2006-03-16 / News

'Fancy cancels' from Jamestown

One of the fancy cancels given to the historical society. One of the fancy cancels given to the historical society. The Jamestown Historical Society was recently given two locally mailed envelopes with "fancy cancels."

A fancy cancel is a local post office custom artwork to cancel or deface the stamp to indicate that it has been used.

One envelope has a Jamestown postmark with a two-cent stamp with a fancy cancel of a geometric design. It is addressed to Mrs. H. A. Clarke, 106 Montague St., Brooklyn, N.Y. Printed in the lower left-hand corner is "Cottage Windswepe," Conanicut, R.I.

On the back are two postmarks: "Brooklyn, N.Y. on June 3, '90" (1890) and the other cannot be read. The second envelope is addressed to Mrs. H. Audley Clarke, Jamestown, R.I. with a one-cent stamp and a fancy cancel of a circle and blank hole. The postmark is "Jamestown, RI Sept 3, 1898." The back of the envelope is plain.

When postage stamps were introduced in the U.S. in 1847, postmasters were required to deface the stamps to prevent reuse and it was left up to them to decide how to do this. Clerks would often used whatever was at hand, including cork bottle stoppers dipped in ink. These worked well but would blot out the entire stamp, making it difficult to check the denomination. Clerks then began to carve a groove across the middle of the cork to make two semicircles. This carving process sparked the creativity of clerks across the country, and soon thousands of designs appeared.

The era of fancy cancels ended in the 1890s, when the U.S. Postal Service issued regulations to standardize cancellation marks. Fancy cancels have been studied and categorized by specialists. Many types are common and command a small premium while others are rare.

The Jamestown Historical Society is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and encouraging interest in Jamestown's past.

The society is currently working to make available through Web site its collection of old photographs, documents, objects. Anyone wishing to learn how to catalog or become involved in the society's many projects and programs is encouraged to contact the Jamestown Historical Society, P.O. Box 156, Jamestown, RI 02835.

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