Postal History Symposium
"How Commerce and Industry Shaped the Mails"
Friday and Saturday, September 16 - 18, 2011
American Philatelic Center, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania



No Fries ’Til Mail—How tourism brought mail service to the Grand Canyon

Marjory J. Sente

Explorers with the Coronado Expedition viewed the Grand Canyon in 1540. As late as 1871 after his first visit, Lieutenant Joseph C. Ives wrote, “It can only be approached from the south and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first and will doubtlessly be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”

A decade later Captain John Hance, the Canyon’s first promoter, proved that Ives was very wrong. Hance brought tourists to the Canyon, provided the first accommodations on the South Rim, carved a trail down the Canyon, and lead excursions below the Rim. Tourism and the competition for that business lead to the development of mail service for those living at or visiting the Canyon.

This paper will show how the growth of the tourist trade in the late 1800s lead to the establishment of the early post offices at the South Rim such as Tolfree and Tourist opening in 1894 and 1897, respectively. Within a few years, the competition for tourists’ business lead to the establishment of the rival post offices Grand Canyon (1902) and Grand View (1903).

While competition for tourists and their business raged at the South Rim, the remote location of Supai located at the bottom of the Canyon’s western reaches determined that the village would have mule mail service when the post office was established in 1896. Delivery of mail by horse or mule was not unusual in 1896, however, the service continues today. Supai and Phantom Ranch (also in the Grand Canyon) are the only places in the U.S. served by mule mail. This article’s title, No Fries ’Til Mail, refers to waiting for the arrival of the mail so the local restaurant can receive its order of potatoes required for French Fries. Supai’s residents eat more mail than they read. Mail Service is, indeed, the lifeline for the 500 Havasupai who live in this isolated area of the Grand Canyon.

Remoteness and weather were and still are determining factors for mail service to the North Rim. While 10 to 18 miles separate the Canyon’s rims, one must travel more than 150 desolate miles around the crevice to get from one to the other, unless you make a rim-to-rim hike. Tourists came to the North Rim’s Kaibab Plateau anyways. The North Rim’s first post office, Kaibab, was a summer post office established in 1926.

With nearly five million visitors a year, mail continues to be important for tourism at the Grand Canyon. Many will send post cards. Some will ride or hike to Supai or Phantom Ranch and post letters for the mules to carry on their initial journey through the mail stream. Few, however, will know the Grand Canyon’s rich postal history and the impact of tourism on the development of the mail in this remote area of Arizona.

Illustrating this narrative include: the Canyon’s first known postal item; the earliest cancel using the words Grand Canyon; a post card canceled on February 14, 1912, coincidentally Arizona’s first day of statehood; and a Kaibab Forest postmark from a device hand carved by the postmaster after a fire destroyed the post office.

The U.S. Special Handling Service
“Live Chicks” - And so much more - Require First Class Treatment

Robert G. Rufe

In response to the needs of commerce and industry, the Post Office Department in 1925 introduced Special Handling, the first national system for moving Parcel Post mail matter with the speed and urgency of First Class mail. While the Special Handling service enjoyed brief flourishes of promotional activity, it never seemed to capture the broad appeal and success of its successors - Air Parcel Post (1948) and Priority Mail (1968). In hindsight, however, Special Handling was the first effort by the postal system to move packages with urgency, and can truly be viewed as the forerunner of today’s Priority Mail.

This paper traces the economic circumstances leading to the introduction of the Special Handling service and its dedicated stamps. Service-inscribed stamps were produced from 1925 through 1955. The service still exists, unknown to most postal clerks, postal patrons, postal historians and philatelists. It just experienced a rate increase on April 17, 2011, unheralded and unnoticed inside and outside the USPS.

The discussion will focus primarily on the service and its role in serving commerce and industry, especially with regard to moving time-sensitive “live” products – day-old chicks, queen bees and baby alligators. It will also question the seeming lack of recognition of the service in historical context, and even to this day.

While of less import to this treatise, the dedicated adhesives of the Special Handling service hold a number of misunderstood varieties and surprising rarities and these will be addressed.

Promotion of Air Mail in the U.S. by Government and Industry

Arthur H. Groten M.D.

Government and Industry sought to encourage the public to accept and use the new air services.

The development of airmail service in the U.S. was the result of partnership between the government and the airlines. Once its expedience was demonstrated, businesses and private persons began to use airmail and government subsidies were reduced. But that early period required much promotion through the press, special stationery, special labels, special events such as air races and National Air Mail Week and so forth. By WWII, airmail was well accepted and this discussion ends in 1940.

