Frederick Langford Memorial Issue of the Machine Cancel Forum, JULY 2011


Message from Newsletter Editor

Family Eulogy

Machine Cancel Forum "Editor's Corner"

My Friend Frederick

Bob Swanson's Memories

Tony Crumbley's Memories of North Carolina Doremus Cancels

With All Flags Flying

Jack Hilbing's History of Potter and Vail Cancels

Introduction by MCS Webmaster, Bob Swanson

Frederick Langford was such an important figure in the history of machine cancel collecting, that a special issue of the Machine Cancel Forum was created (entirely in color) to remember both the man and his great works. The following items have been edited from the original issue of the newsletter. This editing was done because some of the articles in that issue were complete histories and studies of certain machine cancellations, whose compilation would not have been possible without Frederick's direct assistance. Collectors interested in the complete articles about Potter and Vail cancels, as well as North Carolina Doremus machines, are referred to the authors.

A note from the Editor,

Frederick Langford passed away November 19, 2010.  As machine cancel collectors, we know him as the author and researcher for The Flag Cancel Encyclopedia.  Frederick published the first edition in 1955 and the fourth in 2008.  There have been many published studies of flag cancels, and other machine cancels, before and since.  But we can point to his Encyclopedia as being the first definitive study of a machine cancel subject.  Imagine!  The published work represents over fifty years of guidance and illumination to all machine cancel collectors.   There can be very few machine cancel collectors living today who did not have one of those four editions available for consulting.     

The family has honored us by allowing the republication of his daughter Julia’s funeral comments in this memorial issue:  

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Family Eulogy


Frederick Langford was born October 23, 1916, in Chicago, to Lellus Frederick Langford and Sara Jessamine Struble.  He lived in Chicago until his teens, but attended high school in four different cities, graduating from Alhambra High School.  He earned his Associates degree at what was then Pasadena Junior College.  There he met his future wife, Ruth Elizabeth Carter, in the stamp club, and they were married May 2, 1943.  They had two daughters, whom they raised in Pasadena – Julia Langford Busse, and Rosana Langford Whittlesey.  At the time of his passing, Frederick’s descendants also included four grandchildren and three great grandsons, all of whom are here today.  

Frederick had received training as a secretary, and his early working years were with the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Mother has a favorite anecdote from that time.  It seems that the Southern Pacific was obligated to take its employees for free on its passenger trains and that further, a passenger could request that the train let him off at what is known as a flag stop – not a usual stop on the time.  Those who know him know that Frederick considered free the best price.  So my parents took a train from Los Angeles, and Father requested that they be let off in Santa Anita, a flag stop that was close to today’s racetrack, but was not then in any town.  The conductor was none too happy, but he did so.  The kicker is that the Southern Pacific was also obligated to then deliver the passenger by cab to the nearest actual town.  So my parents got a cab ride right to their door at Pasadena, all compliments of the Southern Pacific.  

Because Father preferred to work for himself than for another boss, the week I was born he also took the leap of starting his own business, dealing in coins, stamps, postcards, and his specialty, American Flag Cancellations.  Some of you here today known what a flag cancel is.  From about 1890 to about 1930, and in some towns a little later, elaborate designs of the US flag were used as marks to cancel a stamp on a letter as it went through the post office.  Father became an expert collector of these flag cancels, and wrote what many would consider to be the definitive book about them and the machine that made the cancellations.  The Fourth Edition of this life’s work was published only in 2008.  As an aside, for any who might be really interested, we have copies of this book here, which you may have.     

Father’s other life-long interest was genealogy and family history.  Because he was the child of older parents, and his parents themselves had much older siblings, Frederick associated with many older family members.  He came to know and remember stories, facts and associations by heart, and as an adult decided to try to learn more about the family history.  Knowing only his great-grandfather’s name and that the man came from Ireland, Father researched pushed the family lines back many generations, and into several countries.  He combined travel for business with travel for genealogical research, including in England, Germany, and Canada as well as Ireland.  Without his careful research and steel-trap memory, Rosana and I could not have picked up and furthered our family history as we have.  

In addition, Father had a great knowledge of history, with special interest in Americana in general, and the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln in particular.  At his request, the Battle Hymn of the Republic is part of his memorial today.  

