Postal History 'Mystery' Items

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Current Mystery Items

Christmas Cards in 1888?

Early Advertisement for Christmas Cards
I originally purchased this illustrated advertising cover, dated 1888, because of the nice engraved image of the child. Only when I looked much closer did I see that it was an advertisement for Christmas cards. I think that 1888 is a bit early for the cards we know and love (hate?). Any ideas?

Maybe not so far-fetched. See: Some Christmas Card History (Wikipedia), which states that the first Christmas cards sold in the U. S. happened in 1874. So this item is in the appropriate time period.

"Losenge" Hand Cancel

I posted a message on rec.collecting.postal-history asking about the origin of this hand cancel from Washington, DC. Anyway, I have scanned the cover and its cancel. Here they are:

Losenge Hand Cancellations on U. S. Postal Covers and Cards
Cover from Washington, DC, 1879 with this interesting handstamp.

Losenge Hand Cancellations on U. S. Postal Covers and Cards
Only the cancel from the cover, scanned at higher resolution

Google Photos of postal history, including cancellations.

Great Lakes American Flag Machine Cancels

Collectors of the American Flag machine cancel have found 3 different types used in the First World War period. In my book on the U. S. military facilities, I tried to identify and date the use of these machines. What is unclear are the dates the machines were in use, and their location(s). Some mysteries associated with Great Lakes follow:

Mystery #1 -- where were the cancelling machines located? And, where was the vast amount of mail sent from, and delivered to, the Great Lakes Naval Training Station handled during the War Period? I have found nothing. In particular, local newspapers (many are now online) so far have yielded no information. All postal operations were supposedly moved to Waukegan, Illinois, early in the War Period.

Mystery #2 -- why were 3 different machines used, and why are the known dates within such narrow time periods? I tried to cover this subject in my recent book Bluejacket Mail. Again, we seem to only have the reported dates of usage, seen in the postal history collectors' marketplace. Frederick Langford, who wrote the most detailed book on the history of the American Flag machine cancels, had access to some National Archive information, but it was destroyed in the years after he completed his research.

Old Stamp Used on WW I-Era Cover
"U. S. RECEIVING SHIP" flag cancel (seen used from 10/15/18 to 12/30/19)

American Flag Cancellation of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station During the First World War
"GREAT LAKES RECEIVING SHIP" flag cancel (seen used from 5/4/18 to 9/30/18. There are unverified reports of an item dated 1/26/18, and of an item dated 10/14/18. This flag cancel re-appears in 1920-22.)

American Flag Cancellation of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station During the First World War
"GREAT LAKES (no wording in flag killer)" flag cancel

From 10/1/18 to 10/14/18, Great Lakes used a more typical American flag machine (illustrated above) Because of the short time period of use, this cancel has received a high level of collector interest. My cancel census records examples for each date within this range.

An interesting aspect of these dates, is they coincide with the Influenza Pandemic's ravaging of the camp population. Soon, all of Chicago's public facilities were closed down, including theaters.

The mystery remains: why the 3 distinct machines?

Mystery #3 -- The time gap: Note that the earliest verified known use (EKU) of the American flag machine is May 4, 1918. Thus, there is a large time gap between this device's use and the end of the use of the "Great Lakes" handstamp device in August, 1917. There are a few possible gap-fillers: an example has been seen of the handstamp dated in December, 1917 (well after the post office name had changed).

The final edition of Langford's book indicates an April 1918 usage, but I have yet to see a confirming example. In addition, during private conversations I had with Mr. Langford in the 1990's, he indicated a reported example of the flag machine from January 1918. Unfortunately, there is no confirming cover or scan of that flag machine, either. (It is all too possible that the reporting collector misread the dial letters "JUN" and interpreted them as "JAN".)

Based on the population figures for Great Lakes, there were plenty of sailors present to create postal history items in this "gap" period. The "mystery" then, is: How was Great Lakes mail marked between August, 1917 and April/May 1918? To me, the very low volume of mail seen from the April 1917 to August 1917 period seems odd, given that there were tens of thousands of sailors present.

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Updated 25 July 2020