When is a postmark applied? (UK)

With World Postcard Day upcoming I’d like to maximise the chances of the cards I send then actually getting postmarked (I know it doesn’t happen all the time now). But I realised I don’t know how to do that because I don’t know where in the process it would be applied!

I’ve worked in Royal Mail sorting centres over the Christmas period before, and when I was on the letter desk we were not told anything about cancelling stamps and I don’t recall the letters generally having cancelled stamps. They’d come to us in big bags from collated posties’ rounds and then we’d sort them to go onwards.

Is this because they were all put in the postbox, rather than given in to the office? If I give them in to my local office is there a higher chance they’ll be stamped?


Hello I can only share what I know from our local post office in ontario Canada, they only get postmarked if I ask them too….otherwise they go to the recipient clean


Or pen canceled. I think most of the mail I get from Canada is pen canceled.


I don’t think that’s correct - I understand the sorting machines do a machine cancel as well, but for some reason, not all mail gets cancelled that way & some does get through clean.

If it’s pen cancelled, it means the mail got kicked out of the automated processing system (usually because the address could not be read) & then they are manually sorted & hand cancelled.

I’m sure more UK folks will chime in, but I think most postal outlets anywhere can do a hand cancel for you if asked. I gather some postal workers are more helpful than others about this request.

That could be too I am just going in what receivers have told me,

I have sent over 100 cards and only one had a pen mark and the majority who wrote me said they were blank. It must have something to do where they get processed, ours go to Mississauga

Yes, there’s 3 super sorting plants I understand that are also the plants that handle int’l mail: Richmond, Mississauga & Montreal (Laval I think to be precise)

I just had a specific discussion about this on one of the FB groups with someone who has a friend who’s a mail processing engineer at Cda Post.

I find this process fascinating along with the int’l mail processes & wish our postal systems were more transparent about how they work.


Rather than dropping your cards into a postbox, you can take them to a Post Office counter and ask them to hand cancel the stamps. In my experience this normally results in a confused look. If the Post Office staff do agree to hand cancel the stamps, they’ll apply a ‘wavy’ or ‘flower’ postmark like this one with the Post Office’s location and date. Sadly, in my experience the staff do this without much care or attention, so you end up with poor quality postmarks randomly scattered across the card. Your experience may vary.

If you just want to make sure a postmark is applied and is applied well, then you can send your cards to a special handstamp centre where dedicated Royal Mail staff apply cancellations with special designs, e.g. to match the special stamp issues. You can request the exact postmark you want, and the staff will apply the mark and post the cards on to their destination. There’s more Information on Royal Mail’s website: https://www.royalmail.com/postmarks Be aware that most postmarks are only available on one day, but there are some which are available for longer times or even permanently.


I was looking at that website earlier but I could really find instructions on how to do it. Do I put the postcards in an envelope addressed to the relevant centre, with each one also stamped and addressed to it’s ongoing destination? Do I post them on the date I want the postmark to be, or do I need to factor in travel times? Is the code for the relevant postmark part of the address or must it be written on the postcard itself?

Sorry, I have so many questions!

This is from another topic in the British Isles section of the forum r.e. postmarks but is also relevant here:

I am not an expert, can try to answer these questions based on my knowledge!

Do I put the postcards in an envelope addressed to the relevant centre, with each one also stamped and addressed to it’s ongoing destination?
Yes, exactly this! Not sure if there is a limit on the number you can send in one envelope though… @Maddymail I don’t know if you can help?

Do I post them on the date I want the postmark to be, or do I need to factor in travel times?
The postmarks are usually valid for a window of time, except permanent postmarks, but you can check this in the Royal Mail hand stamp bulletin here. Looks like you might have already read this though :slightly_smiling_face:

Is the code for the relevant postmark part of the address or must it be written on the postcard itself?
Write the code clearly on a piece of paper and put it in the envelope with the cards. I’d also write the code clearly on the back of the envelope, just in case!
Update: Just copying and pasting this straight from the bulletin: To ensure prompt handling please mark the outer cover ‘Special Handstamp’ and state clearly the serial number(s) of the handstamp(s) required.


Here’s some info about the U.S. Post Office’s postmark policies. While some letters may of course slip through the system without being postmarked, it’s generally in the Post Office’s best interest to postmark them, both for informational reasons and security issues. (For example, after the “Unabomber” sent bombs through the mail by placing them in postal collection tanks, people were subsequently required to mail any stamped mail that weighed over thirteen ounces at a post office retail window, where it would be postmarked with the date and mailing location; in that way, any suspicious mail could theoretically, at least, be traced back to the point of origin. There was also a time, years ago, when someone was sending anthrax through the mail in letter-sized envelopes. The letters went through sorting machines and several postal workers later died after being exposed. I would assume that postal inspectors would have gotten valuable clues from the letters’ postmarks in trying to track down the perpetrator.

Postmarked Meaning USPS In 2022 (+ Other Common FAQs) (querysprout.com)

The Anthrax Mail Attack | National Postal Museum (si.edu)

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My experience, in Canberra Australia, is that I must ask for a hand cancellation/postmark, at the counter of a post-office…as I’m posting it. Sometimes I’ve had to explain to the clerk exactly what I mean…it involves me waving my hands and arms about and usually results in laughter all round.

