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


The travel scars thread is full of postmark-related discussions and, since it’d be highly unfair to classify postmarks as “scars”, I decided to open this new topic where we can talk about these fascinating blotches of ink! Here are some of the things we could talk about (N.B. all the scans and pictures, except for the last one, are from my own collection):


Sprayed-on inkjet cancellations

Countries such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and France cancel their stamps by spraying ink on them. I think France and Canada have the best inkjet technology – the results are always sharp and legible… The British and American versions, on the other hand, are often fuzzy and smeary… To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of this cancellation method.

Automated postmark cancellation

Italy, Germany, Norway and many other European countries prefer these more traditional stamps – they resemble your average handstamps; however, those wavy lines always reveal the fact that they’ve been issued by big sorting machines. Apart from how, many times, they don’t even manage to be on the postage stamp itself (and, sometimes, they’re even on the wrong side of the postcard), I don’t really mind them. I guess I’m just too used to these postmarks!


Stamps on outgoing mail

The majority of the countries don’t use big sorting machines – postage stamps are cancelled at local post offices by postal clerks themselves. I absolutely love handstamps: they show the names of the post office from which the cards are sent, whereas big sorting centres are, obviously, super centralised. And, since they’re issued by hand, it means that the postage stamps are never missed!

The most prominent countries that use this system are Russia and China. Both countries seem to have extremely skilled postmarkers, as the cancellations are always super legible. India and the Philippines, on the other hand, seem to only have very old rubber stamps that are falling apart, which is why their postmarks are always unintelligible (and often use too much ink).

Stamps on incoming mail

Countries that use handstamps generally also mark their incoming mail, which is basically a lost art in places with big sorting centres. I really like them, and I really wish I received mail with an extra stamp as well. From what I can see, both Russia and China stamp their incoming postcards.

The image I provided is the only one I have (it’s an old postcard I sent to a Chinese friend of mine back in 2016, when I was 16 years old – she then showed me a picture of my card, which is how I learnt that China stamps incoming mail as well).

If you have more pics of such cancellations, I’d be delighted to see them. Please send all the material you have though. I’d love to talk about everything postmark-related and look at your photos! I swear, I just love them too much :laughing:

EDIT: I decided that we shouldn’t talk about commemorative stamps (i.e. the ones issued by hand in occasions such as first day of issue events), because they deserve a topic of their own. Here we are just going to talk about the super ordinary postmarks!


I looked through my scans and found a few to contribute.

Neat (and red) from China:

Sloppy from Brazil:

Nice clear dark one from Belarus:

And finally this blue one from Bahrain:

Obviously I only made it through the Bs! But in doing so I discovered that I have very few stamps from Belgium that were actually canceled!


I posted this elsewhere, but this USA Energy Awareness Month (October) postmark seems to have been designed for maximum obliteration.

(Edit 2: @ChristianJ @shugal Delighted to learn this is NOT commemorative. It is an annual event by Presidential proclamation. I can blame this one on Trump.) :clown_face:


Hi, I scanned some of my postcards and they may be able to form a somewhat general view of Chinese postmarks and cancellations.

Generally, Chinese postmarks are in the black color, although a very limited number of postmarks are in red. (If you get one red postmark, that can be really rare!)

The first kind of postmarks is the most common one, from a city that is neither a capital of a province or autonomous region nor a direct-administrated municipality. Here is a postmark, from Sanduoqiao Post Office, Suzhou, Jiangsu (江苏苏州 三多桥收寄2), my nearest post office:) The upper word is 江苏苏州, indicating the city, Suzhou City, and the province or autonomous region, Jiangsu Province. The lower word is 三多桥收寄, indicating the name of the post office in which the postcard was sent.

The second kind of postmarks is used in a city that is a capital of a province or autonomous region or a direct-administrated municipality. For instance, here is a postcard from Dongjiekou Post Office, Fuzhou, Fujian (福州 东街口17). The name of the province, Fujian 福建, is omitted in the upper word because Fuzhou City is the capital of Fujian Province.

For postmarks used in autonomous regions, in which reside many people from ethnic minority groups (少数民族), the lower words also include a translation of the post office name in the most prevailing language of ethnic minority groups living in the region. Here is an example, a postcard from Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR) [right, 南宁 SIENGHSWHHUZ相思湖2], along with an incoming mail postmark of Suzhou, Jiangsu [left, 江苏苏州 南门营投3]. Note that there is some Latin script in the lower word of the GZAR postmark but not in that of the Jiangsu postmark. Sienghswhhuz is the translation of Xiangsihu 相思湖 in Zhuang Language.

