US postal - Philatelic Research

    Study guide: The  Postmasters' Provisional

                                     Period 1845-47

The Postmasters' Provisional Period 1845 - 47

Postmaster's Provisionals The Postmasters' Provisional Period 1845 - 47


                         July 14, 1845 in History - 1st postmasters' provisional stamps issued, New York City

     Prior to 1845, postage rates in the United States were very high, and not really a service that was affordable to the public at large. It was considered something that the rich and affluent participated in. In addition, the rates were complicated and considered difficult by the public to understand. The rates were not based on weight but on the number of sheets, including the cover sheet, in the letter. Personal correspondence was quite limited and there was little to no business mail.

       This situation brought legislation, known as the Act of March 3, 1845; effective July 1, 1845, simple and uniform postage rates were established. Setting basic provisions to provide for mailing of a letter any distance of 300 miles or less, at 5˘ per half ounce and any distance over 300 miles at 10˘ per half ounce. Letters for local delivery (utilizing only local services) were set at 2˘. Considerably lower then the private carriers of forgone years.

    The Act did not authorize the Postmaster General (or any other government agency) to issue postage stamps. Stamps did not arrive on the scene for two more years and prepayment also wasn't required, that would not be enforced until the mid 1850’s. The 1845 Act also did not prohibit " local postmasters" from issuing their own stamps on outgoing mail. This facilitation of prepaid mailing had the effect of increasing the postal receipts of the issuing postmaster, thereby raising his/her income. S the initial legislation was like many other new governmental services, it was "riddled with flaws". Something that time and usage was able t rectify, especially when it's a popular service and the public wants changes (not much has changed since then when it comes to implementing g0vernment programs.)

     In 1845, the postmaster of New York City began using postage stamps for mail handled by his office. Other postmasters' provisional appeared during the next two years. In 1847, the U.S. Post Office, convinced of the need and desirability of using stamps for postage, began issuing stamps for nationwide use. These general issues replaced the provisional. Postmasters' provisional were used by Alexandria, VA.; Annapolis, MD. (envelope); Baltimore, MD. (both stamps and postal stationery); Boscawen, NH.; Brattleboro, VT.; Lockport, N.Y.; Millbury, MA.; New Haven, CN. (postal stationery); New York, NY; Providence, RI; and St. Louis, MO. During 1846, the New York provisional were used "sporadically" or "experimentally" (for New York-bound mail from Boston, Albany and Washington).

   The early stamps and stamped envelopes are known as postmasters’ provisional. They were only valid at the post office where they were issued and were not valid at other locals. American Provisionals’ collecting is considered to be one of the most challenging areas of advanced philately. Most US collections do not include them they are considered to be an advanced topic or "specialty items". I have as herd them called "Back of the Book", "Cinderella", topical and other inappropriate tittles. They are actually places in the front of a collection, and not a Cinderella because they were "official for postal use". 

   Numerous postmasters issued their own stamps and stamped envelopes; eleven of which are recognized by the Editors of the Scott catalogs. Ten of these postmasters are from states that border the Atlantic Ocean, the one exception being the Postmaster of Saint Louis. Some of the postmasters were located in major cities such as New York, Baltimore, New Haven, Providence and Saint Louis while others were located in smaller cities and towns like Alexandria, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; Boscawen, New Hampshire; Brattleboro, Vermont; Lockport, New York and Millbury, Massachusetts.

   All of the  postmasters (11) that issued provisional stamps, used local engravers and printers (from what is known) to manufacture the stamps. All of the postmaster provisionals and envelopes where invalidated on July 1, 1847 with the release of the first US general issue, (the 1847 5˘ & 10˘ stamps). However, there are few a New York provisional stamps on cover postmarked after July know of any other examples of late use please email me and I will update this site accordingly. I would also welcome any other notable information, or revisions after all we d consider this to be a "research project", and research is never presented in a "finished state", history is constantly reveling itself if we just take the time to look.


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JPCohen - 3˘ 1851 stamp project: We continue Dr. Chase's work on the 1851 3˘ Washington stamp; offering a fresh look at this important US postal issue. This is perhaps the most collected US stamp ever issued. Currently we have over 3000 reference items in my personal research library, with a goal is to make them reviewable here at this site. We have two plate reconstructions in progress plate 2 and 3. If you have any singles from these plates contact us today, we would like to consider an acquisition or your gift in kind. UPDATE! You can now download a free sample copy of our book, before its even published!

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