The Advent of Rubber-Faced Handstamps

by Roger D. Curran

In 1876, the New York Post Office introduced a set of handstamps that duplexed circular date stamps to ellipse cancelers. Thus began a trend in the U.S. that was to spread to all big city post offices and to many smaller ones as well. These handstamps were metal-faced, typically steel. They produced what are frequently referred to by collectors as “standardized” cancels because they all involved the same general design. Virtually all were struck in black ink. Large post offices favored these handstamps because they held up well under heavy use.
In this same year a countervailing trend emerged that was also to have major impact – the use of rubber-faced handstamps. These appealed to small town postmasters because they were inexpensive. Cancels from such handstamps have, of course, been popular with collectors due to myriad and often highly intricate designs that were created and to the fact that they were frequently struck in colored inks. The reason, incidentally, why colored inks were used is because black printer’s ink could not be used satisfactorily with rubber stamps. Colored inks, however, were also problematic in that, generally speaking, they could be easily removed from the stamps they canceled. The U.S. Post Office Department in 1878 specifically forbade the use of colored canceling inks unless their indelibility was equal to that of black printer’s ink.
I have been interested in early uses of rubber-faced handstamps and how they evolved. The late Arthur Bond, a noted student of 19th century U.S. postal markings, wrote that “the first practical mold and vulcanizing equipment for rubber stamps was invented by J.F W. Dorman, of Baltimore in about 1870.” 1 However, he went on to state that “Very few postal markings from rubber stamps are found before 1877, but in that year a great many made their appearance in a wide variety of forms, frequently including the county name, and occasionally the name of the postmaster. Obviously, such stamps were purchased by the postmasters.”2
It is not necessarily an easy task to determine whether a particular marking was struck from a rubber stamp. Often, it becomes a matter of judgement with no conclusive proof available. Here are some factors I take into consideration:

  1. Since most early rubber cancelers are duplexed, I look for any indication that one or more letters in the CDS have spread out under pressure; in other words, letters that are in some way larger than others which would indicate a pliable canceler face. This also applies to the CDS outer rim. If a rubber-faced handstamp was struck at an angle, the portion of the rim receiving more pressure will likely appear thicker than the rest of the rim.
  2. The presence of colored canceling ink is an important factor. Included also are inks that are greyish with a slight watery (for want of a better word) quality and sometimes a suggestion of color. These inks arose in the early 1880s.
  3. CDS letters with serifs are more common in rubber-faced handstamps than in metal-faced, especially so beginning in the 1880s. Also, any ornamentation in the CDS is much more common with rubber.
  4. Strikes from rubber stamps don’t show indentations on the cover from the CDS letters and numerals. Slight indentations are sometimes seen with metal strikes. In questionable cases I slide a finger over the CDS to judge whether a perceptible indentation is there.
  5. In the earliest rubber years, 1876 and 1877, the typical canceling ink colors, in my experience, are purple and magenta.

    Several covers are discussed herewith. The earliest strike I have seen from a rubber-faced handstamp is the February 8, 1876 example from Normal, Illinois shown in Figure 1. Comparing the CDS and cancel strikes in Figure 1 with those on the Figure 2 cover, it appears a duplex handstamp was used with more pressure applied to the circle of wedges strike in Figure 2. Please note the double circles in the two CDSs which I believe represent a further indicator of having been struck from rubber stamps.
Figure 1
Figure 2

The card in Figure 3 postmarked at Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, is datelined “March 30th 1876” on the reverse. I think the simplex town postmark was struck by a rubber stamp because of the magenta ink color and the shape of the “Charleston County” letters. Also, the oblong shape ofthe CDS is much more characteristic of rubber stamps.

Figure 3

I believe the card in Figure 4, struck in an unusual blue ink, is postmarked Mantorville, Minnesota. The date is April 7,1876. The CDS letters have serifs and no indentations were detected. Also, the second “N” in “MINN.” is larger than the first “N”. I think the CDS is from a rubber stamp but have no opinion about the negative star cancel.

Figure 4

The canceling ink on the card in Figure 5 is a darker purple than the norm but may well be of the same general composition. However, there are indentations in the card from the “ALBIA” letters indicating that the CDS was struck from a metal device. The cancel may have been produced by a quartered cork placed in a ring holder.

