Postal History 'Mystery' Items
See Solved Mysteries Page!
Current Mystery Items
Christmas Cards in 1888?
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?).
Maybe not so far-fetched. See: Some Christmas
Card History (Wikipedia)
"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:
Cover from Washington, DC, 1879 with this interesting handstamp.
Only the cancel from the cover, scanned at higher resolution
Flickr album with many postal cancellations.
Google Photos of postal history, including cancellations.
Great Lakes American Flag Machine Cancels
Students of the American Flag machine cancel have found
3 different types used in the First World War period.
What is interesting are the dates the machines were
in use, and their location. 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
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.
"U. S. RECEIVING SHIP" flag cancel
(seen used from 10/15/18 to 12/30/19)
"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.)
"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
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).
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.
Copyright © 1999-2017 Robert Swanson
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