This talk does not look at the role of Government subsidies nor does it examine the development of the various air routes. Those have been more than adequately covered elsewhere. Rather, by looking at philatelic and non-philatelic material, I seek to understand how the two major instigators of the airmail system convinced folks to spend twice as much, or more, to send a letter by air.

I conclude with the answer to the question, now obvious but not so then, of whether all this promotion worked.

The Postage Meter Tops Off Mail Preparation

David Crotty

It has been stated in a number of places that as the first postage stamps were introduced, business people immediately realized there had to be a better way to post the mail. By the late 1800’s machinery was being invented and tested that was capable of assisting in various aspects of large mailing preparation.

A number of pieces of equipment were introduced and used with some success from the early 1900’s. In the end the major problem was adding evidence of postage payment. A number of companies were allowed to purchase imperforate stamps from which coils were produced. These coils were used for vending but also for stamp affixing to mail that had been prepared by varying degrees of automated preparation.

Experiments were conducted to test the feasibility of a postage meter to perform this task. The inventions had improved to the point by 1920 that the US Post Office approved the first postage meter. The new postage meter entered the business world to become a very important piece of office equipment. The meter was often used as a standalone item in the office, but was usually designed to be part of a complex production line to prepare large mailings.

This postal history paper will show the development of the mail production equipment from the early days to today. The postage meter itself and the postage stamps that it produced will be the central feature of this discussion but the postage meter is really the last step in a complex production line.

Commerce and the Mails in the Early Nineteenth Century

Gordon Trotter

Nathan Trotter & Co. is a family-owned and operated metals importing, processing and wholesaling firm that traces its history in Philadelphia back to 1789. A well-preserved correspondence of the firm covering roughly the first half of the 19th century provides much insight into the business practices of the day, into the company’s use of the mails to further their business goals, and into the postal history of the era.

Examples from the correspondence illustrate a number of ways that the needs of the business world have influenced postal operations, including the following:

  • Increasing demand for swift and affordable communication led to a transition from complex and expensive rate structures to a simple and cheap uniform letter rate.
  • Frequent confusion over whether sender or recipient should pay postage was finally obviated by required prepayment.
  • The perceived need to satisfy obligations with cash payments sent through the mail led to the forerunners of our present registration system.
  • The need for funds to support military action was met in part by temporary postal rate increases. In the era in question, this subsidy was paid mainly by businesses.
  • Most raw materials were imported from abroad. Trans-oceanic mail systems evolved from a chaotic mix of arrangements to formal treaties and eventually to the UPU.
  • The need of commerce to reach a variety of domestic locales spurred the development of mail routes by roadway, waterway and railway.
These developments, spurred largely by the needs of commerce and industry, are the essence of the postal history of the era.

American Retailers’ Employment of Mail Order Business

Sarah Johnson, Ph.D.

This paper examines the interdisciplinary relationships among American department store retailers, the U.S. Postal Service, private shipping companies, and printers, revealing commercial responses to federal postal regulations on mail order commerce from a variety of perspectives in the second half of the nineteenth century.

In his 1901 book, How Department Stores Are Carried On, Wesley Briggs Phillips discussed American retailers’ employment of mail order as a small operation, run in conjunction with other retail sales and deliveries in the late 1850s and 1860s. Indeed, Ralph Hower cited Macy’s sale of gloves by mail in the early 1860s and my research links such evidence to the 1861 legislation, officially allowing merchandise up to four pounds to be sent at a rate of .01/ounce under 1500 miles, .02/ounce over 1500 mile delivery (US Domestic Postage Rates, 1789-1956, p. 56). This early evidence of retail mail order corresponds with industrial growth and the need for increased distribution to grease the wheels of production and consumption, as America’s westward expansion continued.

Department stores and consumers relied on purchasing agents or advertisements referring to mail orders prior to the emergence of “formal” mail order, with large specifically organized departments and standardized catalogs published at regular intervals by the 1870s, and often prior to the entry of direct marketers. In 1872, U.S. Postal legislation revised three pre-paid classes of mail (USDPR, p. 60-61), and retailers were quick to advertise the advantages of such a system. New York’s Stern Brothers’ advertising reflected this shift by October 25, 1873, citing “Ladies out of the city, in ordering, can depend upon getting the utmost value & only first-class goods, or the same can be returned…especial attention paid to orders.” (Harper’s Bazaar ad, p. 687).