Father never considered himself retired, though he finally gave up his business license at the end of 2009.   Through his later years, he continued to deal in collectibles, even from home when he could no longer work from an office.  His book and his interest in genealogy kept him going until the last couple of years of his life.  Frederick Langford passed away November 19, 2010, at age 94, and rests in the Mountain View Mausoleum.

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By A J Savakis, Warren, Ohio        

It’s my turn to tell a Langford story or two.  I only had the pleasure of meeting him twice, both before I became editor of Forum.  Most of my communication with him was over the telephone or by mail.  I was still trying to find a learning curve, and found him to be a good source once I knew what to ask!  Despite some errors and mistakes on identifying dies, he was patient in guiding me to find the way.  I had wanted a scan of the 1899 Cleveland involute, and he was good enough to include a scan of it in the Fourth Edition for all to enjoy. He liked the flag cancels used on the HD2 here in Warren for special occasions.  When the machine was in use, he was peppered with examples.  I was thrilled that he included them in his legendary encyclopedia.  I kidded him when he called to announce the availability of the Fourth Edition that wanted him to be around to do a Fifth.  He laughed and noted he had a lot of the Fourth to sell first!  If you look at the Addendum, a new AEF flag was discovered just after the Fourth was printed.  How would he take it?   Would he be disappointed that the book just released was not complete?  But he was thrilled when I told him on the telephone.  As noted in his Fourth Edition, “All information for this volume was newly re- examined and rechecked; and it was so continuously up to the minute of press time. . . . This does not mean, of course, that future additions and corrections may not be found, for they shall.”  At page 82, emphasis added.  With an attitude like that, it was no wonder he lived into his 90’s and contributed so much.     

Besides listing all US flag cancels, Langford’s Flag book is filled with information valuable for machine cancel collectors in general.  He also values uses of flag cancels together with other special uses, such as the Lakehurst flag cancel with Zeppelin airmail stamps.  His ‘fatherly’ advice on what drives prices is to be appreciated.  

Because of its longevity in publication, The Flag Cancel Encyclopedia is usually the first machine cancel book a beginning collector will find and read.  He will be missed.    

In closing, on behalf of the Machine Cancel Society formerly known as The Flag Cancel Society, I offer my condolences to the family, and thank you for sharing him with us.  


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My Friend Frederick  

By Nick D’Ercole  

It was late 1990 and I had been collecting Doremus cancels for about 6 months when I went to the mailbox to collect the mail for the day.   To my surprise there was a letter with a very ornate corner card with a typed written address from what appeared to be a typewriter from the 1950’s.  The letter was from Frederick Langford. He wrote to me that he had heard I was collecting Doremus Machine Cancels, wanted to know how I was enjoying it and asked if I had his book.   This exchange was the beginning of a friendship that lasted for almost 20 years.     

At first our friendship started out with exchanges of letters with inquiries about Doremus cancels and grew into a discussion about Postal History in general.  Over time it began to include occasional phone calls.   Then, in early 1994 Frederick let me know that he was going to be attending the Chicago World Columbian Stamp Show in Chicago that May.  This was exciting for me as I was living in Columbus, Ohio at the time, but was born and raised in Chicago and was planning on attending that show.   Finally we meet in person in Chicago that May and were able to spend the day together.  Just hearing his stories of how he wrote both the Flag and Doremus Machine cancel books was worth the trip.   One funny story to tell about on our first meeting was when Frederick asked me if I would mind driving him to a cemetery in Chicago where he could visit a friend’s grave stone. Now a couple things to take into account with this was the fact that Frederick had not been back to Chicago for over 20-30 years and Chicago had changed a lot in those times.     How would he remember how to locate this cemetery?  What would the neighborhood be like now?  Well, I had both questions answered quickly.   To my amazement Frederick not only led me straight to cemetery, but also walked straight to his friends gravestone among a maze of other gravestones.  Of course, in regards to the neighborhood, it was like a small war zone and I think we were fortunate to make it out alive, but to Frederick it was visiting an old friend.    

