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Chronology of precancel regulations

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This Precancel chronology is from the introduction to "List of Post Offices Authorized to Use PRECANCELED STAMPS and GOVERNMENT PRECANCELED ENVELOPES" by Rolston Lyon
  • (Starting with a red barred circle on the first U.S. stamps in 1847, many were experiments undertaken with canceling entire panes of stamps ahead of time for various usages. This includes "silent" precancels consisting of pen, pencil, crayon, or other ruled lines, solid bars and boxes. -JCF)
  • c1903 - Early typeset classic dating experiments. We are not sure of the rule.
  • 1911, December 5 - Postmaster General Frank M. Hitchcock authorized the general use of precancels on Christmas parcels for the first time.
  • 1912: The act of Congress approved August 24 created the Parcel Post service. This resulted in a tremendous increase in demand for postage stamps and a more efficient system of canceling these stamps.
  • 1913, July 1 - Regular postage stamps were made valid for parcel post. Parcel post stamps were made valid for ANY postal duty. The Department instituted the policy of supplying precanceling equipment and cash allowances to cover the cost of precanceling to "authorized" postmasters. Bids were called for and supply contracts signed for both (100 subject) electrotype places (used for precancelling large quantities of stamps) and 25-subject rubber handstamps, used where the demand for precancels was not great enought during a year to require printing.
  • 1916 - In an effort to reduce the costs of PRINTING precancels, the Post Office Department invited the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to bid on certain contracts. The Bureau was low bidder on only four of these contracts; the result was the Experimental Bureau Prints used at four offices. (actually three -- Augusta ME, New Orleans LA, Springfield MA)
  • 1923, May 3 - The first of the "regular" Bureau Print precancels was issued -- the 1 cent sheet stamp made for New York, NY. (The Stickney Intaglio web fed press used paper premoistened before passing through the press. ("wet process") The precancelling was applied by roller immediately after printing and before the stamps were gummed, cured and perforated. -PSS Catalog of US Bureau Precancels, 4th ed, Oct 1997)
  • 1924, April 26 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General issued the first of a long series of notices prohibiting the precancelation of commemorative stamps, and the sale of precanceled stamps for collection purposes. (The collectors were forced to dive into the trash at post offices to recover many of the rare items extant. -JCF)
  • 1924, August 7 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General authorized the use of precanceled stamps on first-class matter, under special conditions.
  • 1925, February 28 - Postmaster General Harry S. New authorized the private precancelation (with mailer's postmark) of Government stamped envelopes under Section 452 1/2, P. L. & R. (Act of February 20, 1925).
  • 1925, March 9 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General issued an order prohibiting the use of precanceled stamps on motion picture film cans, (Only two stamps survive from film cans precanceled in Palms CA since they were placed on the seam. -JCF) laundry cases, egg crates, etc., or other containers specially designed to be reused for mailing purposes. The result of the order was to curtail use of high-denomination ($2 and $5) precancels.
  • 1925, Jan 1 - watermarks No. 26 and 27 used for precanceled envelopes.
  • 1928, May 29 - Section 435 1/2, P. L. & R. was promulgated.
  • 1928, July 7 - TOPEKA KS authorized to used precanceled envelopes.
  • 1928, July 16 - QUINCY IL authorized to used precanceled envelopes.
  • 1928, August 7 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General advised postmas ters that the Department would supply precanceled 1 cent stamped envelopes, either with or without printed return card, to meet the requirements of mailers under Section 435 1/2, P. L. & R.
  • 1929, January 1 - watermarks changed to No. 28 and 30 for precanceled envelopes.
  • 1929, January 12 - Co-Ed Dressmakers, New York, NY applied for, and received, a great number of permits for a direct-mail advertising campaign. In many cases this was the first permit for a given town, and new precanceling devices were authorized and supplied. All permits were dated January 12, 1929.
  • 1929, January 18 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General called the attention of postmasters to the fact that Bureau-printed precancels were available under certain conditions.
  • 1929: During the last week of January, but especially during the first two weeks of February 1929 the Post Office Department made a questionnaire check of all post offices to determine which were using precancels. It was found that many smaller offices had merely ordered their handstamps from the Division of Equipment and Supplies without the formality of first obtaining authorization from the Division of Classification. In every justifiable case the erring postmasters were "legalized" by a belated authorization to use precanceling devices already in use. This "legalization" covered some devices going back to 1917 or earlier. Most of these "legalizations" are dated between February 1 and February 11, 1929, although there were the customary number of "tail-end Charlies".
