What is the Difference Between Hand Cancelled and Machine Cancelled Stamps?

One often asked question in the mailing world is, “What is the difference between hand cancelled and machine canceled??” They are two distinct processes that occur at the post office when dealing with postage on envelopes. The main differences lie in how they impact the mail and the amount they cost.

Machine Cancellation

Machine cancellation is the standard type of handling for mail in the United States Postal Service (USPS) and other postal services worldwide. It involves using machines to stamp, sort, and process mail. The machine leaves a printed tracking mark on the postage stamp, marking it as ‘used’, which prevents its reuse.

    • This process is efficient for large volumes of standard-sized, non-fragile mail. However, it can potentially damage delicate, bulky, or irregularly shaped envelopes.
    • Machine cancellation can strip off wax seals and cause snags on handmade envelope flaps.
    • The processing machines often leave visible marks on the envelopes.
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Hand Cancellation

By contrast, hand cancellation skips the machine and involves a postal clerk manually stamping each postage stamp. This physical stamp notes the date and postal location, thus cancelling the postage without using a machine.

    • Hand cancelling is ideal for delicate items like wedding invitations, handmade envelopes or uniquely decorated mail. It helps prevent instances where machined mail would be damaged, ensuring that your envelope and its contents arrive at their destinations safely.
    • Hand-cancelled mail is also sorted and distributed by hand, which lessens the chance of your mail getting damaged along the way.
    • This process generally costs more than machine cancellation, with additional fees per item. As of 2021, this additional fee was $0.21 in the USA.
    • Hand-cancelled items can take a little longer to process and deliver compared to machined mail as the process is manual and not automated. Therefore, it would be best to factor in additional time when planning to send out hand-canceled mail.


In conclusion, the choice between hand-cancelled and machine canceled postage mainly depends on the nature of the item to be mailed and your preferences. Delicate, valuable, or aesthetically important items like wedding invitations would benefit from hand cancellation, despite the extra cost and time. On the other hand, regular mail items with no specific delicacy issues can comfortably go through machine cancellation. Understanding the difference between these two methods is pivotal for optimal mailing decisions.

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