On September 19, 1874, A.T. Stewart’s advertising emphasized “the recent change in the Postal laws and the increased facilities afforded by the Post Office department for the careful transmission and prompt delivery of merchandise…enable our friends, customers and strangers at any point in the US or territories to purchase dry goods.” (HB, p.615). The US Postal Service altered its classification requirements regularly in the 1870s (1872, 1873, 1874, 1876, 1879), as retailers sought ways to make mail order distribution more profitable. Responding to these changes, Philadelphia retailer began to publish Strawbridge &Clothier Quarterly in the Spring of 1882, explaining their entry into journalism as a service offered to their out of town patrons but omitting the fact that in doing so, the magazine would qualify for a cheaper postage rate. The size of catalogs, and numbers of illustrations was also in part based on postal rates, keeping catalogs small in the 1870s. The growth in the size of catalogs was consistent with retailers’ insistence that catalogs be considered second-class mail under the 1879 classification law, catalogs growing from 30-40 pages in the mid-1870s, to 150-180 pages in the 1880s, and competing with direct marketers’ catalogs with hundreds of pages by the 1890s.

Retailers’ responses to US Postal legislation reflect their experiential knowledge in this growing form of distribution. Didactically illustrated by R.H. White’s 1883 catalog, the mail order department was described as “a large room where all retail orders sent by mail are filled—receipt of letters averaging one thousand per day,” though there does not seem to be a way to quantify these retail numbers using extant postal records. Jordan Marsh, the Boston retailer cited a 100% annual increase in their mail order for ten consecutive years (Fall 1881 catalog).

By 1895, Pittsburgh’s Kaufmann Brothers’ specified their receipt of 43,000 orders, ranging from ten cents to several hundred dollars, using statistics to sell this “modern” form of commerce.
Standardization of mail order processes also followed this knowledge, including one 1877 example of a dishonest clerk at Ehrich Brothers in New York, who stole money and inquiry letters, based on 5000 complaints of money sent but goods never received. The clerk was eventually arraigned for embezzlement, after being suspected and set up in a sting operation, the Ehrich Brothers then realizing the need for better accounting of order receipts. In his defense, this clerk pleaded that he was only guilty of taking letters home to copy addresses and sell a mailing list to a competitor, so in this case, we have evidence of ancillary industries arising from mail order in terms of marketing demographics well before the twentieth century.

As a new commercial practice, retailers provided step-by-step directives for placing an order, prior to standardized order forms by the late 1870s. These commercial practices illustrate mail order growth prior to the coming of RFD in 1896 and parcel post in 1912, and reveal a great deal about commercial growth and expansion for retailers, legislation to control the flow and contain the costs of delivering mail on a national basis by the US Postal Service.

Order No. 10 – Post Office Protection of the Express Cartel

David L. Straight

On July 6, 1905 Postmaster General George B. Cortelyou issued Order No. 10 accusing magazine publisher E. G. Lewis and the People’s United States Bank, a postal bank he had founded only months before to benefit his mostly rural subscribers, of mail fraud. They were immediately denied the right to receive mail. Unable to communicate with its depositors, the bank was forced into receivership. Subsequently, in a punitive measure, Cortelyou also revoked the second-class mailing permits for the magazines published by Lewis. Three years later, at the criminal trial for mail fraud, when the Post Office was unable to produce a single witness who had lost money deposited in the bank, the federal judge directed a not guilty verdict.

To understand why the Post Office destroyed a business that was not fraudulent and did not compete with any postal service requires an examination of the relationship between the Post Office, Congress, and the private express companies. The Post Office Act of 1845, by declaring a postal monopoly on letter mail, barred the private express companies from carrying letters. At the same time, the Post Office agreed not to compete with them for the transportation of packages, or the secure delivery of gold, currency, and valuables. In the decades following the Civil War, an Express Cartel set rates, stifled competition, and manipulated Congress to prevent the passage of legislation allowing the Post Office to compete with them by offering postal banking or parcel post services. Had Lewis merely used his editorial columns to call for new postal services, he would have joined a long parade of Postmasters General, editors, postal reformers, and grass roots organizations whose voices had been largely ignored. However, when Lewis took the innovative step of organizing a national postal bank, he sought to compete in a business arena that was the exclusive province of the express companies.

In six decades, the Post Office had moved from not competing with the private express companies in 1845 to suppressing a business that threatened the express company’s profits in 1905. This paper will examine the personalities and self-serving business interests that not only prevented the Post Office from providing services common in other industrialized nations but also manipulated the Post Office to attack Lewis and People’s United States Bank. By this action, the Post Office favored the Express Cartel, which took business away from them, over an entrepreneur whose bank could have generated lucrative first-class mail revenue for the Post Office.

