Auxiliary markings an endless fascination

Sep 29, 2003, 10 AM

By Robert C. Danzer

During the past 75 years, I have formed and sold many collections of stamps and covers, but no aspect of cover collecting fascinates me more than auxiliary markings.

Auxiliary markings are postal informational or directional markings, other than the postmark and cancellation, applied to a cover, usually by handstamp.

Among the more common auxiliary markings are the familiar "Return to Sender" enclosed in a pointing hand that comes in dozens of different shapes and sizes, and the wide variety of "Postage Due" markings.

These common markings aside, the incredible range of auxiliary markings is truly fascinating, even just on covers that passed through the United States mail system.

Take the sad-looking cover mailed Dec. 17, 1954, from Midland Park, N.J., shown in Figure 1. The handstamped marking "TRAIN RAN OVER POUCH," says it all.

What amazes me is that this happened often enough that a handstamp was needed.

The cover shown in Figure 2 was mailed March 4, 1917, from Providence, R.I.

Handwritten notations at the left side of the envelope record four different unsuccessful attempts to deliver it.

The postman's frustration is explained by two strikes of a "Please have box erected or slot cut in door." auxiliary marking.

The markings discussed so far are just the tip of the iceberg. For example, the auxiliary markings "UNMAILABLE," "FRAUDULENT," "DETAINED ALIEN ENEMY" and "FICTITIOUS" were used on mailings containing matter that was not legal to mail in the United States, such as lotteries or threats against the government.

The cover mailed from Boston, Mass., Nov. 5, 1937, shown in Figure 3, bears a "FRAUDULENT" marking.

Many auxiliary markings relate to delayed mail, for example, a "DEMORADO POR MAL TIEMPO" (delayed by bad weather) marking on a Cuban cover (not shown).

One of my favorites is on the cover shown in Figure 4, postmarked Oct. 4, 1899, on the Bangor & Boston RPO: "Failed of delivery on account of expiration of the Carrier's time."

I just wish that I knew what, exactly, it was supposed to mean.

The rare general delivery cover shown in Figure 5 bears three auxiliary markings: "ADVERTISED," "UNCALLED FOR" and "MINOR LETTER DEAD LETTER OFFICE."

"Advertised" means that the letter was advertised in the local newspaper as having been received. "Uncalled for" means that, even after it was advertised, no one came to pick it up.

Because there was no return address, the 1888 cover went to the dead letter office, where it was opened in hope of finding the sender's name and address.

The address was provided by a check inside, from George Coleman of Danville, Va., and the cover was returned to the postmaster of Danville.

The part of the marking that I don't understand is what the "minor letter" part of the dead letter office marking means.

Markings reading "Forwarded," "Missent," "Misdirected," "Removed," "Unknown," "No Such Office in State," "Cannot Be Found" and "Out of Business" all offer explanations of what happened to a mailpiece while it was in the mailstream to delay or prevent its being delivered.

The cover postmarked New York, N.Y., May 2, 1960, shown in Figure 6, was sent to a commercial concern in Patterson, N.J.

The cover was returned to sender because, as the auxiliary marking succinctly states, the firm had gone "OUT OF BUSINESS."

There are thousands of different ship route markings, paquebot markings and ship and steamboat markings.

Some examples are "Too Late, Ship Sailed," "Not on Board" and "Navigation Napolitana Geneva" surrounding a picture of a sailing ship.

A paquebot cover mailed aboard the SS Lauenburg in 1902 is shown in Figure 7. The cover, sent to France, was marked "Paquebot" when the ship came into port at New York City, signifying that the mail was received from a ship and that its Haitian postage stamp was valid.

The first marking for registered mail in the United States was a large, blue letter "R" used in 1846 before the first general issue United States postage stamps were issued in 1847.

Before regular airmail service was established, an "AERIAL SPECIAL DISPATCH" handstamp was applied to mail carried on some early U.S. airmail flights.

Letters marked airmail but that were underpaid for that service might receive a "Short Paid" or "Via Surface Means" handstamp.

The circa 1950 airmail cover shown in Figure 8 was mailed from Baghdad, Iraq, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It is marked with a handstamp that reads "By Air up to" with a line to be filled in where someone, presumably a postal clerk, has written in "Cairo."

Evidently the letter went via Cairo, Egypt, and airmail service wasn't available between Cairo and Addis Ababa or such service wasn't prepaid when the letter was mailed.

We are far from exhausting the possibilities of showing amazing, amusing and informative auxiliary markings.

Collector Robert Danzer lives in California.