US Stamps

By Charles Snee

Postally used U.S. commemoratives on cover are elusive

January 09, 2015 11:30 AM

  • A typical sprayed-on postmark. This one, applied in Oakland, Calif., is more legible than most.

  • It is still possible to find stamps postmarked with a metal die-hub machine cancel. But be prepared to search … and search. This example is from Chinook, Mont.

  • This O. Henry stamp is postmarked with a crisp, clear strike of a double-outline circular date­­stamp. Stamps with such postmarks are not easy to find.

Although the United States Postal Service continues to produce millions of commemorative stamps each year, they are increasingly hard to find postally used.

In the 2015 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers, the values for many recent commemoratives in used condition were moved up to reflect this reality.

For those who are looking for an added challenge, try assembling a collection of postally used commemoratives on cover.

Believe me, it will take quite a bit of searching, particularly if you wait for the mail to come to you, instead of creating the covers yourself.

One of the pleasant benefits of working for Amos Media, parent company of Linn’s, is having access to the subscription reply envelopes that arrive each week.

Pictured here are three different postmarked stamps, each cropped from an intact envelope.

Most of the stamps on the envelopes I examine are canceled with a sprayed-on postmark that invariably is difficult or impossible to read.

The Oakland, Calif., sprayed-on postmark on the Modern Art In America — John Marin stamp shown is about as legible as they come.

Harder to find are stamps postmarked with an old metal die-hub machine cancel. A nice example is the Chinook, Mont., postmark on the Modern Art In America — Marsden Hartley stamp.

Notice that the wavy-line killer of the Chinook postmark is much clearer than the Oakland killer. This makes the cancel more aesthetically pleasing.

For the most part, smaller cities and towns are the ones still using the metal-die cancellation machines.

But it’s only a matter of time before the sprayed-on postmarks take over completely.

Finally, if you enjoy searching for that proverbial needle in the haystack, seek out stamps with handstamp postmarks.

A particularly nice example is the O. Henry stamp, which bears a crisp, clear strike of a double-outline circular datestamp from Roslyn Heights, N.Y.

Of the thousands of envelopes I’ve sorted through during the past two years, only 46 were found with a handstamp postmark.

That number probably is higher than normal, because most of them likely were sent by stamp collectors.

Where to find envelopes to look through?

A good place to start is a local utility company, which might let you have its bill-payment envelopes after they’ve been processed.

You can also ask your family and friends to save envelopes that have stamps on them.

And don’t forget stamp shows. Odds are one or more dealers will have some modern postal history that you can search through.

Happy hunting.