With the opening of the first post office in the border town of Phuntsholing in October 1962, the first handstamps were made public as well. The handstamps made available to each newly opened post office were a set containing a regular handstamp, one with PAR added for parcels, one with TEL to be used for telegrams, one with a slightly different design with M.O. added for the money order form, a differently shaped postage due stamp and a negative handstamp for marking wax seals used to close mailbags, although at a certain moment aside from the normal one, there were also negative seals with PAR, REG, and TREAS added. It looks like that the handstamp with REG added for registered mail, came only in the picture once registered mail became possible. Some newly opened post offices received temporarily first an EXPTL. (experimental post office) handstamp, till the specific handstamp for their location would be available. For the M.O. form other seals were required as well: an oblong seal with the name of the post office (with or without date), a small triangle seal with the letter P inside, and 12 small square seals, each with two letters in capital representing each month. In the first few generation handstamps, the M.O. handstamp differed also considerable from the other handstamps. On top of the handstamps mentioned, the postmaster might have a rubber seal stating “Postmaster” with the name of the post office. Sometimes some post offices or postal agencies made use of a special rubberstamp to cancel mail.

Although I present here a clear chronological history of the introduction of handstamps and related postmarks, with some exceptions and extras, the reality was much more chaotic. When new sets were distributed, many post offices would put them unopened in the cupboard and continue with the old set. Other P.O.s would use all or part of the newly received set, in combination with all or some of the first received set or sets. So many if not most P.O.s would be using handstamps of the different sets distributed over the years. On top of, some postal agencies were using handstamps of other post offices, like in 2008 Yadi CMO (Community Mail Office) was using an old Tashigang Dzong negative seal to cancel its mail. There were also handstamps made for post offices which were never opened, like the proposed Manas PO.

First generation postmarks with dorjis

The first regular round seal used to cancel regular mail has two concentric rings, with in between on top the post office name in Dzongkha and the romanized place name at the bottom, although in the very beginning some post offices might have some more Dzongkha text. The date is horizontally placed in the middle of the open, inner circle. The two “dorjis” (thunderbolts) at the left and right side in the center of the outer ring is the outstanding identifier for the first set of handstamps. Note that the size of the dorjis got smaller soon after the first deliveries. Furthermore the date figures for the day and year had to be inserted manually with a tweezer, while the month insertion was abbreviated (in English) to three letters.. A hole was spared in the center of the metal handstamps to place those individual date components. If this system was not working (the date had to be inserted and changed by hand) or not complete, the date part was completely or partially blank and the date was written manually with a pen. This ‘two dorjis’ seal can also be found with two horizontal lines, one on top and one below the date information in the middle.

2nd generation postmarks with crossed daggers

Second generation postmarks with daggers

At the end of the 1960s a new set of handstamps was distributed over a period of time, although many post offices kept on using the old set of handstamps as well along the new ones. Some post offices were even just storing the new set of handstamps upon arrival in their cupboards, and repeating this practice when other new sets arrived in the years after, keeping on using the first batch of handstamps. The new handstamp set has two crossed daggers instead of dorjis, while the date is now all in figures divided by short hyphen between the day and month, and month and year. Like the first generation, this seal can be found with or without horizontal lines in the middle of the inner circle, on top and below the date information.

3rd generation postmarks, existing with and without lines above and under the date indication

Third generation postmarks with diamonds

The third generation released after 1972 follows the 1962 sequence of day in figures, month in English abbreviation and the two last figures of the concerned year. Instead of two crossed daggers there are now two diamonds. In some cases the diamonds are just dots, because of lack of space as the name of the post office in question was rather long The division of the inner circle is the same as in the 2nd generation handstamp. The “TEL” version is rare.

4th generation with divided inner circle providing space for date mark; Gedu with open halve circles. This time the MO seal is in line with the other post marks

Fourth generation postmarks (without any particular marking)

The release of the 4th generation of handstamps lauded a new era, as the date part was now built in as a device where the individual parts could be rotated using a special thick pin, which was delivered together with the new handstamp. The date is like the 2nd generation, but with a full stop used instead of a hyphen between the day and month and month and year. The inner circle is now broken up in two halves, with in between open sides and no longer any special marks.

Special case: post mark with stars

The postmark with a star left and right in the middle of the outer ring is only known for Bidung and Yurung, both respectively upgraded (from an EXPTL post office to a P.O.) or opened (as an B.P.O.) in September 1974. Their next generation postmarks are again in line with the general 3rd generation postmarks.

