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]

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

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Scott #184 Beautiful- Ny Foreign Mail "nyfm-35" (cole) Fancy Cancel "son"(aps5)[/30] Usa 1861 Scott#72 Used Cv:$600 With Fancy CancelScott #148 Super Nice Ny Foreign Mail "nyfm-15" (cole) Fancy Cancel "son" (aps8)America Il Mob Washington Bicentennial Cover Maltese Cross Fancy Cancel 193220th Century Fancy Cancel: Battle Ground, Indiana 1931 Cover, Purple Canon Scott 65, Used, Negative Star With Dot Fancy Cancel20th Century Fancy Cancel: Bass, Indiana 1930 Cover, Blue Bass Fish20th Century Fancy Cancel: Fishertown, Pa 1934 Cover, Blue Fish Cancel20th Century Fancy Cancel: Genesee Depot, Wis 1937 Cover, Fancy Purple Cancel20th Century Fancy Cancel: Buffalo Hart, Ill 1932 Cover, Purple Buffalo & Heart20th Century Fancy Cancel: Tiger, Arizona 1934 Cover, Green Cds & TigerScott 94, Used, Masonic Open Book Fancy Cancel, S/e Fr-m5 1, Rutland, VtFancy Cancel Cover U.s Parcel Post 1913 Monarch Painting Co Cl OhAntique Postal History Lot - Fancy Cancel - Event Covers - Rare Postmarks[/37] Usa 1861 Scott#63 Used Cv:$50 With Fancy CancelBuffalo Stamps, Scott #78b, 1861 Gray, F/vf W/ Lite Fancy Cancel, Cv = $4751859 Tuscaloosa Al Pinwheel Fancy Cancel (ge-p41) On 3c Red #u10 Entire To ScFancy Cancel Chicago Blue Wedge Cancel On PieceSon Fancy Cancel On #65 Odd Number 4Son Fancy Cancel Paid 3 On #10 Or 11Shield (ps-o8) Bold Fancy Cancel On 3c #65, Xf Strike, 2016 Pf Cert, Scarce1860s Petersburgh Va Radial Fancy Cancel Ties 3c #65 On CoverFancy Cancel Candy Creek Ny Warsaw Ny 1891Fancy Cancel Cover Stamp Washington 1882 Boonville In [/18] Usa 1863 Scott#73 Used With Nice Fancy CancelScott #159 Very Nice - Ny Foreign Mail "nyfm-58" (cole) Fancy Cancel "son"(aps4)Scott 65, Used, Lined Heart Fancy CancelUs Scott 96 Old 10c Washington F Grill U/vf Fancy Cancel Cv $250Usa 119 Fancy Cancel Xf Sound $210 Scv Color@@@ 99c No ReserveScott 182, Used, Negative Anchor Fancy Cancel, Cole Rn-50Scott 147, Used, 3-diamonds Fancy CancelNyfm-68 "fouled Anchor" Fancy Cancel, Iii Rarity Quite RareB33 Usa Revenue Bob Match And Medicine Porto Rico Puerto Fancy Cancel OfficialsUs Used 1869 Pictorial - #115 6c Ultramarine - "full Fancy Cancel" - Very CleanUs Scott 97 Old 15c Lincoln F Grill U/f Fancy Cancel Cv $260Scott 149, Used, "leaf" Fancy CancelUss Bulmer Dd-222 Fancy Cancel Asiatic Fleet Tsingtao China Naval Cover (553)Noblespirit No Reserve {3966} Exciting Us Bucking Bronco Fancy Cancel 1928Five Bears 1929 Fancy Cancel Reg. Cover Bear Ark. To Prescott Ariz. [/15] Usa 1861 Scott#63 Used Cv:$50 With Fancy CancelDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 75 5c Jefferson Used Fancy Cancel No Reserve[/22] Usa 1873 Scott#163 Used Cv:$160 With Very Nice Fancy CancelFancy Cancel GreenUs Sc# 71 Used { 30c Orange Franklin } Fancy Cancel Of 1861 Series Cv$ 190.00Uss Bulmer Dd-222 Fancy Cancel Asiatic Fleet Tsingtao China Naval Cover (551)Uss Bulmer Dd-222 Fancy Cancel Asiatic Fleet Amoy China Naval Cover (550)Scott 158, Used, Large "us" In Circle Fancy Cancel, Perfectly CenteredCkstamps: Us Stamps Collection Scott#71 30c Franklin Used Fancy Cancel Cv$190Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 116 10c Pictorial Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveUsa Stamp #65 3c Washington 1861 Issue Used Fancy CancelScott #114 Gorgeous Color/center Pictorial "radial" Fancy Cancel "son" (apv18)Dr Jim Stamps Us Kurtistown Hawaii Tied Cover Fancy Cancel 1942Uss Edsall Dd-219 Fancy Cancel Asiatic Fleet Shanghai China Naval Cover (555)Scott 161, Used, 10c Continental, Crossroads Fancy CancelFancy Cancel "purple Cross" Son 2 Cent #210 Banknote 1883 Us Stamps 6127Usa Stamp #94 3c Washington 1867 "f" Grill Used Fancy Cancel -2Usa Stamp #94 3c Washington 1867 "f" Grill Used Fancy CancelOpc 1869 Us Sc#114 3c Locomotive Sound Target Fancy Cancel 25993Opc 1861 Us Sc#65 3c Washington Handmade Fancy Cancel Sound VfOpc 1869 Us Sc#114 3c Locomotive Fancy Cancel Sound 25996