I’ve seen a small, but interesting surge in interest in Bureau precancelled postage stamps. Allow me to explain something in very general terms.
Most collectors are familiar with precancelled stamps. The name of the town/city and state name appear between 2 horizontal lines. This precancel was applied to stamps so that they didn’t have to be cancelled again. Precancels come in two forms. Local precancels were done at the local post office by smaller hand held precancel devices that typically precancelled 10 or 25 stamps at a time. Bureau precancels were applied by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP, hence their nickname, “Bureaus”). These were for larger cities that ordered thousands of precancels at one time. The precancel was applied by the BEP when the stamps themselves were printed.
Here is an important point. In the 1960s and later, the post office applied tagging to stamps to facilitate the automated cancelling machines that could “see” the tagging on the stamp(s), orient the letter the right way based on detecting where the stamp was at with the tagging, and then cancel the letter. In many cases, the tagging was applied by a large rubber mat. As the stamps were printed, one of the final operations was to “print” the tagging.
However, with Bureau precancels, the letters didn’t need cancelled again. Therefore, instead of applying tagging to stamps, the BEP put a large printing plate in place that printed the precancels.
Therefore, many stamps that normally came tagged have untagged varieties which are often listed in the Scott catalog under the “Untagged (Bureau precancel)” style of listing. Tagging collectors have collected these varieties for years. They are not considered errors since they were intentionally not tagged since they were being precancelled.
However, normal stamp collectors are taking notice of these varieties now too and interest has piqued a little bit. This sends prices upward because the demand has increased while the supply is steady.
If you buy collections or accumulations, you may want to watch out for any Bureau precancels. You’re not going to be a millionaire, but you may find something worth a couple of bucks.
It’s important to find a Bureau precancel though. I won’t go into all of the details here to tell the two apart. However, Bureau precancels were produced by a printing press. They tend to be very sharp in appearance. Local precancels were applied by hand. Their appearance is not as clear as Bureaus. Local precancels are usually applied to ordinary stamps that were already tagged.
If you would like to learn more about Bureau and local precancels, I invite you to check out the Precancel Stamp Society, www.precancels.org. Or let me know if you need contact information.