Sunday, January 10, 2016

Early Rural Free Delivery Mail Service Covers

R.F.D. - Rural Free Delivery was, in its day, one of the great social equalizers bringing to rural America something that had been enjoyed by urban America for years, delivery of the mail. John Wanamaker, of the Philadelphia Department Store fame, who served as Postmaster General from 1889 to 1893 had the very logical idea that it made more sense for one person to deliver mail than for 50 people to ride into town to collect their mail. He cited business logic and social philosophy as reasons to give rural dwellers free delivery

Of equal significance was the political pressure of the National Grange, National Farmers’ Congress, and State Farmers’ Alliance advocating for the farmers and rural America. The actual implementation of Rural Free Delivery came about under the administration of William L. Wilson, Postmaster from 1895 to 1897. On October 1, 1896, rural free delivery (RFD) service began in Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla in West Virginia, Postmaster General Wilson’s home state.

Since the RFD carriers simply delivered mail and picked it up to take to the post office in town, these early letters do not carry postal markings to identify them as RFD mail.

 However, in August 1900 carriers began marking the mail picked up on their routes with pencil cancels. Within a few years carriers were outfitted with rubber stamps bearing R.F.D. the post office town name and the date plus a bar cancel and a number (known as a Doane Cancel). Use of these cancelling devices was discontinued by June of 1903.

Postal bureaucracy was simpler in those days, but just as important, as the charge to be responsible for the mail was to be taken seriously. Here is a page from the Form 1977 of June, 1913 entitled INSTRUCTIONS TO APPLICANTS FOR THE RURAL CARRIER EXAMINATION. Included is a listing of the possible reasons for not being considered to be admitted to the exam, including a person not a citizen or not owing allegiance to the United States, handicapped persons including insanity, epilepsy, and TB, or one addicted to the habitual use of intoxicating beverages to excess.

Those persons chosen to take the examination and passing signed a CERTIFICATE OF THE OATH OF MAIL CONTRACTOR AND CARRIERS required by Act of Congress of March 5, 1874

Tendering ones resignation from the post of rural letter carrier was done with the Post Office Department form 2520-P which was mailed as official Business bearing penalty mail postage exemption.

Finally, here is a photocopy of a letter from the Postmaster General in 1897 to a Wm.B. Gaitree designating Mr. Gaitree a special agent for the experiment of rural free delivery. Payment is to be $5.00 per day plus up to $4.00 per day for expenses. Employment will cease with the expiration of the special appropriation  intended to fund the experiments in rural free delivery.

History is littered with postal and other enterprises that foundered on the rocks of an administration change caused by a different party taking office, RFD survived and expanded beyond humble beginning in West Virginia until in 2012, nearly 41 million homes and businesses were served by the Postal Service’s rural letter carriers.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The USPS Souvenir Page Program

Collectors of USPS Souvenir Pages combine into one collection the stamps issued by the U.S. Post Office, together with a First Day of Issue Cancellation, and information about the stamp issue. This third factor, the reasoning for the stamp issue, or the historical or social significance of the stamp, is just as important now that stamps feature more than just dead presidents and founding fathers, as important as they are to any stamp collection.

The Postal Service began the USPS Souvenir Page Program with the Family Planning Stamp in March 1972. This Souvenir Page (#72-0) was only available at the ASDA Stamp Show in Madison Square Garden, New York City and at the Main New York City Post office on 8th Avenue across from The Garden.

The next month, the USPS initiated a subscription service, beginning with the National Park Series.  The Postal Service had observed collecting interest in Stamp Posters with First Day Cancels produced by enterprising collectors and dealers who began affixing stamps to the Post Office produced announcement posters and having them first day cancelled.  The decision was made by the USPS to begin a program of their own and, as they say, the rest is history.

 Production began with about 2,000 of the Family Planning Souvenir Page sold and 10,000 of the first four subscription pages (#72-1, 72-2, 72-3, and 72-4). Today the Family Planning Page is 'rare' and the first Subscription four are 'scarce' Since the initial introduction of USPS Souvenir Pages there are now over 1,000 types, which is enough to provide years of collecting activity.

A challenging element of the segment of the hobby is to include ‘Unofficals’ or ‘Poster Bulletins’, the forerunners of Souvenir Pages 

The USPS produced announcement posters for every US postal issue, including stamped envelopes, postal cards and aerogrammes. Intended for display on Post Office bulletin boards from 1959 (49-Star Flag) through 1981 (Rachel Carson), the bulletins were also made available to collectors. They are 8 x 10-1/2 inches, and were printed on lesser quality paper without watermarks.  At first the posters were printed in gray but soon the USPS began to print them in a single color similar to the color of the stamp. Posters include an image of the stamp(s) along with information about the stamp and it's subject.
Since stamp collectors affixed their own stamps to these early posters, many possibilities exist including plate blocks, zip blocks, tab singles, coil line pairs, and combinations with other stamps.  Unofficial Souvenir Pages were created for most US postal issues, including stamped envelopes, postal cards and aerogrammes.   They were created on both folded and unfolded posters and as with Stamp Posters , unfolded examples command a premium.

There are more than 1,800 souvenir pages listed in the Scott Specialized Catalog of United States Stamps & Covers. In the 2001 Scott U.S. Specialized Catalog, the Hemingway souvenir page is listed as Scott SP857 with a value of $1.60, one of the lowest values of all the pages. The 2015 catalog value has increased to $4.75, so clearly there is increasing interest in the items.  The 1972 8¢ Family Planning page (SP208), had a 2001 value of $500 and in the 2014 catalog the value has risen to $675.00.

Collectors interested in starting a Souvenir pages collection can enroll in the USPS subscription program through USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services, Box 219424, Kansas City, MO 64121-9424. Details also are available by calling toll-free 800-782-6724.
Washington Press, the publishers of the White Ace Album and ArtCraft First Day Cover Cachets, produces an album for collecting Souvenir Pages. The White Ace USPS Souvenir Pages Album is the best custom designed album for collecting these popular post office issues.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Chicago Century of Progress Exposition’s Stamp Collecting Legacy

No singular even in America during the 20th Century had more philatelic content than the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. Originally intended to commemorate Chicago's past, the Century of Progress Exposition came to symbolize hope for Chicago's and America's future in the midst of the Great Depression.

This was Chicago’s second world's fair and as Chicago had done with its 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the Century of Progress Exposition responded to  an atmosphere of economic, political, and social crisis, shaped this time by the economic recession that followed America's victory in World War I, the ensuing Red Scare, Chicago's 1919 Race Riots, and Chicago's notorious gangster violence.

Chicago held the Century of Progress Exposition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding, in 1833.  To mark the occasion, the United States Post Office released two commemorative stamps, a 1-cent stamp (Scott #728) depicting Fort Dearborn an early outpost that was used to protect the area’s first settlers and a 3-cent stamp (Scott #729) depicting the Federal Building, symbolizing Chicago’s place in the future. 

Each stamp was issued in the traditional sheet of 100 perforated stamps. An additional souvenir sheet was issued for each stamp (Scott #730 and #731), consisting of a sheet of 25 stamps imperforate. the second stamp being the purple three cent Chicago Century of Progress: Federal Building stamp.  The exposition highlighted the progress that Chicago and the United States had made in technology and other fields over the preceding 100 years.  The design of the stamp features the Federal Building, one of the iconic structures featured at the Exposition.

A third issue for the Century of Progress Exposition was the airmail issue known today as the ‘baby zeph’ Scott #C18, this new stamp had the same dimensions and printing characteristics as the previous three zeppelin stamps issued in 1930. The new 50 Cent stamp depicted the Graf Zeppelin over the ocean, with the Federal Building, in Chicago, on the left, and its hangar, in Friedrichshaven on the right. The inscription reads A CENTURY OF PROGRESS FLIGHT.

The new issue became part of a most notable event of interest to stamp collectors, the visit of the Graf Zeppelin German airship  on October 26, 1933. After circling Lake Michigan near the exposition for two hours, Commander Hugo Eckener landed the 776-foot airship at the nearby Curtiss-Wright Airport in Glenview. After only 25 minutes on the ground the airship departed for Akron, Ohio ahead of an approaching weather.