  • Late 1929 - length of bars on precanceled envelopes shortened.
  • 1930, January 1 - No. 28 and No. 30 watermarks altered for precanceled envelopes.
  • 1930, January 21 - The Third Assistant postmaster General advised that Government precanceled stamped envelopes furnished thereafter would be issued without gum on the flaps.
  • 1930, May 29 - Postmaster General Walter F. Brown announced the amendment of Section 452 1/2, P. L. & R. (Act of May 9, 1930) to include government postal cards.
  • early 1930s - Harris press introduced for precancel envelopes
  • 1932 - Sec. 562 P.L. & R. replaces Sec. 435 1/2.
  • 1932, Summer - Alarmed by the steadily increasing costs of replacing worn and damaged 25-subject rubber handstamps, which were susceptible to warping and damage from many causes, the Department decided to change from rubber to 25-subject hand-applied electroplates. More than 4,100 offices then using precancels, were supplied on an automatic-reissue basis with the new metal devices. It is obvious that the great number involved could not have been produced on a single day, and the Department kept no records of shipments to individual postmasters.
  • 1933, January 1 - watermarks No. 31, 32 and 33 replace previous envelope watermarks.
  • 1934, July 1 - Complaints of "having to ink up the bathmat" in order to use the 25-subject hand electros, poor impressions, and rising costs of devices led the Department to reduce the size of hand-applied electroplates to a 10-subject device. The "four impressions to a pane of 100 stamps" concept perished.
  • 1934, September 25 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General ordered all postmasters to cease precanceling postage-due stamps.
  • 1937, January 1 - watermark no. 36 replaces previous envelope watermarks.
  • 1937, March 1 - The acting Third Assistant Postmaster General ordered postmasters not to issue precancel permits to collectors, stamp clubs, stamp dealers, etc., unless they were actually bona fide patrons of the post office involved.
  • 1938, March 9 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General ordered that thereafter no postage stamps over the 6-cent denomination be precanceled.
  • 1938, March 18 - The same man canceled the order of March 9, 1938!
  • 1938, June 4 - Following this back-down in the face of tremendous pressure from a nationwide group of this country's largest mailers Third Assistant Postmaster General Ramsey S. Black announced the "dating order". This order was so important to collectors that a lengthy quotation is in order. With saintly restraint I (Rolston Lyon) shall refrain from underlining or capitalizing the obvious stupidities.
    "Referring to the order of March 9, as amended by the order of March 18, pertaining to precanceled stamps, notice is hereby given that while it is desired that the use of precanceled stamps over the 6-cent denomination be curtailed as much as possible their use on mail of the second, third, and fourth classes, and, where specially authorized in each case, on matter of the first class, will be permissable after July 1, 1938, provided the permit holders will print on each stamp above the upper of the two parallel black lines forming a part of the precancel indicia, their initials, together with the abbreviations of the month and year, ...
    "The printing of these additional indicia on precancled stamps shall be from type of the same size as that used for the name of the post office and State, must be clear and bold, and shall be done by the permit holders at their expense. Indelible ink which cannot be washed off must be used. . . . .
    "While it is preferred that not more than one stamp be used on the same piece of mail, matter bearing more than one stamp will not be refused, but this is not intended to permit patrons to use undated precancels for pieces or articles requiring more than 6 cents postage. There will be no objection to permit holders printing their initials and date on precanceled stamps below the 6-cent denomination.
    Where a mailer has daily mailings consisting of a comparatively small number of parcels, there is no real advantage to the mailer or the postal service in using precanceled stamps and under such circumstances postmasters should discourage their use and endeavor in a tactful way to have mailers use ordinary uncanceled stamps on such mailings." . . . ."
  • 1938, June 24 - The Third Assistant Postmaster General advised postmasters that permit holders may use rubber stamps for printing their initials and date on precanceled stamps, provided that type is of the same size as that used for the name of the post office and State, and that the printing is clear and bold. Indelible black ink was required.
