Obtaining a Commemorative Cancel

Are you looking for a free, unique way to honor a special event or anniversary in the US? Consider a pictorial postmark from the US Postal Service! Anyone or organization can apply to the post office for a cancel. Here’s how…

Officially they’re called, “Cancellations for Philatelic Purposes,” with details found in section 164 of the bible of US Postal Service (USPS) policy called the Domestic Mail Manual. The workers at your local post office should have the book available, but this section may have been taken out of their edition. If so, they can contact a larger post office or GMF to which they report for clarification.

It is your responsibility to design the cancel itself within USPS guidelines. They’re rather simple. A cancel must:

  • be no larger than 2 inches high by 4 inches wide in its final form

  • have the month, date and year it will be used somewhere in the design

  • contain the name of the event followed by the word “Station” or abbreviation “Sta.”

  • not have copyrighted logos, slogans or alike, unless permission has been granted for their use

  • in no way defame any individual, group or organization

  • not promote a political undertaking or candidate

  • not endorse a commercial product or venture (non-profits are OK!)

Keep the design simple, as a cluttered cancel will not display as much detail as you hope. Three copies of the final artwork design must be submitted to the post office nearest the event at least 10 weeks in advance, perferrably sooner. It’s also advisable to contact them in advance and make your intentions known! Once approved, the post office will make up the rubber cancellation device at their expense! The USPS also freely promotes the availability of the postmark (and of course, your event!) at not only local and regional post offices, but nationally through stamp newspapers across the country.

These cancels are used on the designated day at a temporary postal station the USPS will set up at your event. In exchange for the cancel, the post office requests that they be allowed to use a table or stand to sell the latest stamps and postal products. Obtaining the cancel is free, however it can only be applied to a post card, envelope, or postal card bearing the proper first class rate postage.

Here’s where it can get interesting! Although any envelope will do, sponsoring organizations or individuals are encouraged to create their own envelopes to be used with the postmark. Envelope design work is known to stamp collectors as the “cachet,” pronounced “cash-ay.” All you need to do is apply a stamp (one relating to the event works best) and get it canceled! Organizers can request in advance that an ink color other than black be used if desired.

Taking this idea a step further, most event sponsors get cacheted envelopes printed and either distribute them free of charge or sell them at a modest price as a fund-raising activity. Printing a box of 500 in one color ink runs around $30, and some groups might be able to get it done free as a donation. Finished creations sell at a price you set (normally $2-$4 each) and can be sold along side the post office table by the sponsoring organization.

Such envelopes usually don’t have an address on them. This is how they’re normally saved as collectibles, known as hand-backs, since they never went through the mails. However, event-goers are certainly welcome to post a letter from the event, giving it to the postal employees there to mail. By the way, under USPS rules, anyone not able to get to your event may still write to the post office holding the cancel for up to 30 days and get a postmark. They must provide the item(s) for cancellation with properly rated stamps as well as a selfaddressed envelope for the return.

By Tom Fortunato
Chairman, APS Chapter Activities Committee