Important Dates in Precancel History

1911, December 5 – Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock authorized the general use of precancels on Christmas parcels for the first time.

1912, August 24 – An act of congress approved creating the Parcel Post service. This resulted in a tremendous increase in the demand for postage stamps and a more efficient system of canceling these stamps.

1913, July 1 – Regular postage stamps were made valid for parcel post. Parcel post stamps were made valid for ANY postal duty. The Department instituted the policy of supplying precanceling equipment and cash allowances to cover the cost of precanceling to “authorized” postmasters. Bids were called for and supply contracts signed for both electrotype plates (used for precanceling large quantities of stamps) and 25-subject rubber handstamps, used where the demand for precancels was not great enough during a year to require printing.

1916 – In an effort to reduce the costs of printing precancels, the Post Office Department invited the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to bid on certain contracts. The Bureau was low bidder on only four of these contracts. The result was the Experimental Bureau Prints used at three offices.

1923, May 3 – The first of the “regular” Bureau print precancels was issued: the 1c sheet stamp made for New York, NY.

1924, April 26 – The third Assistant Postmaster General issued the first of a long series of notices prohibiting the precancelation of commemorative stamps, and the sale of precanceled stamps for collection purposes.

1924, August 7 – The third Assistant Postmaster General authorized the use of precanceled stamps on first-class matter under special conditions.

1925, February 28 – Postmaster General Harry S. New authorized the private precancelation (with mailer’s postmark) of Government stamped envelopes under Section 452 1/2, P. L. & R. (Act of February 20, 1925)

1925, March 9 – The third Assistant Postmaster General issued an order prohibiting the use of precanceled stamps on motion picture film cans, laundry cases, egg crates, etc, or other containers specially designed to be reused for mailing purposes. The result of the order was to curtail the use of high-denomination ($2 and $5) precancels.

1928, August 7 – The third Assistant Postmaster General advised postmasters that the Department would supply precanceled 1c stamped envelopes, either with or without printed return card, to meet the requirements of mailers under section 435 1/2, P. L. & R. (Act of May 29, 1928)

1929, January 12 – Co-ed Dressmakers of New York NY, applied for and received, a great number of permits for a direct-mail advertising campaign. In many cases this was the first permit for a given town, and new precanceling devices were authorized and supplied. All of these permits were dated January 12, 1929.

1929, January 18 – The third Assistant Postmaster General called the attention of postmasters to the fact that Bureau printed precancels were available under certain conditions.

1929 – During the last week of January, but especially during the first two weeks of February 1929 the Post Office Department made a questionnaire check of all post offices to determine which were using precancels. It was found that many smaller offices had merely ordered their handstamps from the Division of Equipment and Supplies without the formality of first obtaining authorization from the Division of Classification. In every justifiable case the erring postmasters were “legalized” by a belated authorization to use precanceling devices already in use. This “legalization” covered some devices going back to 1917 or earlier. Most of these “legalizations” occurred between February 1-11, 1929.

1930, January 21 – The third Assistant Postmaster General advised that government precanceled stamped envelopes furnished thereafter would be issued without gum on the flaps. This was due to the fact that bulk third class mail could not be sealed.

1930, May 29 – Postmaster General Walter F. Brown announced the amendment of Section 452 1/2 P. L. & R. (Act of May 9, 1930) to include government postal cards.

Summer 1932 – Alarmed by the steadily increasing costs of replacing worn and damaged 25-subject rubber handstamps (400, 500, & 600 Series Types), which were susceptible to warping and damage from many causes, the department decided to change from rubber to 25-subject hand-applied electroplates. Through the summer, more than 4100 offices then using precancels were supplied on an automatic basis with the new metal devices.

1934, July 1 – Complaints of having to “ink up the bathmat” in order to use the 25-subject hand electros, poor impressions, and rising costs of devices led the department to reduce the size of hand-applied electroplates to a 10-subject device. The “four impressions to a pane of 100 stamps” concept perished.

1934, September 25 – The third Assistant Postmaster General ordered all postmasters to cease precanceling postage due stamps.

