US Stamps

Can a postmark be placed on basically anything?

Aug 14, 2023, 7 AM
An uncacheted example of the Chief Standing Bear stamp with the pictorial first-day-of-issue postmark. At ceremonies, postal employees tend to cave to requests to add the bull’s-eye cancel (not shown here) without another stamp.

Philatelic Foreword by Jay Bigalke

At first-day ceremonies, the rules for postmarking are sometimes loosely followed, even though a printed sheet of rules is included with the postmark devices.

There is one key item to point out: Basically, any items can be postmarked “as long as they bear unused postage stamps at the applicable First–Class Mail rate,” according to the United States Postal Service’s Handbook PO-230 on pictorial postmarks, which applies to first-day postmarks.

So imagine the surprise of collectors at the June 13 Waterfalls stamps ceremony at Yellowstone National Park when the person applying the cancels would even cancel items without a stamp, according to multiple reports to Linn’s from people in attendance. And even when told about the rules, the person defiantly continued to do so.

Luckily this isn’t the norm. The box sent to a first-day city includes four canceling devices: two each of the pictorial design and two each of the lesser-used bull’s-eye for canceling additional stamps or if the pictorial design doesn’t fit onto what is being canceled.

Here is what happens sometimes after a ceremony attendee buys the USPS uncacheted cover already postmarked with the pictorial first-day-of-issue cancel, such as the Chief Standing Bear example shown nearby. The novice attendee typically walks these already-postmarked covers to the cancellation table and asks for the bull’s-eye cancel. It can be applied with another stamp added. But if the clerks don’t read the rules, they place the cancel on the envelope or the ceremony program without an additional stamp.

While this happening isn’t the end of the world, knowledge about it helps the future FDC collector who stumbles across one of these determine what took place to get such a souvenir.

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