This page last updated: 6 September 2000


::: CANCELS :::
Kawaihae 26Apr72 Lyons

A letter from Rev. Lorenzo Lyons, postmaster at Waimea, Hawaii to Rev. Sereno Bishop at Lahainaluna, Maui bearing the Kawaihae type 244.02 postmark dated April 26 and docketed in the year 1872. The Scott No. 31a stamp was canceled by the rare "St. Andrew's Cross" and by the more common round grid, MH type 11.

Cancel devices were used to "obliterate" stamps so they could not be re-used. Cancels can include postmarks, if the stamp was canceled by the postmark. Often, the stamps were cancelled with a separate device. Not all postmarks were used as cancels, particularly in the early days of the postal service. Even in later years, use of postmarks to cancel stamps was discouraged because the stamp could be obliterated more effectively with a separate cancel. For a discussion of Postmarks, see Town Postmarks or Honolulu Postmarks. As used here, Cancels are "mute" marks, lacking the name of the town or the date.

The only published comprehensive study of cancels is by William J. Davey, found at Meyer and Harris, pages 279 to 283 and 294. Davey divided cancels into five major categories: bars, crosses, circles, letters and pen cancels. Within the first four categories, Davey broke cancels into sub-categories. For example, the category "bars" was broken into circular grids, square grids, oval grids and fancy devices. When auction catalogues and other publications refer to an MH type, they mean the Davey list in Meyer and Harris. Much credit for advancing the study of cancels goes to Jim Shaffer who created an unpublished list in 1988. Shaffer retained Davey's basic categories.

In this study, I have changed "circles" to "rings" but otherwise have retained Davey's five categories. However, three cancels, including two in Davey's "various circular devices" in the section he titled "Circles" fall outside the five categories he created and are just too difficult to classify within his types. Therefore, I have added a sixth category for miscellaneous cancels.

Given how undefined or blurred some cancels appear, it will be difficult if not impossible to arrive at a specific number with confidence. Without counting the myriad of pen cancellations, these pages list 128 cancels, but some listings include multiple marks from different devices so the actual total is greater probably around 140 - including 20 marks identified by Davey but not confirmed by Jim Shaffer or me. Davey identified 82 cancels in his study. Shaffer's unpublished 1988 study increased the number of cancels to a list of 107, including 42 Davey marks unconfirmed by Shaffer. Thus, the confirmed cancels in Shaffer's study dropped from 82 (Davey) to 75 (Shaffer). Based on my studies, combined with Shaffer's, I get 108 confirmed marks unadjusted for multiple marks within a single listing and not counting pen cancels. Additional input undoubtedly will raise this number.

Three columns are used in the lists on these pages:

  • In the first column will be found the cancel identification reference along with the rarity, ink colors and an image, if available. I employ here an experimental descriptive identification system different than either Davey or Shaffer. The purpose of this experimental system is to connect the cancels to a physical description rather than use an arbitrary number. The first part of a cancel identification reference will describe the shape (for example a circular grid of bars becomes cirgrid). The next element of the reference pertains to size in millimeters (in the letter cancels, the second element of the reference is the letter) and the next two elements will focus more closely on the specific appearance of the mark (for example a circle grid of 25mm diameter with 7 uneven bars is listed as cirgrid20-7(uneven) and the cancel itself is illustrated). Your comments on this system will be much appreciated. Rarity, scarcity and estimated numbers are given according the scale set out at Describing Postal Markings. In most cases, the cancel inventory is extremely uncertain so expect major changes in the attempt given here to state the rarity, scarcity or estimated quantity of cancels.


  • In the second column, Davey's numbers are included for cross-reference purposes. Shaffer's numbers are also shown for those familiar with his reference numbers. Where the Davey number is given in steel blue an example of the cancel has been seen by Jim Shaffer or me. If the Davey number is listed in orange (for example: Davey 3) the cancel listed by Davey has not been confirmed. Shaffer's numbers are shown in purple for cross referencing. To provide consistent references, Shaffer assigned a number to all of Davey's numbers even when Shaffer was unable to confirm its existence or was convinced Davey had erred in his description. If either Davey or Shaffer did not list a cancel, that fact is shown in black.


  • A third column contains additional comments about a mark, including usage information where known and a report of the cancel description from Davey or Shaffer.

Please click on:

Bars Rings Crosses Letters Pen Miscellaneous



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