After years of corresponding with Frederick, in 1999 I found out that my wife’s job was going to be sending her to Newport Beach and I was thinking of tagging along.    Pasadena being pretty close to Newport Beach I asked Frederick what he thought about me coming out to visit him.   To say he was excited would be an understatement.    On arriving at Frederick’s house I was greeted by his wife Ruth whom over time I would also become friends with.    There in his living room sat a small table with the typewriter he had been using for probably 40 years.   It was with this typewriter he wrote out every book he had ever published.   He did not use a computer.  At that time he was working on the latest edition of his Flag Cancel Encyclopedia.  He showed me how he would type out each listing and then cut it out and pasted it below the preceding one.  I asked him what he did when a new variety came in and he told me he would have to move each listing down one.  The amount of work this required was just amazing.  Then, Frederick showed me into his dinning room where he had a small walk -in safe that he purchased in an auction from a local bank years earlier.  There in this safe was all of his data, for all of his publications.  He had notes on index cards for each listing from his books.  Again, the amount of organization this required of him was amazing.  Next he took me to his safety deposit box at the local bank. This was also an amazing site to see. Inside the deposit box were several Wheatie Cereal boxes that looked to be antiques in themselves all being held together with oversized rubber bands that were falling apart along with some cover binders.    Inside these boxes and binders were some of the greatest rarities in machine cancel history.      One other funny story on this visit was the items he had in cover binders in the safety deposit box.   As I viewed these I would notice that he would have as an example some amazing US Exposition Machine Cancel, but a white sheet of paper would cover the left half hand side of the cover.  I asked why he did this and he said because he did not want to detract from the cancel.   When he would remove the white paper it would reveal some of the most ornate Expo advertising covers I had ever seen!!!  

Over the years I would visit two more times and as before really enjoyed the stories of acquiring rare items, more than seeing them myself first hand.  Here are a few of my favorite stories:  

Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Flag Cancel – He told me he had placed an ad in a local paper in Washington (back in the 50’s) as he did many times before asking for anyone who might have postal history.  A couple of sisters replied who had actually gone to the Expo as small children and had several items.  As he flipped through what they had he did not notice much of any interest until he came upon the Alaskan Yukon Flag legitimately used on cover.    

Fifth & Pen Ave. Circuit R.P.O. Flag Cancel – He was in New York, again in the 1950’s, and went to a local stamp dealers shop.  There in a ten-cent cover box he found a Fifth & Pen Flag Cancel.  He then went to the dealer to check out and as the dealer counted up his items he came across the Fifth & Penn Flag cancel and said, “that one looks like a good one, that will cost you twenty five cents”!  

La Canada, CA Flag Cancel – In his quest to be able to actually see a Flag cancel machine in person he spoke with the Postmaster of the La Canada, CA post office back again in the 1950’s who told him that he had the Flag Cancel machine for years, but then one day needed something to fill a hole in his backyard and took the Flag Machine and filled the hole.  So, somewhere in La Canada, CA in someone’s back yard sits a Flag Cancel machine!!  

My last visit came about two months before he would pass away.  He was not doing well that day and my visit was short, but I enjoyed the time I had with him.  Following this visit I spoke with him one more time on the phone a month before he passed away.  He was having a good day that day and we spoke for about 15-20 minutes.  I remember the last thing we spoke about was him attending the 1933/34 Chicago World’s Fair in Chicago and him saying how he wished he collected Postal History back then, but he was too young.    It was fitting that this was our last conversation as it captured a new interest I have in US Expositions and our love for Chicago.        

With Frederick’s passing, the Postal History community has lost another historian and pioneer.  In addition to all of these losses, I’ve also lost a friend and a mentor.  Happy trails, Frederick, you will be missed.  

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A note on Frederick  

By Bob Swanson  

My memories of him go back to when I lived in Southern California.  When I started collecting postal history, it seemed that there were few dealers to be found in Southern California. On a recommendation, I started to frequent the monthly postcard show in South Pasadena.  I found plenty of material to start my collecting.  