  • 1938, July 1 - Changes were made immediately in the specifications for the manufacture of precancel plates and handstamps, and all devices ordered and shipped to postmasters after July 1 were of the new narrow-spaced style -- with the exception of Bureau-printed precancels.
  • 1940, August 12 - After two years of dated precancels the Third Assistant Postmaster General found "gross negligence" in dating precancels. He complained of such specific irregularities as: Overprinting is illegible; Other than black indelible ink is used; No initials are shown, only the month and year; Overprinting was placed in a "hit-or-miss" manner diagonally across the stamp. The 3APMG was distressed!
  • 1940, October 15 - The Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced that in the future the line spacing of all Bureau-printed precancels would be cut approximately 3 millimeters, as requested by the Post Office Department. However bureaucracy took a long time to produce.
  • 1941, January 1 - watermark No. 39 replaces No. 36 for precancel envelopes.
  • 1941, March 1 - The first narrow-spaced Bureau-printed precancels were shipped.
  • 1941, Spring - last regular envelope authorization dates. (A few still appear into 1943) Hereafter authorization included in authorization to precancel.
  • Things settled down for a number of years, with the bathtubbers playing tag with the highly-trained Inspection Service, which was hyper-suspicious and totally ignorant where precancel matters were concerned.
  • 1943 - high rag content paper replaces standard paper for precancel envelopes.
  • 1943, February 6 - Jay FL - last town to be issued permit to use precancelled envelopes. Examples unknown.
  • 1943, December 12 - Blue and amber precancel envelopes discontinued.
  • 1945, January 1 - watermark no. 41 replaces no. 39 for precancel envelopes.
  • 1946 - use of standard paper returns for precancel envelopes.
  • 1948 - Sec. 34.65(e) P.L.&R. and Sec. 34.66 P.L.&R. replaces Sec. 562 P.L.&R.
  • 1949, January 1 - watermark 43 replaces No. 41 for precancel envelopes.
  • 1949 - Harris press adapted for window envelopes.
  • 1949, summer - type 3 font of type use begins
  • 1950 - precancelled window envelopes discontinued
  • 1951, early - 1 cent oval envelope die introduced
  • 1952, July 1 1 1/2 cent rate effective
  • 1953, January 1 - watermark No. 45 replaces No. 43.
  • 1954 - New P.L.&R. sections 39 C.F.R. 34.65(e), 39 C.F.R. 34.66, Nonprofit Organization, and "Bulk Rate" replace previous sections.
  • 1955, January - bi-color 8 cent Liberty printed directly from Ludlow cast slugs on a flatbed press. This process was also used for the Giori 8 cent and 11 cent stamps, the multicolor 8 cent Ike and the 13 cent Eagle and Shield stamp. Line spacing is about 1.5 mm closer together than the previous narrow type, style 71.
  • 1957, January 1 - watermark No. 46 replaces No. 45.
  • 1957, June - Bureau precancels printed on web fed Huck and Huck-Cottrell presses using dry, pregummed paper and rubber precancel plates. ("dry process")
  • 1958, June - In a continuing effort to cut costs, the Department accepted a low bid from a vinyl-rubber handstamp manufacturer, for 10-subject devices. (Clerks forgot how to use metal-faced devices, anyway. -JCF) Even while the contract for 10-subject hand electrotype devices was still in force orders were being issued for delivery on or after July 1 of the new devices.
  • 1959, January 1 - 2 cent rate effective
  • 1959, June - July 1961 - The Big Blackout. No lists were issued by the Post Office Department for over two years, causing consternation among precancel collectors.
  • 1960, July 1 - 1 1/4 cent, 2 1/2 cent rates effective
  • 1961, January 1 - watermarks no. 47 and later no. 48 replace no. 46.
  • 1963, July 1 - Zip Code was introduced, but did not apply to precanceling devices. Those showing the numbers were of purely local origin, and not Government issued.
  • 1964 - last government city precanceled envelopes
  • 1964, December 31 - official end of government precancels (Bureau precancels) with town names
  • 1964, October - January 1965: The Small Blackout, due to a misunderstanding between Headquarters and the area postal supply centers about supplying lists of devices ordered to central authority in Washington. Devices shipped during this period is indicated as "Winter 1964".