Here is another example from Xianfujie Post Office, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (呼和浩特 县府街1). There are some traditional Mongolian characters in the lower word. I am sorry that the postmark is somewhat vague.


Also, earlier this year, the types of services are also included in the lower word in some provinces, such as Jiangsu Province that I live in. The lower word 三多桥收寄 (literally, Sent in Sanduoqiao Post Office) indicates that the postcard was firstly processed in Sanduoqiao Post Office and the lower word 南门营投 (i.e. delivered by Nanmen Post Office) indicates that the delivery department of Nanmen Post Office eventually delivered it. Originally, these lower words are only Sanduoqiao 三多桥 and Nanmen 南门, the name of the post offices.


Actually, there are also some postmarks that do not fall into any of the categories above, such as that of railway post offices (火车邮局).

In Kuliang Post Office, Fuzhou, China, there is also a very special postmark. I guess, the upper word is 福州鼓岭 (literally, Fuzhou Kuliang) and the lower word is “Kuliang” (in English). That is a very, very interesting case.

I don’t have any of the two postmarks so I cannot upload photos of them. There’s no post office on CRH/CR trains but the trains passing through Suzhou City are mainly CRH/CR ones. Also, Fuzhou Kuliang Post Office is only in service during summer - it is now closed.

Could you please cover the text and the ID at least? The senders decided to write to you and not to the public. See also the point “keep private information private” of the guidelines.


I’ve seen these! They’re kinda rare, but I saw them from Tibet as well. I guess China also has machine cancellations then! It’s just that, the majority of the times, they’re handstamped at the local post office.

And the C’s for China! Please keep updating us – I’d be so happy to see more stamps! By the way, Brazilian postmarks are always so sloppy :laughing: Slavic countries, on the other hand, always do it super neatly (cf. Belarus)… I’m almost spotting a pattern haha

This is not a commemorative postmark! It’s just a special one – cancellation machines often feature these messages (Germany had Gemeinsam gene Corona, i.e. “Together against corona”). In order to get a commemorative postmark, you’d need to go to an event. This, for instance, is a commemorative postmark from Italy: click here.

Wow, @DMSOGeek, I love your post! You show so many examples of my favourite postmarks ever, i.e. the ones from China! They always say so much about the piece of mail itself – if I’m not mistaken, they even tell you whether the mail has been sent from a mailbox or directly from the post office.

Lucky you – I’ve actually never received a Chinese postmark with letters written in the Latin alphabet. The language is this one, right? “Boux boux ma daengz lajmbwn couh miz cwyouz, cinhyenz caeuq genzli bouxboux bingzdaengj” (taken from the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). It looks very interesting and I’d love to see more of it – unfortunately your postmark is kind of illegible because of the colourful postage stamp!

I know! I also noticed those two extra characters – 收寄 – I actually had to look it up on Google to see if something “revolutionary” had happened in China. I found a couple of negative comments, saying that this new feature makes the postmarks look too crowded, and that there isn’t always gonna be enough space for them. Not only that, but I think I’ve seen a version with brackets as well, like this: 三多桥( 收寄)… Have you received them?

I have another question for you: could you show me some incoming postcards from abroad that have been stamped by your local Chinese post office? It would be interesting to see where it usually goes – does it ever touch the foreign postage mark? Or does it steer clear from it?

:+1: Done (and sorry about that)! Let’s discuss postmarks now x


Thank you!

1 Like

A little something about German cancellations.

In contrast to many other countries there is no city name in German cancellations. Instead there is the word “Briefzentrum” (post processing center) followed by a number (B). Germany is currently subdivided into 96 districts with 82 post processing centers. The numbers roughly coincide with the first two digits of German zip codes. So you can roughly say where your postcard/letter comes from or where it was processed.

My postcards usually get cancelled in Briefzentrum 65 which is located in Wiesbaden.

German cancellations furthermore include the date (D), the time (in full hours) (C) and the ID code of the cancellation machine (A) and the logo of the Deutsche Post.



Just to add.
“Sonntagsleerungen” (the increasingly rare occasion that a mailbox will be emptied on Sundays) in smaller areas will be transported to larger distribution centers. For example, instead of a 29, all “Sonntagsleerungen” from that area will have a 30.

1 Like

@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:


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.


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.


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:


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:

1 Like

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: