Yesterday I wrote a general introduction to US precancels. Since US precancels are IMHO a wide and interesting topic, lets dig in further…
US precancels can be put to two basic categories:
1) Bureau precancels, which were printed and precancelled by Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC.
2) Local (or City-type) precancels, which were (usually) precancelled in the town they were used.
Bureau precancels were used when USPOD (US Postal Offices Department) felt that large quantities of precancels could be prepared cheaper than by hiring local printers. Bureau precancels had to be ordered in lots of at least 500,000 sheet stamps or 250,000 coil stamps, and they were printed only to specific definitive stamps/sets.
Bureau precancels always show single lines above and below the city and state (with the exception of National precancels mentioned yesterday); never bars or double lines. Precancel design is always in the normal position, except on stamps that are wider than they are tall; on these stamps, the precancelation usually reads down.
In a sense, Bureau precancels are varieties of U.S. postage stamps made for restricted use, and several varieties (like untagged stamps, meaning absent phosphorescent coating) are known to be issued only as Bureau precancels.
Local (city) precancels
Orders for smaller quantities than 500,000 sheet stamps or 250,000 coil stamps had to be manufactured locally using (usually) government-issued electroplates or by using precancel devices (such as rubberstamps + inkpad) at local post office. Local precancels can be found on virtually any US stamp - most of the local precancels are common, but there are some very rare items too with only a handful of copies known.
Local precancels can be roughly sorted to five main designs, but infinite number of local/plate/typeset etc. varieties exists.
1-2) Typesets and hand stamped precancels are easy to identify, since they lack uniform design and come in very mixed quality.
3) Single Line Electro (SLE) precancels were printed by local post offices with Electroplates.
4) Double Line Electro (DLE) precancels were printed by local post offices.
5) Dated – Starting in 1938, the user’s initials plus the month of use was required to be printed on denominations over 6 cents. This practice was put into action to prevent precancelled stamp re-use.
How to collect US precancels
For starters, with precancels the cancel is more important than the stamp itself. Thus even damaged stamps (as shown in some of my pics) are good enough if better quality replacement is not available. However, like in traditional stamp collecting, it is wise to strive for stamps that are free from tears, thins etc. faults.
Another difference to traditional stamp collection comes with ordering of stamps. The most common way to order a collection is alphabetical order by state and city of precancel. And if you have plenty of precancels, you can always split these to subcategories by origin (bureau or local) and precancel designs.
US precancels offer plenty to collect with low budget…To obtain a collection of each style of precancel used for each town and state in the US would take about 42,000 stamps (of which about 9,500 are Bureau precancels). If you collected each style and town used on each stamp that would mean a collection of few million stamps. . In addition, most of these are very common and low in value, but there are also some rarities with locals.
Finally few words about the catalogues… The very best US precancel catalogues are by the Precancel Stamps Society. They offer separate books for Bureaus and for Locals with very clear listing of all known stamp-types and precancel overprints.