Arago: Handstamps


Skull and crossbones fancy cancel handstamp


Small third- and fourth-class post offices were issued a circular date stamp, which was used for both postmarking and backstamping mail. A separate canceller was required. This 'skull and cross-bones' illustrates a postal clerk's creativity.

Lead was a desirable material from which to create 'fancy cancels'. First, it was compatible with the oil-based ink supplied after 1882 by the Post Office Department (POD) to all offices. Second, it could be shaped by a pen-knife or other sharp tool. As it was used, the imprint would wear down, requiring the creator to re-cut the marking face. Thus, a design in use by a post office might change over time.

Fancy cancels disappeared from use after 1904, except for creations devised for use on registered mail during the 1930s. POD Order Number 497, May 19, 1904, stated "Postmasters are hereby instructed to report to the First Assistant Postmaster-General all violations of Section 567, paragraph 4, and Section 568, Postal Laws and Regulations, 1902, which prohibit the use of postmarking stamps or canceling ink not furnished by the Post Office Department. A strict observance of these provisions is necessary for the protection of the postal revenues, and postmasters are notified that the use of unauthorized postmarking stamps or canceling ink will be considered sufficient cause for removal."

19th century
figurative: skull and cross bones
Height x Width x Depth: 1 1/8 x 3/4 x 3/4 in. (2.86 x 1.91 x 1.91 cm)
Museum ID:

  • Handstamp
  • Handstamp
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