POSTMARKS and CANCELLATIONS across the globe! [NOT commemorative ones]

@DMSOGeek and @Oo_Hawkwind_oO: Thank you very much for the very informative posts about postmark stamps in the People’s Republic of China and Germany! Too bad I can’t read Chinese characters…

@ChristianJ: German Post is in the process of switching from clichee machine stamps to inkjet machine stamps. There were tests on real mail as early as 2018 at least (e.g. in Briefzentrum 60, Frankfurt am Main), and some letter ceters have already completely switched over to them. The new inkjet stamps look the same as the inkjet stamps already in use for large letters (Großbrief and Maxibrief) for many years, in some cases they even use the same ID code (e.g. md in case of Briefzentrum 60). You can distinguish the Großbrief and regular letter cancellation machines if you have the complete cancellation (e.g. the complete envelope): Großbrief cancellation is always only the actual cancellation information (Briefzentrum with number, date etc.), while the regular mail size inkjet cancellation always includes an advertisement area (or the wavy lines as in @ChristianJ’s initial German postmark). I’ll show pictures early next week when I’m back home and can dig through my collection. :smiley:

English Wikipedia article about German Post letter centers

Some additions to the great informaton provided by @Oo_Hawkwind_oO:

  • The letter center number equals the first two digits of the postal code (ZIP code) except for a few large letter centers serving two regions (noted in the map by lines to both regions), and since the end of 2003 for the region 42: When it was closed, its region was divided between letter centers 40, 45 and 58.
  • The time © in the cancellation is not the actual time of cancellation but the time of the end of the processing step. In most cases all mail accumulated during a day gets a time of -20, -21 or -22 (depending how the individual letter center is connected to street and air transportation) regardsless when it is cancelled. Some letter centers have some late-service postboxes (for Briefzentrum 60 they are in Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (central train station) and directly in front of the letter center) where late mail will still reach recipients in the letter center’s area on the next day, but all other areas the day after, such mail can be identified by a later time, in most cases -24 (for midnight, even though the actual processing might be later in the night).
  • The ID code (Unterscheidungsbuchstaben in German) are uniqie per cancellation machine, but each cancellation machine has two stamps (so letters/postcards can be cancelled facing either side, thus saving a step to get all stamps facing the same direction). Sometimes the advertisement part of the cancellation for the two stamps of one machine are different (they are sold individually to those who want to advertise), so you may get two different advertisements with the same date and ID code.
  • Germany still has localized cancellation (i.e. cancellation stamps showing the name of the city). If you go to a post office and ask nicely, they will cancel your mail by hand with something saying e.g. “Frankfurt (Main) 503” instead of the Briefzentrum and witzh the postal code instead of the postal horn logo, in the example 503 is the internal post office number of that city. Small towns with only one post office may not show a number, and more recently postal outlets in shops have other stamps, e.g. Frankfurt-Preungesheim, as these are not post offices (the clearks there are not from German Post but from the partnering shop).

@sannah82: Correct. I haven’t yet found a comprehensive list of which letter center does which regions. They don’t seem to be by numbers - 35 Kassel goes to 60 Frankfurt, not 30 Hannover. There are roughly 10 letter centers working on Sundays. I’m certain about 30, 60, 80 and 90. Sunday cancellations are easy to spot by the hour ©: It’s between -12 to -16, not in the 20s as for workdays.

@aerobear, your energy awareness month cancellation is not considered a commemorative cancellation, USPS is either using the advertising space themselves or has sold it for this. Same for the Happy Holidays cancellations each year. The USPS did have commemorative machine cancellations in the past, e.g. for first day covers, I’m not sure if they still do (haven’t seen any recent first day covers from the US).

