the world of stamp collecting, a wide variety of opinions exists
concerning the collecting of postmarks.
The current trend of collecting mint stamps renders the postmark an object
Even collectors of used stamps concern themselves more with the stamp than
the cancel. A light, unobtrusive cancel is almost always preferred over
one that is heavier and more pronounced.
Among postal history collectors, the postmark is a clue to the story
behind a cover.
In general, old postmarks might have some value, but new postmarks are
viewed mostly as a nuisance.
A small specialty area today, but one that seems to be growing, is the
collecting of current postmarks. There are several different ways to focus
such a collection.
Almost certainly the most popular type of current postmark collecting in
the United States is first-day covers. FDCs are franked with a stamp that
is canceled with a mark dated with the stamp’s issue date, usually also
indicating the city of issue.
First-day postmarks are usually available for 30 days after the date of
issue. Collectors may send their own covers to the appropriate post office
for cancellation service.
The American First Day Cover Society has about 2,800 members devoted to
collecting first-day postmarks.
The cover shown in Figure 1 was produced by the AFDCS for the first day of
the U.S. 32˘ Bright Eyes stamps, Aug. 20, 1998. The postmark is the style
typical of modern U.S. first-day cancels.
Pictorial postmark collecting appears to be growing in popularity.
Pictorial postmarks are created to celebrate or commemorate an event. The
type of event can be anything from a stamp show to a town festival to the
anniversary of a military battle. The postmark shown in Figure 2 was
offered by the Pawtucket, R.I., post office to commemorate the Battle of
Binh Gia that took place Jan. 2, 1965, during the Vietnam War. It notes
that five Americans were killed and three were missing as a result of the
Pictorial postmarks also are usually available for 30 days beyond the date
shown in the postmark. They usually can be obtained by mail.
As far as I know, there is no society that specializes solely in
pictorial-postmark collecting, but I think it is an idea whose time has
Ordinary current postmarks are usually overlooked by collectors, but there
are many ways to make these the focus of a collection.
Current postmarks can be collected on incoming mail, by sending away for
postmarks or by visiting the post offices and postal stations themselves.
One way to obtain current postmarks is to send a properly franked cover to
a post office and request that a cancel be applied. This is probably the
most common method used when seeking a particular post office cancel.
Collectors might send a cover franked with a Teddy Bear stamp to Bear,
Del., for a postmark or one franked with the Ogden Nash stamp to Nash,
Okla., or Ogden, Utah, for cancellation service.
Obtaining postmarks for a specific date, such as a birthday, or a specific
place, such as a birthplace, is a fun basis for a collection.
All the methods for collecting current postmarks mentioned so far in this
column have had something in common — they can all be done from the
comfort of your own home.
Collecting postmarks on the road can be even more fun and rewarding.
First-day postmarks can be actively pursued by personally attending a
stamp’s first-day ceremony.
Vacations provide an excellent opportunity for postmark collecting.
A road trip in a recreational vehicle can be remembered with a stop at
each post office along the way.
A separate cover can be prepared for each stop, or a single document can
be franked and canceled along the way.
Such collectibles make wonderful souvenirs of a family trip. This is a
good activity for children.
The more adventurous collectors can set out on a postmark quest.
Here’s a brief story of a postmark collector who prefers to take an
active role in his collection: Former U.S. Postal Service employee Ken
Turmel of Oklahoma began his postmark quest with a dream he had in 1993.
The 29˘ Cherokee Strip postage stamp was issued for the centennial of an
Oklahoma Land Run in 1993. Turmel was compelled to obtain all of the
centennial postmarks created for the occasion. He also collected postmarks
from post offices within the region of the land run, including some from
post offices within the former Indian Territory.
In the creation of his project, pictured in Figure 3, he traveled more
than 5,000 miles. Today’s youth might call his methods "extreme
Turmel’s most extensive postmark project to date resulted in a
2-foot-by-3-foot print showing Route 66 with more than 250 postmarks (and
stamps) from every post office along the route.
The result of his effort is shown in Figure 4.
He first set out to obtain the pictorial postmarks that were offered for
the 70 th anniversary of Route 66. He then obtained ordinary hand cancels
from the remaining post offices. He logged 28,600 miles of travel in two
years to visit all of the post offices in person and create an original
work of art.
Turmel said that the art was of historical significance because some of
the post offices have since closed.
One of the postmarks on his Route 66 project happened by chance to be the
last day of service for a post office — Dec. 29, 1995, in Cadiz, Calif.
He included in his project the autographs of postmasters and various
people associated with the legend of Route 66.
He even traveled on horseback to the bottom of the Grand Canyon for a
postmark. Turmel said that his favorite part of creating his postmark art
is that he is also collecting stories and local history.
"The future is all we have in keeping the past alive," Turmel
said of his motivation for his collecting pursuits.
His latest projects revolve around the California Gold Rush of 1849, and
New Mexico and Arizona, which he calls the "final frontier of
Your own extreme postmarking projects need not be quite so ambitious, but
perhaps this adventurous postmark collector can inspire you to try a
different style of collecting.
The point is that collecting current postmarks does not have to be a
sedentary pastime. Postmarks should also not be overlooked as a worthwhile
Current postmarks are the documentation of history in the making.
Reorganization in the Postal Service means constant change. Small post
offices are closed or consolidated.
Some are renamed to reflect a new area served.
Sometimes new post offices open to serve a recent population shift,
although this certainly happens less often than closures do today.
Current postmarks offer some opportunities that historical postmarks do
With current postmarks, a collector can document the events of his own
One collector created special covers each time his wife was expecting a
child, and he had them postmarked on the day of each child’s birth.
Another sent love poems and cards off to towns with romantic-sounding
names and had them postmarked on his wedding day. He asked that they be
returned through the mail, and the thoughtful gifts began to trickle into
the couple’s mailbox a few days later. Each cover was saved in his
collection as a reminder of their special day.
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