Precancel Facts and Figures

(the best reference is the Canada Precancel Handbook by the precancel committee)

What is a precancel?
Why were they produced?
What was the earliest Canadian Precancel?
How was the use of precancels regulated?

What is a Precancel?

There is no single definition of a precancel, but perhaps the most satisfactory is that given by the US Precancel Stamp Society, Inc. which states that: 
"a precancel is any postage stamp, stamped stationery, or revenue stamp 
which has been cancelled prior to the actual use for which it was issued, 
by, under the supervision of, or with permission of proper authority, with a 
device that was used for no form of post-cancelling by the same office."

Why were they produced?


What was the earliest Canadian Precancel? 

Mill-brook CoverThe Mill-brook postmaster cancelled sheets of the 5 cent beaver in advance, placing them on letters as they were brought to the post office. Click on the cover for a more detailed look at the stamp. The Belleville postmaster also followed this procedure. At Mill-brook, the small cents are known precancelled. Winthrop Boggs in "the Postage Stamps and Postal History of Canada lists the first Canadian precancel as the numeral one in a circle composed of 19 horizontal lines produced at Ottawa  in 1888. St. John, New Brunswick used a precancel consisting of the number 1 in a circle composed of fourteen horizontal lines. 

(A copy of the cover dated Mill-Brook c.w no16/66 and sold as lot 16 in the Robert Lee auction February 20th 1998 of the Lussey collection is shown on the rare and unusal  page. I am attempting to contact the purchaser of this lot in order to obtain a more detailed scan of this item). 

The determination of the first precancel is thus left for the reader to decide 

The first regular precancels were the bar styles beginning in 1889. 

City Styles were introduced in 1903. 

A new bar style was introduced in 1922, W in 1928, X in 1935, Y in 1973. 

Money order Office Numbers (MOON) were introduced in 1931. 

The post office announced in 1982 that no more precancels would be produced

How was the Use of Precancels regulated?

The following regulations are from post office file 60-13-9-1 Vol. 1, 1913 

1. ONLY SOLD AT CERTAIN OFFICES - precancelled postage stamps or stamps cancelled before actually used for prepayment of postage, may only be sold and used at certain Post Offices, where extensive mailings are made and when specially authorized by the department. 

Persons or business firms desiring to use precancelled stamps must make application to the Postmaster at the place of mailing for the quantity required. 

2. TO BE PRECANCELLED BY DEPARTMENT - The only authorized precancelled stamps are those cancelled under Departmental instructions and obtained from the department either direct or through a Postage Stamp Depot. 

Under no circumstances are postage stamps to be precancelled at a Post Office, any person improperly cancelling postage stamps in any way or selling stamps precancelled without authority will be held responsible for the full value of such precancelled stamps. 

3. RESTRICTED USE - The precancellation of postage stamps is limited to those of one and two cent denominations. 

 Precancelled stamps may be used on articles of mail matter other than letters. In no circumstances may precancelled stamps be used for the payment of postage on letters. 

Precancelled stamps may only be purchased when the postage on any mail aggregates $10.00 or over, i.e. the minimum number of pieces that may be posted at a mailing is 1,00o each bearing a one cent precancelled stamp or 500 each bearing a 2 cent precancelled stamp. 

4. REQUISITIONS FOR PRECANCELLED STAMPS - The Postmaster will send in a separate requisition for precancelled stamps to the source from which supplies of articles of postage stamp issue are obtained, i.e. either the department (Financial Branch - For  Postage Stamp Division), Ottawa, or to a Postage Stamp Depot - as the case may be. Each requisition must indicate: 

    (a) name of person or firm requiring precancelled stamps; 

    (b) class or kind of material to be prepaid by such a stamp; 

    (c) the approximate number of pieces to be paid by each lot of precancelled stamp applied for; and 

    (d) the period (approximately) during which these pieces are to be mailed.

As requisitions for precancelled stamps necessarily take longer to fill than ordinary requisitions, requisitions for such stamps should be sent to the source of supply without any delay whatever.

5. MANNER OF MAILING - The users of precancelled stamps should be informed that:

    (a) the mailings should be handed in separately at the Post Office wicket and not be mixed with matter paid by ordinary stamps in any way: 

    (b) Circulars should have the addressed sides faced all one way and where practical put in packages of 50, 75 or 100; and that 

    (c) catalogues, calendars, and similar articles should be tied up in neat bundles.

6. PERMANENT RECORD OF SALES OF PRECANCELLED STAMPS - A  permanent record is to be kept at the Post Office of all sales of precancelled stamps, including the date of sale, name of purchaser, number and denomination of stamps sold 

7. PERMANENT RECORD OF MAILINGS PREPAID BY  PRECANCELLED STAMPS - A  permanent record is to be kept at the Post Office of all mail matter prepaid by  precancelled stamps, including the date of mailing, name of person or business firm mailing, approximate number of pieces, and  number and denomination of stamps on each mailing 

8. MAILINGS TO BE CHECKED - Care must be taken to see that each piece of mail properly prepaid at the rate of postage applicable thereto, and that the stamps are securely affixed and have been effectively precancelled. 

When precancelled stamps are used on any articles of mail, the postage of such articles must be entirely prepaid by precancelled stamps. 

   The records of sale of precancelled stamps are to be carefully checked against the mailings of matter prepaid by precancelled stamps

9. PRECANCELLED STAMPS ON UNDELIVERABLE MAIL TO BE CANCELLED - Precancelled stamps constituting the original postage on "Request" and "Address" matter posted in Canada must be cancelled in the same manner as ordinary postage stamps are cancelled before such mail which fails of delivery is handed back to the senders.