Sorry for nitpicking :wink: - I’m a philatelist specialized on postal automation, so cancellations, especially by machine, is part of my core philatelic collection. :smiley:

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No need to be sorry, I’m sure you are not only broadening my horizon with your very detailed and informative knowledge. :wink:

I am afraid that the Finnish post doesn’t machine cancel postcards and postal items anymore or at least not consistently. Almost every Finnish card I have got during the past few years doesn’t bear any cancellation at all. 99 % of the official post offices are closed down, and instead we have post office desks at kiosks and supermarkets. They are manned by kiosk or supermarket staff, not actual postal workers, which correlates unfortunately directly with the quality of service. If you want to make sure your cards get cancelled, you should drop them at such post office desks and ask for a cancellation by hand. Once or twice when I have done so, the clerk manning the postal office desk at a supermarket had said that hand cancellation isn’t necessary because my cards will be machine cancelled (yeah, sure). What I have heard, it’s not rare that you are handed over a stamp and ink and said to do it by yourself. If your item gets somehow machine cancelled, the cancellation is faint and barely visible. I drop my cards directly in post boxes, so I am afraid my cards don’t get cancelled at all. However if they do, they might have a cancellation reading Helsinki.

Aaaaand then there is this type of cancellation in Germany. If a postal item somehow manages to slip through the normal cancellation process it can be manually cancelled afterwards. Often the post(wo)man discovers the non cancelled stamp on her/his delivering route and cancels it with a special rubber stamp which (s)he is carrying.

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I think the different formats of the lower word indicating types of service is highly dependent on from which city the postcard is sent - that is, there is actually not a national standard. Even in the same province, the format is quite variable. Here is a postmark (right) from Nanjing, Jiangsu. The lower word here is 中山陵(收寄)instead of 中山陵收寄.


But in Suzhou, the lower words are in the format of [Name]收寄.

There are actually more possible formats for the lower words - to replace 收寄 with 营业. Here is a postmark sent from Zhenhuailou Post Office, Huaian, Jiangsu (江苏淮安 镇淮楼(营业)):


I do not know the general pattern of distribution of these formats - it seems that they are distributed randomly across the country.

The postmarks for incoming international mail, ahhh, appear in random positions, and inevitably, some touch the foreign postage mark:( I received several postcards on which the incoming mail postmarks overlap with the foreign postmarks. I guess the staff does not have enough time to make sure that every incoming postmark steers clear from the foreign ones.

Yeah, the GZAR postmark is a bit vague due to the colorful stamp - here is another example, from Jinpu Post Office, Nanning, Guangxi:


The lower word here is GINHBUJ金浦3. Yes, the language is that one! It is now in the Latin alphabet but originally has a complex writing system several decades ago and since that system is really difficult to learn, the Zhuang people chose this Latin alphabet system to express their language.

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Mostly it’s true… but you can ask for hand cancellation… then there will be the city name. Sometimes post offices will do it even without asking. When mail is put to the mailbox they will indeed get the machine cancellation with Briefzentrum XY. Sometimes I go to the post office and specifically ask for it, especially when I’m swapping with a stamp collector.

I’ve just received this hand cancelled letter from Germany today :blush:

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Oh ok, haven’t seen the ones with city names in a while. Good to know that they still exist.

Here’s another recent example of hand cancellation from Germany. I sent this one to a Postcrossing friend and asked her to send me a photo of the cancellation. I wanted to see if they followed my wish for hand cancellation and they did! It’s not the neatest cancellation, but there were different items in the envelope, so it was not easy to stamp on it :wink:

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Oh, you remind me something. Several years ago, I heard from a friend that post offices in Kunshan, Suzhou were using machine cancellations on a pilot basis. I think they no longer use that machine now. Also, post offices in Suzhou use an incoming mail postmark machine, especially when stamping on an envelope. I don’t know whether it’s a prevailing practice in the rest of China. Here’s an envelope from Hong Kong:

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Does USPS use handstamps? I have received two strange circular, hand cancellations from NM and “AE” (I don’t know which state is AE) before.

@DMSOGeek Individual US Post Offices, especially in smaller towns, may hand cancel upon request. NM is New Mexico, a US State, but AE is not a State. Instead it is “Armed Forces Europe”, so the letter originated from an armed service member serving abroad.

