When my interest in collecting stamps waned, it was replaced by a new-found interest in postal history. In this case “postal history” means letters, envelopes (called “covers”), and postcards that tell a story. While stamps can be beautiful and collectable, a cover will often have multiple meanings and interests. Each cover I’ve purchased offers something to study, often multiple topics.
Just one example is the illustration above. As soon as I started collecting covers and postcards, I saw the amazing variety of cancellations applied by machine. When I was growing up, there was much “sameness” on the mail that was delivered to my home. However, when you look back just a few decades, you start to see the variety of machine markings applied by the U. S. Post Office. There is much to learn.
Another aspect of the above marking is that it was applied at Balboa Island, Orange County, California. I started collecting Orange County, California, postal history when my wife and I lived there. There is much local history to be found in these messages, and frankly, there are markings of some small towns in this now-thriving metropolis, that are nearly impossible to find. Collectors always love a challenge.
I could go on about the stamps used, but I hope you can see the point.
Illustrated and Advertising Covers are interesting in and of themselves, but they often provide additional opportunities for study.
This is not a postal item, but is a potent type of advertisement, a license plate holder from Ralph Williams Ford. Ralph was on the late-night television in the Los Angeles area during the 1960’s, touting his car sales business. The Firesign Theatre used his character in their album All Hail Marx and Lennon (The album cover showed Groucho Marx, of course, and John Lennon!)
I have been collecting machine cancellations for many years, primarily as used in the United States. For instance, as part of my collecting, I created a listing of earliest and latest known dates of usage for American flag cancelling machines used at military facilities in the U. S. [19K Adobe PDF]. This list appeared a few years ago in the journal of The Machine Cancel Society. (NOTE that my address printed in that article is now out of date.)
The current database is located at: spreadsheet with all known usage dates of American flag cancellations of U.S. domestic military facilities of the First World War.
To help people who are confused about the identification of a machine cancel, I have devised a set of Web pages that allow you to identify certain types of United States machine cancellations from the early period of the 20th Century. If you have a “mystery” machine cancel that fits the page’s current capabilities, try The Machine Cancel Finder.
Also, I have created a web page that shows some examples of United States machine cancellations, mostly from the early 20th Century. Give it a try!
Many other examples of machine cancellations (Google Photos Album)
In the past, I have collected some slogan cancels.
American Flag Machine Cancels offer a lot to the collector.
Transporting the Mails
Specific Stamps Used Postally
Non-stamps used on mail can be interesting too, such as U.S. Christmas Seals.