Every Stamp Tells a Story

Clues to a Letter's Journey

The Clues

How did this mail travel? What route did it take to reach its final destination? How long did it take? What obstacles did the mail encounter along the way?

Find answers to these and other questions—and uncover some fascinating pieces of postal history—by exploring different kinds of markings on mail.

Hope Diamond wrapper, 1958

Postage Rates

Postage rates show what services were requested.

Image: Hope Diamond wrapper, 1958


U.S. First official airmail by airplane, 1911


Postmarks record where and when mail entered and traveled through the system.

Image: U.S. First official airmail by airplane, 1911


WWII suspension of service, 1942

Auxiliary Markings

Auxiliary markings give routing directions or indicate special services.

Image: WWII suspension of service, 1942


Subito Subito letter, 1582

Addresses and Handwriting

Addresses and handwriting provide information about both sender and recipient.

Image: “Subito Subito” letter, 1582


Paris balloon mail, 1870

The Envelope’s Condition

The envelope’s condition delivers clues to handling.

Image: Paris balloon mail, 1870