(This article is re-formatted from the following publication:
Robert Mustacich, Paul Reese, Frank Sente, and David Thompson. 2023. Regional Hand-Stamped Cancels on 1898 Battleship Revenue Stamps The American Revenuer, 76(1):18-26.

Regional Hand-Stamped Cancels on 1898 Battleship Revenue Stamps

Robert Mustacich, Paul Reese, Frank Sente, and David Thompson.


We live in an era in which the reach of advertising and merchandising is nationwide. Before the rise of radio, television, and then the internet, the growth in advertising was in print following the Civil War. The patent medicine companies of the late 1800s were some of the earliest and wealthiest beneficiaries of this growth in print advertising. Nonetheless, the nationwide advertising by these best known, large companies around 1900 still maintained some regional character – local newspapers frequently included in their advertising the names of local drug merchants where their products could be purchased. Smaller concerns generally remained more regional in their businesses owing to their smaller budgets. Similarly, small businesses that provided supplies to drug merchants also were more regional operations. Of special interest to this article, the manufacturers of rubber stamps for cancelling revenue stamps appear regional in their businesses and advertising. This paper reports our findings of peculiar cancel designs on revenue stamps that correspondingly appear regional in their use.

The manufacture of rubber stamps was a widespread business in the United States by the latter 1900s. By 1892, for example, there were more than 4,000 manufacturers of rubber stamps in the United States (Miller, J.K., and L. Thompson, 1978). It should be no surprise then that inexpensive rubber stamps were both promoted and widely adopted for mass canceling of the revenue stamps mandated by the War Revenue Act of 1898. While the U.S. government did not specify any particular method for cancelling revenue stamps, the tedium and time required to hand write all the required information on each stamp was clearly onerous, especially to any proprietor with a large number of items requiring stamps.

The U.S. government also did not provide any guidance regarding the formats or designs of cancels if a user intended to use a cancellation device, only that the cancel contain the basic required information consisting of the user’s initials and date of use. With the rush to obtain stamps and stamping devices by the start of the taxation on July 1, 1898, one rubber stamp manufacturer was reported to have written on June 29 to the Internal Revenue collector, Richard Yates, of his Decatur, IL, district seeking guidance on cancel sizes and designs. He received the reply “We have received no instructions yet as to the size and shape of the rubber stamp to deface internal revenue stamps. It is absolutely necessary to stamp or write both the user’s initials and the date at which used.” (Decatur Daily Review, 1898) To the best of our knowledge, no general specifications were ever made by the government regarding cancel designs, and this is responsible for the profusion of different designs. One revision was made by the Internal Revenue in early 1899 in which the date information was further specified to include the month and day of the month in addition to the year because some users were only including the year in their cancels. (Pharmaceutical ERA, 1899)

The rapid implementation of the War Revenue Act of 1898 put stresses on the government to prepare and distribute stamps, and sufficient availability of the revenue stamps in the early days of the tax was a nationwide problem. Interestingly, the same was true regarding the availability of rubber-stamping devices. A newspaper report on July 11, 1898, stated that “The war revenue bill has given the rubber stamp business a big boom. A local dealer in stamps says he cannot supply the demand, as the factory is overcrowded with orders. The stamps on which there is the greatest rush are the little cancellation stamps, used in cancelling the revenue stamps on checks and packages. It takes too long to cancel them with pen and ink and a stamp will answer the purpose nicely.” (Waterbury Evening Democrat, 1898) Favorable business sentiments by manufacturers were expressed in a report dated July 7, 1898: “Rubber stamp men are making money manufacturing the stamps for cancelling the war revenue a dhesive stamps.” (Portsmouth Herald, 1898) From multiple advertisements it appears that the typical rubber stamp sold for a price in the range of 25 to 75 cents.

Figure 1. Some examples of the wide range of hand-stamped cancellation types found on battleship revenue stamps.

The simplest designs that received widespread use consisted of two or more lines of text. These usually include the initials in the first line and a date in the second. Sometimes a name was used in place of initials, and the date can be found in alternative formats, not always including the information specified in the 1899 communication from Internal Revenue. There is a great degree of variation in the typefaces, their sizes, and the layouts of cancel designs. The first row of cancels in Fig. 1 shows some example variations found in simple cancel designs. Similarly, there are a great many cancels with circle or oval borders. These are also found in many different styles and sizes, their popularity perhaps stimulated by their familiar uses as cancels on postage stamps. Examples are shown in the second row of Fig. 1. Basic cancels with rectangular borders also come in many sizes, and some examples are included in the final row of Fig. 1. The cancel designs in Fig. 1 are a small sampling of the variation in the most common cancels found on the 1898 battleship revenue stamps.