If I put my postcards straight into a street-side postbox, they arrive at their destination without proper postmarks on the stamps. :frowning:

My postcards may also incur other markings during the sorting process, along the way. For me these include: barcodes printed in black or florescent orange ink on one or both sides of the postcard, barcodes printed on stickers stuck onto the postcard, small digital print-outs on one or both sides of the postcard - detailing what letter sorting facility they went through along the way, and what date and time they went through it, hand cancellation (total annihilation) of the stamp by an enthusiastic post-officer with a really thick black sharpie pen :pleading_face:.

I find it a bit vexing that I must go and ask for a postmark…line up, wait and go through that whole process…but people really seem to like having postmarks on their postcards…so it’s something I’m happy to do…most days :yum:.

I hope you can work out your local system! :+1:t2:


To add some more information to @geo_'s answer…

If you just want a special hand stamp on a regular postcard, then yes. You can also write “For reposting uncovered” on the back of the outer envelope (or on the piece of paper inside) if you want to make it clear that the postcards should be sent on ‘naked’ to their final destination as if you’d put them in a regular postbox. Bear in mind it can take up to 14 days for Royal Mail to apply the postmark and send your mail on.

If you want the cards to come back to you, e.g. if you’re making maxicards to send out later, then you should include a self addressed envelope alongside the cards. Royal Mail will post your cards back to you inside that envelope. There’s no need for extra postage on the self addressed envelope - Royal Mail consider the postage already paid by the stamps you’re having cancelled. However, it is important to make sure each card is actually addressed. Royal Mail will only apply postmarks to genuine pieces of mail. So, you need to write an address faintly in pencil on each card, then you can rub that address out when you get your cards back. (You can’t use anything like a sticky note though)

The outer envelope must bear a postmark on or before the date your chosen hand stamp is available. So, if the handstamp you want is only available on 1 December, then you need to make sure you post your envelope before the last posting time on 1 December, or on any date before that. It doesn’t matter how long it takes the envelope to arrive at the special handstamp centre after that.

I find that some postboxes aren’t emptied every day, so if you want to be sure then it’s best to post your envelope in the postbox at a nearby sorting office. These also have the latest last posting times (often some time in the evening).

It’s not part of the address, but it needs to be clear to whoever opens your envelope exactly what you want. You can write the code and text of the postmark on the back of the envelope, or on a piece of paper inside.

So, you might end up writing something like “Special handstamp #4654 Exeter. For reposting uncovered” on the back of your outer envelope.


Hello @elmani sorry for being late to the conversation.

@geo_ & @rvalkass

Have really covered the Royal Mail Postmarking service in detail, the only items I’ll add are:

On your first few postcards/covers that you submit, include your phone number, if something is not right, a member of the Handstamp team will call you. I have had chats with all three centres and found them to be very helpful.

They have strict rules for ‘First Day of Issue’ postmarks, they can only be applied to new issue stamps.

I have also found them to be flexible on the submissions, for example the latest new issue of stamps was the Country Barcoded Definitives, I had pre-ordered these well before the issue date, but weren’t delivered until a few days after, so I submitted them about a week late, they came back to be three days later undercover in an envelope (that I had supplied, addressed with no stamps applied, as the stamps on the postcards had paid for the return letter)
The postcards are blank, but had written my address on a peelable label.

If not wanting the postmarks returned in an envelope they return/forward the postcards/letters usually in a clear glassine envelope to prevent further postmarking or pen-cancellations.

And for permanent postmarks such as the selection of UK towns & cities, just be clear on the date you request, they will apply these postmarks on any date including, Sundays, bank holidays and Christmas, I’ve had two these year where they honoured by back dated request for a Sunday.
Such as this Titanic cover to myself:

Edit The London Handstamp Team kindly sent me some literature about the postmarking service, worth a read, here is link to a version that has been uploaded as a document, dates from 2002, but still informative


Normal postmarks:

Normally most mail is printer postmarked by the large sorting machines in mail centres.

Most pillar and postboxes have collections mid morning or late afternoon/early evenings and items of mail will be postmarked on the day of collection.
Only postboxes inside or directly outside major post offices will have multiple collections throughout the day.

However if you miss the collection time, postcards and letter will be collected the following day and therefore postmarked on that day.

World Postmark Day 2022 is on a Saturday, therefore you will want your postcards picked up by the postie before the collection time, otherwise it will be postmarked on Monday 3rd October my local postboxes have a 9am collection on weekdays and 7am pick up on Saturday.

Postmarks are usually applied pretty much straight away when mail arrives at the mail centre, however this practice may vary from MC to MC. Note the time stamps on the postmarks.

This video from the Postal Museum is an interesting watch, the postmark are applied by machine at 2.18

To my knowledge from speaking to posties, reading stamp blogs and articles at the postal museum, stamps missed can be fed back into printers, including the rare left hand cancels such as these recieved from Romford MC & Belfast MC, note how the Romford one missed the stamp anyway.

Multiple stamps are usually rejected as the machine reads the phosphorus strip in 2nd/1st and international stamps. I believe these can be fed back into the printers

Failing that sorting teams should have handstamps to then cancel the stamps:

But ofcourse many of us have recieved the dreaded pen-cancels as apparently there are not enough handstamps to go around.
Delivery Office teams also have postmarking equipement such as parcel & stamp killers

Post offices can also apply postmarks at point of posting, but don’t normally to anything smaller than a large letter.