Documentary Printed Precancels


I.  1898 Documentary Printed Precancels:  An Introduction

Below:  An example of a Chicago & Northwestern Railway 1899 dated printed precancel on the Scott #R163 rouletted one cent battleship revenue stamp.  The stamp also displays a handstamp cancel that was applied by a station freight agent after the stamp had been placed on a bill of lading:

C. & N.-W. Ry.


Collectors may occasionally come across battleship revenue stamps with printed overprints that look something like the stamp above.  The black lettering on the stamp is an overprinted precancel applied by the company that used the stamp, and in the case of the stamp above, the Chicago & Northwestern Railway placed its initials along with a year date and dashed line on which a freight agent was expected to place a handwritten or handstamped day date.  I've used the stamp above with the C&NWRy overprint as an example as overprints by this railroad are some of the most common to be found in collections and dealer stock.  

Who produced and used printed cancels?  Unlike the dozens if not hundreds of pharmaceutical companies during the 1898 tax period that used printed cancels on the proprietary series of stamps, there was a much more limited group of companies printing cancels on the documentary stamps, the majority of which were railroads.  A handfull of railroads, about 20 or so, used printed precancels on the one cent documentary battleship, and also several applied their printed cancels to the two cent battleship.  A smaller group of other companies, including express companies and an insurance company, used printed cancels on higher value stamps, even applying their cancels to R173-R175, the first three dollar value 1898 revenue stamps.

How were they used?  The Chicago & Northwestern system produced printed cancels only on the one cent documentary battleship.  These stamps were likely used exclusively on bills of lading (though they could have been used on parlour car tickets), which were effectively the shipping receipts that documented cargo received for transport by the railroad.  Bills of lading and their copies each required a one cent tax stamp.  And with railroads as the primary means of moving freight at the time, hundreds of millions of the one cent battleship were likely used by railroads on bills of lading.  Precancelled two cent battleships were used by a few railroads on checks or drafts to pay the two cent check tax.  Other uses will be discussed in future posts.

How were they printed?  The printed cancels appearing in this post, as with all the railroad printed cancels, were made with a typeset printing press.  Sheets of one cent stamps were fed into presses in which the printing plates were made up of moveable type.  Occasionally the type on the plate would differ from position to position, causing plate varieties.  Typesetting, plate, and printing varieties will be discussed in greater detail in a future post.

Why were they printed?  In the map below you can see that the Chicago & Northwestern System stretched west and north from Chicago into rural farm country.  Depots and stations dotted multiple states, and each station was required to stock revenue stamps to use on bills of lading when freight was consigned.  With every sheet valued at a dollar, railroads like the C&NW were sending out thousands of dollars of revenue stamps to stations scattered across multiple states.  Securing those stamps was a bit like securing currency.  Systems like the C&NW could help control theft by precancelling the stamps with their initials, making it more difficult to fence the stamps.  Presumably a purchaser of the precancelled stamps wouldn't want to show they were using the stamps of a railroad.

Did the Chicago & Northwestern only use printed cancels?  No, though the C&NW precancelled 100s of thousands stamps.  In fact, most railroads didn't pre-print their cancels.  Most cancelled their stamps with an inked rubber handstamp device, like the C&NW handstamp below.  
C. & N. W.

Above, an example of a Chicago & Northwestern Railway handstamp, what I like to call a decipede cancel due to the 5 wavy legs that project from each side of the box.  The cancel was one of several handstamp styles employed by the Northwestern system, the fanciest being the banner cancel that overstamped a printed cancel below.  This type of handstamp cancel may occasionally be found on  stamps precancelled by railroads in the C&NW System other than the C&NW railway itself.

C. & N. W. RY.
-handstamped over-
C. & N-W. Ry.


What is collectible among these cancels?  A basic 1898 documentary printed precancel collection might try to achieve one or more objectives, or collect as many examples of these relatively scarce items, including:
  • An example of each railroad or company that used printed precancels
  • An example of all major types cancels of each railroad or company
  • Examples of cancel printing varieties, including inverts, double impressions, and split cancels
  • Examples of on-document uses of printed cancels, including on bills of lading, checks and drafts
All together, the universe of these items is small, if also relatively scarce, and can make for a long-term search for the collector.   Demand for these items is also fairly light, so that prices, even for the rarest items, can be within the budget of many collectors.  Often the impediment to completing a collection of this material is supply rather than finances, so that patience and persistence is required!

Collecting on-document examples can be very interesting.  The stamp above with the fancy banner cancel comes from a fragment of a Chicago & Northwestern consignors bill of lading like that below in which beer from the Val Blatz Brewing Company was consigned for shipping.  Unfortunately, not all consignments on the C&NW were for beer!  

Lastly, for today's post, is an example of a C&NWRy unused plate strip of three.  A collector might try to collect multiples like these, though examples of unused multiples like these are not particularly common.  The railroads seemed to have been fairly careful to control the release of these stamps.  One exception is the International and Great Northrn Railroad, based in Texas, that seems to have quantities of multiples available to collectors, including at least one full sheet of the one cent documentary that I have seen.

