A Selection Of Fancy Cancels


For me, Fancy Cancels are special. They are the result of the talents and handiwork of postal clerks who, in their spare time or off hours, created miniature masterpieces from bits of cork. Little did they know that their penknives and patience would produce imprints on letters that would be saved, swopped, auctioned, traded and sold many, many years after they created them.

I wax nostalgic as I try to envision the day-to-day activities of the Worcester Post Office during the latter part of the 19th century. I see a clerk, sitting on a stool at a counter. An oak file cabinet with several thin drawers holds his stamp inventory. Large wooden filing stacks, with dozens and dozens of pigeon holes are to his left and right. Behind him are metal racks which hold the outgoing mail sacks, ready to be tied and sent to Union Station to be tossed on the mail train. In front of him, on the well-worn, ink-stained counter, are a couple of brass-capped ink bottles, a few pens, spare nibs, ink pads, forms, notices, an oil lamp, a small balance scale and a wooden-handled cancellation device. In the drawer at his knee are a dozen or so plugs of cork and his penknife.

A customer comes in with a letter for Chelmsford. The clerk weighs it, applies the proper stamp, grabs his cancel and strikes it on his ink pad and the letter in rapid succession. Before tossing the letter in the proper sack, he notices that the cork "Starburst" that he carved a few days ago was beginning to show signs of wear. A few bits of cork had broken from the face of the killer. There are no customers waiting so he pulls another cork plug and knife from the drawer. What will it be today? A cogwheel? A six-point star? Maybe a couple of shaking hands.........Hmmm?


The first image below shows an early example of a Worcester Fancy Cancel. A 32 mm CDS compliments the Large Five-Point Star which ties the adhesive to the cover. Star Fancy Cancels were made in a number of different styles in Worcester. There were Large Stars, Small Stars, Negative Stars Inside A Circle and Negative Letters Inside Solid Stars, to name a few. Harry Brown, of Spencer, Massachusetts, began a series of articles in the now defunct Massacusetts Spy, the Bulletin of the former Massachusetts Postal Research Society. Harry was another inspiration in my study of Worcester Postal History and an enduring source of knowledge on Worcester and all things philatelic. This cover dates from the early 1850's. The Large Star is an example of the various kinds of Geometric Fancy Cancels that were applied in Worcester.


Worcester Large Five-Point Star Fancy Cancel

Worcester
Large Five-Point Star
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1855


The next image shows a Large Six-Point or Hebrew Star. In this example, the Geometric Fancy Cancel was struck to the left of the Balloon CDS because the adhesive was affixed in the upper left hand corner of the cover instead of the uppand corner. The Fancy Canel and the Balloon CDS were not attached to a common handle so applying the markings like this was not a problem for the postal clerk.


Worcester Hebrew Star Fancy Cancel

Worcester
Large Six-Point Hebrew Star
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1855


The next Fancy Cancel image is taken from a woman's dainty cover from 1868, as determined by an enclosure in the envelope. A 24.5 mm CDS ties the stamp to the cover. On the stamp is a bold strike of a well-worn "Old Man's Head" Fancy Cancel. This Stylized Fancy Cancel represents a range of cancels that were cut to represent physical items. Included in the list of Worcester Stylized Fancy Cancels are a Butterfly, various Leaves, a Civil War Cap, Shaking Hands and a Shield. Several of these are described in detail below and on other pages.


Worcester Man's Head Cancel

Worcester
Old Man's Head
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1868


The next Fancy Cancel image is of the well-known Worcester Shield. While this is an elusive cancel in any condition, this example is a very fine strike. What is more, it is very unusual in an inverted position! Was the clerk having a bad day? Was he making some political statement? Or did he just make an error in mounting the killer? I guess we will never know. Anyone have any thoughts? The Worcester Shield is part of a Duplex Cancel with a 27 mm CDS. This cover is from 1880, as noted by additional markings on the reverse.


Worcester Shield Fancy Cancel

Worcester
Shield
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1868


The next Fancy Cancel image is considered by me as the cancel that is Worcester's most famous Fancy Cancel. It is the Worcester Negative North-South Shaking Hands Cancel. It has been theorized that the design of the cancel represented an attempt to calm the ill feelings that existed between the North and the South almost 16 years after the end of the American Civil War.

