Very scarce Pacific Mail Steamship Co. Item

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May 16, 2015

Amongst collectors of U.S. revenues, the straight-line handstamp cancels from the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. are very popular and highly sought-after. Each cancel is the name of a ship that was used by the company, names including amongst others:

  • China
  • Japan
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Great Republic
  • Henry Chauncey
  • Montana
  • Oregonian
  • Rising Star
  • Ocean Queen

The cancels are visually very attractive. Examples in my collection can be found here.

A simplistic valuation model would go as follows:

  1. As a baseline, each strike of the cancel is roughly $40-50 in market value regardless of the stamp's catalog value, e.g., single strike examples of the more common ships can be found in the $50 range, whereas one with six strikes is likely to be in the $250-300 range.
  2. 1st issue stamps are more common than 2nd and 3rd issue, with the exception of 1st issue imperfs ($5 denominations known with the ship AMERICA cancel).
  3. The more full and well-struck the cancel(s), the higher the value.
  4. The more striking the contrast between cancel and stamp, the more marketable and sought after.
  5. Certain ships are more scarce than others. The most common are CHINA and JAPAN, then likely ALASKA, ARIZONA, and GREAT REPUBLIC. I still have yet to find examples of COLORADO, CONSTITUTION, COSTA RICA, GOLDEN CITY, and NEW YORK.

One type of item that has been documented in articles of The American Revenuer, but I had never seen in person or even offered at auction or retail, came up this past week, and I had to pounce on it.

R82c with seven strikes of the single-line cancels, three of the ship ALASKA, and four of the ship ARIZONA. The thought is that these were canceled at a central office, and because the two words look similar (both begin and end with the letter A, and are only one letter different in length), a clerk grabbed the wrong handstamp, realized their error, and then re-canceled with the correct handstamp. Mixed-ship occurences, while documented, are very scarce, with only a handful known to exist.

This is a case where the minor faults on the stamp are utterly meaningless to its aesthetics and value. While it was an expensive purchase, I actually would have valued it higher than what was asked, given how scarce it is. I'm glad it wasn't at auction, as I'm not sure how high I would have gone to get it...

Interestingly enough, to date, no examples of Pacific Mail Steamship Co. straight-line cancels have ever been reported on document (per Mike Mahler and Richard Friedberg). These were most likely used on bills of lading (or perhaps more likely passage tickets as per the article below), which wound up in foreign destinations.

Back in 1964, Hugh Shellabear wrote an article in The American Revenuer on this very subject:

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