Identification of Removed Cancels
A George Kopecky Guide
The cancel ink used by early postmasters was generally indelible. Unless a cancel is very light, particularly a very light red, magenta, or purple, it is very difficult to remove cancels applied with a hand stamp, such as circular date stamps (CDS), town cancels, grids, targets, “PAID”, cork cancels, etc.
However, inks used to write with were often not indelible, making them easy to remove. Unfortunately, many stamps were pen cancelled in the classic period. Grills were experimented with in the 1860’sand 1870’s to prevent cancels from being washed off and the stamp re-used. While they actually did a fairly good job, the problem of cleaned cancels was overblown in that period and the process was abandoned.
Too bad no one was prescient enough to foresee the day when removing cancels would become rampant, not for the stamp to be re-used as postage, but to pass it off as unused to collectors at up to 10 or 20 or more times the price of a used stamp.
Removed cancels can still often be detected. Viewing the stamp under a strong ultraviolet light will usually bring out traces of the ink. However, this is about how to protect yourself when buying online, when you do not have the opportunity to examine the stamp in person.
There are a number of danger signs to watch out for:
It is also very important to understand what a pen cancel does to the Scott’s Catalog Value of a stamp – it reduces it by 50% or more from the value of the same stamp with a hand stamped cancel.
Thus, do not assume that if a stamp has a normal looking cancel, i.e., a grid or target cancel, an indistinct cancel of any kind, or even an ostensible fancy cancel, that it did not start out with a pen cancel. I have even seen fake town cancels and CDS.
Washing off the pen cancel and adding a fake hand stamped cancel automatically doubles the perceived value of a US classic stamp, and with some of them, we are talking big money. Not only does the fake cancel double the perceived value, it also helps cover the tell-tale signs of the removed cancel.
Here are some examples of removed cancels, before and after. They are all real cancel removals sold on eBay by the same individual, and all the pictures are from the original eBay lots he purchased, altered and then resold. Many have had additional alterations besides the removed cancel.