The Boston Post Office, and the Development of Machine Cancellation (Exhibit Text Frame 2 of 7)

The Machine Cancel Society past president, William Barlow, Jr. , has produced an award-winning exhibit (2008 Indypex GOLD, Napex GOLD, Postmark Society award, and many more) on the history of machine cancels used in Boston, Massachusetts. Most collectors of machine cancels will recognize that Boston was a major center for experimentation with new machines, and study of American flag machines used in this city alone offers an amazing variety. The exhibit goes well beyond the American company and is a useful education for both new and experienced machine cancel collectors. This web page contains text of the exhibit pages created by William Barlow, Jr., and are reproduced and distributed to the public with his permission.

This web page, published by the Machine Cancel Society, contains the text of Frame 2 of the Barlow Boston Machine Cancel History Exhibit.

To see all of the exhibit frame images, go to Frame 2 all exhibit frame images.

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Leavitt Experimental Cancels Pin Puncture Group 4, First Cancelling Die

The final arrangement of the feeding pins consisted of two pins in two groups. Two machines appear to have been operating in Boston from early September 1882 to the end of the year. The first canceller design of two sets of 17 bars separated by a channel was in use from September 1 to November 3 with two different dials.

First day of use for thls die, the first dial type with a relatively wide A in MASS. Only the top pair of pin marks visible

Three days later. After this date only one example is known with a date in the dial. Three pin marks visible.

The second dial type showing a relatively narrower A in MASS. Dated covers known only from November 1 to 3. Undated third- class usages may be somewhat earlier or later

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Leavitt Experimental Cancels , Pin Puncture Group 4, Second Die

A second experimental die was placed in service about September 9, 1882 and used off and on to the end of the year.

The second cancelling die differs from the first by having oblique cuts through the bars. Nearly all covers with this die are third-class usages and lack dates in the dials. As with the cover to the left, surviving enclosures often provide the only evidence of dates. This cover shows all four pin marks.

The cover below is one of two or three first—class usages with month, day and time.

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Leavitt Experimental Cancels Transit Markings

The experimental Leavitt machine was also used toward the end of 1882 as a transit marking created by removing the cancelling die from the machine and adding the word TRANSIT to the dial.

First type, with TRANSIT in the third line, used November 10 to 13, 1882

Second type, with TRANSIT in the first line, used the balance of 1882; This cover, dated December 29, is the last documented date of use

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THE AMERICAN POSTAL MACHINES COMPANY , The Bar Cancellations , American Bar Cancels

Beginning in 1883, Martin Van Buren Ethridge began to work on the problems of developing a cancelling machine that would handle general mail. On November 30, 1884 a Boston newspaper reported that a new cancelling machine was operating in the Boston post office that could cancel up to 300 letters a minute. The American Postal Machines Company was formed, bought out the Leavitt patents and almost immediately became the dominant producer of machines in Boston. The products of these machines have become known as American Bar Cancellations to distinguish them from the Company’s later—developed flag cancellations.

Only one machine was in operation in 1884 from slightly before the date of the newspaper announcement, The few surviving cancellations are mainly third class usages, showing no month and day in the dial. This is one of SIX flrst class usages recorded. One has a December 1 date, and the balance are from the last ten days of December.

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American Postal Machines Company Earliest Recorded Usage

The first machine was installed on November 23, 1884. It was initially used only on third class matter.

An undated dial, but earliest recorded usage based on date of enclosure.

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American Postal Machines Company , 1885 Usages

The year 1885 was one of experimentation, with fourteen different cancels identified. The number of machines in use during the year, however, began with two and ended with six.

One of the two machlnes in use at the beginning of 1885. High and heavy killer bars s1m1lar to the original 1884 cancels. Killer cylinder disposed of at the end of March.

One of two very similar machines introduced in the first week of April with lower killer bars. In use to the end of October.

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American Postal Machines Company 1885 Transit Cancel

An unusual and short—term usage was a transit marking used for local mail routed through Boston. The word TRANSIT replaces the year date. In sporadic use from May 20 to the end of August 1885.

