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Machine Cancels Played an Historic Role

by Marjory Sente

I recently acquired a cover collection with numerous varieties of machine cancels, so I have been thinking quite a bit about them lately. Other first-day cover collectors might find it worthwhile to do so as well.

Machine cancels have a rich and interesting history. In his introduction to A Collector's Guide to U.S. Machine Postmarks 1871-1925, Russell F. Hanmer writes that it is 'a very large, complex, and sometimes obscure subject, the impressions in ink called postmarks and made by machines.' Many first-day cover collectors like to think that the machine cancel story for FDCs begins with the introduction of the slogan 'First Day Of Issue' machine cancel for the Ordinance of 1787 commemorative issued at New York City, and Marietta, Ohio, July 13, 1937. Think again.

Machine cancels have been an important part of the FDC story since their introduction in the 1870s. Frequently, FDC catalogs will describe a cover as having a machine cancel, but the description seldom says whether it is a flag, Barry or Doremus machine cancel, for example. Let's look at a selection of the great early FDCs with machine cancellations. American machine cancels were used in Boston on Jan. 2, 1893, to cancel a number of the 1893 Columbian commemoratives. These rare FDCs are from the famous Mobery correspondence. The straightline cancels soon gave way to the pervasive and popular flag cancels.

As Figure 1 shows, flag machine cancels produced by the American Post Machines Co. appeared on the 1898 Trans-Mississippi FDCs posted at Washington D.C. and mailed to Germany ? great and rare examples of early FDCs to a foreign destination. But how many collectors realize these are likely the first FDCs with flag machine cancels? One of these FDCs would greatly enhance many a flag cancel collection. Actually a flag cancellation is on the June 16, 1898 2¢ FDC posted at Camden, N.J. Collecting flag cancellations is no small endeavor, with thousands of collectable types available. And don't forget about the June 16, Harrisburg FDC sporting a Barry machine cancel or the Washington, D.C. Barr-Fyke machine cancel with a 1¢ Trans-Mississippi canceled on June 17. Flag cancellations are recorded on other FDCs, with one of my favorites appearing on the April 30, 1904, New Bedford, Mass. cover for the 5¢ Louisiana Purchase commemorative. A Boston flag cancel is recorded on an FDC for the 2¢ value of the issue. The Barry Postal Supply Co. of Oswego, New York introduced Barry machine cancels in 1895. Although it was in business only 15 years, it became a major player in the production and distribution of machine cancels. Barry machine cancels were used at 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. The Barry Co. produced the first slogan cancels for the exposition, as well as producing a special flag cancellation. The Barry triangle exposition slogan cancel appears on numerous FDCs from Buffalo. The much more familiar oval Barry cancel is known from Albany. And a Barry is recorded from Denver as well. Both of these covers are franked with a single 2¢ Pan-American. Alan Berkun's census of the 1901 Pan-American FDCs appears in the June 1999 issue of First Days, the official journal of the American First Day Cover Society. Berkun has identified a number of the types of machines on these FDCs. Since their introduction in 1901, slogan cancels appearing on FDCs have become popular among collectors.

Figure 2 shows one of the most popular FDCs with a machine cancel ? the well-known example appearing on FDCs for the White Plains commemorative and souvenir sheet, issued Oct. 18, 1926. They were released in conjunction with the International Philatelic Exhibition in New York, and the machine cancel was used at the exhibition's postal station. This FDC was sent to a collector in New Orleans. By the time the official slogan first day cancel appeared in 1937, slogan cancels were used regularly on FDCs. The new cancellation, however, ushered in another era in First Day Cover collecting. We will review the highlights of the last 60 years in a future column.