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Postmasters' Provisionals (1845-1847)

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5c and 10c Providence, RI postmaster provisional sheet of twelve

The Act of Congress of March 3, 1845, established a relatively simple rate of postage: five cents for a half-ounce letter sent any distance less than 300 miles; ten cents for a half-ounce letter sent over 300 miles. The rate went into effect July 1, 1845, ending all the complicated rates that had preceded it. However, Congress failed to authorize the issuance of postage stamps to pre-pay these rates.

In response, Robert H. Morris, the postmaster of New York City, asked Postmaster General Cave Johnson to allow him to issue stamps for prepayment of letters going through his office. His request was approved, which quickly motivated a few postmasters in other U.S. cities and towns to issue their own stamps too.

These issues served the same purpose as the Penny Black—they allowed the postal patron the opportunity to purchase the stamps in advance and then attach them to the letter, which could be deposited at the post office day or night. These stamps are now known to collectors as the 'Postmaster's Provisionals'.

The era of the Postmasters' Provisionals ended when the Act of Congress of March 3, 1847, authorized the postmaster general to issue government stamps to satisfy the postal rates. The first government stamps, the 5-cent Benjamin Franklin and 10-cent George Washington, were distributed on July 1, 1847, making the Postmaster's Provisional stamps invalid.

Herbert A. Trenchard

Robert H. Morris, New York City postmaster, received permission from Postmaster General Cave Johnson to issue stamps that could prepay postage on letters sent from New York City. The New York stamps, which depict George Washington, were issued in July 1845.

The New York City Postmasters' Provisionals had a face value of five cents and were issued in sheets of forty. As a precaution against theft or fraud, a post office clerk initialed each stamp in ink before selling it to the public.

The stamps were printed on various types of paper and signed by several different postal clerks, including Postmaster Morris himself. However, copies are known to exist without a signature. Although authorized for mail from the New York City post office, a few covers from other cities are known to exist with cancelled New York Postmaster Provisionals attached to them.

The New York Postmasters' Provisionals proved to be popular among patrons, just as Great Britain's Penny Black had. Its success helped Congress decide to issue government stamps, which were approved on July 1, 1847. The New York Postmasters' Provisionals was in use for less than two years.

Herbert A. Trenchard

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5c Providence, RI provisional, single

When Congress failed to authorize the issuance of postage stamps to pre-pay postage rates that had been authorized on May 3, 1845, Welcome B. Sayles, postmaster of Providence, Rhode Island, received permission from Postmaster General Cave Johnson to issue provisional stamps. These stamps, which were printed in sheets of twelve (3x4) with the upper right rated at ten cents and the others at five cents, were issued August 24, 1846. Postmaster Johnson had granted the same permission to Robert H. Morris, postmaster of New York.

At the end of their authorized usage on July 1, 1847, many sheets remained at the Providence post office. Stamp dealers purchased a large number of these sheets. Bogert & Durbin, dealers from Philadelphia, also purchased the original engraved plate, and around 1898 the firm issued reprint sheets. Most of these reprint sheets are marked "BOGERTDURBIN" on the back.

Herbert A. Trenchard

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10c St. Louis Bear type I postmaster provisional single

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