Figure 5

The cover in Figure 6, with markings surely struck from a rubber stamp, is interesting in a couple of respects. The cancel is an “OK” in a thin circle which makes it a very early “fancy cancel” from a rubber stamp. Second, there was no “City of Sherman” post office, at least as a Post Office Department listed post office, but there is a “Sherman” in Grayson Co., Texas which is an operating post office established in 1847.

Figure 6

Figure 7 shows a card bearing an El Paso, Illinois postmark dated August 4. The card is datelined 1876 on the reverse. Magenta ink was used for postmark and cancel. The “4” in “AUG/4” is indented but none of the “El PASO ILL” letters show an indentation. The “A” and perhaps the “G” in “AUG/4” show slight indentation. This raises a question. Were the date slugs placed in the handstamp in such a way that they were raised a bit from the handstamp surface and, if so, were they made from rubber hard enough to create the indentations? If indentations existed from the PASO ILL non slug letters, we could reasonably say that the handstamp was metal faced but, in this case it’s a little more complicated.
Comment is invited. Figure 8 illustrates a cover postmarked E. Nodaway, Adams Co., Iowa dated November 30, 1876. East Nodaway is a DPO that operated from 1867-1892. Thanks to John Donnes who determined there was a faint crossed lines manuscript cancel on the 3c stamp. Given the double-lined outer circle ofthe CDS and the magenta ink, I believe it can be said with confidence that a rubber stamp was used.

Figure 7
Figure 8

The cover in Figure 9 was postmarked Cynthiana, Kentucky on January 1, 1877. If the concentric circles canceler was duplexed, it was not aligned with the center ofthe Cynthiana CDS. The rectangular “PAID” marking, applied by the Hinsdale County Bank in Lake City, Colorado, appears in a magenta ink very similar to those ofthe Cynthiana markings. Both Kentucky and Colorado markings were surely applied by rubber stamps.

Figure 9

Figure 10 illustrates a cover postmarked at Hermitage, Missouri. The negative star cancel does not appear to have been struck from a duplexed canceler. I believe both markings came from rubber stamps. First is the purple ink. The presence of serif letters is also an indicator for the CDS. The overall manufactured look and thin circle are also factors for the cancel.

Figure 10

Readers are encouraged to send scans of additional covers mailed in the 1876 and early 1877 that bear or appear to bear rubber stamp markings. Commentary on any aspect of the above will also be welcomed.
Thanks are extended to Ardy Callender who reviewed the article in draft and contributed important information. ■

  1. Bond, Arthur H., “19th Century Development of Postal Markings” as presented in The Postal History of Indiana by J. David Baker, published
    by Leonard H. Hartmann, Philatelic Bibliopole, Louisville, (1976), pg.372
  2. ibid.

New York City’s Four-Ring Target Cancellation

By Ardy Callender

Figure 1

In the years prior to 1860, the New York City post office (NYPO), as well as most post offices in the United States, had been canceling domestic mail almost exclusively by date stamp. This method proved unsatisfactory as the date stamp did not adequately cancel the adhesive and was often illegible. The U.S. Post Office Department (USPOD) grew increasingly concerned over the reuse of lightly canceled stamps and on July 23, 1860 Postmaster-General Joseph Holt issued a supplemental regulation prohibiting the use of date or “rate” stamps to cancel adhesives.

Figure 2

General John A. Dix, the New York City postmaster at the time, recognized the new regulation would double the amount of time and work necessary to process the mail. Early the following month, Dix came up with the idea of combining the date stamp with the obliterator to make a single instrument that could accomplish both tasks in one stroke. Dix contacted his hand stamp maker, Edmund Hoole, to produce a “duplex” handstamp by attaching a “blotter” to the side of a regular handstamp. Hoole provided a number of devices which were first used in NYPO’s domestic department on August 8, 1860, as seen in Figure 1. For a few weeks after the introduction of the new duplex, un-duplexed cancellations continued to be used including adhesives cancelled solely by the date stamp (Figure 2) and a mix of un-duplexed date stamps with various types of grids (Figure 3).

Figure 3

The date stamp portion of the new duplex consisted of the “old design” large 33mm circular date stamp previously employed by the department throughout the 1850s. The “blotter” or cancelling element was a small seven-bar grid which varied in size and shape — the outline of the grids ranged from round to more elliptical. Although sometimes lacking, most devices included the year date within the date stamp. It is reasonable to assume the “blotter” element was composed of some type of metal — as a durable, long-lasting obliterator was required for the large volume of mail handled by the NYPO.

