American Postal Markings Catalog

This online database is a listing with illustrations of American hand-stamped and manuscript town postmarks by states including Colonial and Territorial periods. U.S. Possessions and Unorganized Territories, from the early 1700's through June 1, 1861.

Welcome to the American Postal Markings Catalog (APMC). This online resource builds upon the American Stampless Cover Catalog, last published in 1997. Our goal is to provide a resource for philatelists and postal historians listing the postal markings found on folded letters and covers from settlement until the Civil War. The database in front of you started with the information and images in volume 1 of the ASSC with additions and corrections provided by an army of volunteers. It is and will remain a work-in-progress, with further refinements and images provided by users and students of the subject. This catalog is a listing of American handstamps and manuscript town postmarks by states, including Colonial and Territorial periods, U.S. Possessions and Unorganized Territories, from the early 1700's through May 30, 1861 (the last day of a unified postal system before the Civil War). Markings are generally listed based upon their current state location (Virginia/West Virginia is an exception to this, as all markings prior to 1861 were in Virginia). If you see an error, wish to add an image to a listed marking, or report a new marking, please use the forms within the database. All submissions will be reviewed by State administrators and added to the database when appropriate. Please refer to the following for more information on the background and use of this database:

  • Arc - Arc or semi-circle
  • bkstmp - Backstamp
  • Box - Single line box or rectangle
  • DL - Double Line
  • C - Circle
  • DC - Double Circle
  • DLC - Double Line Circle
  • DLDC - Double outer line, double circle
  • CG - Circle Date ("Bishop Mark" or "Franklin Mark")
  • (E) - Earliest known date
  • (L) - Latest known date
  • F - Fancy
  • FC - Folded Cover (outer address sheet, no contents)
  • FL - Folded Letter (outer address sheet with contents)
  • G(x) - Other Geometric (sides) (e.g. G(3) = triangle)
  • Irreg - Irregular circle or oval
  • Ms - Manuscript
  • MD - Month Date only
  • MDD - Month Day Date
  • YMDD - Year Month Day Date
  • N - Negative letters/numbers
  • NOR - No Outer Rim
  • O - Oval
  • DO - Double Oval
  • DLO - Double (outer) Line Oval
  • DLDO - Double Line, Double Oval
  • Pic - Pictorial
  • Pmk - Postmark
  • SL - Straight Line
  • * - Star
  • / - Beginning of new line
  • A.T. can refer to Alabama Territory or Arkansas Territory
  • CN can refer to Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation (see Oklahoma listings for locations)
  • la. refers to Indiana (not Iowa)
  • l.T. can refer to Iowa Territory, Idaho Territory, Indian Territory, or Indiana Territories
  • Miss., Mis, M.I., and Mi. Normally Mississippi
  • Ms. Normally Massachusetts, also can be District of Maine
  • M.T. can refer to Minnesota Territory, Mississippi Territory or Michigan Territory
  • N.T. can refer to Nebraska or Nevada Territories
  • O.T. can refer to Oregon or Orleans Territories
  • Mo. or T.M. All Missouri Territory
  • Mo. T., All Missouri Territory
  • Ter. Mo. All Missouri Territory
  • WT. can refer to Washington or Wisconsin Territories
  • All measurements are given in millimeters to the nearest full millimeter. Horizontal measurements are given first, then vertical. Circular measurements are diameter of circle as reported and may be outside to outside or center to center of a thick circle. Measurements of NOR (no outer ring) markings are of an implied circle through the extremities of the letters. Boxes and geometric are usually measured outside to outside. Variation in the method of measurements can easily cause variations of a full millimeter or more in recorded dimensions.

    This column lists the earliest (El and latest (L) dates reported. In the case of scarcer Colonial and Territorial period markings these dates are recorded in day, month, and year form when known, and in the case of later markings, dates are indicated by a span of years.
    HANDSTAMPED dates appearing in straight line, boxed, oval, fancy and certain early circle markings are denoted by these symbols in the listings:

    MD - month date only
    MDD - month and day date
    YMDD - year, month and day date

    The earliest handstamped townmarks applied to stampless covers were straight line markings, usually fashioned from printer's type and generally without any boxed frame lines or ornamentation. Frequently, the date appears alongside the town name, and it is not uncommon to find a separate straight line date marking used in conjunction with the town marking. Certain type-set straight line markings show significant variations in type size, spacing, and punctuation .and these are recognized in the catalog listings --- see Fort Adams, Miss. Terr.; Nashville, Tenn.; and St. Louis, Mo., for typical examples. Minor varieties, presumably resulting from the replacement or cleaning of worn letters, minor type substitutions, etc., can be expected and may not be included in the listings. In later usage, straight line markings are often found boxed within framelines. In general, straight line markings were gradually replaced by the early circle types and oy ovals from about 1800 onward, although scattered examples are to be found as late as the 1860's. The sizes of the straight line townmarks (measured in mm, the horizontal being first) include the town name plus star, period, or other such marks connected with the town name, but in no case is an additional straight line date included, as month-day and year dates vary in length. When the town name appears in two lines the length of the longer line is shown and the height dimension includes both lines. Where in the postmark vary in height the maximum d1mension is used.
    A slash line (/) indicates the start of a new line.
    SL - One, Two or Three Straight Lines:

    Box - Single Line Box

    DL Box - Double Line Box

    Townmarks in oval shape were widely used in various parts of the country from the early 1800's to about 1840. In common with straight line markings, the ovals show wide variations in type sizes and style as well as in the size of the markings. Thus, the huge 53mm x 44mm Newport, R.I. oval of 1820-23 is in sharp contrast to the Coshocton, Ohio 22mm x 21 mm rimless oval marking of 1828.

    New York City employed an ornate oval marking from 1798-1804 known to collectors as the "Clam Shell"; the Smyrna, N.Y. marking of 1848-49 is one of the cruder ovals listed.
    There are four basic types of oval townmarks:
    O - Oval

    DO - Double Oval

    DLO - Double [outer] Line Oval

    DDLDO - Double Line Double Oval

    Although the earliest known circular townmark used in America is the CHARLES/TOWN- S.C. Colonial marking of 1778-80, circular townmarks did not gain widespread use until after 1800. Circular townmarks account for the majority of the listings.
    CD - Circle Dates

    Covers of the Colonial and pre-1800 period are frequently found to bear one or more circle date (CD) markings. The day appears over the month abbreviation in a small circle, usually measuring 15-17mm in diameter. The British versions of this marking have a horizontal dividing line separating the day and month and are known as "Bishop Marks" while the version used in America has no dividing line and is generally called a "Franklin Mark".

    Though day and month dates were customarily shown in the early circle townmarks, the inclusion of year dates such as those shown here was very uncommon.

    "QUAKER DATED" CIRCULAR TOWNMARKS are those in which the month is designated by number, 1st through 12th, rather than by name as the Quakers considered the names to be of pagan origin. Typical examples are shown here.

    "ATTACHED RATE" handstamps. Circular townmarks showing integral rate markin􀉂 numerals alongside and frequently the words FREE or PAID vertically, characterize the appearance of these patented handstamp devices which saw use in the 1830-45 period largely from post offices in New York State and the New England states. Philadelphia, Pa. and Richmond, Va. Attached rate devices of a different pattern saw use after 1845.

    During any given time period, larger post offices frequently used multiple townmarking devices. When the impressions from these devices clearly differ, they are listed separately. However, variations in dimension up to 1 mm may frequently be found due to progressive wear in the handstamp, strength of the impression, paper shrinkage, and other factors. Small variations in dimensions of markings do not ordinarily constitute sufficient cause for separate listing.
    There are five basic types of circle town marks:
    C- Circle

    DC- Double Circle

    DLC - Double [outer] Line Circle

    DLDC- Double Line Double Circle

    NOR- Circle with No Outer Rim

    Fancy townmarks are those markings which are sufficiently distinctive in design and appearance to set them aside from the more conventional straight line, oval and circular markings. Many of the markings in this category rank as the scarcest to be found in the listings.
    Pictorial Fancy Townmarks:

    Ornamental Mortised Handstamps:
    During the 1830's -1850's several types of handstamps usually of metal, in ornamental designs, and characterized by a central mortised cavity for me insertion of printer's type, secured by a set screw, were sold for general marking purposes. They were used for personalizing linens, quilts, clothing, books, etc., and their use by postmasters as townmarks provided some of the most desirable fancy markings known to collectors.

    Negative Letter Townmarks:

    Stencil markings:

    Arc, Octagon, and Markings in other Configurations:

    This column lists other markings appearing on covers, either manuscript or handstamped. Markings most commonly listed are PAID and FREE. Less commonly found are the handstamped auxilliary markings, such as ADVERTISED, MISSENT, FORWARDED, etc.

    Handstamped rate markings of unusual design are of special interest to collectors and they enhance the value of covers on which they appear. Those shown above are among the scarcer types.

    When letters required double, triple, or higher rates of postage, and postmasters did not have the appropriate rating handstamps, they sometimes resorted to multiple strikes of a single rate handstamp, or a combination of rate markers to total the proper rate. Covers showing such uses are uncommon, and frequently command premium prices.

    Manuscript markings are commonly found applied in black ink. This catalog makes no distinction in scarcity and value for manuscript markings applied in colors other than black except in the case of Territorial and Colonial markings.