During those forays to “South Pas”, I kept seeing an old fellow who seemed to be well- known to the dealers.  He would look at a postcard, look again, and then scribble a note on a scrap of paper.  Little did I realize that this was Mr. Langford, and he was taking notes FROM MEMORY about flag cancellation dates and types.  After I’d visit the show a few times, he started to look over my shoulder, and ask what it was I was collecting.  At the time, I didn’t know either, but many cancels looked very interesting, and were piquing my collecting appetite.  When I noticed an interesting flag cancel, he would comment something like, “those are very common,” or sometimes, “you really ought to buy that item.”  When I hesitated to make the purchase, he became agitated, and emphasized that I, “REALLY OUGHT to buy that item!”   Quite an education for a new postal history collector!  

When I was working on my book on domestic U.S. military camps of the First World War, I wanted to use the flag cancel notation system.  However, as I interpreted the wording in his book, I believed that I could not use them without permission.  I wrote to him and he provided a letter that stated that I would not be infringing on his copyright, by using the designations.  He seemed to find it odd that I would even ask for such permission, but he was kind enough to go along with my request.  

In 1991 during a visit to Southern California, I spent a day with him at his house, going over dates of usage for the WWI-era flag cancels.  He found it amusing that I wanted to know exact dates, rather than just years.  Cover after cover appeared from a storage area, including very rare cancels.  I was in awe, and have always treasured the day spent seeing just a tiny part of his incredible collection of cancels.

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Reminiscing of Frederick Langford and   The North Carolina Doremus Cancels  

by Tony L. Crumbley    

Sometime around 1972, I added my first postal history item to my philatelic collection.  By the mid 1970’s, I had run across the opportunity to send a dozen stamped envelopes and receive a free flag cancel newsletter.  Boy, what a bargain that was.  Somewhere in that newsletter I learned of Frederick Langford and his American flag cancel catalog and Doremus machine cancel catalog.  

About 1980 I ordered copies of both his catalogs and began an aggressive pursuit of these North Carolina markings.  After a few years, I misplaced or loaned my Doremus catalog to someone and wrote Frederick to order another for myself and an extra for a friend.  To my surprise, several weeks later I received one copy of the booklet and a long letter scolding me about being greedy.  Frederick’s records were such that he knew exactly when he had sent me the other catalogs.        

It seems Frederick only had eight copies of his 1968 catalogue left and was rationing them out to new collectors and it would be several years before he would issue the 1988 revised edition.  That was my first introduction to Frederick.  He did not mind sharing his knowledge however he did not want to broadcast it wantonly.  Over the years he helped me add needed covers to my collection.  He would, however, never take cash from me.  He always wanted to trade.  I might add it was quite difficult finding covers he did not have in order to trade for ones I needed.  

The other amazing thing about Frederick was his thoroughness.  In my 30+ years of collection North Carolina flags and Doremus cancels, I have found very few additions or changes in the information he presented.  One would expect, with my focus on such a small aspect of his works, I would have been finding additions to his knowledge base.  


As I continue to collect these markings and knowing their relative scarcity, I’m amazed at the wealth of information Frederick was able to assemble in his lifetime.  He will surely be missed.

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Flags flying, but at half staff  

The death of Frederick Langford last November 19 for those of us who collect flag cancels (and, indeed, for those who collect the cancellations of any 19th and early 20th century machines) severed a link with the present record of what we collect and with the historical record of our collecting.  Fortunately, as to the present, the fourth edition of the Flag Cancel Encyclopedia is as up-to-date a record as we could hope for,  bringing together all of the knowledge on flag cancels that Frederick had accumulated and was willing to impart.  As to the historical past, there was a mother lode of information that could never be completely mined and is now lost.  

Frederick was a young man of 25 when the Flag Cancel Collectors Club (FCCC) was formed and folded in 1941, a victim of both internal strife and World War II.  By the time the Flag Cancel Society was inaugurated on June 14, 1961 (Flag Day, of course), Frederick had published the first edition of the Flag Cancel Encyclopedia and was properly considered the final authority on flag cancels.  As such, he was awarded Membership Number 1 and the position of Research Director.  Two other members of the founding group, Edwin Puls and Herbert Gottshall had also been members of the FCCC. The other five were relative newcomers to collecting flags: William Barlow, William Bomar, C. Burton Day, Eugene Funk, and Harry Taber.  Frederick was the last surviving member of that founding group, and, for most of us now active, was the only one who had personal knowledge of the pioneers who started collecting flags in the 1930s.  

