Early mail ... by
James W. Milgram, M.D.,
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 1840’s, 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
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 1830’s 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",
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,
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.
States Domestic Postage Rates 1792-1855 , by
Glenn A. Estus