Finland's #226 Mute Cancel's Long History Again Documented From a Recently Sorted Correspondence from the 1930's - November 1998
By Ed Fraser

In The Posthorn, November 1982, I described the three most common "cork" or "mute" cancels in an article titled "Mute Cancels: The Big Three" [pages 204-208]. The stories of each could go much further, but #226 [of Nikolaistad, or Vaasa] is very special because it was used so prolifically for a number of years. Further details of the canceler are unknown, but it was obviously made of metal - and I would think steel - because it shows very little change over time. [It's not known if any of the mute cancels were actually made of cork, although many were obviously made of a soft and flexible material- while some were definitely made of metal.]

The earliest cover with this #226 cancel that is listed in the classic reference, the 1961 E. A. Hellman book Die Figurenstempel Finnlands, is dated 3 July 1877. The "cork" cancel era began in early 1877, and developed rapidly. This cancel is known on a late usage of a serpentine issue [actually, a 20 penni pair that is shown as an illustration in E.A. Hellman's book]. However, it is very common on both the 1875 perf 11 stamps and the 1882 perf 12 V2 stamps, and it is truly abundant on the 1885 issues. To be more exact, we should exclude the 1885 issue 5 mark and 10 mark stamps which themselves are not abundant. On any quantity of 1885 stamps, it is THE most common "cork" cancel.

Relating this to Finnish stamp cancellation generally, I'll propose that about 10% of all stamps were cork canceled in the late 1870's and early 1880's. However, I'll guess that between the "cork" cancels E.A. Hellman and others in Finland removed in the 1930's and 1940's from bulk accumulations for E.A. Hellman to study, the number appears far lower there. In a conversation I had with Aaro Laitinen in the 1980's, he didn't think it was even close to 10%. However, from apparently old accumulations here in the U.S. that I have seen over the years that is, ones that have probably been outside Finland since the 1930's, I think my 10% estimate is a little low.

In the early 1890's with the introduction of the straight line town [postal stop] cancels and the numbered carrier cancels, "cork" or mute cancels were phased out. Hence, with far fewer places still using "cork" cancelers, the percentage of stamps canceled with them declined sharply, so the abundant 1895 perf 13 x 14 stamps are common with only a few different cork cancels that were still in use. Also, it is fairly hard to find the frequently used 1891 kopeck stamps with "cork" cancels at all. The prolific #226 also was almost phased out.

The big question is "why almost?" Why wasn't it just discontinued like the others? To date, we don't really know! We do know that very usage continued, with the result that several examples are known on 1901 lithographed stamps, on the 1902 typographed stamps, on the 1911 stamps, on the 1919 issues, on issues in the 1920's, and finally a few on the 1930's issues! Even a few - not many - are known canceling Swedish stamps, including the latest on their 1911 issues, including a 1915 Swedish cover to Finland.

With this background, the cover shown in Figure 1 is quite thought provoking!

Koivulahti [Kvevlaks] is about 10 miles outside Vaasa, and in addition to registry labels, would have had a dated canceler. The 110 page study of 1920's to 1950's era bridge style Finnish cancels, Suomen Tasavallan Siltaleimat by Eero J. Helkiö, c. 1983, on page 52 does illustrate two examples of Kvevlaks cancels from the mid-1930's era. The postage rate at the time was 4 marks, being 2 marks for the letter and 2 marks for registry. It would appear that somehow the cover was accidentally never canceled at the originating post office. Expecting that the #226 "cork" canceler was still at the Vaasa post office suggests that the "cork" may have become a "subsequently canceled" canceler, much as the 20th century Lahti "cork" cancelers were [See The Posthorn, "The Mute Cancels of Lahti" in three parts, issues of November l981, pages 145-151; May 1982, pages 102-108; and May 1983, pages 93-100]. This is consistent with the Figure 1 cover being backstamped at Vaasa, especially being backstamped twice at Vaasa, each time with a different Vaasa canceler [both happen to show the same date and hour], but not being date stamped on the front at Vaasa.

