What were the cancelling devices made of?
The generic use of the term "corks" is something of a misnomer, and the suggestion that these cancelling devices were made from the stoppers of bottles "from which the spirits had fled" is also somewhat misleading, and possibly a slander on the abstemious postmasters of the new Dominion. The fact is, there were commercial enterprises advertising to postal officials, both in Canada and across the border in the United States, sheets of cork for sale for use in the manufacture of home made cancelling devices. It is equally true that there were also other commercial enterprises offering to sell ready made cancelling devices to these same group of people.
So, while there is no doubt that many of the home made cancelling devices used were made by postmasters from cork, equally devices used could be from rubber, wood, metal, or even from what came readily to hand.
Why did postal workers make their own cancelling devices?
Why was it necessary for these post office workers to do their own thing in the first place? There were three interconnecting reasons. First, the postal regulations of the time, second, the rapid expansion of postal services and the opening of new post offices to service that expansion, and third, the inability of the Post Office Department to supply killers needed to meet the requirements of the regulations because of that rapid expansion. Why did the heyday last about twenty-five years - or thereabouts? Because in 1894 the postal regulations that had a direct bearing on the cancellation of postage stamps changed.
The regulations concerning the postmarking of envelopes at the time of Confederation may be summarised as follows: The item was to be postmarked in the lower left corner with the date and name of the forwarding office; if the office had not been issued with a suitable date stamp it was to be done in manuscript. Adhesive postage stamps were to be obliterated with a killer, not the date stamp. If no such killer had been issued to the office, the postage stamp was to be cancelled with a pen and ink cross, or by a suitable killer provided by the postmaster. The office of destination had to record its arrival with its date stamp, or in manuscript.
The reason postage stamps were not to be cancelled using a date stamp is that if it were the only postal marking on the front of the cover, and the adhesive stamp was removed, the record of the item's time in transit was lost. This could leave the Postal Authorities open to a charge of undue delay, which they wanted to avoid.
What makes a fancy cancel fancy?
Or straight line markings which clearly could not have been whittled out of cork or wood?
My own view is "why not?" - but, like all things, what one decides to collect, or include in a collection is entirely a matter of personal choice.
As far as the generality are concerned, points to look out for are first, has the stamp evidence of another postmark underneath the fancy cancel? If so, be suspicious. Second, does the ink look right? Indian ink was not used in post offices to cancel stamps. Third, if it does, is it ink or watercolour? To test it is probably unwise to immerse the item in a bowl of water unless one actually owns it; if one does not it might be a bit tricky dealing with the vendor. Moisten the tip of one's little finger and gently rub over a small part of the cancel. If it starts to fade, return it to the owner with the suggestion that he/she immerses it in water for a while. Particularly if it is a cover!
Do not be over worried if you do occasionally buy an item that turns out to be dodgy, it is part of the learning process and the cost may be regarded as part of the fee!
Organizing your collection
Fancy cancels made by postal officials fall into several groups. The most prolific are simply cross cuts on a generally round background which were most likely made from cork and which includes cogwheels, sunbursts and arrowheads.
Third are leaves, particularly maple leaves, which is not surprising, and plants.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to yet another fascinating aspect of philately.
|Last updated on 29 December, 2013||
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