The first Confederate issue was placed in circulation in October 1861, five months after postal service between the North and South ended. In the meantime, postmasters throughout the seceded states used temporary substitutes. These stamps are known to collectors as 'Postmaster Provisionals', so-called because they were used 'provisionally' until the first Confederate general issue appeared. In some circles, postmaster provisionals are referred to as 'locals' since they were intended only for use from the town in which they were issued. Postmasters resorted to a variety of methods to solve their temporary problems, ranging from creating their own adhesive postage stamps to marking letters with rate-altered handstamps or simply marking the letters “Paid” in manuscript.
The Confederate States of America was formed on February 4, 1861. On February 9, 1861, the Confederate Provisional Congress at Montgomery, Alabama, adopted an act to continue in force the laws of the United States of America until the Confederate Congress could change such laws. By default, this made the postal rates of the Confederacy the same as those of the United States. The act prescribing the rates of postage in the Confederacy was passed and received presidential approval and signature on February 23, 1861, but did not go into effect until June 1, 1861.
Postmasters from the seceded states that joined the Confederacy found themselves in a very difficult position. While most postmasters were sympathetic to the South and intended to accept Confederate postmaster commissions, they were still technically under oath to the United States Post Office Department until June 1, 1861. The United States demanded a confirming oath from the Confederate postmasters before shipping additional supplies of U.S. stamps to them during the period between the formation of the Confederacy and June 1, 1861. Confederate Postmaster General John H. Reagan advised Southern postmasters that, in the interests of the people in both parts of the country, it was the wish of the Confederate government that all postmasters continue their duties, render their accounts, and pay all monies to the government of the United States until the Confederate Post Office Department could assume control over its own postal affairs. In a letter written by Reagan in 1898 in reply to some inquiries concerning Confederate postal matters, he explained the Confederate Post Office Department's official position relative to postmaster provisional stamps.
Some of the known 3-cent 1861 postmaster provisionals were adhesive, and some were handstamped. All are rare except the 3-cent Nashville, which was prepared but never issued.
Until the Confederate government provided adhesive stamps, some postmasters created their own adhesives. Some postmasters reverted to the pre-stamp period practice of stamping the word "Paid" with the appropriate rate on the envelope, a procedure made obsolete by the first issuance of stamps in 1847.
A handstamped provisional envelope was prepared and sold in advance at the local post office with the rate marking and a 'control' marking. When it was taken back to the post office to be mailed, it received a town date stamp. The control marking differentiates a handstamped provisional envelope from one with simple handstamped 'Paid' usage.
Until adhesive stamps were provided by the Confederate government, some postmasters designed their own adhesive stamps for their towns. Some of these included the postmaster's name, the town of origin, the postage rate, and often an elaborate design. They were often printed at nearby newspaper or printing offices. On the other hand, occasionally the 'stamp' was as crude as hand stamping “Paid” or a rate scribbled on small pieces of paper for use as adhesives.