Kaj Hellman proposed the idea that he may have seen postal directives from the 1950's referring to having different cancelers to cancel incoming uncanceled stamps from foreign countries. Were there any such suggestions or directives earlier? The reasoning of having special cancels with text saying

Figure 1. The Vaasa (Nikolaistad) #226 "cork" cancel on a registered commercial cover from Koivulahti (Kvevlaks) to Helsinki, franked with the 1936 issue of the 2 mark red. The cover is backstamped twice at Vaasa on 16 Feb 1938, and once at Helsinki on 17 Feb 1938.

Figure 2. Reverse of preprinted cover to the Swedish Newspaper in Helsinki, shown in Figure 1. It has 3 backstamps: Vaasa 16.II.38.10 and 16.II.38.10, and Helsinki 17.II.38.

"subsequently canceled", as Germany did from the 1900 era, but Finland did not, was to insure that the addressee would realize that the cancel date on the stamps was later than the date of mailing. A deliberate practice of using mute cancels to cancel stamps that missed being canceled when they first arrived at the post office may leave some mail undated if there are no other partial or transit cancels, but it can indicate that they were "subsequently canceled". [Here the trouble was taken to backstamp the Figure 1 cover.] Very good evidence of this practice of mute canceling can be found on covers going through certain post offices in both Finland and also Sweden. Do any readers know of 20th century mute cancel usage at any post offices in Denmark or Norway, possibly as a "subsequent cancel'?


1. E. A. Hellman, Die Figurenstempel Finnlands, c. 1961. This textbook in German and Finnish renumbers the cancels from his earlier, smaller work, establishing the "new" numbers now in use, but showing the old numbers in a reference table, too. It tries to list all known stamps, covers, and cancels. Stamps from older collections may still show the old number system penciled

Figure 3. Another late usage, but decades earlier, of the #226 cancel on a 1901 type 10 penni postal card from Vaasa to Uleåborg [Oulu]. The message is dated "Briind6 27 VII `10 " and backstamped Uleåborg 2(-) VII 01. The postmark of Nikolaistad is dated 28 VII 01.6e. This example is listed in the 1961 E. A. Hellman book, and probably is from his collection.

on the stamp's back. Initially there appeared to be more "cork" cancels, with numbering running well over 600. By the time of the 1961 book, many were eliminated or combined by further study and finding more material to compare. [My first guess would have been that the number would grow larger over the years, but the opposite is the case! It really indicates the extensive collection E.A. Hellman had accumulated by the l940's!] It seems that the current #226 used to be old #178 and old #164.

2. E. A. Hellman and Aaro Laitinen, also called Die Figurenstempel Finnlands, c. 1974. This small book gives notes and pictures to update the 1961 book.

3. Aaro Laitinen, Die Figurenstempel Finnlands - The Figure Cancels of Finland - A Catalog, c. 1981. With the general improvement in the cancel illustrations and the numerous corrections and additional town identifications, the scope of the field is brought into much sharper focus for the Finnish "cork" cancel collector. There is text in English, too. The earlier books, especially the 1961 textbook, still provide very helpful background and assistance by giving dating and routing information from known covers, and a few additional illustrations of the cancels to show wear and inking variations. The number of different cancels finally has just about stabilized with this catalog, as the elimination and combining of the 1961 book's numbers is now quite apparently nearly complete. My guess is that in this half-century, 1981 was close to the low point for the number of actual different mute cancels known. Since then, the number has been growing very slowly every year based on new, authenticated finds. There are abnost no eliminations anymore. Note that these new finds are not especially significant to the individual collector, as new discoveries are really always RR or R5 rarity [at most, only a few examples are found] - unless I suppose you're the one finding them!

4. Eero J. Helkio, Suomen Tasavallan Siltaleimat, c. 1983.

5. The Posthorn, articles referenced above about Finnish mute cancels appeared in the issues of November 1981, May 1982, November 1982, and May 1983.

Readers comments appreciated. I would be interested in comparing notes on all 20th century usages of mute cancels, especially those usages not listed in the Aaro Laitinen 1981 Catalog.

Ed Fraser, P.O.Box 1302, Melville, NY 11747.



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