For some Chicagoans, however, the appearance of the Graf Zeppelin over their fair city was not a welcome sight, as the airship had become a prominent reminder of the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler to power earlier that same year. This triggered dissension in the days following its visit, particularly within the city's large German-American population.

Another interesting event of note for stamp collectors was a new system for the concept of snagging mailbags on the fly, without having to land. Promoted by inventor Lytle Adams and Braniff Airways the system reduced by four-fifths the time necessary for picking up mail from small towns. An exhibition of this improvement in the speed and efficiency of the air mail system was given at the Exposition Lagoon, October 4, 1934. Apparently the idea worked, given the right combination of equipment and pilot.

Another European Aviation visit to the fair that generated a lasting legacy in the stamp collecting world was the visit of the Italian Aviators, led by Italian Air Marshal Italo Balbo, to the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition.

One of the highlights of the fair occurred when Italian aviator Italo Balbo led a squadron of 24 Savoia-Marchetti SM.55X flying boats in a historic transatlantic flight from Rome to Chicago, landing on Lake Michigan near the fairgrounds.
In honor of his journey to the Century of Progress, Chicago renamed 7th Street Balbo Drive. However, the street name is not the only lingering reminder of Balbo's visit. In an additional gesture of generosity, Mussolini plundered a Roman column, dating from the second century A.D., from a portico near the Porta Marina of Ostica Antica, the ancient port city of Rome. The column was shipped to Chicago and erected in front of the Italian pavilion of the Century of Progress fair in 1934, after Balbo’s flight.

Today the Balbo Monument, as it is known, is one of, perhaps even the only structures remaining from the Century of Progress. It can be found in lonely isolation in Burnham Park, near the lakefront bike trail just east of Soldier Field. The 2,000 year-old column from Ostica Antica stands on a travertine marble base with a fading inscription in both Italian and English that reads, "This column, twenty centuries old, was erected on the beach of Ostia, the port of Imperial Rome, to watch over the fortunes and victories of the Roman triremes. Fascist Italy, with the sponsorship of Benito Mussolini, presents to Chicago a symbol and memorial in honor of the Atlantic Squadron led by Balbo, which with Roman daring, flew across the ocean in the 11th year of the Fascist era."

Balbo’s armada of 24 Savoia Marchetti S. 55X hydroplanes flew from Italy to Montreal, Canada. On July 14, 1933 the armada departed Montr√©al for their final destination, the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. This Canadian visit is commemorated on an overprint of the Newfoundland Air Post issue, Scott #C18
Overshadowed in history by the visit of the Zeppelin German airship  on October 26, 1933, a previous visit by an airship, the United States Airship Macon occurred in the Spring of 1933. Just one more event showing the link between aviation, progress and stamp collecting.

Another even at the Exposition that is commemorated for philatelists is the high altitude ascent of the Stratosphere balloon ‘Century of Progress’. Introduced to the public on August 5, 1933 in the skies over the Exposition, on November 20,1933 the ‘Century of progress’ reached a height of  61,000 feet (18,592 meters). The balloon carried two instruments to measure how gas conducted cosmic rays, a cosmic ray telescope, a polariscope for study of the polarization of light at high altitudes, fruit flies to study genetic mutations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and an infrared camera to study the ozone layer.
All totaled, the Chicago Century of Progress was an overwhelming success, with 40 million visitors and a range of philatelic items that touch nearly every stamp collection today from the novice to the specialists, and particularly in the area of flight covers.

Bob MacLachlan
Internet Hobby Supply

(NOTE: Some of the scans in this blog are from our stock and some were copied from sources on the internet)

Monday, August 25, 2014

The History of Fancy Cancels on U.S. Postage Stamps

The era of fancy cancels ranged from the first U.S. Stamps issued in 1847 through the 1890’s, when the Post Office Department standardized cancellations and ended the practice of allowing individual local postmasters to express some personal artistry in meeting the requirement to deface stamps to prevent their reuse.
The modern era has produced some interesting cancels, and now the USPS has introduced some very elaborate First Day of Issue Cancels, artistically pleasing on First Day Covers and Souvenir Pages. But the focus of Fancy Cancel Collectors is on the traditional early covers, primarily the cork cancels and the 19th Century.

lThe earliest cancellations were often ‘pen cancels’ where the postmaster literally defaced the stamp using a fountain pen. While of lesser value to collectors, the upside of these cancels is they generally do not obliterate the stamps the way some heavy cancels do.