  • 1965, January 1 - generic precancelled envelopes begun
  • 1965, late April - Two-letter, unpunctuated State abbreviations were introduced, without proper planning. (Early Nebraska stamps were precanceled "NB". This abbreviation was later given to New Brunswick, and Nebraska changed to "NE". -JCF)
  • 1966, early - Ludlow slug set a single subject. This was reproduced photographically with a linofilm process to make multiples for the rubber plate.
  • 1967, July 27 - Part 142 of the Postal Manual ("Precanceled Stamps") was revised to permit the sale of precancels to collectors by postmasters, under certain conditions.
  • 1968, July and August - The Hiatus. No approved contracts for the manufacture of electroplates or vinyl rubber handstamps were available for these two months. Orders, shipments, and lists were resumed in September 1968. Area supply centers had been reduced to two, at Wichita, KS, and Somerville, NJ.
  • 1970 - "Integral" Bureau precancels on Christmas stamps. The special service notation is part of the stamp printing itself and not applied in a separate operation.
  • 1971, July 1 - The United States Postal Service, a government corporation rather than an executive department of the federal government, took over all operations of the United States Post Office Department.
  • 1974, October 23 - Self stick Dove weather vane precancel Christmas stamps. Since there was no sealer layer between the gum and paper, the gum leaked through the top of the stamps. Most of these today are in poor condition.
  • 1977, August - Videocomp photographic process for making rubber plates.
  • 1978, September 21 - National Bureau Print "lines only" type without city and state.
  • 1980, February - Special Service Bureau precancels designed to be used on a particular class of mail.
  • The following is my Stamp Collector PNC column for August By Stephen G. Esrati The history of PNCs [Plate Number Coils] presents some strange twists and turns. When the Transportation Series began in 1981, it was illegal for collectors to use precancels, even though the Philatelic Sales Division (PSD) sold them to collectors. The scrap could not be used up by collectors--who were not allowed to use precancels on their mail--and most fractional precancels could be bought only in strips of 10. To meet what it thought was what collectors wanted, the Postal Service provided unprecanceled versions of the precancels. But USPS did not have a clue what it was that collectors do, and collectors wanted all plate numbers, whether they existed as precancels or as collector-only stamps. It was, of course, impossible to order precancels by plate number from the PSD, so collectors? only recourse was to obtain some plate numbers through dealers. (This is still true.) And the Postal Service kept on issuing precanceled PNCs for which there were no matching collector-only versions, such as Plate 8 of the 9.3c Mail Wagon and Plates 4 and 6 of the 5.2c Sleigh. Dealers could buy precancels in bulk if they had a precancel-use permit and most post offices sold precancels only in coils of 500 or more. Most philatelic counters had no precancels in smaller quantities for collectors, leaving collectors totally dependent on dealers. The Postal Service decided in 1988 that the sale of precanceled stamps by dealers was illegal. In going after Frank Marrelli, a PNC dealer in Wisconsin, for illegally dealing in precancels, the Postal Service came up with some strange rules: ? It was illegal for a dealer to sell precancels. ? It was illegal to use a combination of precancels on a mailpiece. ? It was illegal to send a mailpiece bearing more than $1 in precanceled stamps unless each stamp was signed and dated by the mailer. USPS said this was so because precanceled stamps are untagged and cannot be handled by mail-handling machinery. There was also concern that precancels could be reused because they had no cancels. Marrelli challenged the Postal Service, noting that every PNC dealer in the country was breaking the law. Ernest J. Collins, general manager of the Business Requirements Division of the Office of Classification and Rates Administration, answered Marrelli as follows: ?You made the observation ? that every dealer in the Transportation Series of coil stamps is violating the law every time he sells a precancel. The Postal Service anticipates that when a permit holder buys precanceled stamps from his post office he will either use them for the purpose of paying postage on his mail, or for the purpose of adding them to his own stamp collection. (Emphasis added) ?Purchases may be made by nonpermit holders for collection purposes only. ?It is not anticipated that the precanceled stamps will be bought, either by permit holders or nonpermit holders, for the purpose of reselling them.? (Emphasis added) By March of 1988, the Postal Service began a crackdown in Atlanta against the use of precancels by permit holders, despite clear rules in The Postal Bulletin