His knowledge of those pioneers and their formative efforts was often helpful to me, providing historical information that could bring a personal touch to an article I was writing or a cover I had acquired.  Despite the fact that Frederick died a few weeks after his ninety-fourth birthday, I somehow had the feeling that he, his remarkable memory, and the knowledge he had acquired would always be available.

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Frederick Langford and the Potter and Vail Connection


By Jack Hilbing  

Frederick Langford is generally associated with Flag Cancels and Doremus machines.   But Fred had other machine cancel interests. One of these other interests related to the so-called Potter and Vail canceling machines. In fact, Fred was a major factor in initiating my interest in these cancels.  This is a story of the development of my interest in these cancels and the influence of Frederick Langford in my pursuit of these markings.  

In 1979 when I moved back to Illinois after 20 years in the Air Force, I had some interests in selected areas of Illinois postal history. In the October 1980 issue of the American Philatelist there was an article by George Phillips about the Barry Ovals which began my interest in Illinois machine cancels.  In order to develop my knowledge, I obtained the back issues of Machine Cancel Forum in 1981. (This was the original Machine Cancel Forum, The First Series edited by John Koontz and John McGee.)  

In September 1981 I found two Potter and Vail cancels at a dealer booth at CORNPEX in Bloomington, Illinois.  Although I do not believe that the dealer recognized the cancellations, he did realize that they were unusual markings and priced them a little more than the normal covers.   They were attractive to me and seem to be well worth the price of approximately $30 for the two covers.   


But what is the connection of Frederick Langford with the Potter and Vail markings?  

After acquiring my two covers, I went home to find information in the Machine Cancel Forum (the First Series which was published from 1974 to 1986). I found only four pages that referenced Potter and Vail cancels. I wrote the author of the latest input (Maurice Grossman) for additional information, but I did not hear from him at that time.     

During the following year I had extensive correspondence regarding these cancels which I was finding to be quite interesting. I still have a detailed log of my actions and copies of the outgoing and incoming correspondence during that year. (After all, I am a “collector”, although some might use the term “pack rat”. But all of these records are in hard copy as it was in the days when few of us had electronic copies of our email or correspondence.)    

This 1982 set of correspondence included my initial contact with many of the machine cancel collectors and researchers of that time (Frederick Langford, Reg Morris, Bob Payne, Sam Ockun, Bill Bomar, Joe Hollerman, Bill Rapp, John Koontz, John McGee, and Ralph Sharp). Later I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and interface with some of these people.  Fred Langford was the most instrumental of these contacts in getting me really involved in this aspect of postal history.  

On February 14, 1982 I wrote Frederick Langford stating that I was familiar with his name, that I was interested in the Potter and Vail cancels, and that I was taking the liberty of writing him asking his assistance.  I enclosed a few pages saying “My knowledge - as well as lack of it – is summarized in the attached sheets.”  

Exactly a week later on February 21 I was greatly surprised when I got a telephone call from Fred.  My handwritten notes from that call included the following:  

Frederick Langford called. He received my letter. Wondered if I was thinking of booklet. I mentioned possible article. He encouraged me. Said he wouldn’t tackle at this time due to other thing.  But should be done.  Willing to provide data. …Will go to bank vault & get data & covers to make me photocopies. Will send this week. I should call him next week after received.    

He mentioned I should try to get data from Eugene Funk and Sam Ockum.  (He thought Sam might have bought Funk’s collection.)  

As a result of the telephone conversation I wrote Mr. Langford on February 23 thanking him for his encouragement on writing up the Potter and Vail story. I stated that I would appreciate any assistance that he could give me. However, I mentioned that Maurice Grossman had requested Potter and Vail information in the Machine Cancel Forum and I had not heard from him. Did he know of Mr. Grossman or that effort?  

