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George Boyle Remembered [Born Dec 25, 1907, Died Aug 18, 1998]

by Frederick Langford (2000)

Mention should be made of the passing of George Boyle of New Jersey, because his long-ago activities still benefit us. George Boyle was the first person in the 20th Century to realize that U.S. Flag Cancels were collectible as a specialty of their own, separate from the assembling or study of machine cancels, or of postal markings in general.

In the earliest months of the year 1933 George saw that certain towns used flag cancelling machines, whereas other towns did not, when a few of the then-current Flag Cancels came his way in his collecting of postmarks in general. The Flag Cancels so fascinated him that he abandoned collecting other styles of postal markings, to concentrate only on Flag Cancels.

In the Autumn of 1933 he sent notes for publication to the editors of stamp papers, asking whether anyone else was interested in Flag Cancels. These published appeals brought to him letters from a small number of other persons who said they were also interested.

George immediately then initiated some "round robin" letters to circulate among these incipient devotees. They were to enable them to get personally acquainted with each other for swapping specimens if they wished; but more importantly to report names of further towns using flag machines, so all who wished could send their prepared covers there for flag cancelling. He thereby became the first compiler of Flag Cancel information, although his efforts were to only list names of towns currently using Flag Cancels.

In early-1934 one stamp paper printed his list of the couple of hundred towns he'd received reports currently used Flag Cancels. A few of the names were erroneous, including South Gate, California, but it was a good start. George worked very hard through all the year 1934, to try to compile a more complete and fully accurate list. This year's efforts were rewarded by STAMPS magazine's publishing in 1934, his up-to-the-minute list of Flag Cancel using post offices, "every one verified by a cover dated 1934 in my collection," being the statement in his heading. The February 1968, issue of the Flag Cancel Society's journal contains a reproduced complete copy of this entire Boyle List of Current Flag Cancels, from the December 15, 1934, issue of STAMPS. It lists the then-current sites of 558 flag machines. We now know that about 150 more post offices then were also using flag machines, but, amazingly, he listed over three-quarters of all offices of current use.

In addition to compiling this fine list, George Boyle attempted two further projects in 1934, both of which failed; but at least he tried. First realizing that the existence of a chart of Flag Cancel types would assist all collectors in correspondence with each other, he tried to create one. His chart-design arranged the components of flag cancelling dies' designs into three categories around the edge of a triangle. This chart pattern proved quite unworkable, and it never attained acceptance.

Next, he tried to learn the year date in which each of the current flag machines was installed, by inquiries he wrote to postmasters. The one certain bit of information he learned from this endeavor is that reminiscences of postal employees are entirely worthless for providing accurate postal history information.

At the time of these events, George was yet in his twenties, and he was employed by the telephone company. The demands of his professional career, and the resulting necessity of devoting his full physical efforts to advance his job, soon led him to the sad realization that he was unable to devote any further activity to Flag Cancels. But, he'd given the subject a good enough start that from his efforts some persons would always be forthcoming, to keep the subject alive.

George then looked around, among the other Flag Cancel collectors he had gotten to know, to see who might be a worthy successor, one he could expect was able to keep the subject further progressing. He finally selected as his heir Harry Shetler of Pennsylvania, to whom he very nominally sold his entire collection of Flag Cancel covers, notes, and other working materials. The choice was a good one. For the rest of his life, for nearly fifty years, Mr. Shetler never ceased trying to promote interest in Flag Cancels. His enthusiasm kept the spirit of Flag collecting alive long enough to result in the appearance of literature and formation by others of the Flag Cancel Society, the earlier form of our current Machine Cancel Society.

Truly, does the name of George Boyle deserve to be remembered by us.

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