On a cover from North Easton, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.

Folded corner apparently created by a machine jam.

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American Postal Machines Company , Later 1885 Usages

In mid-October 1885 the thickness of the cancelling bars and dials were reduced, and the dials featured smaller and lighter letters. In the new dials the date now appears above the time.

The first of the new machines in its first week of use. The four parts of the date and time were manufactured as quadrants of a circle. The date could not appear below the time unless inverted.

A mixture of old and new. The first dial type recycled with new killer bars. Flattened left side of dial is one of several characteristics identifying the original dial.

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American Postal Machines Company Final 1885 Usages

In December 1885 five different varieties of the new-type cancellations appeared. These had usages of from ten days to nearly a month.

One of the five new types introduced in December 1885.

A final throw-back type (time above date), used the last ten days of December. Discovery copy; final day of use.

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American Postal Machines Company , Machine Numbers Introduced

1886: Numbering of Machines

As the earliest post office with a significant number of machines, Boston was the first to have them numbered. This involved drilling the cancellation die, with a blank die space sometimes surviving for up to a few weeks before the number was inserted. Generally these three varieties exist for each of the seven machines used in 1886. Machines 1 and 2, however, display unique anomalies.

Machine 1 before drilling. Killer distinguished by saw-tooth damage to bottom bar. Seen to April 24.

The same dial with a different drilled killer and tiny experimental number surrounded by lines. Only known copy and not previously reported.

Same dial and killer, lacking lines around the number. Latest of the five copies recorded.

Below: Original saw-tooth killer with the accepted large number. In use from May 7 to the end of 1886.

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American Postal Machines Company , Machine 2

If there was ever a tiny number surrounded by lines for Machine 2, it has not been seen. Neither Machines 1 nor 2 are known with blank die spaces, and the examples suggest that the tiny numbers filled the gap until the dies with the accepted large numbers were ready for installation.

Tiny experimental number 2; known from April 28 to May 6. Latest recorded use

Approved design for Machine 2. In use from May 7 to the end of 1886

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American Postal Machines Company , Machine 4

Four of the remaining five machines exhibited a more typical transition from no die space to a numbered die space. Machines 4 through 7 were drilled in early June and received their numbers in late July.

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F. G. Floyd

Before leaving the developmental decade of rapid machine cancellation in Boston, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to Frederick Gillan Floyd (1869-1941) whose pioneering article, The Machine Commats of Boston, Mass, 1876-1886, published in Volumes XII and XIII of Billig’s Philatelic Handbook, represented the first serious study and comprehensive listing of any machine cancels. While others have been able to make corrections many of of his conclusions, his work has to be taken into account by anyone writing about the period.

Floyd’s Type 36 cancel, as used for third-class matter [his Type 40 is the same cancel with date and time, and, had the second part of his work survived, he would surely have recognized this as the precursor to Machine 1]. This cover is addressed to Floyd’s father, F. C. Floyd, publisher of the South Boston Inquirer. It bears F. G. Floyd’s characteristic rulings on the cancel, used to differentiate dials and killer, as well as the Bartell’s number of the postal stationery in the upper left hand corner

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American Postal Machines Company , A Pioneering Study of Machine 6

Much of the material for Floyd’s studies came from his father’s extensive local correspondence, received as editor of a Boston newspaper. He also obtained photostats of material from other early cover collectors. The progression of the number installation for machine 6 is shown with material known to have been in Floyd’s collection.

The cover with the un-drilled die on Machine 6 can be identified as Floyd’s from his characteristic markings described on the previous page. The date of the cover is three days before the die disappeared for drilling. The photostat of the drilled die is inscribed on the reverse “Coll. Dr. H. K. Thompson | Boston Mass. | Photostat Sept. 10, 1935 I 44 “ (Floyd’s Type number). The numbered die is dated two days after installation. Small flaws, which apparently were caused by insertion of the number and later described by Reg Morris, have been circled in red.

Updated February 4, 2020