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In postal use a cancellation is any type of mark made on a postage stamp, the part of a piece of postal stationery such as a stamped envelope[?] or postal card that indicates that postage was paid or how much postage was paid, or perhaps a meter label[?] (though typically a cancellation is not required on a meter label), for the purpose of rendering the postage stamp or other form of indication postage has been paid, invalid and hopefully, from the point-of-view of the post office, unusable, for reuse.

A cancellation must be distinguished from other postal markings, such as postmaster's provisionals[?], marks, generally from the pre-stamp period, to indicate prepayment of postage.

The earliest cancellations were pen cancels[?].

Stamp collectors like to see stamps which are either 'lightly cancelled' or which have 'bulls-eye cancellations'. Another phrase for 'bulls-eye cancellations' is 'socked on the nose,' the acronym for which is SON (see Bullseye Cancel Collectors' Club (http://www.jeffhayward.com/bccc/)).

A lightly cancelled stamp would have the postmark on a corner or small portion of the stamp. As lightly-cancelled stamps are in general more valuable than heavily-cancelled (exceptions, discussed below, may be bulls-eye cancellations and special or rare postmarks), collectors have at times rubber-stamped (or handwritten) "philatelic mail" or the like on their covers to get the postal clerk or mail processor to cancel the stamps lightly. (It was perhaps from concern that a conventional cancellation device would damage some of Tonga's early foil stamps that a rolling cancellation device was employed.)

A bulls-eye cancellation is a readable postmark which entirely or almost entirely is on the postage stamp. They are favored by stamp collectors because one can see the time, date, and location where the stamp was used.

In the early period of the issuance of postage stamps in the United States a number of patents were issued for cancelling devices or machines that increased (or were purported to increase) the difficulty of washing off and reusing postage stamps. These methods generally involved the scraping or cutting-away of part of the stamp, or perhaps punching a hole through its middle. (These forms of cancellation must be distinguished from perfins[?], a series of small holes punched in stamps, typically by private companies as an anti-theft device.)

Cancellations may either be applied by hand or machine (see The International Machine Cancel Society website (http://www.machinecancel.org/)).

In addition to everyday cancellations there are pictorial cancellations[?], which as the name suggests contain pictures or images associated with the commemoration of an event or anniversary. (Some people attempt to use stamps relating to the theme of a pictorial cancellation on the envelope (http://www.mcgees.org/postalcancel/postalcancelintro.shtml).) First day of issue of a stamp or piece of postal stationery is another type of cancellation.

See: numismatics

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