How Postcards Saved The Rural Free Delivery

By Dan Gifford

The 1909 Report of the Postmaster General contains an interesting suggestion from Fourth Assistant Postmaster General Peter De Graw, the man in charge of the popular but financially-challenged Rural Free Delivery. After looking at the rise of mail in the rural free delivery system between 1905 and 1909, he concluded: “This remarkable increase is conclusive evidence that the institution of the rural delivery has enlarged the amount of the mails handled, and therefore increased the revenues.” This applied “especially to letters and postal cards, the latter due to the enormous use of souvenir or picture post cards.” (Post Office Department Annual Report, 1909, pg 352).

This paper will present new research that suggests the so-called “Postcard Craze” in the early years of the twentieth century was more connected to rural Americans and the Rural Free Delivery than previously realized. It will present original qualitative data about postcard audiences—along with supporting primary source information—that highlights the role of rural Americans as a driving force of the postcard phenomenon. It will then suggest that this postcard use along Rural Free Delivery routes was an under-appreciated contributing factor to the Post Office Department’s remarkable fiscal turnaround over the course of 1909 and 1910.

Reforms and reorganization have largely been credited with wiping away most of the Post Office Department’s growing deficit—a deficit many blamed on the Rural Free Delivery. However, this new “bottom up” approach suggests that the rural-based commerce of buying and mailing postcards en-masse contributed to the Post Office Department’s success, allowing the Rural Free Delivery to continue service for years to come.

The Demand for Postage at a Rural Post Office in the 1940ís

Erick Lee Erickson, Ph.D.
Department of Economics
The Metropolitan State College of Denver

Records of postage cancelled between 1941 and 1945 at a rural post office have recently been recovered in an archaeological investigation of an abandoned building in Eastern Colorado.(1) These records consist of 1,086 daily postage cancellation forms that cover 77% of the days in which the post office was open for business from July of 1941 to December of 1945. These cancellation forms provide a unique and potentially significant view of postal business in a small, farming community served by an office of the 4th class. The documents presented in this paper and reveal an unexpected and disproportionate use of parcel post by farmers. Daily stamp cancellations were seldom in excess of one dollar, but the amounts cancelled typically exceeded stamp values for personal letter mail. It has long been known that isolated farm communities relied on parcel post to access mail-order goods from distant retailers. These forms prove that farmers also depended on the system to post outgoing parcels. Parcel post commerce determined the shape and pattern of rural mail.

Records of cancelled stamps

At the turn of the century, 4th class offices were defined as offices at which the postmaster earned less than $1,000 per year. There were once more 70,000 such offices in what Historian Wayne Fuller has called the “old system” of rural mail. Patrons in these communities had to travel to the post office to send and receive mail. Postmasters in this system were not admitted to the civil service, but instead depended on the revenues they generated for remuneration. In its early years, the Post Office Department did not issue pay checks to postmasters at small, rural offices. Instead, the Department issued sent postage stamps to them and allowed them to keep a part of the money they earned from the sale of those stamps. The amount of stamps a postmaster cancelled determined the amount of stamp revenue that he or she was allowed to keep as pay. Salaries depended on a sliding scale, but were always less than cancellations.

The difference between stamp sales and stamp cancellations was not likely to be very large at most rural offices, and as long as the Department could account for their sale to the U.S. Treasury, who printed and issued the stamps, it was content to allow postmasters the option to either keep an actual account of the amount of stamps they cancelled or to prepare instead a “report made up from the amount of stamps sold.”(2) This system was cheap, simple and efficient, but could it be abused. An unscrupulous postmaster could profit by ordering more stamps than needed or selling some at a discount. So, the Department advised postmasters to keep records of cancelled stamps on file at their offices so that, if inspected, their business activity could be verified. But, the department did not require them to submit those records to its central accounting office, which was naturally more interested in the flow of cash than in the flow of mail.

In the 20th century, postal accounting became more complicated. Postmasters of the 4th class were issued a “fixed credit” of stamps, and were required to reimburse the treasury for the amount of stamps they sold and to re-order to replenish their stock of fixed credit stamps. So, all revenue from stamp sales was remitted back to the district office, sometimes on a daily basis. Postmasters received a check from the Department for their pay, but their pay scale still depended on cancellations.

