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What is an Hand Painted First Day Cover?

by Don Reinke

Terms and Definitions


In this article we try to gather together all of the appropriate terminology that applies to Handpainted First Day Covers. Many experts in the field have tried to clarify and define the terminology which applies to our hobby. An article by Hal Ansink (1986) for example, categorized various types of cachets by their manner of production. As you will see, there are many ways to produce an HPFDC. We will also define several other types of FDC's and present examples of each type.


This section will focus on definitions of both general philatelic terminology and that which applies specifically to First Day Cover (FDC) collecting. The best place to start is the definition of a First Day Cover

Since 1923, the United States Postal Service (then called the Post Office Department) has issued each new stamp on a specific date and in a specific city. The city of issue is selected for its relationship to the topic of the stamp. From that time until now many stamp collectors have collected stamped envelopes which were cancelled at the city of issue, on the issue date. The envelope with the cancel is called a First Day Cover. One the next day, the stamp is put up for sale at all of the other post offices around the country. Thus the envelopes that were canceled on the First Day of Issue are much more rare than those canceled at any other post office on days following the issue date.

There are also collectors who try to obtain cancels from additional cities on the first day. These additional cancels are called 'unofficial' cancels (UO) as opposed to the official first day of issue cancel that is done at the first day city. For example, a Christmas stamp may be issued in Denver CO, a person could buy some stamps in Denver on the first day of issue (they are not available anywhere else), drive up to Evergreen CO on the same day, and have the stamped envelopes canceled at that post office. Thus the envelopes would be canceled on the First Day of Issue, but in a different city, making them even more rare. This practice has become more common in the past few years, since the USPS changed the rules regarding FDC cancels. Because there are so many requests for stamps and cancels on the issue date (normally several hundred thousand, but for some stamps it can be over a million), the USPS now allows collectors to obtain a First Day of Issue cancel up to 30 days after the issue date. By obtaining a UO cancel on the issue date, it assures the collector that the stamp and cancel were actually obtained on the date of issue (the postal clerks are not allowed to use a cancel for any other date than the current date when they cancel a stamp).

Almost from the beginning, collectors and artists began adding illustrations to these envelopes --- illustrations which have come to be called cachets. Over the years the cachets were made in a variety of ways, using a multitude of media. In the early years collectors would typically send their envelopes in for canceling, allowing the canceled cover to be returned through the general mails. As time went on, many collectors began sending along a second SASE in order that an address would not have to be put on their FDC. Thus the distinction between Addressed and Unaddressed covers. Which of these constitutes the most desirable cover has and will continue to be an item for discussion.

click on thumbnail for full image

click on thumbnail for full image

(P/HP covers by Fred Collins and Paslay Classics)


Cachet types are as varied as the stamps they compliment. The primary distinction lies in the method of production. As a matter of simplification, the following list of terms (taken primarily from Ansink, 1986) are offered here for comments and additions.

First is the matter of the production of the basic design on the envelope. This can be done by hand, or through mass production methods such as printing, thermography, rubber-stamping, etc.. Furthermore, the cachet can be refined through shading, coloring or painting. The following list represents various combinations that have surfaced over the past 69 years.

P = Cachets produced by mass production methods (eg. printed)

T = Thermographed designs

HD = Cachets that are hand-drawn

HP = Cachets that are hand-painted or colored

click on thumbnail for full image

click on thumbnail for full image

(P/HP by Lois Hamilton and P/HP by Kendal Bevil)

The following combinations are examples of common cachet types available:

P only = A totally printed cachet - the most common, millions produced for most stamp issues

P/HP = A cachet that is produced by printing the basic design, then painted or colored by hand (note: some producers of P/HP use the term HP to abbreviate this designation) - less common because of the time required to hand color each envelope

T/HP = A cachet for which the basic design is produced by thermography, then colored by hand - less common than P/HP but can be mass-produced once the design is set. Some T/HP are also hand-colored after printing.

HD/HP = A cachet that is produced by hand-drawing the basic design then hand painting or coloring it - these are normally quite rare as they require more time to produce. Some artists will spend up to 30 hours on a single envelope!

click on thumbnail for full image

click on thumbnail for full image

(P only by Freda Dickie Weaver and HD/HP by Dave Dubé)

There are also a number of cachet producers who affix various forms of artwork or other objects to the envelope. For example, the striking silk art on Colorano cachets, photos by Andy Allison, or the tin plates affixed by Sarazin. We propose that this category of cachet be generally known as Affixed cachets with the medium specified with the description. For example:

P/A (silk) = A cachet that is composed of printed silk affixed to the envelope.

click on thumbnail for full image

click on thumbnail for full image

(T/HP by Bernard Goldberg and P/A (silk) by Colorano)

P/A (tin) = A cachet that is composed of a printed tin plate affixed to the envelope.

click on thumbnail for full image

click on thumbnail for full image

(P/A (tin) by Sarazin and P/A (photo) by Andy Allinson - Double A Cachets)


There are many questions that face the producer of FDC's. Some are practical production questions while others enter the gray area of personal preference. Let's talk first about cover production.

We'll start with the selection of the envelope. Since one is planning to keep the cover for a long time, envelopes should be of the highest quality acid-free paper. Over the years many cover makers have chosen 100% rag content envelopes or those made from high quality bond. Envelope size varies, however the most popular has been the #6 3/4 (actual size is 3 5/8 X 6 1/2 inches). There is no standard for the envelope choice ... it is strictly a function of personal preference.

There are choices to be made in the canceling of the FDC. Beyond the choice of addressed vs. unaddressed, the cachet maker must decide on the type of cancel. The most widely used cancel is the Official First Day of Issue Cancel consisting of the regular time/date/city circle along with the words 'FIRST DAY OF ISSUE' embedded in 'killer bars.' Another choice is a simple circular cancel applied by hand, known as a 'bulls-eye' cancel (see example of killer bars and bulls-eye on the covers shown on pages 9 and 10) . More recently special cancels have been produced by the USPS that consists of a logo that is specifically tied to the theme of the stamp. Many collectors also enjoy getting their cover cancelled in person, then taking it to another city for a second UO cancel (note the cover by Fred Collins on page 9 has both an official and unofficial cancel - the bulls-eye cancel is the UO).

As mentioned above there are many options for the cachet. Some producers make cacheted FDC's in limited editions which are signed and numbered, others set no such limit. Some cachet makers who produce hand-painted cachets limit their production to current issues only, others have no problem with adding art to older, uncacheted covers. This type of cachet is known as an Add-on. Most cachetmakers try very hard to match the topic of their cachet to the topic of the stamp, a few do not. Some producers think it is important to have only one design per stamp issue, others will produce more than one design within a single issue. These multiple designs are called varieties.