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1847 Federal Postage Stamp Correspondence

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1847 stamps design approval request letter

The collection consists of forty-six documents, all but one being letters received by the Post Office Department. They are arranged chronologically and date from 1845 to 1851. All the letters are addressed to the postmaster general and two assistant postmasters general, principally the third assistant. Beginning with this issue of stamps, the production and issuance of postage stamps was permanently assigned to the third assistant. Unfortunately, the records of letters sent by the third assistant postmaster general have been lost. These letters included correspondence received from the engraving firm as well as postmasters and individuals.

The Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson letters touch on the firm's contract with the Post Office Department to produce the stamps, including design and printing and eventual destruction of the dies and plates. Also of considerable interest, letters from the New York City postmasters that discuss the Department's security system. While they were not being used to print new orders, the contractor and an agent of the Department packaged and sealed the printing plates. These packages were then deposited at the New York City offices of the assistant treasurer of the United States, where they remained until Washington issued a request to print from them.

The letters reveal two problems that plagued the Department. First, since postmasters' compensation was based on the volume of business at each office, postmasters wanted to sell stamps and collect fees for letters arriving that had been sent 'collect'. Some postmasters were outraged at the prospect of handling mail prepaid by stamps purchased elsewhere. At least one postmaster tore the stamps off covers and marked the postage "due" from the recipients. The second problem concerned the ease with which the red ink used to cancel many stamps could be removed, sometimes resulting in their reuse. One writer reported that he could remove red cancels by rubbing the stamps against his woolen pants!

Several of the letters in this collection address these problems. Other letters discuss postmasters' inability to properly account for the receipt and sale of stamps on the old forms (designed for stampless mail). There are also letters suggesting new stamps to prepay a different rate of postage on newspapers.

Thomas J. Alexander

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