On March 1, Fred wrote me that he would be sending some papers and photocopies in the next few days.    In his letter, he stated:  

Concerning Mr. Grossman. I’ve had some correspondence with him in past years, not too frequently, and never about Potter & Vail.  We were corresponding about other makes of machine cancels, not Potter & Vail. I just phoned John Koontz of the MCF, and told him of your question to me, as to whether he might care if you did your project.  Mr. Koontz told me that he understood that Mr. Grossman acquired quite a bit of info. about Potter & Vail cancels as a result of his inquire on pg. 205 of MCF, but that he, Mr. Grossman, never wrote it up.  Of course Mr. Koontz does not know whether the amount received by Mr. Grossman was enough to give a very complete picture of the Potter & Vail subject.  But Mr. Koontz does not feel that continuance in the project would, or could, be anything that Mr. Grossman might, or would have reason to, object to; and Mr. Koontz said to me he’s enough eager to see you print a little handbook or pamphlet about Potter & Vail that he’s going to go ahead and write you a letter and tell you he feels it’s all right for you to do so.  He said Mr. Grossman is much occupied with his own job now, and has little time for any philatelic activities nowadays; and isn’t doing much correspondence.  I know I haven’t heard from him for a couple of years.    

…I gathered the impression, from the page 205 MCF query, that possibly Mr. Grossman wanted to write about Potter & Vail chiefly because the subject never yet had been adequately written up.   He might feel now about like I do on the subject: I had some ambition to write it up someday, because this writing-up was needed; but as long, as some else (yourself) seems capable and willing to do it, I’m happy to help him (yourself) do it; as the main thing is that it gets done.    

With the alleviation of my concerns of “stepping on someone else’s toes” and the encouragement of Mr. Langford, I was ready to begin my little project.  

A few days later I received a booklet from Langford with 21 photocopied pages and a title:  

Duplicate POTTER & VAIL NOTEBOOK Of Frederick Langford

Made expressly for Jack Hilbing 1982

This included photocopies or sketches of the covers known to Fred together with comments.  It also included a page and a half typed manuscript entitled “Observations on the Herringbone cancels of 1898- 1900. (F. Langford) 2-9-48”. This 1948 paper is the earliest write-up I have seen regarding these cancels. The short paper starts with the statement; “Through the courtesies of the various owners I now have before me all known varieties of the above machine’s impressions, this being also the first time all varieties have been together, anywhere, at the same time.”  This very early paper was described by a page in the notebook, prepared by Langford in 1982 before he sent to me. This stated:  

The following sheet and a half was written by F. Langford on Feb. 9, 1948, and it shows the first attempt to try to determine some concrete knowledge about the Potter & Vail machine, to replace the guesswork and conjecture which had existed since the year 1941, when the name and cancels of the Potter & Vail machine had first come to the information of himself and others, together with, then, also, the identity of the three patents in the 600,000 series.    

This article mainly dwells upon the pin, or cutting, marks, and attempts to explore a possible relationship between the Potter & Vail machine and the Barry machine.  A relationship, if any existed, has still not been resolved or clarified to this year of 1982.  

This writeup should not be “taken too seriously,” but it is preserved mainly to show the beginning steps toward acquisition of information about the Potter & Vail.  

Prior to 1941, the few collectors interested in classifying machine cancels called the Potter & Vail markings “Barry Machine Cancels,” routinely; and without thought that this name might be incorrect when applied to them.  

Among the photocopies in the notebook was the tracing which is reproduced in Figure 4. This was made by Fred over 30 year before he corresponded with me (which makes the original tracing some 60 years old). At the time Fred believed it to be the earliest herringbone cancellation. (Later a slightly different December 15, 1897 Kewanee marking with a herringbone cancellation was found on a postal card). The cover related to this tracing has never been reported. It has apparently continued to lay buried in someone’s collection for over a half-century.  


Langford had also pursued the background on the Potter and Vail cancels in 1964 in a visit to Kewanee, Illinois (one of the four towns with these cancels and the home of one of the patentees).  There was another page in this notebook that stated:  

The Kewanee Public Library has files of old Kewanee newspapers dated in the 1890s.   On my visit to Kewanee in August, 1964, I made scattered checks in these newspapers, or their microfilms, in the period 1897 to 1900, particularly 1897.  However, I could not find any reference therein to any cancelling machines used at the Kewanee post office.  I did not have time enough to make a thorough check of the newspapers for above period.  

With the information from Langford, back issues from the Machine Cancel Forum, data from Chicago collector Harvey Karlen, and my own covers, I compiled a list of some 41 known Potter and Vail covers.   On March 14, I call Fred and we discussed the information.  He believed that Bob Payne had the largest holding of Potter and Vail covers, but that he thought that all of Bob’s covers were in his listing.    