Figure 4

The latest known use of New York’s first duplex as recorded by the author is shown here as Figure 4. The cover is franked by a 3¢ rose pink variety of the 1861-1866 Regular Issue. Dated October 25, the date stamp and oval shaped obliterator tie the stamp at the bottom. Although the date stamp is not year-dated, a year of 1861 can be established as a cover mailed a year earlier in October, 1860 would be franked with a 3¢ 1857-1861 Issue adhesive and as to be discussed below, a totally different duplex device was employed in October, 1862. Both pink and rose-pink varieties occur primarily in the mid-1861 period as well as the rose and dull red stamps which later became the workhorse of the 1861-1866 Issue.

Figure 5

In late 1861, a new design of duplex was introduced in the NYPO domestic department. It consisted of a four-ring target duplexed to a 25 mm double ring date stamp, seen in Figure 5. The device was probably manufactured by Edmund Hoole as he held the USPOD contract at the time (1859-1863) for providing postmarking devices to first class U.S. cities eligible for governmental postmarks. The target “killer” became one of the most common cancellations used by other cities into the 1880s.

Figure 6

New York City appears to have been the first to duplex the target with the date stamp. Earlier in the 1860s, smaller post offices had began utilizing targets as obliterators. These targets however were not duplexed with date stamps but were simplex devices. The simplex example shown here as Figure 6 exhibits wide spacing between the target and the date stamp indicating two devices were employed. Dated February 14, 1861, the reduced Nesbitt postal entire was sent from Ripon, Wisconsin. The date stamp is of the old 32mm style used during the 1850s. The target is larger than NYPO’s marking and possesses five rings instead of New York’s four.

Figure 7

The target duplex was in use by NYPO’s domestic department for approximately a year. Originally, the date stamp included simply month and day annotations. However, sometime in June 1862 a year date was added, centered at the bottom between the two rings. Accordingly, covers dated prior to June 1862 are difficult to date unless docketed or containing correspondence.

The earliest example of a New York target duplex recorded by the author is October 26, 1861, shown in Figure 7. Although the postmark is not year dated, the cover is docketed at the upper left in 1861. Often the inner ring of the date stamp appears missing or absent but is a result of a being poorly struck. The cover in Figure 7 appears to be missing the inner ring but a small portion is visible above the “Oct” date slug. The cover’s docket states “Williams & Hoag, Rect Sep 21st 1861.” It is unclear why the docket is dated some five weeks prior to the date stamp although it may be a reference to previous business correspondence.

Figure 8

Like New York City’s 33mm with attached “blotter” device, the target duplex was fashioned out of metal (iron or brass). One of the issues with metal devices was that ink does not adhere adequately to the metal, resulting in light or weak strikes. For this reason, New York’s target duplexes were abandoned in late October 1862. The latest example recorded by the author is October 11, 1862, seen in Figure 8. The 3¢ 1861-1866 Regular Issue adhesive was applied sideways and tied by both the 4-ring target and date stamp.

The cancellation which replaced the target duplex was discussed in a previous NEWS article by the author in 2016.1 The onset of the Civil War produced a shortage of hard money (coins), and on July 17, 1862, President Lincoln signed a Bill which the public believed monetized postage stamps — stamps were now currency. The result was a great effort by many people to wash and reuse stamps with light cancellations. On October 9, 1862, Abraham Wakeman, the postmaster of New York at the time, responded with a new cancellation that actually cut into the surface (and sometime the contents of letters) of the adhesive. Known as “cutters”, these devices were employed for about a month, and later replaced with a duplex device with a cork or boxwood canceling element — the earliest recorded by the author is October 27, 1862. Cork and boxwood obliterators absorbed more ink and did a better job “killing” the adhesives and preventing reuse of the stamps.

Anyone with earlier examples of target duplexes from any post office (prior to October 26, 1861) is asked to contact the author through the USCC NEWS editor.


  1. Callender, Ardy, “An Examination of the New York City ‘Cutter’ Cancellations and a New Find,” U.S. Cancellation Club NEWS, Whole No. 300 (August 2016), pp. 41-51.

