Once upon a time ..

in The Netherlands


This is a description of one of the most odd postmarks ever used in the world: The Dutch cancellation machine "Vulcanus" used in 's-Gravenhage in 1901.

's-Gravenhage (or 's Hage or Den Haag) is the Dutch name for The Hague and is a town on the sea side of The Netherlands. 's-Gravenhage means the Count's hedge. Latin: Haga Comitis.

Around 1900 the Dutch PTT asked an engineer from The Hague, Mr. C. C. van der Valk to construct a machine with a postmark that could burn an impression in the stamps on postcard and on the envelope without damaging the content of the letter1. In one year C. C. van der Valk had made a useful machine that worked with a red heat postmark. As electricity was not commen at the post offices at that time C. C. van der Valk used a kerosen flame to heat the postmark. The kerosen reservoir was placed above and away form the machine and the flame was fed by the kerosene through a thin pipe.

On 3 August 1901 the brandstempel-machine Vulcanus was installed in the 's-Gravenhage post office2 - see photo - and the first known oblitartion is from 5 August 19013 from the day when the machine was tested. The machine was taken in regular use from 6th August 19014.

The "Vulcanus" brandstempel-machine.


As one can imagine there were serious problems with the machine as it not only burnt an impression in the stamps but sometimes also destroyed the content of the letters! The trial period for the use on letters ended on 29 September 1901 but it was used for postcards and printed matters until 2 November 19015.

From the photo you can see that the machine was operated by a pedal and a skilled postman could obliterate as many as 240 letters/postcards per minute and a not trained person could obliterate about 100 per minute. The machine used only one litre of kerosene every five and a half hours and the price was 1.5 cent per hour for the kerosene5.

Two postmarks were in use in the trial period for the machine:

Type I and II
The two postmarks - Type I and II5.
Type I and II
Type I and II.


Below a postcard postmarked with the type II postmark from 's-Gravenhage on 19 August 1901. The postage fee for an inland postcard was 1 cent in the period 1871.01.01-1919.11.016. The "D 214" cancel is a so-called mailman cancel. In this case it referred to a mailman in Amsterdam whose badge number was "214". The "D" tells us which delivery of the day it was. At one time Amsterdam had nine deliveries a day (!). The first delivery in the morning was the "A" delivery, the second one the "D" delivery, and so on. The "D" then signifies that it was the 4th delivery of the day and the card was put in the receiver's mailbox by mailman No. 214.6

Type I and II
A close up of the brandstempel from this postcard is shown below.

Type II
A Close Up of the Brandstempel.

According to Erik Jensen from the Danish Post- & Telemuseum C. C. van der Valk offered his Vulcanus to the Danish General Post Office on 30 April 1901. As Erik Jensen write in his article: The machine was hot news at that time but to the pleasure for the future stamp collectors, the Danish GPO did not accept Mr. van der Valk's offer! 7


1. Brandstempel "Vulcanus" van 's-Gravenhage by E. Haak. POST-FRYS; Newsletter from
    Vereeniging van Postzegelverzamelaars Friesland, September 1985, page 3-5.
2. Het Brandstempel in Newsletter of the Post Zegel Verzamelaars Noordwijk's newsletter, December 1997, page 17 and 18.
3. Brandstempels by Arie Bakker. Newsletter of the Post Zegel Verzamelaars Breda, May 1998, page 8 and 9.
4. Nederlandsch Maandblad voor Philatelie, no. 6, 16 June 1928, page 108.
5. O.M. Vellinga: De poststempels van Nederland 1676-1915. Nederl. Bond van Ver. van Postverz. 1932, page 126-127 and plate book, page 13.
6. Hans Kremer. American Society for Netherlands Philately. (mercator.40@worldnet.att.net)
7. Stemplingsmaskiner og Maskinstempler by Erik Jensen. Nordisk Filatelistisk Tidsskrift no. 5/6 1982, page 141.

Thanks are due to Rob Vlaardingerbroek, 's-Gravenhage, for valuable help with this article.


Uploaded 19.02.2001 - updated 03.10.2010
© 2001-2010 by Toke Nørby