1902 cancelled plate strip of three.  The 1902 C&NW Ry cancel is scarce.

II.  The Railroads of the Chicago & Northwestern System

Part one of this series highlighted the Chicago & Northwestern Railway.  However, the Chicago & Northwestern "System" was referred to several times in the post.  There were three other railroads in the C&NW system shown on the map provided in part one, and they all used collectible printed precancels, so that of the 20 or so railroads that used printed precancels, the C&NW system represented roughly 20% of the total.  The additional railroads included:
  • the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway,
  • the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad, and
  • the Sioux City & Pacific Railroad
All four railroads added year dates to some of their printed cancels, a unique feature of this railroad "system".  

Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway:
C. St. P. M. & O.
Ry. Co.


All of the cancels of the railroads in this post are not common.  Of these, CStPM&O cancels are the most frequently seen, with cancels that have year dates for 1899, 1900, 1901, and some without a year date.  By contrast, many of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway printed cancels are some of the most commonly found.

Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad:
F. E. & M. V. R. R.


FE&MVRR cancels are much scarder than those of the CStPM&O, and have year dates that range from no date to 1899 through 1902.

Sioux City & Pacific Railroad:
S. C. & P. R. R.


SC&PRR cancels are yet again scarcer than those of the FE&MVRR, and have year dates that include no date, 1899, and 1900.  

C&NW System map.  The CMStP&O is the railroad shown by the dashed line running northwest from Madison, WI, up to the twin cities and then down into Iowa and Nebraska.  The original mainline of the Fremont, Elkhorn ran from Omaha to Deadwood, South Dakota.  The original mainline of the Sioux City & Pacific ran from Missouri Valley, Iowa, to Sioux City, Iowa.

In the next post I will begin to explore the major collectible varieties among the railroads in the Chicago & Northwestern System.

III.  The Cancel Types and Subtypes of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway

This is an introduction to printed cancel types, again focusing on examples from the Chicago & Northwestern system.  The two stamps below illustrate the two essential types of Chicago & Northwestern Railway printed cancels.  Undated, the cancel on the left has a period after the "N", the cancel on the right has no period after the "N".  I'll show you how these two stamps can be best organized in a collection in the following post.

Otherwise identical stamps and cancels except for the punctuation after the "N"

Using the presence or absence of a period after the N as the primary variable, C&NW cancels may be neatly sorted into the two period/no period categories, and then subsequently disaggregated by two variables:  first, a date or lack of one, and second, by perforation type.  For example, let's consider known C&NW cancels that contained a period after the N.  There are four known major types:

Period after N, 189_, roulette

Period after N, 1899, roulette

Period after N, 1899, hyphen-hole

Period after N, no date, hyphen-hole

The collector of these cancels could focus at several levels when putting together a "complete" collection.  At the macro level, a single example of each railroad or company producting and using these cancel mioght be enough.  A more granular focus could range from major types (period or no period), the range of dates of the cancels, to considerations for the perforation type used on the underlying stamp.  For me, major, listable types should include perforation type, hence the stamps and cancels included in this post.

Now for the cancels with no period after the N.  There are six [seven??] known major types:

No period after N, no date, hyphen-hole

No period after N, 1899, roulette

No period after N, 1899, hyphen-hole
At least one philatelist has reported a no period, 1899 cancel on a hyphen-hole stamp, but I cannot confirm the existence of the cancel

No period after N, 1900, roulette

No period after N, 1900, hyphen-hole

No period after N, 1901, hyphen-hole

No period after N, 1902, hyphen-hole

IV.  Chicago & Northwestern Railway Cancel Sub-Varieties

Some collectors, in particular the black hole of revenue collectors, Morton Dean Joyce, were interested in collecting what might be called "sub-varieties" of printed cancels.  (I refer to Joyce as a black hole as he seem to have acquired first rights to most revenue material over his collecting lifetime and had the money to buy it all and mostly did -- I'll write more about Joyce's collection of these printed cancels later).  I guess I'm a bit guilty of interest in these more in-the-weeds items, particularly when they are dramatic like the first two examples below.  I'm continuing to use the Chicago & Northwestern cancels as examples.

C&NWRy 1901with the cancel torqued to the left roughly 45 degrees:
C. & N-W. Ry.


The cancels above and below result from errors at the time of printing.  The sheets of stamps were fed into the press incorrectly, resulting in a visually dramatic errors.  Unlike the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the cancel printers couldn't throw out the error sheets without paying for the stamps, so my guess is that these sheets were sent from the printers to railroad with everyone in full knowledge of the error for use on bills of lading.  Both of these stamps were in Joyce's collection.

C&NWRy no period 1900, cancel split horizontally:
C. & N-W. Ry.


C&NWRy 1900 with the 14th dash missing:
C. & N-W. Ry.

--------------- --

Above and below are two more items from Joyce's collection.  The cancel errors or varieties, however, are different in their origin from the first two stamps above.  These cancels have issues with their type, that may have come from an error in typesetting, or more likely, transient damage to the press.  Persistent plate errors or varieties can be interesting and fairly collectible.

