Refresher Course

Self-serviced covers are a satisfying option

By Rachel Supinger

Some collectors choose to buy their modern covers from dealers. Others prefer to have their covers serviced on their own. Depending on your specialty, having covers serviced yourself can be a much more economical, and often considerably more enjoyable, option for adding to your collection.

Figure 1. For this cover, a creative collector decorated a paper bag with rubber-stamped markings and a cinderella stamp. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. This old postcard was sent for father-and-son inaugural cancels. The card was originally mailed in 1937. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. This cover, serviced in 1949 aboard the USS Lindenwald, bears a patriotic commercial cachet. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 4. This cover without a cachet was serviced aboard the USS Bainbridge in 1937. Today, covers could be refused service if they are submitted without artwork. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 5. This cover bears a first-day cancel from San Diego. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 6. What can go wrong: This cover was sent through the mailstream without protective cover and received a machine cancel and sprayed-on markings. Click on image to enlarge.

To service your own cover, you need only to prepare your envelope, affix correct postage and send to the appropriate place. Whether you collect pictorial cancellations, modern first-day covers, modern naval covers, special event covers or any number of topical areas, servicing your covers yourself can be a satisfying experience.

There are only a few basic rules to remember, but after a few tries they'll become second nature. First, you must consider the envelope you are using. Or you may use a postcard or something else entirely. Almost anything that can be sent through the mail can be serviced.

Figure 1 shows a brown bag that was decorated with rubber-stamped designs and a cinderella (stamplike label), folded into a card and sent for a special cancel. The inside of the card (not shown) is rubber stamped "Doggie Bag." Unfortunately, the person who canceled this item missed canceling the stamp.

Figure 2 shows an old postcard that was actually serviced three times (only two can be seen in the illustration). The card was originally mailed in 1937. A collector then sent it for an inauguration day cancel in 1989, for George Bush the elder, and again in 2001 for a second inaugural cancel, for George Bush the younger.

One of the easiest options is to purchase envelopes that have already had a commercial cachet (envelope decoration) applied. These may be all-purpose cachets applicable to a number of occasions, or they may be commercial cachets prepared for a specific event. Cacheted envelopes can be purchased at stationery stores or from professional cachetmakers or dealers.

The cover shown in Figure 3 bears a patriotic commercial cachet that would have been appropriate for many recent occasions. The cover was canceled in 1949 aboard the USS Lindenwald.

If you choose not to purchase cachets, you may make them yourself.

A cachet can be as simple as a sticker, a picture cut from a magazine or a rubber-stamped illustration. Or you can draw, paint or color virtually anything that suits your fancy, provided that it is within acceptable boundaries of good taste and does not violate any trademark or licensing considerations.

You may also choose to not decorate the cover at all. Note, however, that the Postal Service may refuse to cancel an undecorated envelope because, it says, offensive or inappropriate illustrations could be added later. The uncacheted cover shown in Figure 4 was canceled in 1937 aboard the USS Bainbridge. Such a cover might be refused cancellation today.

The most important factor in choosing an envelope is quality. All-purpose, everyday envelopes that you may use to mail your bills will not stand up to long-term storage. They may become yellow and brittle, and the gum may seep through the paper and become discolored.

Using envelopes with a high rag (cotton or linen) content is the best way to ensure that your treasured covers will be around to enjoy for many years.

Your address, or the address of someone to whom you wish to send the cover, must be on the face of the envelope in the lower right-hand corner. Place the address as low on the envelope as possible so that it will not interfere with the cancel.

Peelable labels are another option. These are available from stationery, computer-supply or office-supply stores. Again, use high quality labels, and be sure to remove them carefully as soon as your covers are returned. This will prevent damage or discoloration from the adhesive.

If you prefer to leave your address on the cover as proof of postal use, most collectors prefer that it be written lightly and neatly with a pencil. Some choose to type or print the address by computer, and some like an address written in pen.

A stiffener card should be placed inside the envelopes to be serviced. This will prevent bending and help assure a crisper cancel. The stiffener is usually a light piece of cardboard about the thickness of a postcard. A piece of a file folder, a mailer or a stuffer card from a recent order from Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City, Mo., would suit the task quite nicely. Cut it to fit inside your cover. When your covers are returned, you may choose to remove the stiffeners. They can be used many times.

The final step in preparing the cover is to affix sufficient postage. Currently this is 34¢ for envelopes. If you prefer to use a postcard, the correct postage is 21¢.

When sending covers for a special cancellation, always be sure to include a small note of instructions specifying exactly what it is that you want. Enclose everything in a larger envelope addressed to the postmaster of the cancellation city or to the postal clerk of the canceling ship.

It is also a good idea to include a larger stamped, addressed envelope for return of your covers. Some post offices are refusing to return serviced covers through the mailstream without protective cover.

For first-day covers, the United States Postal Service announces the rules and addresses for submitting covers usually well in advance of the first day. These requirements are published in the pages of Linn's.

The cover shown in Figure 5 bears a first-day cancel from the San Diego Zoo. The cover is franked with the 32¢ Brown Pelican stamp from the 1996 Endangered Species pane of stamps.

Read the published directions carefully. In general, the first-day postmark will be applied for 30 days beyond the date of issue. This is sufficient time for most collectors to purchase the stamps locally and send their covers in for servicing.

It is important not to delay, however, because some commemorative issues are not available at some post offices. You may have to travel to a larger post office or order them from Kansas City to obtain them. In the event of a short advance notice or production problems, the USPS will occasionally extend the deadline to 45 days, but this is the exception.

The Postal Service will affix stamps to first-day covers, but it gives preference to covers upon which the customer has already affixed the stamps.

Figure 6 shows a cover that received a machine cancel and sprayed-on markings after being specially canceled. Any number of problems can occur in processing — damage, smeared cancels, double cancels — so it's a good idea to have a backup. Besides, duplicate covers make great trading material.