At the time that I wrote Langford, I had written to Reg Morris. I received a very nice letter from him on March 21. This was my first contact with Reg. After an apology for a delay in writing, his second paragraph surely expressed Reg’s dedication to our field of interest.  

Welcome to the exciting world of machine cancels – once you get hooked you’ll find that it is so absorbing that your other interests tend to get pushed to the background.  At least that is my experience.      

In my letter to Reg, I had sent a check for copies of his two books on the American machine cancels. One was out of print, but he photocopied it for me and sent it from England. Another sign of dedication from another well known machine cancel collector!  After explaining about the photocopy of his book and providing some personal background, Reg wrote.  

But to Potter & Vail.  Oh dear I do have a few scraps of information but my notes are in no shape to be coherent to anyone else at the moment.  

But the letter contained 12 hand drawn Potter and Vail markings, a good set of data to complement the information received from Langford.  This included a drawing of an August 3, 1896 Kewanee marking which remains the earliest reported Potter and Vail cancel. This cover is the only example that has been reported of this type.  


The flurry of activity in February and March of 1982 started my compilation of information on Potter and Vail.  My log and records from 1982 showed considerable effort on these cancels during that year including the following:  

  • I had a telephone conversation with Maurice Grossman on March 31 discussing the information that he had collected.
  • There was correspondence with a number of well known machine cancel collectors and the editors of the Machine Cancel Forum as indicated at the top of this article.
  • There were queries of the local historical societies in Kewanee and Stark County, as well as the Kewanee postmaster in an attempt to get information on the inventors and use of the machine. A local Kewanee historian provided some information on the inventors. However, as with Langford’s search almost 20 years earlier, no information was obtained on the trial machine use at the post offices.  
  • A request for information was published in a two page article in the May, 1982 issue of the Illinois Postal Historian.
  • A paper titled “Preliminary Classification of Potter and Vail Machine Cancels” was prepared in July, 1982 and provided to others for comments (Frederick Langford, Reg Morris, Bob Payne, Sam Ockun, Maurice Grossman, John McKee, John Koontz, Ralph Sharp, Nick Todero, and Eugene Funk). I received comments from most of these collectors including a letter from Eugene Funk saying that he had sold his collection years earlier.

After 1982 I continued to have an occasional contact with Fred on Potter and Vail covers. For example, in 1986 he reported an earlier date of the Type G Chicago marking that he had acquired. On one occasion (maybe 1983) when he was passing through Chicago, I had an opportunity to meet him for the first time. (Incidentally, Fred was born in Chicago and lived there the first 16 years of his life.)    

While the herringbone cancellations generally had the points facing the right, there are two known instances (single instance of each) in which the cancellation was pointed in the opposite direction.  One was a November 5, 1898 cover somewhat similar to the tracing in Figure 4.  The other instance is with an oval Kewanee townmark .  


In 1987 the Illinois Postal History Society published my first monograph in this area: The Potter and Vail Machine Cancels – “The Illinois Machine Cancels”.  As to be expected, this presented a type classification as well as a census of known covers.  This book also included background of the two patentees (Edward M. Vail of Kewanee, Illinois and Gideon Potter of Osceola, Illinois).  In addition, it included a review of the patents. This latter section is what bogged me down and left the work sit for some time (Not everyone is as adept as Reg Morris in reading patents.). Although it was several years after I had started the effort, it was good to have it published…with the great help of Frederick Langford, Reg Morris, Bob Payne, and others.  

In December 1992 an update on the “Potter and Vail Update – 11/6/92” appeared in An Anthology of Machine Postal Markings – Volume 2 published by the Society.  

The latest version of the monograph was the completely revised The Potter and Vail Machine Cancels published by the Machine Cancel Society in 1995.  Major input to this book came from Reg Morris and Bob Payne.    

Three individuals had a major influence in my general pursuit of machine cancels and my particular interest in Potter and Vail:  Frederick Langford, Bob Payne, and Reg Morris…three outstanding contributors to our knowledge of machine cancels.  Fred was the first one that encouraged me and I appreciate his support.  

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