There is no way to know how many of the 4th class offices kept detailed accounts of the stamps they cancelled. Even those postmasters who did keep an actual tally only submitted a quarterly total of their cancellations to the Department. Short of an inspector’s report, there would be no way to tell if the sums on quarterly reports represented actual accounts or estimates based on stamp sales. Of course, the point is moot because all quarterly reports from 4th class offices were later removed from the archives by the Department and were destroyed. Thinking that researchers would never be interested in such micro- detail, the Department saved only a few years worth of data compiled from the quarterly reports of individual offices. Researchers today can only find data on the quarterly “receipts” of individual 4th class offices for the years 1923-24 and 1943-48. “Receipts” included stamp sales, box rentals and sales of twine and paper. Neither the National Archives nor the Library of the Postal Museum of the Smithsonian has an actual recording of stamp cancellations in its collection.(3)

Fortunately, the arid climate of the high plains of Eastern Colorado has preserved a remarkable collection of cancellation forms in the ruins of the building that served as a 4th class post office for the now vanished farming town of Fondis, a community of 380 souls in 58 households in the 1940’s

The Forms

Throughout its history, the Post Office Department was concerned with the celerity of 4th class service. It insisted that “a record of postmarks showing every change made in the postmarking stamps shall be kept in chronological order in suitable record books or on loose leaf sheets supplied by postmasters. Immediately following a dispatch the postmarking stamp shall be changed to show the time of the next dispatch.”(4) Postmasters had to maintain these records on site for three years and produce them if called for in a postal inspection. The forms discussed in this paper, recovered as artifacts from the site of the Fondis Post office are some of this office’s loose-leaf postmarking records. An imprint of the postmark with the date reel set to the current day and the time of dispatch set to 10:00 A.M. has been pressed in black ink in the top left corner of each recovered form. Another black ink impression of the postmark with the same date but with the time set to 11:00 A.M. is stamped on the top right corner. These forms also contain an impression of the Money Order cancellation stamp of the office, set to the current date and pressed in red ink onto the middle of the form, below the stamp cancellation impressions.

These loose leaf sheets provided a convenient and obvious place for postmasters to record daily stamp cancellations, even though the Department did not instruct them to do so. Mary Tripp, the postmaster at Fondis during the 1940’s apparently did take advantage of this opportunity. Each of the postmarking forms recovered at Fondis contains columns of hand written numbers beneath each cancellation mark. The column beneath the 10AM cancel mark on the left-hand side of the form is typically summed, and that sum is repeated as the last entry in the right-hand side column beneath the 11AM cancel mark. Then, the right-hand side column is summed to obtain a total representing the day’s business activity. On the reverse of each form, the day’s total is added to the total from the previous day to obtain a running sum of monthly business to date. Hand-written indications of the time of the arrival and departure of the mail carrier are also found on the bottom right of the forms’ obverse.
Although none of the recovered forms identifies the nature of these numbers, they are in decimal units and are consistent with dollar values. A forensic analysis of these forms and a comparison to the quarterly records on receipts will be presented to prove that these numbers are records of stamp cancellations. Examples of representative and intriguing forms from this collection will be displayed to reveal interesting aspects of the postal business at this community.

The Data

The daily total of stamp cancellations at the Fondis, Colorado for the years 1941 through 1945 show remarkable consistency, averaging about 84 cents per day with a standard deviation of only 37 cents for the months of January through November. During the month of December, daily cancellations doubled, on average, to $1.68, which represents the seasonal increase in postal business during Christmastime. It will be argued that this level of activity was sufficient to economically justify the provision of postal service to this community.
Perhaps even more interesting than the volume of daily stamp cancellations is the nature of postage transactions revealed in the data. The average value of a postal cancellation is 31 cents, which is over ten times the value of a single letter stamp of the period. In fact, there is no mode at the 3 cent stamp value, which indicates that Postmaster Mary Trip did not record the value of each stamp she cancelled, but recorded instead the total value of postage for each transaction. This means that this community may have used parcel post more than letter post. This data and the evidence of “eggs” labels recovered in the archaeological dig could suggest that local farmers used the office to send their produce to distant consumers. The “Farm to Table” Movement of the era sought to improve the market range of rural communities by offering parcel post to farmers at reasonable rates. This data may provide novel evidence of the movement’s success.

Mary Tripp’s cancellation forms also provide records of the number of individual transactions at her office on a daily basis. These transaction data will be used to provide a travel-cost estimate of what economists call the consumers’ surplus for postal service to the community. This is the additional amount of money that consumers were willing to pay for postal service above the explicit cost of stamps. A detailed analysis of the data will be offered and an estimate of the community’s demand for postal service will be presented.