of July 10, 1986, that allowed collectors to obtain permits. George Kuhn, a collector in Florida, challenged the Postal Service by following the rules to the letter and then got his mail back and was charged postage due. One rejected letter bore an unprecanceled 18c Washington Monument. Later in 1988, USPS stopped issuing the collector-only versions of precancels and said it was doing so because collectors could now legally own and use precancels. The first such stamp was the 16.7c Popcorn Wagon. Marrelli went to Chicago for the first-day ceremony. That day he tried to mail some registered letters bearing precancels. The clerk refused them, without even asking if Marrelli had a permit. Marrelli went through four levels of postal supervisors before Number Four said: ?He?s right. He is absolutely entitled to use them. Accept his mail and cancel the stamps.? Marrelli was pulling a fast one. He knew that his Kenosha, Wis., permit was no good in Chicago. ?I would simply have applied for a Chicago permit,? he said. With the exception of a PNC magazine and Stamp Collector, the philatelic press ignored the battle. But in March 1989, the Postal Service retreated. The sale of precancels by dealers was ruled legal. -- Stephen G. Esrati P.O. Box 20130 Shaker Heights, Ohio stevsta at gwis.com now steve at esrati.com Phone: (216) 561-9393 FAX: (216) 561-6030
  • 1985, September 26: A single horizontal line or type across the face of the stamp. NOTE: NO STAMPS WERE EVER ISSUED. DMM still listed this option until the major city type purge of July 5, 2007.
  • 1985 - True "Integral" Bureau precancels introduced with the 18 cent Washington and Monument coil and the 21.1 cent Letter coil.
  • 1985 - Demise of Cottrell press. Printing shifted to "B" press, using sleeves rather than plates. These are multicolor presses, but the special service has been done so far only in red or black.
  • 1986 - July 1988: Specially designed "Integral" Bureau on 5.5 cent Star Route Truck. "non" Service Inscribed versions also made for non-precancel collectors. Since this time, they have been service inscribed only. John Foster calls these "stealth" precancels, since there is no precancel to be seen. The stamps are still precancels by usage, and require a permit for sale or mailing.
  • 1996 - The Baumgarten Blackout. The contractor for vinyl precancel devices changed from Lloyd to Baumgarten. No notification of orders or standardization of devices was evident for at least a year. Several strange, unique devices were found and there may be more out there.
  • 1997, Aug - The government device shipped to PLUM, TX was one of the first made under the new Baumgarten contract. My guess is that since the supply catalog picture of the 10 subject device impression is cut off and only shows 6 subjects, PLUM got a 6 subject device. It was also shrunk to match the approximate size of the picture, and coincidentally fits the tiny 13 cent Indian Head or Dolley Madison stamps issued 13 years earlier. This device turns precancelling, which was originally invented to cancel many stamps at a time, on its head. The whole 6 subject impression will fit on a 10 cent Soyuz stamp with room to spare. It gets stranger. Alden, NY, ordered a device. Since the supply catalog pictures "PALA CA" for item 762, that's what they got, but a 10 subject this time. Two impressions were made before the device was retrieved and sent back. PALA, CA was asked about it, but they never ordered one or wanted one.
  • 2001-2003 - Due to severe budget problems in the USPS, supervisors are allowing very few new precancel device orders. Item 762 was ordered directly from Baumgarten on form 1567 by independent post offices.
  • 2003 - Friendship WI. "This office received a ten bar pre-canceling device in error. Since there is no functional need for the device in this office and to prevent intentionally creating philatelic rarities, the cancel has been destroyed." A few of us have impressions made soon after it was received...er...ahh...which creates a rarity.
  • 2003-2004 - Baumgarten, the current item 762 contractor, is allowing "new" government contract precancels with zip code, optionally instead of the "classic" version, which has only a town and state.
  • 2007, July 5 - Death of city type precancels - Postal Bulletin 22210, page 5. All precancel handstamps and electroplates are to be destroyed. Future precancel mailings under permit are only to be made with rate designated stamps. Very few postal clerks even know what a precancel device looks like. Some could survive in dark corners. Some will possibly destroy their 4-bar cancels. This also means the death of Supply Catalog Item Number 762, which has been in effect continuously since the 1920s for a precancel device. The 1938 dating regulation still survives. I will watch for the rare special service bureau cover worth over $1, which still requires dating of the individual stamps.

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