US Stamps

By Charles Snee

Assembling a nice collection of covers with handstamp postmarks can be fun

May 23, 2014 12:50 PM

  • Linn’s editor Charles Snee has been methodically assembling sets of covers bearing recent U.S. commemoratives that are canceled with postmarks applied by hand. This cover, postmarked Feb. 8, is franked with one of the Harry Potter booklet stamps.

I’ve never been a fan of the spray-on postmarks that the United States Postal Service uses to cancel almost all first-class mail.

More often than not, they are blurry and the slogan (if there is one) is difficult or impossible to read.

Much preferred are the old-fashioned handstamp postmarks that one can obtain at any post office counter.

Even in this electronic age, an attractive postmark applied by hand is not a thing of the past.

If you like putting pen to paper, as I do, why not consider building a little collection of covers with handstamp postmarks?

The method I use is simple and brings joy to both sender and recipient.

For the past couple of years, I’ve had much fun assembling on-cover sets of recent U.S. commemoratives by sending weekly letters to my mother in California.

Each letter is postmarked by hand at my local post office in Troy, Ohio, and my mother dutifully returns them to me when she writes back.

During the course of a year, I put together sets of covers using the Twentieth Century Poets, Earth-scapes and Modern Art In America stamps.

As an added bonus, the Earthscapes and Modern Art covers are franked with stamps from uncut press sheets without die cuts.

A new cycle of writing began not long after the Harry Potter stamps were issued.

Illustrated here is one of the Harry Potter covers that I mailed to my mother in California.

A clear Feb. 8 strike of a double-ring circular date-stamp from Troy, Ohio, neatly ties the Harry Potter stamp to the cover.

Several clerks at the Troy post office are well-acquainted with my hobby pursuits, and they let me postmark the letters before they are sent on their way.

They even set the letter aside for a few minutes, to allow the red ink to dry completely. That’s what I call customer service.

A couple of the other clerks aren’t quite as collector friendly, but I manage to get what I need from them, as long as the line behind me isn’t too long.

Once the letter is postmarked, it is supposed to enter the mailstream so that it will bypass the automated equipment at the large mail-processing center that applies the dreaded spray-on postmarks.

Unfortunately, this does not always occur.

A few of the covers returned to me by my mom have both handstamp and spray-on postmarks. The spray-on cancel was applied either in Dayton or in Cincinnati.

Thus far, just two covers have gone missing during the return trip from California to Ohio.

Aside from the collecting benefits, this exercise pays tribute to the time-honored practice of writing and sending letters.

Can you recall the last time you mailed a letter with a stamp, instead of hitting the “send” key?

Give it a try. The person on the receiving end will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Which reminds me — I still have four Harry Potter stamps to use.