EXPTL. postmark  with daggers

EXPTL. postmark  with diamonds

Special case: the EXPTL postmark

There are two types of EXPTL cancellation devices, one with a dagger and the other with a diamond centrally placed in the middle at the bottom of the outer ring. Bhutan borrowed the concept of EXPTL or experimental post offices from the Indian postal system. The letter “C” used before the number in the postal mark refers even to “Bengal Postal Circle” as used in the Indian system. In the beginning, an EXPTL cancellation device was supplied to a newly opened post office (or postal agency) when name-bearing seals were not yet available. Once the latter were supplied, the EXPTL device was withdrawn. In later times, EXPTL seals were also used as a temporary measure for existing post offices which had lost their original devices due to fire or otherwise. Many of the same EXPTL devices have been used more than once.

Special case: the slogan seals

Two slogan cancellations are known to have been used in the late 1960, during the 1970s and with a last known use in 1980, mainly at Phuntsholing GPO, Thimphu GPO and Rinpung Dzong PO (in Paro). The first slogan cancellation reads “Second Five Year Plan 1966 – 1971” and has been used in 1966 and 1967. The second slogan cancellation “Correct Address for Prompt Delivery” is known to have been used from 1975 to 1980. This slogan is rather remarkable, as mail is in Bhutan in general only delivered to a P.O. Box or poste restante, not to street addresses. A third slogan device is reportedly at the Bhutan Postal Museum, but has never seen active use.

Money Order (MO) seals

For the first three generations, the money order post marks had a different design than the other regular, registered and parcel mail postmarks. None are known with the 1st generation dorjis, but there are at least two different designs for the 2nd generation issue with daggers and four different designs for the 3rd generation issues with diamonds. Furthermore, other kind of postal markings were required for the money order form, like an oblong seal with the name of the post office, a small triangle seal with the letter “P” in it and a small seal with two letters of the concerned month. The latter came in time in two different designs: inside a box or without one.

Negative seals

Negative seals have different designs than the regular cancellation seals, although also dorjis, crossed daggers and diamonds can be distinguished, with on top a plain simple design as well. The latter might be the first generation, but the negative seals need more research on their own. In principle designed to identify wax seals which are attached to the strings closing a mailbag, they still come as a regular seal, as well as with REG, PAR and even TREAS identifiers.

Dry Seal

As regular postmarking didn’t work well for the 3D stamps, a dry seal was introduced. The manual desk-type dry seal device was used for the first time to cancel the 1966 3D Space stamps, especially on FDCs. Both P&T and their agent the Bhutan Stamp Agency of Burt Todd based in Nassau, the Bahamas had a similar device.

Due seals

The design of the “Due Seals” was borrowed from the Indian postal services. It exists both in metal as well as in rubber. At the start it had no denomination stated or the Indian currency was used: “P” for Paisa (the most common), “Rs” for Rupee and “nP” for “new Paisa”. In due time the currency used changed to the Bhutanese currency “CH” for Chhetrum. In one case the due stamp is triangular and the currency was inserted by hand.

Rubber postal seals for cancellation purposes and postmaster use

Rubber date seals were used mainly by postal agents, while rubber due seals were also in use by departmental post offices. The most commonly seen rubber date stamps is the first one shown above, with an inner circle made of little arcs, also existing with a double line in the inner circle. The one of Sinchekha, 3rd shown above, was still in use in 2008, worn out to a set of unreadable blobs. Another, less common type has a full inner circle, known also divided. The date was hand written on these rubber stamps. Rubber due stamps were quite common in the past, with basically the two types illustrated here, one with the inner half circle made of little arcs similar to the date stamp, and one with a solid line half inner circle. The “postmaster” seals used come in many different styles.

Rubber postal seals for registration labels and prepaid indication

Rubber seals were also used to indicate the name of the post office on the registration label, which was attached to a registered letter. For prepaid letters, the envelopes were marked with a rubber seal stating “prepaid”, “pre-paid”, “postage pre paid” or “postage paid” sometimes followed by the name of the involved P.O. This was also used in the past to surcharge the price of aerogrammes and postal cards.

Postmarks and special seals on FDCs and special covers

On FDCs and special covers other types of handstamps of especially Phuentsholing can be observed, with two small open circles instead of the general generation issue marks described above. The different special cancellations used for FDCs, special covers and philatelic expos need a complete separate article.

Classification table available

There exists a classification table to identify known devices, but no catalogue has been published yet. Not all used markings have been found used on covers. Some of the handstamps made available to P.O.s have never been used.