This unique collection of cancellation records has historical, economic and philatelic significance. It will be offered to the Library of the Postal Museum of the Smithsonian Institution so that these records can be made available for study by other researchers.

1) A report on the archaeological investigation is in preparation and will be submitted to an appropriate journal in the summer of 2011.
2) Instructions to Postmasters, 1899
3) The Historian of the United States Postal Service is in possession of some 4th class cash books that might contain cancellation data, but do not include cancellation forms.
4) Instructions to Postmasters of the Fourth Class, 1948.


Antebellum Transformations in Postal Architecture

Katherine Miller

The formation of a distinct postal architecture—the switch to custom designed spaces for the collection, sorting, and distribution of mail—was specifically based on the new demands confronting the postal system. Between 1850 and 1857, 59 Post Offices were designed and built by the Office of the Supervising Architect (OSA), a division of the Department of Treasury, established during the antebellum era. Prior to 1850, Post Offices were primarily urban and exclusively housed in existing buildings purchased by the department.

The proliferation of Post Offices was part and parcel of the postal system’s standardization and systemization. To better understand postal architecture it is enlightening to compare postal designs by the OSA for local communities to the department’s headquarters in Washington, the General Post Office Building (1839‐1942). Officials for the Postal Department and the Treasury’s OSA worked in buildings designed by Robert Mills, whose interiors had double‐loaded corridors with offices on either side — effectively creating the first modern white‐collar office environments in America.

By contrast, postal architecture did not adopt these new models of interior organization for workers. Post Offices had large open spaces and only used partitions to distinguish between public and private spaces. My paper will seek to answer the questions: why did the OSA treat these work environments so differently when they both faced unprecedented and unknown demands of industrial expansion? Answering this provocative question requires us to address several more: was postal architecture attempting to accommodate unforeseen developments in postal technology? Was postal work seen to align more with manufacturing than white‐collar employment? Was the standardization of design a demand of the postal service for systemized distribution; or was it a choice made by the OSA to expedite building?

To explain the causes and implications of the developing postal typology in the antebellum era my research begins with archival sources. Archival information is bolstered by a close analysis of the art, architecture, and material culture surrounding antebellum Post Offices. Using Dell Upton’s Another City: Urban Life and Urban Spaces in the New American Republic (2008) and David Henkin’s The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communication in Nineteenth Century America (2006) as a springboard, this history of the development of postal architecture seeks to understand how the American government strove to organize urban space and structure occupational work.

Postal History and Network Art

Andrew Oleksiuk

The pursuit of postal history scholarship in the age of the Internet may seem anachronistic to some. But postal history scholarship fuels understanding of important cultural changes. Artists who utilize global networked technologies are increasingly historicizing postal history in network art through the work of New York artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995), known as the father of mail art. New media arts scholars historicize the mails as an global network technology preceding and concurrent with the telegraph, radio (wireless), television, computers, and virtual worlds. Disparate disciplines of art, technology, media theory and cultural heritage combine to locate postal history as an ideational principle of new media arts, specifically in network art. The relationships among notable art history events and new media arts scholarship will be examined via postal history, mail art networks and network art.


Parcel Post Postage Due Stamps

Harry Charles, Jr. Ph.D.

The Parcel Post System was created in 1912 (operations to begin January 1, 1913) to address the growing need to send larger items (packages, parcels, and even farm produce) with the speed and safety of the United States mails. Although approved by an Act of Congress on   June 12, 1912, the Post Office department was concerned about the profitability of the System and, thus, issued a special set of twelve stamps (Scott Nos.Q1 to Q12) to Postmasters. The Parcel Post stamps were issued in late 1912 and early 1913, with the strict orders that no Parcel Post stamps should be used before January 1, 1913. These stamps would allow strict accounting of Parcel Post System revenues, since only these stamps could be used to mail Parcel Post packages. In addition to the special stamps necessary to pay for parcel shipment, the Post Office Department issued five Parcel Post Postage Due stamps (Scott Nos.JQ1 to JQ5). These five stamps (1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢, and 25¢ values) were issued between December 1912 and January 1913. Since the parcel post rates were based on weight, distance, and to some extent package size, most mailers had to take their packages to a post office to be weighed and the correct postage applied – thus the Parcel Post Postage Due stamps were not needed. Only in the rare case of a Parcel Post package being placed in a drop box with insufficient postage (and no return address) would Parcel Post Postage Due stamps be needed. In fact, used Parcel Post Postage Due stamps on short paid package wrappers are extremely rare (especially during the exclusive use period (See below)).

