The Curious World of Cancelled Stamps

Earth Observatory Blog

The Curious World of Cancelled Stamps


This custom-made envelope features images from the MIRAGE mission, including one showing our route from Colombo to Sabang and the survey area in the Wharton Basin (bottom right).

Some people collect stamps, while others collect the cancellations on stamps, from “fancy cancels” to first-day issues. Within the world of cancellation collectors, there is a smaller, but no less enthusiastic, group of people who collect ship cancellations, which bear the seal of the vessel and are sometimes accompanied by the signature of its captain.

For such collectors, a Marion Dufresne cancellation can be quite a prize, rounding out a collection of research-vessel cancellations perhaps, or maybe a set of cancellations associated with France. Either way, the Marion Dufresne gets letters from all over the world, sent by people who only want to their letter returned with the ship’s unique stamp.

In fact, during a recent stamping session, as it’s called, six cancellations were employed—one for the captain, a second for the MIRAGE mission, a third for the ship and IPEV (Institut Paul Emile Victor), a fourth for the ship and CMA CGM (a French container transportation and shipping company), a fifth for the ship’s physician, and a sixth just for IPEV.

Autographs of MIRAGE students and scientists collected on a Marion Dufresne postcard bearing all six of the ship’s stamps.

The goal of the stamping session was to ink these cancellations onto all the cards and letters the ship has received, along with those purchased in the ship’s canteen by MIRAGE students and scientists. Attending the session was Captain Victor Broi, Chief Scientist Dr Nugroho Hananto, Dr Helene Leau from IPEV, and ship physician Dr Dominique Casar, each of who signed their name next to their cancellation. Eight other students and scientists contributed to the assembly line. One person would stamp a cancellation and then pass the card or letter to the person next to them. That person would then make their impression, and so on, until the stamped document reached the signers.

Captain Victor Broi (left) stamps a small poster of the R/V Marion Dufresne. Also helping during the stamping session are (from left) Dr Jerome Dyment, Mr Alexandre Szenicer, and Mr Fernando Villanueva Robles.

While some of these precious pieces of paper had addresses on them in the hopes that an official postal cancellation would join the ship’s cancellations, others were obviously never going to get mailed. These were either being kept by passengers as souvenirs or used to collect autographs. Now that’s a fancy cancel!

To continue to follow the progress of MIRAGE, please check the EOS blog throughout the month of July, and spread the word using #MIRAGEcruise.

All photographs are taken by Ben Marks, unless otherwise stated.


Geographic Area: