This page last updated: 10 July 2000

::: San Francisco Postal Markings :::
SF straightline

San Francisco's Post Office opened by March 15, 1849 and its first postmark was a manuscript, used from March 15 to June 20. San Francisco began using a postmarking device on June 20, the straightline illustrated above, with the date written in manuscript. Rates were indicated in manuscript until devices were obtained later in 1849. In the early years, there was no need for cancels because there were no stamps available to cancel until the United States 1851 issue.

Three useful sources exist for classifying San Francisco postmarks, rate marks and cancels:

  • The most comprehensive is Mahoney, John M., San Francisco Postal Markings, 1847-1900, La Posta Monograph Series, Vol. 8, La Posta Publications, Lake Oswego, Oregon, 1992. Mahoney's book includes tracings of postmarks, killers, rate marks and other miscellaneous cancels.

  • Also important is Williams, John H., California Town Postmarks, 1849 - 1935, Western Cover Society, 1997, published by Leonard H. Hartmann, Louisville, Ky. This book deals exclusively with postmarks and contains numerous tracings as well.

  • Third is an article by Friend, Clifford L., The 26mm Double Circle Postal Marking Of San Francisco, Western Express, Vol XXV, No. 1, January, 1975, p. 11-18. This article is limited to the double circle postmark introduced at San Francisco in September, 1861. Friend's work is built upon earlier studies by Stanley Ashbrook. Neither Mahoney nor Williams does justice to the several varieties of this postmark. Mahoney lists them all as type 79. Williams lists five types, SAF 590, 600, 610, 620 and 630 but gives little help for distinguishing them.

The two books have their strengths and weaknesses. Mahoney covers a broader field, but in the early postmarks, there are some omissions and some of the usage dates are suspect. He also uses a single tracing to illustrate several similar but distinct styles, sometimes leading to confusion. Williams's book is in two large volumes, covering the entire state. The San Francisco postmarks are found in Volume 2, but the explanation key for his listings is found only at the start of volume 1, so you need to buy two books to get the San Francisco postmarks with the key to understanding the listings. Williams includes multiple tracings of the early San Francisco postmarks and has a tracing for each style. However, some tracings have no discernible differences from other tracings and I find the explanations sometimes inadequate for distinguishing them. I use both books, except for the double circle postmarks, where I use Friend's types because neither Mahoney nor Williams do justice to those postmarks. In this website, I attempt to give type references used by each author. Only postmarks found on Hawaiian mail are relevant to our study here so many postmarks used in San Francisco will be omitted intentionally. Others may exist but I have not recorded them. Please send me an E-mail ( with information about other San Francisco pre-1870 postmarks on covers from Hawaii.

San Francisco postmarks are found on most letters arriving from Hawaii, but in this Period they are rarely found on letters originating on the mainland unless mailed at San Francisco. The practice of using postmarks on letters transiting the office was some years in the future. Mail arriving at San Francisco from Hawaii or other Pacific ports was first entered into the United States mail at San Francisco so the postmark was used to indicate where the letter entered, rather than merely as a transit mark.

For ease of loading and access, the San Francisco marks are divided into the following sub-pages:

San Francisco Manuscript, Straightline and Single Circle Postmarks to 1870

San Francisco 26MM Double Circle Postmarks and Their Associated Cancels - September, 1861 to June, 1868

San Francisco Postmarks Found on Hawaiian Mail 1867 to 1900

San Francisco Rate Marks Found on Hawaiian Mail

San Francisco Auxiliary Marks, Forwarder Marks And Cancels Examples (other than those associated with the double circle date stamps)

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