Precancels of Canada

10/09/2012     Canada

A device for saving time and money, precancelled postage stamps were only to be used at certain authorised offices where extensive mailings were made by chiefly business customers. A sheet of 100 stamps could be precancelled in about the same time it took to cancel a single stamp on an envelope - a 99% saving!

Precancels were never regularly adopted in Great Britain, but were extensively used by Canada and other postal authorities including the USA, Belgium and France.

It has been suggested that improvised precancels had been applied to stamps during the 1870’s however they were officially sanctioned in Canada from the late 1880’s, with very strict conditions on their usage attached (dire warning that all unauthorised precancels sold would be recovered in full from the Postmasters pocket!) The last Canadian precancels were applied to the 1977 Flower issue. A comprehensive collection of Canadian precancels therefore covers a defined period of just under 100 years.

The first precancels were applied to the sheet by means of rubber rollers - the early designs were parallel straight lines, interrupted lines, or a wavy line between two parallel lines. Many styles of these Bar precancels were produced – these rather basic 19th century types are very popular amongst collectors.

In 1903, in order to identify the point of mailing, ‘City type’ precancels (showing the name of the town and province) were introduced to replace those early Bar precancels, with 100 subject electroplates precancelling entire sheets in one operation. Electroplate ‘Bar only’ precancels were then re-introduced in 1922, and in the early 1930's Numeral type precancels replaced City types altogether, with different numbers indentifying towns and cities.

Precancels were never used for first class mail, just on 2nd, 3rd and 4th class - printed matter, newspapers & periodicals, and parcels. One specific issue "For Third Class Matter Only" can be found on KEVII stamps.

Little is known about the users of precancels as few records exist, certainly it was not unusual for a small PO located close to a large business to request precancelled sheets just for that business; a simple cover with a company logo and a precancelled stamp can in fact be an important discovery, tying both together!

Precancels offer a fascinating area of expansion for the serious Canadian collection, or an engrossing specialist subject in itself!

Stamp Talk!

Get our stamp articles and auction news direct to your inbox!