Another popular cancellation is the use of a ‘PAID’ handstamp, often left over from the pre-stamp era when the handstamp were applied to the ‘stampless’ covers to indicate the postage has been paid at the post office of origin.
The first cork cancels are mostly tragic obliterations as the cork bottle stoppers dipped in ink were used making the stamp nearly indiscernible. This practice created its own problem, as the obliteration often defaced the stamp to the extent that the denomination paid could not be seen.  In response, postal clerks began to carve a groove across the middle of the cork, creating two semi-circles.

From this point the wheels of creativity began to spin, as four and then eight segment cork cancels appear, and soon designs began to appear ranging from stars and crosses, to geometrical shapes, animals, plants, birds, and even devils with pitchforks.

The developing art of fancy cancels found their high point in Waterbury, Connecticut where new cancels were created for every holiday and special occasions. The "Waterbury Running Chicken" cancel, which was probably actually a turkey since it appeared close to Thanksgiving of 1869, was in use for only a few days and is now the most prized of all 19th century cancels, with covers fetching very high prices.

The Fancy Cancels that we list on our website include some of the artistic high points of stars, cogwheels, crosses, pies, grills, concentric and bull’s-eyes, plus some early, plainer cork cancels and a few pen cancels. These later examples are outside the range of what a purest would call a fancy cancel, but are of the era and we include them, priced accordingly.

Of course, the treasures are the fancy cancels that are intact on the full cover as originally mailed. We are very pleased with the selection of these cancels, but maintaining a fresh stock is difficult as they are in strong demand and not readily available except in the occasion auction. Collect cancels for the sake of cancels, or seek out stamps with interesting cancels when filling spaces in your album and the result is an interesting collection with personality.

Enjoy our complete stock at

Monday, February 3, 2014


Canada’s diverse postal history includes a usage of the popular Aerogramme format for postale use within Canada; the Domestogramme. The Domestogramme was a new application of an old idea; an example of the idea that if you wait long enough the old will return again, in a new form, of course.

In the era before the introduction of postage stamps, mailed letters did not include an envelope. Postal markings and franking was applied direct to the folded letter. This same concept was later deployed with Aerogrammes.

An Aerogram, Aérogramme or Air Letter is a thin lightweight piece of foldable and gummed paper for writing a letter for transit via airmail, in which the letter and envelope are one and the same. The intent of the Aerogramme was to carry a letter on the one page, without any enclosures.

The aerogram was largely popularized by its use during the Second World War (1939–45). Lieutenant Colonel R. E. Evans, Royal Engineers, Assistant Director Army Postal Service Middle East Force (MEF), proposed the lightweight self-sealing letter card that weighed only 1/10 oz for airmail purposes. Evans first saw the air letter form in Iraq, while touring the Commands after his arrival in the Middle East theatre. It had been introduced into the Iraqi postal service in 1933.
The use of the term aerogramme was officially endorsed at the 1952 Universal Postal Union Postal Union Congress in Brussels.

 In 1973 Canada issued a set of 12 Postal Stationery very beautifully depicting flowers of the Provinces and Territories.  The set included 6 Aerogrammes, but also 6 of the new concept that they called Domestogrammes  

The Domestogramme was a totally new concept. Not intended for sending reduced weight mail over oceans via air post, the Domestogramme was for mail use within the issuing country; Canada. More expansive than any European Country and broader than many oceans, the concept was perfect for the vast territory of Canada.

Unfortunately, like so many ‘good ideas’, the Domestogramme was not very popular. Probably the only people who bought them were collectors

Depicted here are First Day Cancellations on the first, error, printing of the set. The ‘s’ was omitted from Postages/Poste(s). There was a second printing that corrected the omission.
Stampless covers, Aerogrammes, Domestogrammes ; postal concepts over time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Now that was a government shutdown!


Now this was the big daddy government shutdown of all government shutdowns. The year was 1861 and Texas had seceded from the Union in February. The results included a shutdown of transcontinental mail service.

