US Stamps

Precanceled 1969 Christmas stamp FDCs offer a challenge

Jan 27, 2023, 8 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Among the scarcest of modern United States first-day covers are examples of the precanceled versions of the 1969 6¢ Christmas stamp showing the painting Winter Sunday in Norway, Maine (Scott 1384).

The stamp was precanceled locally in four cities: Atlanta, Ga.; Baltimore, Md.; Memphis, Tenn., and New Haven, Conn. Figure 1 shows an example of each.

The objective of the Post Office Department’s experiment was to see whether the use of precanceled stamps could save mail-processing time and effort and thus speed up the mail at a lower cost.

Could the precanceling be done locally? Could the public be encouraged to bundle their Christmas cards in sufficient numbers to make a difference?

The answer to both questions was yes — at least enough to justify further experiments in subsequent years.

But the answers were not unqualified yeses. Local printing of the precancels resulted in a wide range of errors and varieties. And while many users followed the instructions for bundling their mail, more did not, and the great majority of precancel uses of these stamps have normal machine cancels.

The first day for the basic stamp was Nov. 3, 1969. The precancels were placed on sale the next day, Nov. 4, in the four cities designated to participate in the experiment. FDCs exist for all four but in very small numbers.

The last auction reference I have is a Regency-Superior catalog page, dated Aug. 11, 2013, that estimates the price for a set of the four FDCs at $400 to $600. In 2017, Regency-Superior went out of business, and I have not been able to find the actual price realized for the set of FDCS offered in 2013.

I have only two precancel first days: Baltimore and New Haven, both shown in Figure 2. The latter is shown courtesy of Linn’s reader Jerry Belber. I’m not expecting to add the others any time soon. But it is nice to know they exist.

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