The Users of Precancelled Stamps of Canada

by Norm Wagner

Precancelled stamps were felt to be an important labour and time saving technique.  Mass mailings were accommodated without additional canceling. The material sent out was classed as "Third Class," and was subject to regulations for such classification.

Prior arrangements were required between the Post Office and the customer.  Only certain post offices were authorized to use precancels, lest there be misuse.  

What could possibly constitute misuse?  Quite simply, reuse! In this age of  built in obsolescence it is hard to believe that individuals, indeed some businesses, carefully checked in-coming letters to see if the stamps used to mail the letter or package, had been cancelled. If not, they were fair game. Often the stamps were steamed off or soaked off and dried and pressed. With a bit of glue, it was entirely proper to use the stamp again. 

Since it had not been cancelled, it was still technically a "mint" stamp, although it had no original glue. Precancelled stamps were therefore even simpler to "reuse." The canceling had been done in advance.

To save time and to simplify the use, stamps on mass mailing and on items of  irregular shape, such as catalogues and pamphlets, Canada introduced the practice of precancelling stamps around 1888.  Precancelled stamps were a hit among companies doing large mailings, and no doubt with local postal 

To control the use of precancels, rather high thresholds of minimum usage were put in place.  The earliest reported accounts noted that a minimum of 15,000 separate but identical items were required.  This was far beyond the reach of medium and smaller businesses.  The requirement was later reduced to 
10,000 pieces of mail and, in 1906, the minimum became $25.00 worth of stamps.  (This was still 2500 pieces of mail at 1c each.)  In 1907 the minimum was $10.00 worth of stamps and eventually all minima were abandoned.

Who were these users?

The Canada Precancel Handbook, (pp. 48-50) makes an important start by listing examples of firms who received permission to use precancels.

Listing a company is a marvelous start and should be continued.  Collectors with anecdotal information, covers or mailing wrappers, or documented evidence of any type are invited to contribute to a database of users from small and large towns and cities.  We have this project underway  and will continue to build it as information becomes available.

Of greater interest are the stories which must underlie the usage.

For example, the Spencer Corset Company in Lennoxville, QC was a user of precancels. The company is said to have mailed out a special magazine in 1936.  It would be great fun to see a copy of the material. Better still, are there minutes of a Board Meeting at which this new strategy might have been 

In Rock Island, QC, permission was obtained for the Jubilee Stamps of 1935 to be used. No other place in Canada was so favoured. We suspect that political arm-twisting was involved, since it is reported that permission had been denied in the first instance.  What was the nature of the political pressure? How was the decision reached?  

The Concordia Club in Kitchener, now best known for its Oktoberfest extravaganza also received permission. What did they send out to members?

In Carberry,  MB, a printer produced the seed catalogue for the A.E. MacKenzie Seed Company, and did the mailing from that town.  Apparently this happened only once, hence the stamps are extremely scarce.  Did the Brandon post office squelch the deal since that was the home base for the Mackenzie 
Seed Company and they wanted the business?

We need living stories of these early exploits to capture the imagination of the next generation of potential collectors of precancels.

Can you help by contributing further information on any user of precancels?

E-mail me - Norman Wagner
January 2000