Another Postmaster’s Initials Cancel

Another Postmaster’s Initials Cancel: ‘AHB’ in a Circle from Lostant, IL. 1898

by Joe H Crosby

In my seemingly never-ending search for the true meaning of multiple-letter 19th Century cancellations, I am finding that after not getting any answers from Postmaster Finder on line, local historical societies, archives and libraries are the next best source of information about the names of local postmasters.

I recently acquired the cover illustrated in Figure 1 which has a neat bold strike in black of the letters “AHB” in an 18 mm circle on a two cent Trans-Mississippi Commemorative mailed at Lostant, Ill. Nov. 30, 1898. The Postmaster Finder for that post office only starts in 1935 with the notice that “Research on this Post Office Has Not Yet Been Completed.”

figure 1

Not being known for my patience, I contacted the Streatorland Historical Museum in nearby Streator, there being no Lostant Historical Society listed. They informed me that a postmaster in the 1890’s in Lostant with the initials “AHB” was Alfred H. Bell. Voila ! !

Now what else can we learn about our new friend Alfred? A Google search for that name in Lostant, IL produced a nice long listing in the Biographical and Genealogical Record of La Salle County, lllinois1. The first paragraph reads:

“Alfred H. Bell, the genial and popular postmaster of Lostant, La Salle County, is one of the progressive merchants of this thriving town. He has occupied a number of local offices of trust and honor, to the entire satisfaction of everyone, and enjoys an enviable reputation for square dealing and public spirit.”

After giving his family history and his moving to Lostant in 1894, it further reported:

“In 1897 Mr. Bell was appointed the postmaster of Lostant, and entered upon his duties in December of that year. He takes great pains to meet the wishes of his fellow citizens, and is highly commended for his promptness and general efficiency.”

The Official Register shows A.H. Bell’s annual compensation up to July 1, 1899 was $652.472 indicating that his post office was rather busy for a town the size of Lostant3.

Now we need reports of other dates of use for this cancel to determine its period of use. It is quite likely that this marking is really what Cole listed as ML 100, illustrated as “ANB” rather than “AHB”, and known on 1890 Issues4.
Alfred H. Bell is still listed as Postmaster at Lostant as of July 1,1911. By then his brother George was his Assistant, with two Clerks and two Rural Free Delivery Carriers5. ■


  1. Published by Lewis Publishing Company (no date)
  2. Official Register of the United States, Vol. 2, July 1, 1899, (GPO, Washington).
  3. U.S. Census 1890, Lostant Village, Ill. pop. 378; U.S. Census 1900, Lostant Village, pop. 480—from Census Bulletin Number
    21, December 18, 1900, p. 13.
  4. Cole, James B. Cancellations and Killers ofthe Banknote Era, 1870-1894, U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, Inc., 1995.
  5. Official Register ofthe United States, Vol 2, July 1, 1911 (GPO, Washington)

Editors Note:

Alfred Henry Bell was born on November 13, 1857 in central Illinois. According to the register of Appointments of U.S. Postmasters 1832-1971, Bell was appointed Lostant’s postmaster on November 11, 1897 and held that office until October 17, 1914.

In 1894, the town opened its first bank, the Farmer’s State Bank at 206 S. Main Street. In 1912, the bank expanded into the other half of the property then operated as the post office, and remodelled that building (which still stands today). So, for most of the time Bell was postmaster, the post office was at that address.

In the 1900 Federal Census, despite being the official postmaster, Bell gave his profession as grain buyer. At that time, he was living with his widowed mother and his younger siblings George and Cora, who gave their occupations as post office clerks.

Bell helped establish the Masonic Lodge in Lostant in 1903 and he served as Worshipful Master there in 1906 and 1907.

In 1905, he married Estella, the town music teacher and daughter of the proprietor of A.L. Hillman Groceries which was situated on the corner of Marshall and Third Streets (building since demolished). They had only one child, Amanda, born in January 1909.

In the 1910 Federal Census, Bell gives his occupation as postmaster. His brother George resides next door (and does so for the rest of Alfred’s life) and is an attorney.

After the postmaster’s position was reassigned, Bell tried his hand at variously selling real estate and insurance in Lostant from his brother’s law office two doors north of the bank.

Alfred H Bell passed away in nearby Streator on May 10, 1945. He is buried with his wife at Hope Cemetery, Lostant.


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