U.K. collector planning to prevent pen cancellations

If you’re disheartened by your postal service’s use of pen cancellations, a collector from Cambridge, England has an idea: complain directly to the organization’s chief executive officer.

The “overzealous use of pen cancellations is on the increase,” wrote John Gary in a letter that appeared in the April 2018 issue of the U.K.’s Stamp Magazine.

Concerned about revenue loss and the reuse of stamps, Britain’s Royal Mail has instructed its staff to cancel any stamps that evaded machine cancellation with a pen or similar writing utensil.

“So what can we do to persuade Royal Mail to change its treatment of unconcealed mail? I believe letters to philatelic magazines or complaints to local delivery offices are unlikely to influence Royal Mail policy,” wrote Gary, who added the “correct target” is CEO Moya Greene, who he said is “not sufficiently aware of the depth and intensity of feeling of stamp collectors on pen cancellations.”

After patchy email correspondence with his local mail centre in Peterborough, England, Gary eventually copied Greene onto a subsequent email. While Greene responded within hours and tasked a “senior team” to explore the issue, Gary said the response was unsatisfactory, adding he was told stamps “will be cancelled by a pen if a handstamp is unavailable.”

He’s now urging collectors to send images of pen cancellations directly to Greene along with a “polite request that Royal Mail stop using pen cancellations.”


Last year, Angelo and Helen Komatsoulis, owners of Les Timbres HPK Stamps Montréal, showed CSN a parcel franked with two unattractively pen-cancelled $5 Canadian Flag stamps (Scott #2808). The stamp was issued in 2015 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Canada’s national flag.

“I just shake my head and wonder what they’re doing at Canada Post,” said Helen Komatsoulis, who added the stamps are “ruined” by the dark obliterations of the parallel horizontal cancellations. “I also called them and there was somebody there was that didn’t even know what I was talking about.”

Komatsoulis said a machine cancellation would have sufficed.

“For a collector, a pen cancel is not good.”

Postal history dealer George Kaltenecker, owner of Etobicoke, Ont.’s Covernutz, agreed pen cancels are “ugly,” adding they are of major concern to philatelists.

“Unfortunately, the postal workers are doing their job; they’re pen cancelling the stamp so it can’t be reused,” he said.

“Canada Post isn’t stupid. They know people get mail, cut the stamp and soak it to re-sell it, so they’re losing money. In order to stop losing revenue, If they’re not pen cancelling it, and you’re getting the stamp unused, then the carrier didn’t really do his job. But it ruins stamps.”

Collector and exhibitor Leon Matthys, of Toronto, agreed a pen-cancelled stamp is “a ruined stamp.”

“I prefer cancelled to uncancelled mail, but pen cancelled is the bottom,” said Matthys. “That’s garbage. It drives us crazy.”


Phil Legault, Canada Post media relations manager, said the Crown corporation’s “primary goal” is to move the mail quickly using mechanized equipment. All processed mail must also be properly cancelled, he added.

“Occasionally, items may escape cancellation by our equipment, and our letter carriers will stroke these uncancelled stamps for revenue protection. Such pen cancellations are permitted in an emergency; however, we would prefer that items receive proper cancellations through our equipment.”

Legault said Canada Post regrets the diminished value of stamps, covers and other philatelic items once a pen cancel is applied.

“We value the enthusiasm of our philatelic customers,” he added. “Please be assured of our commitment to offering the best possible service.”

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