A number of Civil War Illustrated Patriotic covers show variations on the theme of "Clasped Hands" and words such as "CONSTITUION" above them. Perhaps the postal clerk who carved this gem was inspired by one of these covers. Or maybe he even fought in the war!

Another theory traces the basis of the design of this cancel to the American Presidential campaign of 1868 which pitted Ulysses S Grant and Schuyler Colfax against Horatio Seymour and Francis P Blair, Jr. A similar design appeared on the spine of a book written by James D McCabe in 1868 which was a campaign biography of Seymour and Blair. To further this theory, a piece of music called "Seymour and Blair's Campaign March" had on its front page an illustration of two shaking hands with a wreath the word "UNION" below them.

The illustration shown represents the earliest use of this Fancy Cancel on December 6, 1880. The latest known use is February 15, 1881. This is truly a rare and desireable item.


Worcester Negative N-S Cancel

Worcester
Negative North-South
Shaking Hands
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1880


The next Fancy Cancel shown is an unusual and very rare variation of the Negative North-South Shaking Hands Cancel shown above. It is the Worcester Positive N-S Shaking Hands Cancel. This Fancy Cancel is found with Wesson Time-On-Bottom Circular Date Stamps. Wessons are described in detail on another of my pages.

The N-S Positive Fancy Cancel is somewhat of a mystery. It may even be a clever forgery! As noted, this Fancy is found with Wessons. All other Wesson Type-X Fancy Cancels have been struck from a piece of cork and are rough and crude in their features. The Positive N-S is very sharp. It looks like it may has been struck from a metal device. Also, the distance from the center of the CDS to the center of the cork killers on other Wessons is fairly constant because of the way the cancellation device was built. Other examples of the Positive N-S Fancy Cancel that I have seen do not show a consistent spacing. Once example shows the CDS overlapping the area of the edge of the Positive N-S outer ring if the ring had been fully struck. This, of course, would be impossible if both devices were mounted together properly on the base of the holder!! So what is the real story?

We will probably never know. One theory is that the postal clerk obtained a metal stamp of the Positive N-S device. It may or may not have been originally provided for postal use. Because it would not mount properly on the Wesson cancel holder, he had to apply the cancel in a two-step process. Accordingly, he did not insert a cork killer in the device but first struck the letter with only the Wesson CDS. He then inked and stamped the metal device next to the CDS to give the appearance of a proper Wesson strike. Double-stamping covers in this manner would account for the variation in spacing between the CDS and killer as noted above. If the Positive N-S cancels were applied in this manner then they should be considered genuine. However, there is another equally plausible explanation.

It is possible that some of the covers which were processed by the Worcester Post Office received only a Wesson CDS and not a cork killer. A clever forger could have acquired a couple of these covers, prepared a metal stamp of the Positive N-S Fancy Cancel, mixed a suitable ink and manufactured some instant rarities. The forgeries may have been done in the early part of this century or could even have been made in the 1880s. There are too many anomalies with this Fancy Cancel to rule out such a possibility. I invite anyone reading this page who owns an example of the Worcester Positive N-S Fancy Cancel to inspect it and draw your own conclusions. I would, of course, appreciate a color photocopy of any examples of this cancel and welcome anyone's opinion on the background of this interesting and strange marking.


Worcester Positive N-S Cancel

Worcester
Positive N-S (North-South)
Shaking Hands
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1881


The next example of a carver's art has been referred to as a "Stylized Butterfly" by other authors. Here it is on a colorful Telegraph cover.


Worcester Stylized Butterfly

Worcester
Stylized Butterfly
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1857


I refer to the next Fancy Cancel as the "Bishop Chess Piece" cancel. Notice also the CDS. This is an example of a scarce Worcester CDS with a date slug included as part of the marking.


Worcester Bishop Chess Piece

Worcester
Bishop Chess Piece
Fancy Cancel
Circa 1856


More examples of Worcester Fancy Cancels are found elsewhere on these pages. Please go back to the Main Menu and select an another link.


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