What’s the difference?
I see many references, especially on the Internet, to various stamps as being a precancel. This usually involves worldwide stamps. They are not a precancel. These stamps are cancelled to order. There is a major distinction here. Let me explain.
The US and other countries (Belgium, Canada, France, Algeria, Tunisia, Monaco, and so on) authorized precancels. A precancel is applied to a stamp before mailing. This saves the post office the time and trouble of cancelling those stamps after mailing. The main point is that with a precancel, the post office will accept a letter with that stamp attached as being valid for postage.
Some countries such as those in Eastern Europe, Africa, and certain island countries, will issue their stamps with a cancel already applied. Because the stamps often still have their gum, some people mistakenly think of these stamps as a precancel. They are not. These stamps are cancelled to order. If someone was ever able to use one of these stamps on a letter, they would not be accepted as payment of postage because the stamps are already cancelled.
Because many of these countries have so few residents, legitimately used copies would be hard to come by. Instead, the postal administrations request that many of these stamps are cancelled as soon as they are printed. That’s where the term, “cancelled to order,” comes from. They are used copies, but not precancels.
This may seem like splitting hairs to the average collector. But to the collector of precancelled postage stamps, there is a huge difference between a legitimate precancel and a cancelled to order stamp.