Today’s collector probably has no idea what this term means in philately. Years ago, it was a common term among precancel stamp collectors. There is a bit of humor involved which is why I bring it up.

Many years ago, precancel stamps were only available to local businesses (or residents) who had a permit to mail using precancels. Precancel stamp collectors were not allowed to buy precancelled stamps directly from the local post office. In the 1970s, the postal rules were relaxed and precancels were available to precancel stamp collectors. Collectors could write to a local post office, include some money, and request precancelled stamps.

Before the rule change, the only “legitimate” way to collect precancels was to find some envelopes used for a mailing and soak the precancelled stamp from the envelope. Precancels obtained the normal way would not have any gum.

Not everyone followed the rules. Sometimes a postmaster was friendly to stamp collectors and they would let them buy some precancels. Besides, it was money in their pocket for stamps that were never going to be used as postage. Years ago, some postmasters were compensated partly based on the dollar value of stamps that were sold. Selling precancels was a way for a postmaster to increase their own compensation!

Another method to obtain precancels would be to find a business in town that had a permit to use precancels. The precancel collector was able to buy some leftover precancels from a mailing made by a business.

In either case, these precancels had gum. Because you weren’t supposed to be able to buy precancels, the gum was a dead giveaway that, as a collector, you somehow violated the rules. The gum had to go! Precancels are considered used stamps. Therefore, gum or no gum didn’t affect their value.

When precancel collectors were able to buy stamps from a town, they usually didn’t buy one or two stamps for their own collection. They would buy sheets or large multiples. They traded or sold the duplicates to other precancel collectors.

Many collectors are familiar with using a small bowl of water to soak stamps torn from an envelope to get a used stamp for their collection. But large multiples or sheets of precancels aren’t going to fit neatly into a bowl. Also, it was better to “float” a sheet of stamps on top of the water so that the water didn’t come into contact with the precancel. Sometimes water soluble ink was used and submersing the precancels into water would wash away part of the precancel.

You guessed it. Precancel collectors would fill the bathtub with an inch or so of water and soak the precancels that way. You could soak several sheets or multiples at one time. It was very convenient. This was coined Bathtubbing!

“Sorry honey, you can’t take a bath right now. I’m still soaking some precancels!”

Today, precancels with gum are fine to collect. Hopefully no marriages were broken by the use of bathtubs to remove the gum from precancel stamps of the 1960s and earlier.

If you read old philatelic literature, especially about precancel stamps, and you run into this term, now you know what it means. Don’t ask me who first came up with this term. I don’t know.

I hope this piece taught you something new. And I hope this piece made you laugh. It was meant to!