Kevin Blackston
PO Box 217
Floresville TX 78114-0217
United States of America

Dealing with damaged stamps

Philosateleian Blog reader Danny J. says he has a little problem with his incoming mail:

Has anyone else noticed that envelopes with actual stamps attached seem to be mutilated more often than not? These days only a small percentage of mail is processed with an actual definitive or commemorative stamp, but I’ve noticed that most of them are mutilated somehow.

Sometimes the post office has canceled the stamps by scribbling through them with an ink pen; other times the stamps arrive ripped or torn as if they barely made it though a sorting machine of some type.

In my experience, Danny’s not too far off the mark: a lot of stamps on modern mail do seem to be damaged in some way, and often the mailpiece itself is bent or has suffered other damage along the way.

The explanation I’ve most commonly heard for ink scribbles on the stamps is that mail carriers are supposed to ensure that stamps cannot be easily reused; that is, they are supposed to be canceled. Mail carriers don’t necessarily have an official post office canceler with them on their routes, however, so they make use of whatever is handy, and that’s usually an ink pen or—even worse—a marker. The horror!

Although we as stamp collectors would prefer to have every stamp arrive in pristine condition, the folks in charge of postal services are more concerned with moving the mail than with fulfilling our every wish, so I’m not sure there’s much that we can do to protect our incoming mail. There are a couple of things you can do with your outgoing mail, however:

  1. When affixing stamps to an envelope, leave at least ¼″ of space between the stamp and the edges of the envelope. Many of the damaged stamps I see have been placed as close as possible to the edge of the envelope, and it takes very little for the stamp to end up damaged in that situation.
  2. If mailing anything other than a standard sized envelope, have it postmarked by hand at a post office counter if possible. I’ve noticed that large and non-rectangular envelopes are often not postmarked at all; I presume the cancellation machines in at least some mail facilities simply don’t accommodate larger items, and those larger envelopes seem to end up with a disproportionate share of pen cancellations.

Have you noticed the same problem Danny pointed out with damaged stamps? Have any ideas on how to prevent the damage from happening? Share your thoughts below.

Published 2012-11-11


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