My local PO stopped hand canceling (they claim all hand cancels must be sent to a central distributing office!), but another PO a little farther away will sometimes hand cancel upon request (unfortunately, their ink stamp is too wet, so the cancels are dark and sloppy :frowning: )

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I received these 2 special postmarks in October. The top one is from Taiwan, The 2 lower ones are from Japan. Can anyone tell me a little more about them?

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A typical Dutch postmark, showing (top to bottom): processing center (Rotterdam), date + hour (28/10/20, 17:00), machine ID (504).

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@aerobear Thanks!

Your second special postmark is called 小型印/Kogata. I am collecting it:)

Here is a catalog in case you wish to get more: https://www.post.japanpost.jp/kitte_hagaki/stamp/kogata/
(Japanese, but you can translate it w/Google Translate)

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Thank you so much @shugal for your extensive knowledge on German cancellations! Since you’re such an expert, I have a question for you: I live in Berlin Lichtenberg (beautiful place…) and I always want my recipients to know that my cards come from this particular district. That’s why I always go to the post office and ask the super kind lady there to manually stamp my mail: she always does it in front of me and it’s super satisfying…

My question is: these cards are still fed into a sorting machine – they have to, right? So how does the machine know that the stamps have already been cancelled? Aren’t they going to add a second postmark on the already postmarked stamps?

Omg, really? That’s kind of sad! Only recently I found out that Großbriefe are sprayed on instead of being cancelled in the traditional way. I sent an envelope to a friend of mine in Italy, and he showed me the postmark, which was kind of unexpected!


To be honest, it’s just a mess of lines and the writing is also extremely illegible. If the whole of Germany switched to a system like this (and not to the one used in France or Canada which, at least, yields more legible results), I’m gonna be very sad…

Omg that would actually be my dream! Although I’d be so scared to mess up and create a disaster of a stamp :laughing: By the way, what is it with Nordic countries and postmarks? They all seem to skip this part of the letter processing process – even Norway, as I’ve already said… I don’t know about the situation in Sweden though, so I might be generalising based on what I’ve received / heard so far…

You should actually show me some pictures of the 南门营投 stamp on non-Chinese postcards as well! It’d be super interesting actually, I really like these arrival stamps. It’s a shame that we don’t have them anymore, coz you can’t see when the card was delivered anymore…

It’s crazy how there are so many variations… One would think that, in China, this whole thing would be neatly standardised… But, to be honest, even international airport stamps (the ones they put in your passport) have slight differences – this is a little bit OT, but I have to tell you that I’ve seen at least one passport stamp that doesn’t really conform to the pattern.

Oh wow, that’s neat! I need to start collecting these stamps that include the languages of ethnic minorities… It’s actually a very inclusive thing that China is doing, and seeing the Arabic script (for Uyghur) might be a little treat for my eyes :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

That’s my favourite part about living here in Germany! As I’ve already told Shugal, I just need to ask the postal clerk, and they’ll comply with my request :relaxed: I saw a similar handstamp in my hometown in Italy but, as soon as I tried to ask if my mail could be stamped with it, I got scolded. Italian postal workers… always super rude!!

It would be interesting to know more about these machines though… Are they similar to the ones we have in Europe? Or are there big differences? Are these only used for postmarking, or do they also sort the mail based on the addresses? So many questions, but it isn’t easy to find answers online…

(But the good thing is that we’re on a forum full of experts, so we can just ask whenever we have a doubt… And being a curious postmark-lover, I tend to have lots of questions to ask haha!)

Hi! These, on the other hand, are actual commemorative stamps! Since they’re a completely different beast, I think they should be more carefully analysed in a separate thread (that you could start yourself!). Otherwise, what might happen is that we’ll end up only talking about commemorative stamps, and there will be no space left for normal postmark discussions… And, for the sake of neatness and clarity, it’s best to keep the two things separate!

By the way, since DMSOGeek already told you about the Japanese postmark, I’ll just let you know that the Taiwanese one comes from a temporary post office (临时邮局, línshí yóujú) from the city of Hsinchu (新竹, xīnzhú), which is in the northern part of Taiwan. The stamp commemorates classical poetry (古典诗词, gǔdiǎn shīcí). The vertical text close to the middle (发行首日, fāxíng shǒurì) means – I think – “first day of issue”.

