US postal - Philatelic Research

    Study guide: The stampless period

  Stampless Period

Early mail ... by James W. Milgram, M.D.,
 In the United States, stamps were first issued just prior to the mid-Nineteenth Century. But mail had been transported by evolving postal systems from the late-Seventeenth Century in the American colonies and then in the new country created by the American Revolution. Many letters were carried by hand and demonstrate no postal markings, but there are many letters transported by colonial post which in the period just prior to the Revolution bear markings which indicate the site of origin, the amount of postage, and whether the postage was paid. Since there were no envelopes until the 1840s, all of these early correspondences are folded letters with addresses on the outer surface of the single large sheet of paper. Sealing was done with sealing wax, either sticks or wafers. Some letters were sent by special messengers, some by express, and some free because the writer or recipient was a personage who had the franking privilege. While early postmarks are all handwritten, in the later colonial period many larger towns employed hand-stamps for the town name and there were special dating hand-stamps at a few locations. These letters are termed by collectors to be stampless covers. All early mail in the United States was by means of stampless covers.

July 1846, folded letter;  Ebensburg PA SFL 5 Rate 3 pg Letter- (owned by jpcohen)

As time passed, a single large city such as Boston, Massachusetts utilized many different postal markings. And letters passing through Boston show a divergent array of many different postal usage's, such as letters coming from and going to many different towns and many different countries with all sorts of special postal markings for special postal usage's. In addition to the horse and wagon, steamboats began to transport mail in the early-Eighteenth Century. Trains were becoming an important method of mail transportation beginning in the late 1830s with the rapidly expanding track systems. And each different train company or route agent had its own postal markings, too!

Gradually, that practice changed so some mail was prepaid and some was sent due. "PAID" markings were used to denote prepayment. Postal reform gradually occurred with a great reduction in the fees charged on letters. In 1845 the postage fees were reduced to five cents and ten cents for letters carried for less or greater than 400 miles.

Hand-stamped town postal markings can be grouped into categories based on the geometry of the town and state lettering. These include straight line, arch, oval, and circular formats. While most markings are fairly plain, there are some more exotic markings that have been termed fancy stampless cover markings. These fancy markings also can be categorized by the existence of fancy lettering in the marking, decorative marks within the marking, and ornamental frames around the lettering. In addition to the town marks, there is the rating marking which in the 1845-1851 period was usually hand-stamped, and some of these are fancy too. And other auxiliary markings include the "PAID" if a letter was prepaid, "FREE" if a letter was franked, or some other markings such as "SHIP", "STEAM", or "WAY".

The period when postage stamps were developed corresponds with a period of rapid growth in the United States. The West was just opening up and expansion was occurring everywhere. Most mail continued to be sent as stampless covers even though stamps were available. Only in 1851 was there a penalty to send mail unpaid, a five cent postal fee versus three cents for a prepaid letter. But still there was no requirement that postage had to be prepaid with stamps - that did not happen until 1855.

1. American Stampless Cover Catalog. Vol. 1, 1997, David G. Phillips, N. Miami, Florida.
2. American Stampless Cover Catalog. Vol. 2, 1987, David G. Phillips, N. Miami, Florida.
3. The Posted Letter in Colonial and Revolutionary America. Alex ter Braake, 1975, American Philatelic Research Library, State College, Pennsylvania.
4. Postal Markings of Boston, Massachusetts to 1890. Maurice Blake and Wilbur Davis, 1949, Severn-Wylie-Jewett, Portland, Maine.
5. The First Hundred Years of United States Territorial Postmarks, 1787-1887. Carroll Chase and Richard Cabeen, 1950, American Philatelic Society, State College, Pennsylvania.
6. Vessel-named Markings on United States Inland and Ocean Waterways, 1810-1890. James W. Milgram, M.D., 1994, Published Collectors Club of Chicago.


Helpful Links

United States Domestic Postage Rates 1792-1855 , by Glenn A. Estus

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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