The manufacturers of rubber stamps emphasized the time savings in using a rubber stamp to cancel the war revenue stamps. Of special importance to this research paper, the stamp manufacturers appear to have run simple and minimal advertisements which did not promote any specific or unusual cancel designs based on the advertising that we have collected. This includes advertising and related ephemera for more than 100 U.S. manufacturers we have found so far. Yet it is clear from a related project constructing a large database of 1898 proprietary U.S. revenue stamp cancellations that there are many unusual cancel designs which are peculiar to a region of the country. This database contains more than 9,000 different cancel images, and provides a means to group various designs and discover regional use. (Mustacich et al., 2022) Since small manufacturers are thought to have concentrated their business activity within major metropolitan areas at the time of the 1898 revenue stamps, we believe this resulted in the occasional appearance of unique cancel designs of hand stamps that were promoted and used regionally. Accordingly, this research paper presents and discusses several unusual cancel designs and their apparent regional use.

A Key Example: The Wallace Supply Co. Patriotic Cancel

An exception to the otherwise generic rubber stamp advertising that we have observed is our discovery of an advertising postcard from the Wallace Supply Co. of Chicago, IL. This discovery awakened us to the occurrence of regional uses of cancels on the battleship revenue stamps. The Wallace Supply Co. promoted an unusual patriotic cancel for use on revenue stamps which is featured on the back side of their postcard shown in Fig. 2. The canceller’s advertised features include cushioned rubber facing and a built-in date holder to securely hold small date stamps to allow the user to readily change the date. The cancel consists of a patriotic flag with a field of stars, and contains a three line cancel of the initials, the date, and a location. This postcard was mailed July 12 and is penciled and stamped on the back side with a record that a canceller was ordered the next day. The recipient was the Exchange Bank of Ackley, IA. We were fortunate to find two battleship revenue stamps canceled by the Exchange Bank, one of which is included in Fig. 2. The initials “J. R. Ex. Bk.” stand for John Rath Exchange Bank (John Rath was the president of the Exchange Bank of Ackley, IA).

Figure 2. This is the first finding of a specialized hand stamp cancel advertised for 1898 revenue stamps. It was produced by the Wallace Supply Co. of Chicago, IL, and has only been found on stamps used in the midwestern region centered around Chicago. The advertising card from the Wallace Supply Co. of Chicago, IL, features this patriotic cancel. The recipient, the Exchange Bank of Ackley, IA, purchased a canceller, and its use is shown on a revenue stamp.

Fig. 2 illustrates a scarce and unusual example of the advertising of a specific cancel design by a rubber stamp manufacturer and a full circle example of the advertising, purchase, and subsequent use of a specific canceller. Fig. 3 shows revenue stamps of 12 different business concerns all using the Wallace Supply Co. patriotic cancel. All have the same general format, although sometimes sans serif typefaces are used, especially when a line of the cancel has numerous characters in it. The W.B.Co. of Belleville, IL, also has the location italicized. The use locations for the stamps bearing the Wallace Supply Co. flag cancel are shown in Fig. 4. The known cancels extend from Ohio to Nebraska, and this may reflect the direct mail advertising campaign used by the Wallace Supply Co. The Chicago metropolitan area is central to this group of regional uses. Other patriotic flag cancel designs are also known, but in smaller numbers than the Wallace Supply Co. cancel. These can be observed in the BDR2 online database by searching with “flag” in the cancel description field.

Figure 3. Examples of different companies that used the Wallace Supply Co.’s patriotic cancel.

Figure 4. The known uses of Wallace Supply Co.’s patriotic cancel are all in the midwestern states centered about Chicago. Numerals indicate multiple uses at a location.

"Badge" Design of the Star Stamp Co.

A second, less convincing example is provided in the advertising of the Star Stamp Co. of Dover, NH. This badge design consists of a border having four points and rounded corners, and it has been found on more than a dozen documentary battleships. A few examples along with the illustration of the stamp from the Star Stamp Co. catalogue are shown in Fig. 5. The known locations are mostly in the northeastern U.S., but do range as far as Detroit, MI. Similar designs were used on postage stamps in the 1880s during the ”Postmaster’s Choice” period. The very simple design suggests the possibility that this may have been a design used by more than one rubber stamp manufacturer. One Commerce series stamp (middle right side) and a First Issue revenue (bottom right) both have similar cancels but with quite different typefaces and additional lines of text.

Figure 5. Example uses of a cancel having a specific “badge” design. This design was advertised by the Star Stamp Co. of Dover, NH, although it is possible that others also produced this design.

Regional Designs of Unidentified Manufacture

While we have found many unusual designs which show regional use, we have not been successful in discovering specific advertising or ephemera featuring these designs. Perhaps more examples promoting specific cancel designs exist, but such material appears scarce and difficult to locate. In the following examples we show several cancels which appear regional, but the manufacturers are unknown. These are shown in the following sections organized by types.