    Handstamped markings are commonly found applied in black, blue and red, and generally no distinction is made in evaluating markings in these colors. Handstamped markings applied in green, purple, magenta, yellow, brown, and orange are considerably scarcer and often command increased prices. Red markings sometimes turn brownish with age.

    The American Postal Markings Catalog is an online database of markings found on covers up to May 31, 1861. It predominantly covers townmarks applied by postmasters to lettersheets and envelopes during this period.

    To search the database:

    • Select which state or states you want to include in the search. There is a choice for "All States" (which includes all of the 35,000+ records, or for individual states. Multiple states can be selected by holding the "CTRL" key while clicking on the state name in the selection box. States can be eliminated from the search by clicking the small "x" in the state name box.
    • Entering a Town name will limit results to that towns containing the string entered in the box. Partial names are supported and town name searches are not case sensitive. This is particularly useful if one is trying to identify the origin of a marking that is only partially visible.
    • A single choice for shape and color can be specified.
    • Date ranges for the search can be specified, but it is currently recommended to leave the "Ignore Dates" box checked (see idiosyncrasies below).

    Working with the results:
    • The number of records presented on a single page can be specified in the "Show XX Entries" box.
    • Records can be ordered by clicking on the column headings. Clicking on the heading toggles between ascending and descending order for the records.
    • Search results can be further narrowed by entering a text string in the "Search" box above the results. Text entered in this Search box is matched to text in all of the fields of the database. It is not case sensitive.
    • Additional columns can be added to the search results by clicking on the "Add Columns" button and specifying which columns to add. As a note, black is generally not listed, but can be assumed if nothing appears in the "Color" field. Likewise, markings should be assumed to be circular if nothing appears in the "Shape" field. "Raw Data" displays the original listing from the American Stampless Cover Catalog. "Same" in the raw data field would point the reader of the printed edition to the marking on the previous line. The number at the end of the Raw Data listing is the published Value of the marking. We have chosen not to include values in this database, as they are highly subjective and variable, based on supply, demand, and condition.
    • A selected image will be displayed on the results page, when available. Restricting searches to "Images Only - YES" will only display records with associated images. A small red "+" in the thumbnail image indicates that additional images for the marking are available. Clicking on the record link will display the record detail and all of the associated images.
    • Results can be printed or saved. Select the "Print" button at the bottom of the screen to open a new window with the selected and ordered records and columns. "Right click" on the screen and select "Print" from the displayed menu. This brings up the print dialog box. Printer destination can then be specified, as well as "Save to PDF." When saving in Adobe PDF format, the file name and location can be specified. As a note, clicking on the links for each record within the PDF flie will call up the online record details and additional scans, if connectivity is available.
    • Individual records can be printed, with images, by clicking the small printer icon at the bottom of the record detail page.

    There are some idiosyncrasies that users should be aware of:
    • The import of the data followed the format of the 1997 edition of the Stampless Cover Catalog. As a result, the first records for a state are from the colonial or pre-statehood period. These are followed by Statehood handstamps and the listings of towns with recorded manuscript markings. New listings follow the manuscript markings in the record order. As a result, a search may appear to be "out of order" if listed by record number. Sorting by town (click the "Town" column heading) will merge the sets of records.
    • The Stampless Cover Catalog could have up to four listings for the same marking - Pre-statehood and statehood periods, as well as earliest and latest date listings. During import, each generated a record in the Postal Markings listings. Over time, these will be merged, but please be aware that there may be duplication.
    • A lack of a standardized format in the "Dates Seen" in the Stampless Cover Catalog created some issues in searching for markings by date. It is recommended (for now) to check the "Ignore Dates" box on the search page to avoid problems with the differing (as well as Earliest and Latest) date listings.
    • Towns were listed as having manuscript town markings if a single example was recorded. Likewise, a town could have multiple different manuscript markings spanning a wide period and still only have a single "manuscript" listing. As additional images are added, examples of these different manuscript townmarks will be shown.

    Ignore Dates
    ID Image Postmark Town State Date Seen Size Colors
    34324 FORT LARAMIE Fort Laramie Wyoming 1850 - 1859 31w Black
    34327 FORT LARAMIE/N T Fort Laramie Wyoming July 15, 1853 32w Blue
    34329 FORT LARAMIE/N.T. Fort Laramie Wyoming Sept 14, 1863 26w Black
    34322 FT. LARAMIE/OR.(“OR”=Oregon Route) Fort Laramie Wyoming July 1, 1851 31w Black
    34323 FT. LARAMIE/OR.(“OR”=Oregon Route) Fort Laramie Wyoming
    July 5, 1852
    34325 Ft.Laramie Fort Laramie Wyoming Nov 15, 1851 Ms Black
    34326 Ft.Laramie Fort Laramie Wyoming
    May 15, 1853
    34328 Ft.Laramie Fort Laramie Wyoming
    Dec 26, 1858