1937, March 1 – The acting third Assistant Postmaster General ordered postmasters not to issue precancel permits to collectors, stamp clubs, stamp dealers, etc, unless they were actually bona fide patrons of the post office involved.

1938, March 9 – The third Assistant Postmaster General ordered that thereafter no postage stamps over the 6c denomination be precanceled.

1938, March 18 – The third Assistant Postmaster General cancelled his previous order of March 9, 1938.

1938, June 4 – Following this back-down in the face of tremendous pressure from a nationwide group of this country’s largest mailers, the third Assistant Postmaster General announced the “dating order”.

1938, June 24 – The third Assistant Postmaster General advised postmasters that permit holders may use rubber stamps for printing their initials and date on precanceled stamps, provided that type is of the same size as that used for the name of the post office and state, and that the printing is clear and bold. Indelible black ink was required.

1938, July 1 – Changes were made immediately in the specifications for the manufacture of precancel plates and handstamps. All devices ordered and shipped to postmasters after this day were of the new narrow-spaced style, with the exception of Bureau printed precancels.

1940, August 12 – After two years of dated precancels the third Assistant Postmaster General found “gross negligence” in dating precancels. He complained of such specific irregularities as: Illegible overprinting; Other than black ink being used; No initials shown; Overprinting was placed in a “hit-or-miss” manner, etc.

1940, October 15 – The Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced that in the future the line spacing of all Bureau printed precancels would be cut approximately 3 mm., as requested by the Post Office Department.

1941, March 1 – The first narrow-spaced Bureau printed precancels were finally shipped.

1943, December – Blue and Amber precanceled envelopes were discontinued permanently due to war time savings.

1958, June – In a continuing effort to cut costs, the department accepted a low bid from a vinyl-rubber handstamp manufacturer for 10-subject devices. Even while the contract for 10-subject hand electrotype was still in force, orders were being issued for delivery on or after July 1 of the new devices.

1959, June – July, 1961 – The Big Blackout. No new device authorization lists were issued by the Post Office Department for over two years, causing consternation among precancel collectors.

1963, July 1 – The Zip Code was introduced, but did not apply to precanceling devices. Those showing the numbers were of purely local origin and not government issued.

1964, October – January 1965 – The Small Blackout. Due to a misunderstanding between headquarters and the area postal supply centers about supplying lists of devices ordered to central authority in Washington.

1965, January 1 – The United States Envelope Company obtains the contract to manufacture United States stamped envelopes. They developed new machinery and convinced the postal authorities that the precancellation which shows the name of each town from which envelopes were used was no longer needed. The design for the non-profit rate envelope included a general “precancel” design in the basic embossed stamp, as well as “AUTH. NONPROFIT ORG.” below. As a result, the fun of watching for new envelope varieties from various towns was over.

1965, Late April – The new Two-Letter unpunctuated state abbreviations were introduced.

1967, July 27 – Part 142 of the Postal Manual (“Precanceled Stamps”) was revised to permit the sale of precancels to collectors by postmasters under certain conditions.

1968, July and August – The Hiatus. No approved contracts for the manufacture of electroplates or vinyl rubber handstamps were available for these two months. Orders, shipments, and lists were resumed September 1968. Area supply centers had been reduced to two: Wichita, KS and Somerville, NJ.

1971, July 1 – The United States Postal Service, a government corporation rather than an executive department of the federal government, took over all operations of the United States Post Office Department.

1978, September 21 – The Postal Bulletin announces the switch to “Lines Only” bureau precancels. This is probably also the effective date for the end of electroplates as a supply item. Generic, lines only bureaus could meet the need in any town. The Postal Bulletin mentions handstamps as a source of small quantities; no mention is made of electroplates.

1997 April – July 1998 – Another Blackout. Due to a change in contractors, no information is made available on new devices.

2007, July 5 – The USPS discontinues use of local precancels, and orders the destruction of all precancel devices.  Devices can still be found in a few mostly smaller post offices despite this order.