Texas immediately appropriated all stock and equipment of the Butterfield Overland Mail within their territory. This action caused the U.S. Congress to terminate the route on March 12,1861. To exacerbate matters, the mail contract with the Vanderbilt steamship lines had expired, and the shipping interests refused to enter into a new contract unless guarantees could be given that their fees for carrying the mail would be increased.

This left California with essentially no transcontinental mail service, cut off from the commerce of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and Canada. Post Master General Holt, and his successor Montgomery Blair, promised Vanderbilt additional funds and convinced Congress to appropriate them. Mail service by steamship was resumed, but overland service did not resume until July 1, 1861, when the new Central Overland Mail began. Mail was substantially delayed, and the daily service was reduced to a thrice-monthly steamship mail via Panama (before the canal’s construction, the mail was transported overland via donkey).

This made for an interesting solution to the mails for a letter destined for Canada West. (No, not Vancouver. In 1861 Canada West was just above Buffalo, New York.)  The cover pictured was mailed from Los Angeles on April 22, 1861 just 8 days after the fall of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War. According to the backstamp it arrived at its destination on May 25, 1861.

The cover was carried by mail steamship and routed through Panama to New York City, then probably to Buffalo, N.Y. and cross-border to its destination.

The cover is posted with 15-cents rate required for Pacific Coast mail to Canada. The cover is franked with a Scott #30A (Perf 15½, type II, brown – SCV = $325.00 on cover) and a #35 (10¢ green, type V, SCV = $125.00 on cover to Canada).  Markings of note include the ‘UNITED STATES PAID 6’ used by the Exchange Office at Buffalo, N.Y.

Monday, September 23, 2013

California History: Why a cover is worth a thousand words

California History:  Why a cover is worth a thousand words

From one small piece of Postal History comes a large amount of California history. The piece in question is a February 23rd 1868 envelope mailed from Los Angeles to the State Treasurer in Sacramento, delivered by the storied Wells Fargo & Company.

The recipient of the mail is a man who as much as anyone personifies the history of California.  Antonio Francisco Coronel, born in Mexico City in 1817, came to California in 1834 at the age of 17.

In 1821 as Mexico (including California) gained independence from Spain, the new nation of Mexico granted large tracts of land to the original “Californios”.  Coronel was granted lands in Los Angeles around what is today 7th and Alamedia in South-Central. On his land grant Coronel planted one of California’s first orange groves, so important to the agricultural and commercial future of Southern California.

 In 1847 Coronel joined the Mexican Army forces lead by General Andreas Pico to battle against the United States’ annexation of California The U.S. forces were lead by Generals Fremont and Stockton.

In 1848 news of GOLD! in what became the Mother Lode of California hit Los Angeles. much earlier than the news hit the rest of the country, as would be expected in the world before Twitter. On March 2 Coronel left Los Angeles with a group of about 30, including servants. They rode to San Jose and then into the foothills of the Sierras where small fortunes were made In August Coronel began to dig. The first day he got 45 ounces of gold. The next he got 38 ounces. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Successful agriculturalist, landed gentry and a gold rush fortune to boot, Coronel gained United States Citizenship and became a major contributor to the development of his State of California. He was elected Country Assessor in 1850. In 1853 he was elected Mayor of Los Angeles, helping to initiate public education in his city.

In 1868 Coronel was elected State Treasurer. To his office in Sacrament, Wells Fargo & Co. delivered the envelope shown above.

Mail deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service were still uncertain and slow in 1868. But letters were allowed to be carried outside the mails as long as they were contained in a government envelope with the proper postage. So Post Office Embossed Envelopes, known as Postal Stationery to collectors, were used to verify that the appropriate postage has been paid.

Wells Fargo became the most reliable and rapid means for the transportation of mail between Los Angeles and northern California. This service was provided by coastal steamer or the ‘daily’ stagecoach. There were no postal markings applied to tell us which means was used for a particular letter. But Wells Fargo printed their indicia on the envelope to indicate that they had collected their fee for the service provided, in addition to the postage.

Thus, from one envelope delivered by Wells Fargo & Co. in 1868 we get a history lesson spanning California from Spanish to Mexican to American rule, battles and gold, civic and agricultural progress, and a gem to the eye of a collector.