Here are some examples of machine cancellations from the United States. The images are of items that used to be in my collection, and are for the most part from the early part of the 20th Century. Early in that century, the United States Post Office was trying to find the best cancelling machine to use, and therefore experimented with a large variety of them from many manufacturers. We machine cancel collectors have a wonderful time studying this fascinating variety of markings. Note that the Machine Cancel Society has its own web site!
The markings of the American Postal Machine Company are first found from the Boston area in 1884. They adopted the well-known flag killer in 1894. Machines with the flag cancellation were still in use during the WW II era. Since there were so many different machines and towns using them, they have become a popular collecting specialty. A typical American flag cancellation [7k GIF].
The markings of the American Postal Machine Company are first found from the Boston area in 1884. They adopted the well-known flag killer in 1894. However, from about 1909 to about 1920, some of the American machines used a 6-bar straight-line killer. These are not nearly as common as the flag cancellations. Other examples exist of the American flag dial with a wavy-line cancellation. These are seen primarily from Philadelphia, with a few from Berkeley, California. A 6-bar straight-line American cancellation [3k GIF]. A wavy-line American cancellation [12k GIF].
The cancellations of the Time Marking Machine Company (later taken over by the B. F. Cummins Company) first appear around 1905, and continued in use for at least 2 decades. When the earlier machines were working correctly, they impressed the exact minute of cancellation, as this example [5k GIF] demonstrates. On some machines, the year date extended beyond the dial such as this Time-Cummins with the year slug just to the right of the circular dial. [JPG]. Also, the month could be to the left of the dial with the year to the right, as this Time-Cummins with the month to the left of the dial, and the year slug just to the right of the circular dial. [JPG]. This manufacturer also offered a Time-Cummins with a box postmark [JPG]. Here is an example of the type J machine [JPG]. An uncommon machine from this manufacturer is the oval postmark machine [7k GIF].
The Barry Postal Supply Company of Oswego, New York created machines the impressed a wide variety of postmarks between the years 1895 and 1909. Barry was an inventor by trade, and held many patents on many devices. The postal cancellation machines were only part of his business. The Barry cancellations come in a wide variety of styles, and were used in many cities and towns in the early part of the 20th Century.
These cancels can be a complex set of combinations, so I've recently added a webpage with a matrix of the various postmarks and killers impressed by the Barry machines.
Barry cancels can often be identifed by the fact that the feeder mechanism for the machine was a series of pins that grabbed the card or envelope near its right edge. If there is evidence of slight pin impressions near the right edge of the card or envelope, the cancel may be a Barry. Here we have two Barry types, a circular cancel [5k GIF], a rectilinear cancel [10k GIF], and an oval cancel [4k GIF].
Doremus machine markings started to appear in 1899, and continued until after WW I in a few locations. These machine markings got me started collecting machine cancellations, as they are quite distinct. Here we have a so-called type "E" cancel [7k GIF], a type "F" cancel [5k GIF], an early type "A" cancel [4k GIF], and a type "C" cancel [5k GIF]. As with other machines, other types exist than these.
The Barr-Fyke Machine Company of Kansas City, Missouri made a small number of machines. These cancellations appear from about 1897 to about 1905. They are very distinctive, and are not common. Here is one type of the Barr-Fyke cancellation [5k GIF], another early type with 7 bars [4k GIF], and another with arcs in the dial [5k GIF]. The last example is the rare 8-bar Barr-Fyke machine [4k GIF].
The Whitehead machine, invented in Brooklyn, New York, actually cut into the stamp, along with cancelling it with ink. His machine also was used to backstamp mail, but did not use cutters for this process. These machines appear to have only been used in Brooklyn, New York between 1898 and 1900. They are rare. This example is a backstamp usage [4k GIF].
The Pneumatic Cancelling Machine Company of Indianapolis, Indiana produced machines used from about 1898 to about 1904. The impressions from these machines are quite distinct from other machines of the time. They are somewhat common from Indianapolis, but less so from the few other cities where they were used. This example is from Helena, Montana [4k GIF].
These cancellations were made by machines of The Hampden Cancelling Machine Company of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Such machines were in use from about 1898 to to about 1905. They are not particularly common. While the styles of the bars and postmark varied, this is a more typical example [3k GIF].
These cancellations were made by a device that perhaps should be called a "mechanically-assisted stamping device". This is distinct from a machine canceller, which would have some automatic feeding and marking system. This device is similar in concept to the Perfection device, using a mechanical arm, rather than a motor or hand-crank. When using this device, the operator had to place the item under the expected position of the stamper on the mechanical "arm", and then activate the lever by hand.
The Tilton cancellations are particularly fascinating in their own right, since they were used to mark mail that had arrived later than scheduled from the incoming trains. The information provided in the postmark would tell the Post Office customer (and the Post Office) why their mail had arrived late. The Post Office prided itself on overnight delivery by rail between major cities, such as Chicago and New York. These stamping devices were in use in New York City from 1882 to about 1890 (and then later in Buffalo, New York). This marking is from typical late-arriving mail [7k GIF].
These cancellations are very common, and are immediately recognizable to many people as "machine cancellations". After all the various experimentation on the part of the Post Office, the government settled on large orders of machines from the International Postal Supply Company. This company's postmarks appear as early as 1888, and can even be found today. There are many, many varieties of postmarks made by this company's machines, but here is an early International machine with a small dial [3k GIF], a more recognizable later type [13k GIF], and a slogan cancel [7k GIF].
The Columbia Postal Supply Company of Silver Creek, New York produced a variety of machines. These impressions can be quite common, but there are also some scarce examples. The first machines were in use around 1900, and continued in use for several decades. Most of the Columbia cancellations are quite unique. Here is an early Columbia machine type [3k GIF] that could easily be mistaken for other machines in use during the time period. Another Columbia cancel with 7 bars in the killer [4k GIF]. This Columbia cancel has parallel lines of text in the postmark [4k GIF]. Same postmark but the cancel is made up of wavy lines. [15k GIF]. Columbia machines had a unique design for cancels (killers), using alternating vertical lines and horizontal wavy lines. [16k GIF].
These cancellations, like those from the International machines, are very common, and are immediately recognizable to many people as "machine cancellations". Machines made by the Universal Stamping Machine Company of New York first appear in 1909, and various models were in use for many, many years. About 1920, Universal was taken over by the Pitney-Bowes organization, but Universal machines remain on the market to this day. Here is an early Universal machine type [3k GIF] and a more common, later Universal type [4k GIF].
Well, it has been fun for me to put this page together. I hope that you have learned more about the fascinating hobby of collecting machine cancellations. This is just a quick survey; there were other machine manufacturers in the U.S. over the 20th Century, as well as a great variety of cancelling machines manufactured and used throughout the world.
For further reference, you can purchase many books from the Machine Cancel Society. These books describe and catalog these illustrated (and other) machine cancellations. To learn more about many types of machines and their history, visit William Barlow's Award-Winning Boston Machine Cancel Exhibit at the MCS website.
The book I originally used for this web page is U. S. Machine Postmarks 1871-1925 by the late R. F. Hanmer. This book provides a good overview on the subject, but is now out of date.
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Updated February 14, 2019
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