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 Scott 38 Old 30c Franklin U/f Pinhole, Red Ink Fancy Cancel Cv $475Us 3 Cent #65 Used Fancy Cancel Lot 43 Diff.collected For The Cancel On It Us # 143l Type Pony Express Stamp Vf Used Fancy Cancel BlueUs 2 Cent Large Banknote Fancy Cancel Lot 48 Diff.mostly Bold & Well StruckUs Stamp: - Rare Eagle And Shield Fancy Cancel On #65 3c Stamp -#77 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsUs 1 Cent Large Banknote Fancy Cancel Lot 32 Diff.mostly Bold & Well StruckDrbobstamps Us Large Classical Fancy Cancel Collection#75 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelDrbobstamps Us Large Classical Fancy Cancel Collection Of Scott #114Us 2,5,6 &10 Cent Large Banknote Fancy Cancel Lot 28 Diff.all Bold & Well StruckUs 3 Cent Large Banknote Fancy Cancel Lot 108 Diff.mostly Bold & Well StruckUs Stamp 15c Lincoln E Grill Scott #91 1867 Fancy CancelUs Stamp: - Rare Flying Bird Fancy Cancel On #220 2c Stamp -Paid Fancy Cancel On #65 Collection Star Fancy Cancel On #65 Collection Us Stamp: - Rare "owl" Fancy Cancel On #14 3c Ultra 1869 Pictorial Issue Cover#95 * F Grill * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsStar Fancy Cancel On #147 Collection Star Fancy Cancel On #184 Collection Star Fancy Cancel On #210 Collection #68 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelScott #159 With Beautiful "shield" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son" (adw19)Scott #159 With Unique Letter "b" Signet Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son" (adw18)#150 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelUnited States 1930 Dog Illustrated Fancy Cancel Registered Cover Worth Ill.United States 1928 Bull Dog Illustrated Fancy Cancel Registered CoverUs 2ct.#210-13 Large Banknote Fancy Cancel Lot 72 Diff.mostly Bold & Well StruckUs Stamp:#97 12c Washington F Grill 1867 Issue Used Stamp Star Fancy CancelUs Used 1869 Pictorial - #116 10c Yellow "shield & Eagle" Clean & Fancy CancelScott 65, Used, San Francisco Cogwheel Fancy Cancel, S/e Ge-p 31Another Star Fancy Cancel On #210 Collection Nystamps W Old Us Fancy Cancel Stamp Collection Album Page#68 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 26 3c Washington Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveUs # 135 Used, 1870 Bank Notes Series With Grill, Fancy Cancel Cv= $ 80Us Scott 117 Old 12c S S Adriatic U/f Fancy Cancel Cv $150Postal History Cover~mystic,conn Ct~fancy Cancel~1893Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 71 30c Franklin Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveMaltese Cross Fancy Cancel On #210 Collection Fancy Cancel Time. Us 1800s Collection, Must SeeStar Fancy Cancel On #207 Collection Scott #114 With "mask/pumpkin Head" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son" (adw20)#179 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelUs Stamps - #113 - Used - 2 Cent 1869 Pictorial Issue - Fancy Cancel - Cv $85Scott # 210 Used - Letters "wf" Fancy Cancel #msp17-64#160 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy Cancel * FaultsU.s 19th Centry Stamp Scott#138 F/vf/w/grill H/cv $525.00+fantastic Fancy CancelUs Stamps - #115 - Used - 15 Cent 1869 Pictorial Issue - Fancy Cancel - Cv $225Scott #114 With "flag" Fancy Cancel - Very Nice "son" (adw21)Dr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 213 2c Washington Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveDr Jim Stamps Old Us Scott 159 6c Lincoln Used Fancy Cancel No ReserveScott 65, Used, New York Star Fancy Cancel, S/e Ge-c 110Scott 65, Used, Negative "m" Fancy Cancel, S/e Ls-m 14Us Stamp: - Rare Leaf Fancy Cancel On 6c Stamp -#178 * Early Us Stamp * Fancy CancelFancy Cancel, Bug, Kentucky 1930 RegisteredFancy Cancel, Wasp, Kentucky 1931 RegisteredUnited States 1933 Registered Black Wolf Fancy Cancel StationeryUnited States 1933 Registered Black Wolf Fancy Cancel Cover