With ever increasing volumes of mail after the postal reforms of 1839-40 the burden of cancelling the stamps also grew dramatically. From 1840 to 1850 the volume of mail doubled (from 168 million letters to nearly 350 million). Five years later it had risen to over 450 million. The Post Office had already adopted faster means of transporting the mails; now it needed to create machines to speed up the obliteration of the stamps.
In the mid 1850s Pearson Hill, son of Rowland Hill, began experimenting with cancelling machines. By March 1857 he had a crude version constructed out of such rough materials as he had to hand. A more robust version was built by the Post Office and was tested in London from 17 September that year.
It produced distinctive double cancellations. Three types were developed and tried over the next year but it was not very successful. A replica machine was built from the patent drawings in 1991.
A number of foreign cancelling machines were tried out later in the century, in particular the German Azemar machine from 1869 to 1872 and the Höster machine (more correctly Loffelhardt and Haller) in the 1880s. Three of his improved machines were purchased in July 1884. Towards the end of the century machines were tried from the United States and Canada, though none of these became standard equipment until the early part of the 20th century.