The Boston Post Office, and the Development of Machine Cancellation (Exhibit Text Frame 3 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 3 of the Barlow Boston Machine Cancel History Exhibit.

To see all of the exhibit frame images, go to Frame 3 all exhibit frame images.

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American Postal Machines Company 1887 ‘Black Ball' Variety

From 1887 to 1889 there was very little innovation other than the addition of a few new machines. Their introduction, however, occasionally led to some ephemeral varieties.

This ‘black ball’ variety anteceded the installation of an ‘8' in the die space. How the mark was made is not known. The earliest of two recorded coples

Installation of the 8 in the machine known from November 2, 1887

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American Postal Machines Company , Rimless Dial Cancellations

In the summer of 1889 a completely different dial was introduced, possibly on a newly designed machine, and used only on third—class mail. The cancel was also used in early 1890, first with an erroneous date and then with the date chiseled out, before being replaced for a brief period with a similar properly dated cancel. Attractive as these cancels were, they did not survive and were used nowhere else.

Enclosure dated December 12, 1889

Enclosure dated January 1, 1890. The only recorded cover with an 1889 cancel Ilkely used In 1890

Showing remnants of erased 1889 with a receiving stamp dated January 15, 1890. Apparent use from January 6 to 18. Three of the surviving copies appear to be datable

Below: Replacement for the altered 1889 die with larger type and used on first- class mail. Known from January 24 to February 13

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American Postal Machines Company , 1889 ‘Black Ball’ Variety

One other ‘black ball’ variety appeared when the killer on Machine 4 was changed in February 1889. The changeover was quick. The new killer has a distinctly deeper curve at the left end.

The new killer with ‘black ball’ dated February 1, 1889. The only recorded copy.

Only a two-day gap exists between the old killer and the new killer with its number inserted

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American Postal Machines Company , 1890 Introduction of Lettered Machines

Facing competition for government contracts, a variety of different five— and six—bar cancellers were introduced beginning in 1890 and for various periods. All featured a smaller postmark dial. At the same time the first machines with a letter in the die space were introduced. The distinction in usage between the lettered and numbered machines has not been clearly established.

A five—bar killer and the first machine to have a lettered die space. Dated July 19, 1890 from the ad on the reverse. Earliest recorded use for any lettered “American” machine and the only recorded copy of this type. Die transferred to Machine 14 by July 21, and no other lettered machines in use before late September 1890.

Despite ‘modernization’ of dials and killers in 1890, a six—bar no-die-space flag (a type abandoned four years earlier) was put in service that year. It saw relatively limited use, possibly as a back—up. In this period, machine—cancelled mail to foreign destinations is not common, since the machines tended to handle bulk mailings.

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American Postal Machines Company , 1890 Varieties on Machine 5

Two varieties of five-bar killers were used in 1890: one with a separation between the bars and the dial and one without. Switching of dies between machines and changes of killers produced a number of varieties on most machines—many of them very short-lived.

Three of the four five-bar varieties from Machine 5 in 1890. First, in use October 18 to November 26. Second, same killer-different dial [note positions of 'SS’ in WSS’ to second and third bars in killer] known from December 6—8 (one of two reported copies). Third, same dial—different killer, known from December 26-29

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American Postal Machines Company , 1891 and 1892 Varieties

Five-bar type with vertical line, introduced in 1891. Used on five machines in Boston. Also used in Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

Variation with the bars cut short. Used only on machine H for seven months beginning in August 1892

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American Postal Machines Company , 1893 Varieties

The final type of five—bar killer was installed on two numbered and four lettered machines in Boston, generally for from two to three months in early 1893. Two varieties appear to exist. Both have bars cut straight and well away from the dial, but one shows distinctly heavier top and bottom bars.

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American Postal Machines Company , 1893 Widely Used Cancellation

A six—bar killer was reintroduced in early 1893 and became the most widely used American bar cancel. It was installed on all fourteen numbered and eight lettered machines in Boston. The design was also used in several Boston stations, on numerous machines in Chicago and Philadelphia, and in more than a dozen other cities.

Early uses of the new killer were with blank die spaces. Cover dated March 6, 1893, more than two weeks earlier than any previously recorded

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American Postal Machines Company , Final American Bar Usages

The machines with six—bar cancellers continued in use through 1897 until they were either replaced or fitted with flag dies. A few machines continued on as supplementary machines with numbers or letters removed from their die spaces. The majority of these late usages are on third-class mail.

Machine 11 with a new type of dial, regularly seen with flag cancels at the time. Last six-bar machine to bear a number or letter (through 1897), apparently operating concurrently with Machine 11 using a flag cancellation.

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George E. Barnard

George Ezra Barnard invented and developed a hand—powered cancelling machine. A resident of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, he first tested the machine there; and the prototype is known to have been in use by November 2, 1892. The American Postal Machines Company had been successful with their fast, electric-powered machines, but their use was confined to large-city electrified post offices. Recognizing the need for a small hand—powered machine, the American Postal Machines Company acquired the Barnard patents in 1894.

Cancellations from the first machine (at top) have been recorded from November 2, 1892 to January 30, 1893, last recorded date of use. These lack the two inked impressions left of the dial which, on the reworked machine (immediately above), pulled the cover forward

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American—Barnard Machines , Earliest Installations

Before the end of 1894 machines developed by the American Postal Machines Company using Barnard patents had been introduced in Fitchburg and two Boston stations.

Charlestown Station received a unique wavy-line cancel with five lines by June 19, 1894

Cambridge Station got its American—Barnard machine by October 20, 1894

Fitchburg retained its wavy—line cancel through most of 1897, long after flag cancels had been installed on all other American-Barnard machines

Updated February 5, 2020