Postal History of Tuvalu
The First Tuvalu Cancels  [Go to Postal Markings List]
Tuvalu's first cancellation devices were put into on 1 January 1976. All nine islands were issued double ringed circular datestamps (type TC-1) with the island name at the top, and country name at the bottom. In the case of Niulakita, it was the first postmark for the island, as none were ever issued during the old Gilbert and Ellice Islands colonial days. These postmarks had the dates plugs inserted by hand. The standard order was */day month/year, such as */1JA/76, but occasional incorrect insertions created interesting variations, such as one known from Nukulaelae inserted as */80 NO/21 with the 21 inverted! As was the case during the Gilbert and Ellice Islands administration, the ham radio operators act as postal clerks on the eight outer islands. In lieu of this, and the often delays in shipping of postal materials, it is not surprising that many such date varieties and ink colours have turned up.
The TC-1 type device is known used on 1 January 1976 for all islands, with the exception of Niulakita. Perhaps due to shipping delays, remote Niulakita's first known use is 21 January 1976. This date was used on Separation first day covers prepared by the Philatelic Bureau, while covers for the eight other islands bore the standard 1 January 1976 date. There is some question on whether these covers were actually cancelled on the outer islands. It is known that duplicate TC-1 type cancellation devices for all islands were kept at the Philatelic Bureau on Funafuti. The Funafuti example was used to cancel mail from the Bureau, and used on cancel-to-order stamps
Some privately produced "separation" covers, sent directly to the various islands by philatelists, have cancellations from Nanumea dated 1 March 76, and from all the other islands, except Niulakita, dated the nominal 1 January 1976. It would appear that such covers for Niulakita were never prepared, as collectors had no way of knowing that the island's first-ever cancel was to be put into use. For this reason, covers from Niulakita in early 1976 are quite scarce. Interestingly, the first known registered cover from Niulakita is dated 1 June 1976, with the number 1 marked in the registration handstamp.
The Oval Cancels
Towards the end of 1979, two new rather odd looking oval cancels made their appearance. The first, inscribed POST & TELECOMMUNICATIONS (type TC-2),  first appeared cancelling stamps on covers from  Nukufetau in November 1979, and Niutao in December.
In the case of Nukufetau, according to the radio operator at the time, "(he) got new one for 1980 when old broke." This is documented in a letter to Brian Cannon dated from Nukufetau 7 July/82. The last known date of use of type TC-1 in 1979 is 6 November, and it reappeared again 4 January 1980. In between those dates, TC-2 is known used 14 November and 24 December.
A similar situation seems to have occurred on Niutao. A commercial cover turned up with TC-2 dated 29 December 1979, and another collector later reported an earlier cover dated 13 July 1979, but but with a different oval cancel, inscribed RADIO at the top (type TC-5). No other covers have been reported on or between these dates.
Since 1980, both oval marks have seen use as cancels at most islands. These were instigated by philatelists, as the intended use of the marks were for other purposes, such as stamping telegrams and official letters or documents. No doubt the radio operators received many philatelic requests for the markings, as it appears that on some islands they became so used to using them that they also cancelled commercial mail with them. Several different colours of ink have been seen, making these covers most attractive.
A New Cancel from Funafuti
New cancellors for Funafuti, first used at the Philatelic Bureau, early 1980, somewhat similar to type TC-1. TC-4, first seen used in January 1980, has larger letters and shorter centre arcs. It was originally used on mail cancelled at the Philatelic Bureau, but was also used at the General Post Office since June 1980, when philatelic mail began to be cancelled there (see below). A variety of this cancel exists, type TC-4a, which has pronounced line under the VA of  TUVALU. The bottom of the inner ring appears to be broken.
The Philatelic Bureau's Own Cancel
At the suggestion of the philatelic advisors to Tuvalu at the time, the Philatelic Bureau introduced a new single ring cancel inscribed "Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau / Funafuti, Tuvalu" (Type TC-3). This was used for cancelling stamps on all mailings from the Bureau and was first used in March, 1979. Up until this time, all Bureau mail was cancelled in the Philatelic Bureau with the  TC-1 type device, identical to that used at the Funafuti General Post Office, or the newer TC-4 and TC-4a.
Since the Philatelic Bureau began operations in 1976, they used stamps for postage on all orders and correspondence, without any charge to the customer. This pleased collectors, as they were able to get a considerable amount of postally used stamps without any charge.  The intention of the type TC-3 handstamp was to ensure stamps used on mailings had a unique cancel that would indicate it came from philatelic mailings, even when soaked off covers. Most collectors of used stamps prefer standard non-philatelic cancels. It must be noted that the Bureau continued to use the standard TC-1 type for purchased cancel-to-order stamps, and on covers prepared by collectors with purchased stamps and sent for cancelling. Many collectors complained about the new cancel, to the Philatelic Bureau and the Postmaster of Tuvalu, as now they would have to buy CTO stamps at face value, or purchase extra stamps to prepare their own covers.
The petitions by collectors seemed to work, as the Postmaster at the time, Vaea Sikale withdrew the device a few months later in June 1980. In addition, all out-going mail from the Philatelic Bureau, which was previously cancelled in there own office, was now to be cancelled at the newly renovated General Post Office just down the road. Collectors were delighted, as their mail would once again be cancelled with the standard Funafuti postmark.
During this period, all Philatelic mail from the GPO appears to have been cancelled with the newer TC-4 type. The philatelic mail was obviously cancelled separately from commercial mail, as most commercial mail seen has type TC-1, or the later type TC-6 (see below).
Another New Cancel from Funafuti
In March, 1981, another triple ring datestamp appeared, type TC-6. This one is similar to type TC-4, but has longer centre arcs. Initially it appeared on commercial mail, but was eventually used on Philatelic Bureau mail. Is is currently in use at the Funafuti General Post Office as of December 2002.
Small Cancels for the Islands but not from the Islands
A small single ring cancel, 25mm in diameter appeared in 1987, type TC-7. These were produced for all nine islands, including Niulakita. They were actually kept at the Philatelic Bureau on Funafuti applied on covers there rather than used at the outer islands. They were originally put into use to create cancel-to-order stamps for the Leaders of the World scheme. They were also used to cancel first day covers of the 1988 Bird definitives, creating sets of covers appearing to have originated from each of the nine island post offices. The Funafuti cancel was also used on actual mail originating from the Philatelic Bureau, up until 1999.
Family Day
Tuvalu's first commemorative cancel for use on commercial mail was put into use for one day only on 2 November 1989. It is a large 45mm diameter three-ring rubber handstamp commemorating Family day, which was sponsored by the Pacific Islands Planned Parenthood Affiliation (PIPPA). The few examples known often have unclear dates. There is some question whether it was used the following year in 1990. Forgeries are known for the 1989 date, and also 1990 and 1991, with manuscript dates.
New Funafuti Cancel
A 30mm single-ringed arced cancel was put into use in August 1998. It had a short life, and was withdrawn for from use in early 2001, for reasons unknown. The previously used TC-6 replaced it.