However, inking issues or flaws may also occasionally affect the appearance of a cancel.  The stamp below displays an inking variety with the period after "Ry", which appears not as a square but as vertical dash.  The stamp immediately above shows the period after "Ry" to be a box that is only filled in on the right side.  These errors are highly variable, subject to individual interpretation, and should be considered of little philatelic signficance in my opinion.

C&NWRy no period1899, last dash a period:
C. & N.-W. Ry.


Over the course of the next few weeks this site will examine many more examples of the different types of varieties and errors shown here.

V.  The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway

The CStPM&ORy was a part of the Chicago & Northwestern System of Railroads, and like all the C&NW roads, the company printed and used precancels on the one cent battleship documentary stamp.  While the characteristics of the printed cancels of this railroad vary over the tax period, categorizing the stamps by year date (or lack thereof) provides a mutually exclusive way to disaggregate the four main types of cancels.  So rather than assign types to these cancels, it is adequate to break them down according to date.  Cancels may be found with no date, and dated 1899, 1900, and 1901, such that there are four main collectible cancels.  All undated and 1899 cancelled stamps are found with roulettes; 1900 and 1901 are found with hyphen-hole perforations.

Both the undated and 1899 cancels have solid lines for adding a manuscript or handstamped date.

C. St. P. M. & O.
Ry. Co


Dated 1899:
C. St. P. M. & O.
Ry. Co.


Both the 1900 and 1901 cancels have dotted lines for adding a manuscript or handstamped date.

Dated 1900:
C. St. P. M. & O.
Ry. Co.


 Dated 1901:
C. St. P. M. & O.
Ry. Co.


CSt.PM&O Railway Varieties

Invert:  There is a reported invert of the 1900 dated CStPM&O cancel.  This author has not seen or been able to verify this variety.

Split Cancel:  Below is a vertical undated split cancel.  The line for the manuscript or handstamped date is at the top edge of the stamp design rather than at the bottom of the stamp.  


C. St. P. M. & O.
Ry. Co.

Missing type:  the stamp below is missing a section of its dateline.  The image of the stamp has been cropped from the larger block of 12 below.  As stated in the previous post on C&NW varieties, this condition should be considered more of a curiousity than anything seriously collectible.

Multiples of documentary printed are relatively scarce, except for those of the International & Great Northern.  Here are two fairly large multiples from 1899 and 1900:

1899 block of 12 with partial plate number in the partial selvage of bottom left stamp:
The stamp with the missing line type is on the bottom row, 3rd from left.  The cancels on the three stamps in the vertical column at the far left of the block are not in line on the horizontal with the cancels on the rest of the block.  A close up of the misalignment is below:

1900 block of 12.  The perfs between the third row are completely blind though the hyphen-hole impressions in the paper are visible from the back:

V.  The Sioux City & Pacific Railroad

The printed precancels of the Sioux City & Pacific are among the scarcest of the 1898 railroad printed cancels.  There are only three collectible dates, so the universe of these cancels is quite small.  Completing the collection of three is a challenge, however.  I'm still searching for an example of the 1900 cancel.  I've borrowed the 1900 scan below from fellow collector Charles Souder.

No date:



1899 on bill of lading fragment:
Railroad agent handstamp cancel applied in Sioux City, Iowa.

VI.  The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad

Top row: thin ampersand
Middle row: medium ampersand
Bottom row: thick ampersand

Like all the C&NW System railroads, the Fremont, Elkhorn's cancels incorporated year dates in most of their cancels, creating multiple collectible cancel dates.  The FE&MVRR, somewhat similar to the Chicago & Northwestern's "period after the N", had a typeset variable in the ampersand, creating additional collectible varieties.  However, unlike the C&NWRy period, which was systematically replaced across the cancelling plate, it appears that the thin and thick ampersands were likely used infrequently across the cancelling plates with the medium ampersand in the majority of positions.  Unfortunately, I've not seen a multiple of these stamps showing the medium and thick or thin ampersands on one plate.  However, based on the rarity of thick or thin ampersand examples, I'm figuring they appeared infrequently on an otherwise medium ampersand majority plate.   

Because I believe the differing ampersands were only anomalies on the cancelling plate, I'm demoting their status as an organizing type.  For the C&NWRy, the period is the primary variable.  For the FE&MVRR, the ampersand is secondary variable, with date as the primary and perforation type as a tertiary variable.  Using this organizing criteria, here are known examples of these cancels:

No date, medium ampersand, roulette
handstamp cancelled in Humphrey, Nebraska

No date, medium ampersand, hyphen-hole

No date, thin ampersand, roulette

1899, medium ampersand, roulette

1899, thick ampersand, roulette

1899, thin ampersand, roulette

1900, medium ampersand, hyphen-hole

1901, medium ampersand, hyphen-hole

1902, medium ampersand, hyphen hole

A C&NW System map with the Fremont, Elkhorn tracks in black with white dots heading west through Nebraska into Wyoming.  C&NWRy in red.  The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha is in blue.

An example of a bill of lading with a 1900 FE&MVRR precancelled one cent battleship:

E. E. Bruce & Company did enough business as a wholesale druggist that they printed their own BOLs.

No comments:

Post a Comment