fancy Cancel 35x Cover CollectionFive Cents Blue Scott # 7, With A Star Fancy Cancel From Tuscaloosa Alabama#70 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsFancy Cancel, 3c Washington, Scott #65, 1861 IssueDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 287 4c Trans-mississippi Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveBuffalo Stamps, Scott Usa #153, 24c Banknote, F/vf W/ Fancy Cancel, Cv = $230#116 * G Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * Faults#183 * Pair * Early Us Stamps * Fancy CancelUs #88 Or ? Strong Grill Fancy Cancel 1867 Issue 19th Century Us Stamp B491Scott #147 With Unusual "maltese Cross" Fancy Cancel "son" (aef105)Scott#147 With Very Nice Large "star" Fancy Cancel "son" (adv79)Scott #147 South Berwick Me Circular "paid 3" (pm-pnc 7) Fancy Cancel (aef112)Us Stamp:#65 3c Rose Washington 1861 Issue Used Stamp Fancy Cancel Pair #2Us Fancy Cancel Lot Of 14 Pre.1900 Stamps,all Collected For The Cancel On ThemScott #147 Very Nice "paid" Fancy Cancel "son" (adv70)Scott #147 With Circular "paid 3" Fancy Cancel "son" Very Nice (adv75)1882 Black Creek Falls Wis (dpo) Oval County Fancy Cancel Rf6 Marathon Co.Scott 70, Without Grill, Very Fine Fancy Cancel, With Some Faults, Space FillerUs #112 Used With Fancy Cancel - No Faults! Scv $150.00Oldhal-ryegate, Vt/1887/fancy Cancel/star/letter To St Johnsbury, VtOldhal-portland, Northampton County, Pa/fancy Cancel/ Star/1882 To Syracuse, NyOldhal-unadilla, Ny/fancy Cancel/eight Tacks Cancel/skinner Ge-e8/1860s1882 Boston Massachusetts Fancy Cancel Negative A Saddle Hardware Postal Card1882 Boston Massachusetts Fancy Cancel Negative Letter F On Postal Card1882 Boston Massachusetts Fancy Cancel Negative Numeral 2 On Postal CardScott #136 Grilled With Circled Number "7 " Fancy Cancel "son" (aef106)Us : 2 X Two Cents Old Us Stamps Used. Lovely Cancel, Due 6, Fancy Cancel1880s Postal Card Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Fancy Cancel Multi Adv Factory Agent1860's Old Point Comfort Va Civil War Cover Fancy Cancel Scott #147 With Brooklyn Ny "iron Cross" (cr-g 21) Fancy Cancel "son" (aef103)Us #65 Civil War Era Cover Pie Wedge Fancy Cancel Lockport, Ny On PieceScott #114 With Valpariso In ?? "v" Fancy Cancel Very Nice "son" (adw111)Scott #147 Very Nice Small "cogwheel" Fancy Cancel "son" (adv71)Us #65 Pen Fancy Cancel 3 Ct 1861 Civil War Issue 19th Century Us Stamp B548Scott#147 With Very Nice Blue Segmented "triangle" Fancy Cancel "son" (adv78)1886 Fancy Cancel Negative B Caledonia Oh Postal Card To Cleveland OhUs #146 Or 157 Blue Fancy Cancel 2 C 1870's Banknote 19th Century Us Stamp B248#210 Matlese Cross Fancy Cancel 1883 Banknote 2 Cnt 19th Century Us Stamp B495