(Sorry for using simplified characters! Those are the ones I can use right now – it’d be more complicated for me to switch to traditional… I hope you can kinda see the resemblances between the ones I typed out and the ones on the postmark!)

Wow those stamps are super cute! Also I love how the Dutch postmark is clearly a spray-on one, yet it tries to emulate the look of traditional cancellations… Good job! By the way, many of the cards I receive from the Netherlands have a Nexive tracking sticker on them. I don’t remove them because I never touch or modify the stuff I receive in any way; however, sometimes they cover the stamps (actually they always do), which isn’t the best thing ever…

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In the US, USPS has the following postmarks

Spray on cancels (Automated Cancels at the P&DC Processing and Distribution Center) Most usually have the city and state and the first 3 numbers of the zip code and wavy lines called killer bars. Sometimes they’ll have special marks like Energy Awareness Month or something special for Christmas.

First Day of Issue postmark (FDOI) for a certain stamp that has been issued. (from Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City) You basically send correspondence with a certain stamp attached to a postcard or envelope. FDOI postmarks are popular with FDC collectors. FDOI postmarks are usually avaliable for 90 or maybe 120 days or so. The current FDOI’s can be found on the USPS Postal Bulletin.

Digital Color Postmarks are essential the same as the FDOI postmarks. However, they are in color, but they are done for a fee. The design is different than an FDOI. The current Digital Color Postmarks are found in the USPS Postal Bulletin.

Hand Cancel postmarks. (At the post office) These normally have the name of the post office station and city name and state with zip code in a circular shape. It has the date in the center. The postmark is circular shape.

Pictoral Postmarks (Commemorative Postmarks) certain places issue them to commemorate a place, thing, or event. They are usually avaliable for 30 days. These also can be found in the USPS Postal Bulletin.

Meter Postmarks (at home or an office). Postage Meters are postage printing machines or systems leased by authorized providers for use in at home or office. Meters print postage directly onto your mailpieces or on to meter tape, which you affix to your mail.

I can mention also:
Special Christmas North Pole postmarks. The Santa Claus half moon head shape. Avaliable during the holidays.

Anyone anywhere in the world can request a postmark from USPS.

  1. In person at the certain station. Go the post office in person and ask. It is free.

  2. By mail. Stamp your postcards or envelopes addressed to yourself or others with correct postage. Send them in a bigger stamped envelope addressed to Postmaster or Postmistress of a certain post office station. Usually write a small note requesting hand cancel postmark or postmark of that post office station or city. You can provide sn extra stamped envelope to have them returned to you in an envelope or without an envelope, through the mail stream like regular.

  3. Online. The USPS website and official USPS account on eBay have First Day Covers on sale for certain stamp issues. FDOI postmarks are in black and white and Digital Color Postmarks are in color.

For FDOI postmarks and Digital Color Postmarks, write to Stamp Fulfillment Services requesting the FDOI postmarks. The address is found in the Postal Bulletin and is usually the same for almost all FDOI’s. This is the address.

FDOI – (Name of Stamp Issue)
USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services
8300 NE Underground Drive, Suite 300
Kansas City, MO 64144-9900

Pictoral postmarks can be requested by mail as well. The address is found in the Postal Bulletin as well. Repeat steps for postmarks.

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Here are some Dildo postmarks. Anyone can get them. Write to the Postmaster in Dildo, Newfoundland and Labrador Province, Canada

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Last week when I opened my mailbox…
Four in a row :frowning::electric_plug:

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Example of an incoming mail postcard. I got this picture from a friend in Bulgaria. I sent him a postcard of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Bulgarian Posts stamped it. (yes that’s the official name of Български пощи, Balgarski poshti). It says Burgas in both Cyrillic and Roman characters and the zip code of the post office.

Also you can see the spray on cancel from USPS with San Diego on it.

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Example of a hand cancel. My friend wrote the Licking Missouri postmistress.

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