Skip to main content
USS Alstede (AF-48), Ship Cancellation, 4 July 1962. "U.S. Navy 'Freedom's Guardian' U.S.S. Alstede (AF-48) Logrep 6-62"

Postal Cover Collection

Introduction to Postal Covers and the United States Navy


These papers are part of the Navy Department Library Special Collections.


United States post offices were first established aboard U.S. Navy ships in 1908 as the Great White Fleet returned home. With the opening of the post office came cancels that showed the ship name. Naval cover collecting probably began shortly after this. In 1929 Francis Locy, M.D. a Navy Medical Corps officer who was awarded the Navy Cross during World War I, developed a classification system used to describe the different naval cancels; that system remains the basis of the current classification scheme which has survived more than 75 years.  During the 1930s the hobby expanded rapidly, naval cover collecting added a whole other dimension to the hobby as cacheted envelopes became readily collectible.


During the past century, most major naval vessels have had post offices established on board and many have had cancels reflecting their names, except during World War I and World War II when security considerations mandated the use of generic “U.S. Navy” cancellation devices.  For generations Navy postal clerks and public affairs officers have generously helped collectors obtain covers with clear postmarks and rubber stamp cachets Sponsors also assist collectors in obtaining covers, particularly those marking important events in a ship’s life, i.e. keel laying, christening, commissioning and decommissioning, and anniversaries of historical events and holidays, such as Pearl Harbor Day, V.J. Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter Sunday, and Navy Day. 


Pre-1908 naval covers still can be found and are collected. Even though they bear shore side postmarks, they can be identified by being addressed to a ship, having a corner card (return address), being written on ship’s stationary or by a letter inside the cover that may reference a ship.


Today, collectors can focus on cachets, cancel types or both. Collectors range the world and many are members of the Universal Ship Cancellation Society, the only organization in the United States devoted to Navy and maritime covers and one of the oldest specialized postal history societies in the world.  The USCS (APS Affiliate #98) is a non-profit, tax exempt corporation, (IRS 501(c)(3)) founded in 1932, which promotes the study of the history of naval vessels, naval postal markings, and other postal documents involving the U.S. Navy and other maritime organizations of the world. The Society's monthly journal, the Log, contains a blend of these two interests and research into naval history, operations and postal administration. 


Note: The Navy Department Library is interested in accepting donations of US Navy and foreign navy ship postal covers to expand the collection.

Published: Tue Dec 08 09:26:26 EST 2020