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Barrel Rollers Study Group

The barrel postmarks of Canada were used for about 7½ years, from early 1955 to the end of 1962. They were an attempt by the Post Office Department to develop a hand canceller that did not require removal and replacement of the date and time indicia. They were called 'barrels' because these indicia were fixed on a series of wheels mounted in the body of a device in the form of a barrel assembly. The Post Office Department considered them experimental.

The hammers were manufactured by the Pitney-Bowes Company of Stamford, Connecticut, and were distributed to 38 of the largest post offices across Canada, some of which received special hammers for specific uses, including for example the Registration and Special Delivery sections in Toronto and Montreal. Postmasters were instructed to use the barrel hammers in as many different situations as possible. In order to obtain a significantly lower price, the Canadian Post Office ordered them at the same time as the US Post Office submitted their order (about 10 times larger).

The barrel instruments were introduced toward mid-1955. This first model had design deficiencies, so they were all recalled and replaced near the end of 1955 by hammers of an improved design. The early-model hammers were in service for just over 6 months, and strikes on cover are harder to find than those of their replacements, which were recalled at the end of 1962, thus ending the experiment.

The number of different devices known is 96, some of which are quite scarce. For example, a device reading MONTREAL P.Q. D.L.O. was in the initial order, but by the time the order arrived in 1955, the Dead Letter Office had been replaced by the Undeliverable Mail Office, so the hammer had no application. Nevertheless, 2 impressions have been reported. It is not known if the 1955 hammer was replaced.

Between 1981 and 1989, the original Barrel Study Group published a series of 16 newsletters. These newsletters are available to PHSC members. The Barrel Study Group has been recently reactivated, and current study group members will be able to access new newsletters here as well.

Bob Smith has recently prepared a book entitled Canada's Barrel Postmarks, which contains a full account of what is presently known about barrel cancels. The book is available free to PHSC members. In addition, we have a database for barrel postmarks that is continuously updated.