(Summary of an article by Elmar Ojaste in Eesti Filatelist #29, 1983)


The usage of the so called mute cancellers is likely the most mystical and undocumented era in the Estonian Postal History. Their introduction was ordered telegraphically by a regulation from the Imperial Russian Army High Command and included all Administrative Districts in Empire's Western border (Estonia, Lifland, Courland, Kovno, Vilnius, Grodno, Smolensk, Volhynia, Podolia, Kiev, Bessarabia and Kherson as well Russian Poland).

The named regulation requested that with immediate effect (End of July - beginning of August) in mentioned provinces, in direct vicinity of military operations "to secure the military secrets" all cancellations of postage stamps on postal items at once was to commence in such a way that the posting place nor the date was shown. No detailed instructions likely were given and every Post Office had to prepare at once on own initiative such mute cancellers as to comply with regulations. This also explains the wide variety of cancellers made from many different materials and in different type. Simple ones were made from cork or carved from wood, finer ones engraved from metal. Large majority still were made from rubber by cutting or casting.

The order also requested obliteration of names from the registration labels and markers, but this was complied only partially. Other hand entirely forgotten were senders' addresses and markings on envelopes. Thanks to this bureaucratic omission, now this is often the only indication to help to locate certain mute cancellations. As for arrival Post Offices, no ban was enforced to mark arrivals as before with ordinary date stamps.

At the time of introduction of mute cancellers in Estonia, there were about 120 Post Offices operational and using postal cancellers. All these had to follow the order and actually used mute cancellers. The earliest so far known cancellation is from Revel (Tallinn) on August 3, 1914. From the beginning of August until middle of September, the use of mute cancellers was fully carried out, but from then on it was realized how senseless the order was and gradually normal-date cancellers were adopted again. At the end of 1914 everywhere in Estonia the usage of mute cancellations had been discontinued.

For the identification of mute cancellations following facts must be taken into consideration:

At the Post Offices with great amount of mail passing through - several cancellers were in use, new ones made and old ones changed or repaired. The cancellers, when made from more softer or elastic rubber, leave very different impressions.

Cases are known where different Post Offices used similar, or almost similar mute cancellers.

Various commercial firms' printed or stamped addresses on envelopes can't be taken as firm evidence to the identity of mute cancellation. The stamp on the envelope can be also cancelled "en route" or at the arrival Post Office. Sometimes these business envelopes were used also by the commercial travellers on their business trips and so posted from entirely different locations.

Mute cancellations for many collectors are unknown or only very few of these are represented in their collections. To the Author is known only one special collection of mute cancellations and this belongs to Mr. Wowin from Tallinn (?). This collection was exhibited at STOCKHOLMIA-74 and received Silver Medal.

In the philatelic literature this field appears in several instances, but the matter is handled only generally without geographical survey and describing some individual collection types only. An exception can be only Mr. Ostrat's article where 36 mute cancellations used in Estonia are recorded.

The "Estonia Philately & Postal History Handbook" by Vambola Hurt and Elmar Ojaste (in English and German) gives additional information about Mute Cancellations in Estonia.