Two highly localized groups of “badge” cancels occur for the regions of Providence, RI, and Cincinnati, OH. These cancels are shown in Fig. 6. We have seen five examples of different companies using the Providence type. One is from Woonsocket and the other four are from Providence. We have found ten of the Cincinnati type of badge. Five of these have known locations, all of them being Cincinnati uses. There are examples of several additional badge and shield designs shown in the third row of Fig. 6, but few of these have known locations.

Figure 6. Other “badge” cancels that were regionally used in Rhode Island and Cincinnati. The third row shows additional designs, mostly of unknown location of use.

Boxed date cancels

A common format for the date in hand stamped cancels on battleships is a three-line date consisting of the month (usually the first three letters in capitals), the day of the month as one or two digits, and the year. The most common typeface for this date format is sans serif, and this format is so common that we use a shorthand of “mdy” in our BDR2 database. If you search “mdy” in the cancel format in this database, you will see hundreds of examples. There are many unusual “mdy” cancels which have a rectangular border (“box”) surrounding the date with sets of wavy or straight lines outside the box on each side. The initials (or sometimes the name) of the user are usually above the box, and the location might be included below the box. The versions having wavy lines are most common, but it is unknown whether this type of cancel design had a common name in the rubber stamp trade, and whether it was supposed to be suggestive of a patriotic waving flag. These boxed date cancels can be grouped according to differences in feature sizes and placements, and we have found these groups to be regional in use, and therefore likely regional in their manufacture. These are each described in the following sections, the two largest being the 4 and 5 wavy line boxes:

4-Wavy Line Box

We separate the 4 wavy line box cancels into four distinct types. These four types differ in the width and height of the box, as well as the length of the wavy lines. The best discrimination that cleanly separates the four groups is to classify these types according to wavy line length vs. box width. Fig. 7 shows how the four groups separate using these two measurements; types 1 and 3 are not distinguishable using only the box width and height measurements. The table in Fig. 7 lists the ranges of the measured features of these cancels, along with the use regions we found for these groups. We suspect that the small variation in dimensions for these and similar hand stamped cancels are the result of differences in inking, combined with the pressure and manner of use. These measurements were made by examining high resolution images. Types 1, 2, and 4 are all predominantly NY state, with type 2 limited to Buffalo, NY.

Figure 7. Four different types of 4-wavy line boxed date cancels grouped by measurements of box width and wavy line length. Examples of the four cancel types are shown in Fig. 8.

Fig. 8 shows an assortment of stamps that illustrate each of the 4 types of 4-wavy line box cancels. The first image for Type 1 is an extracted cancel image to illustrate that this type has one wavy line that is closer to a corner. The Cancel Extractor Tool is described elsewhere. (Mustacich, 2016) There are more than 30 of these cancels and 29 of them are from NY, mostly New York city, but also a few locations elsewhere in the state. They are all superimposable, but sometimes a 180-degree rotation is required. This indicates that the manufacturer had a standard box outline constituting the type 1 box, and that the date and additional lines of information could be inserted with the box oriented either way. The insertable rubber type also can be arranged in a different order. We have examples of the month and date in reverse order in some cancels, for example.

Figure 8. Examples of the four types of 4-wavy line box cancels whose features were described in Fig. 7.

The second row in Fig. 8 shows the Type 2 cancel. There are five known cancels of this type, all from Buffalo, NY.

Only one of the Type 3 cancels is known, and it is from an unknown location of use. It uses a different date format in the box which omits the day of the month.

Seven different companies are known to have used the Type 4 cancel, all from NY. This type has evenly spaced, heavy wavy lines. Six examples are shown in Fig. 8.

5-Wavy Line Box

There are seven types of boxes containing “mdy” format dates with 5 wavy lines on each side of the box. Box heights and line lengths are not adequate to distinguish these groups. Instead, using the measurements of box width and the largest distance from a box corner to the nearest wavy line fully separates the groups as shown in Fig. 9. The size of the features and the regions of each type are included in a table in Fig. 9.

The Type 1 box has a smaller size with wavy lines that meet the corners. Some curvature of the top and bottom of the box is typical. The first row of Fig. 10 shows five example cancels of this type. We have found 43 different companies using this cancel and 22 of the 24 with known locations are Chicago or midwestern state usages. One of the stamps thought to be a New York use is hand stamped twice suggesting that it may have a more complex history of use.

The Type 2 box is larger with a flat top and bottom, and wavy lines meeting the corners. Eleven different companies have been found using this cancel, with known locations for seven of the companies in Chicago, one in Palatine, IL, and one in Anderson, IN. Examples of this cancel are in the second row of Fig. 10.

Figure 10. Examples of five types of 5-wavy line boxes described in Fig. 9.