The Parcel Post System was an instant success and the Post Office Department’s concern over losing revenue was unfounded and, hence, they decided that the special stamps for the exclusive use of the Parcel Post System were unnecessary. Since the Post Office Department and postmasters still had multiple millions of these special stamps in inventory, the Post Office Department authorized (Order No. 7241 of June 26, 1913, effective July 1, 1913) their use on regular mail. In a similar vein, the Parcel Post Postage Due stamps could also take the place of regular issue postage due stamps. Subsequently, the Parcel Post Postage Due stamps received significant use – especially the 25¢ value.

This paper describes the history of the Parcel Post Postage Due stamps from their limited use beginnings to their relatively widespread use during the next five or so years. The photo-model for the 25¢ value is described as well as various proof printings. A unique set of large die proofs (JQ1P1 to JQ5P1) are illustrated. This set was prepared for and given to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The paper also illustrates the rare Pan Pacific small die proofs as well as questions the existence of other small die proofs despite their listing in the Scott Catalog. The stamp design and production are described and numerical listings of the printing runs and quantities are given.Many of the Parcel Post Postage Due stamps were pre-cancelled by crayon or rubber hand stamp and are thus not tied to covers or wrappers. The author traces known tied usages as well as the motivation behind the massive pre-cancelling of the issue. Examples of covers with both tied and pre-cancelled Parcel Post Postage Due stamps are illustrated along with other pre-cancelling or overprinting examples including the Shanghai Darrah overprints.

“It’s in the Bag” – The Shape of Turn-of-the-Century Mail

Diane DeBlois & Robert Dalton Harris

The usual metrics for the United States Post Office Department were revenues and number of post offices, as well as miles of transportation. In 1899, with revenues having grown 2,700 times and number of post offices 1,000 times over the previous century, the postmaster general needed a more detailed ascertainment of costs. And so, for 35 consecutive days postmasters at every office gathered statistics of the weight of outgoing mails by class. Compilation of this data, which included the tare weight of the mail bags, was published in 1900.

There were many surprises. We have published from this compilation: “Geographic Distributions of the Postal Economy: U.S. in 1900” (Postal History Journal, No. 142, February 2009) but will now focus on two particular anomalies.

Fully half of the weight of the mails was revealed to be equipment – and so we follow the mail bag story, as it performed postal circles (quite differently shaped for the different classes of mail), shedding light on the POD as a business.

It had always been appreciated that the bulk of mail content was Second Class matter. For the first time, the actual distribution by weight could be comprehended. Fully half of the remainder of the weight of the mails, once the weight of bags was deducted, was Second Class Matter, paid (rather than free).

For a Western state like Utah, 42nd in terms of revenue as well as for free Second Class (meaning local newspapers), the circulation of periodicals outside the state was more important, placing it 29th. By far the majority of titles were published in Salt Lake City, though only two were religious with a total circulation of just 12,000. For a state like Wisconsin, with a large immigrant population and 12th in terms of both revenue and paid Second Class, an active local press put it in 6th place for freely distributed Second Class (the state had 75 periodicals published in German with a combined circulation of 343,031, and 18 titles in five other languages: Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Bohemian and Polish).

But in the whole lineup of states, Maine was the most anomalous with regard to Second Class mail. 24th in terms of revenue, it was 14th for Second Class free, and 8th for Second Class paid – the ratio of paid Second Class to First Class mail weights being 14.1 (the next highest was Missouri, with a ratio of 8.3). The ‘elephant’ in these statistics were three publishing empires in the capitol city of Augusta. By 1899, the six surviving E.C. Allen periodicals, now under Samuel W. Lane, had a combined circulation of over 700,000; Vickery & Hill’s five periodicals over two million; and the William Howard Gannett single periodical, Comfort, had “the largest circulation of any single publication in the world” with 1,253,485.

The cost of shipping second class mail bags to Augusta – noticed by Marshall Cushing as early as 1892 – led directly, in 1900, to changes in bag design as well as distribution.

Controversy over the content and claimed circulation of these periodicals – which came to be known as “mail-order journals” – affected the content and advertising of American magazines, as well as the definition of Second Class Mail status. Recognition of the weighty extent of these publications, which encouraged citizens to order products by mail that then had to be shipped by express, helped fuel the arguments for a Parcel Post mail service.