The Type 3 box features a single corner in which one of the wavy lines meets the side approximately 0.4 mm away from a corner. The red arrow in the extracted cancel image beginning the third row in Fig. 10 points to this feature. 21 different companies are known to have used this cancel. Of the cancels with known locations, 15 are from New York, one is from Nashua, NH, and one is from Tarentum, PA.

The Type 4 box features a larger offset of the junction of the wavy line most distant from the corner. This occurs at both the upper right and lower left corners of the box. An extracted cancel image and example cancels are shown in the fourth row of Fig. 10. Of the nine cancels of this type we have found, eight have known locations: six in New York, one in Brewer, ME; and one in Warren, PA.

The Type 5 box is larger in size and has a single corner where one of the wavy lines meets away from the corner, by a larger distance than in the Type 3 box as shown by the measurements in Fig. 9. Two examples of this cancel are known, both from New York, and one is missing the date information within the box. These examples are in the fifth row of Fig. 10.

Only a single use of the Type 6 box is known and is shown in the fifth row of Fig. 10. This box features a shortened line at the middle of each side of the box. This one use is from Des Moines, IA.

The Type 7 box is also included in the bottom row of Fig. 10. This box features long wavy lines, and none of these lines are close to corners like Types 1-5. Only 2 different uses of this cancel are known, and the location of both companies is unknown.

All of the 5-wavy line box types having known locations of use are shown in a map in Fig. 11. These different types clearly show regional localization of use divided between the Chicago/midwestern area and the NY/northeast area.

Figure 11. Regional distributions of the uses of the 5-wavy line box cancel types. Types 1, 2, and 6 are mostly observed in cancels from the midwestern states, and Types 3-5 are concentrated in the north Atlantic states.

Other Types of Boxed Date Cancels

We have location information for two other types of boxes with wavy lines at the sides. One type is the “3-Wavy Line Box” which has three pairs of lines on each side. One of each pair of the lines is heavier. Three different companies are known to have used this cancel, and all three were in New York. The other type is the 4-Small-Wavy Line Box in which the waves have a small radius of curvature. Nine different companies are known to have used this cancel, and eight of the nine were from Boston, while the remaining company was from nearby Braintree, MA. Examples of both types of cancels are shown in Fig. 12. There is also a 3-Small-Wavy Line Box of unknown location.

Figure 12. Additional types of boxed cancels with apparent regional uses localized to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, and Des Moines.

Fig. 12 also includes several other cancel designs for which we have sufficient location information to suggest these were regional uses. Examples in Fig. 12 include two types of 5-Line Box with straight lines. The first type has equally spaced lines that do not meet the box corners and have a small gap between the lines and the box sides. Of the nine different companies we have found using this cancel, the five having known locations are all from Philadelphia. Only two companies are known to have used the 5-Line Box Type 2 cancel which has lines meeting the box sides and corners. One of these companies was in Chicago, while the second company was possibly located in Chicago. Three companies are known to have used a box containing the date that is turned on its side. All three companies using this “Sideways Box” cancel were from Philadelphia. Chicago regional uses appears with two additional types of designs, the “Fancy Double Box” and the “Wavy Box.” Seven different companies are known to have used the Fancy Double Box cancel. Of these, five have known locations and were all Chicago uses. We have cancels of the Wavy Box type for 30 different companies. Nine of these companies have known locations: eight were in Chicago and one was in Joliet, IL. We have examples of eight different companies using the “Diamond Box” type. Seven of these have known location, in this case all of them were Detroit, MI, uses. The remaining type of cancel shown in Fig. 12 is the “Large Wavy Box” type which consists of a box made from larger sized waves. Only two companies are known for this cancel, both being uses from Des Moines, IA.

There are many unusual designs that we have not included in this article, primarily because we presently lack sufficient information to identify the user and location. This includes designs such as cancels with borders made with ‘X’ characters, various types of ornaments facing different directions, rectangular waves, hexagonal shapes, loops, chains, arcs, rosettes, boxes with rounded corners, etc. Perusing our BDR2 database of proprietary battleship cancel images will reveal many different types of designs that were in use. It is likely that many additional groups of cancels will be identified and attributed to regional uses with more research and location information.


Decatur Daily Review, 1898, Decatur, IL, June 29, p. 2.
Miller, Joni K., and Lowry Thompson, The Rubber Stamp Album, Waldman Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1978, p. 16.
Mustacich, Robert V., 2016, “Seeing Only the Cancel,” The American Revenuer, 69 (3), pp. 2-5.
Mustacich, R., Blakebrough, C., Goldstein, M., Kohler, T., Reese, P., and Sente, F. 2022, www.battleship-revenues.com, BDR2 project.
Pharmaceutical ERA, 1899, D. O. Haynes & Co., New York, NY, Jan 12, p. 56.
Portsmouth Herald, 1898, Portsmouth, NH, July 7, p. 4.
Waterbury Evening Democrat, 1898, Waterbury, CT, July 11, p. 13.