Role of the US Postal Money Order System
in the Creation of the Mail Order Business

Terence Hines and Thomas Velk

The theme of this year’s symposium is “How Commerce and Industry Shaped the Mails”. But, in the case of the mail order business that sprang up in the late 19th Century, the relationship was reversed. The mail order business could not exist or thrive as it did in the mid to late 19th Century without a nationally recognized means of payment that could easily transmit funds from a potential buyer to a seller far away. Such a means of payment, available to almost everyone in the country, did not exist before the development of the domestic postal money order system. Nineteenth Century banking services used by ordinary citizens did not allow the market for consumer goods to extend over the entire nation. The United States was already a political federation; the postal money order system helped unite its economy as well.

In this paper we describe the creation of the domestic money order system in 1864 as a means for Civil War soldiers to send and receive money. The system became extremely popular during the rest of the 19th and the start of the 20th Centuries. We present economic data taken from the Annual Reports of the Postmaster General to demonstrate the rapid growth of the domestic money order system. For example, in 1870, over 1,670,000 domestic money orders were issued with a total value of just over $34 million, for an average value of about $20. By 1890 those figures had increased to over 10 million orders with a total value of over $114 million, the average being about $11. Also reviewed are the changes over the years that made the domestic postal money order system easier to use.

The domestic postal money order system allowed the average person to take make purchases from far away vendors and thus greatly expanded the market for buyers as well as sellers.We argue that it was this system that allowed the growth of the mail order business.It is not coincidence that the first great mail order company, Montgomery Ward, was founded in 1872 just 8 years after the origination of the postal money border system which, in turn, led to the development of the parcel post system.


Business Reply Mail Service

Richard D. Martorelli

Special delivery, rural free delivery, parcel post, mail insurance, Cash-On-Delivery mailing and airmail were new services developed and offered by the US Post Office Department (USPOD) in the 1885-1913 time period. These developments were in response to changes in the number and location of the rural and urban populations, increased literacy rates, increased industrial output and consumer expansion. The growth in wholesale and retail sales was accelerated by the rise of mass communication newspapers and magazines, which were joined by commercial radio broadcasts in the 1920’s.

In line with the growth of marketing and advertising consumer goods, the Business Reply Mail (BRM) service was started by the US Post Office Department (USPOD) in 1928. In the 1920’s, the focus of general circulation magazines changed from the theme of reform to the culture of consumerism. Advertising moved to persuading the public they needed new products and developing repeat customers, building brand loyalty for a company. Advertisers were able to reach millions of consumers on a daily or weekly basis thru the growth of newspapers and magazines and developed the use of celebrity endorsers as a way to persuade Americans to buy all types of products.

The BRM service works in that the customer mails a specially identified envelope or post card and the business recipient pays for the postage and a handling fee when the mail is received. Envelopes or cards distributed by businesses as part of a direct mail advertising program often offered a free sample or promotional literature about a product. The goal was to obtain a customer contact and create the opportunity for a sale. The return mailer is imprinted “Business Reply Mail/No Postage Necessary”, so there is no expense to the potential customer in returning the envelope or post card. The company sending out the material pays only for those items that are actually mailed back and received, rather than for all that are distributed in magazine advertisements or thru other methods. Prior to this, any advertising sent directly to consumers that had a “reply” component required that either the consumer pay the postage on an unstamped preaddressed “courtesy reply” envelope or that the reply envelope or card be prestamped or metered. Often USPOD paid reply postal cards (US Scott Catalog #UY) were used for the prestamped reply. For a business, the cost of postage had to be paid for the entire mailing, not just those actually returned, increasing the expense and limiting the size of a direct mail program. The introduction of the BRM service by the US Post Office (and continued use thru the present) allowed marketers to send mailings to larger numbers of potential customers at a lower expense.

As the use of the US mails in marketing and advertising grew, businesses expanded the use of the BRM system. Using the “push-pull” concepts of information, the seller originally “pushed” the information (catalog, samples, and promotions) to potential buyers, using the BRM system. Once engaged, the seller used the BRM to “pull” information (payment, subscriptions, customer satisfaction) from the buyer. As political, educational and social groups learned and applied direct mail concepts to their areas, they too used the BRM system to support their objectives in a cost-limiting manner.  

The goal of the presentation is to identify changes in the consumer, marketing and advertising culture that lead to the introduction of the basic BRM process, subsequent expansions of the BRM service and some additional applications outside of direct consumer sales marketing, including customer support, political and special interest groups and social surveys.

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