This page includes Back Roads of Philately columns from the 2003 issues of Across the Fence Post.
January issue No column this issue
Quickly Changing Postal Rates Make for Overnight Obsolescence
By Russell White, Wisconsin Postal History Society
No, this article is not about any change to this year’s postal rates. Nor is it a treatise on German or Hungarian hyper-inflation rates. This is about some rather ordinary U.S. postal cards from the 1970s.
Despite criticism to the contrary, the U.S. Postal Service changes its single piece postage rates comparatively infrequently. Scanning U. S Domestic Postal Rates, 1872-1993 by Henry W. Beecher and Anthony S. Wawrukiewicz, an attentive reader finds a total of twenty changes in one hundred twenty years. This averages to about one change every six years. In the subsequent nine years, we’ve had two more postal card rate changes. Checking the dates that the rates were used, however, shows two periods were a rate was used for a very short time. In 1981, the postal card rate changes from twelve cents to thirteen cents. The twelve cent rate began on March 22nd and was changed to thirteen cents effective November 1st of the same year. Surprisingly, a few years earlier, a rate lasted less than four months!
In the mid-1970s, we saw high inflation (14-18%) and gas lines. Inflation controls were mandated for a short time. On March 2, 1974, seeking to cover inflation costs, the U. S. Postal Service raised the postal card rate from six cents to eight cents. Mailers complained that the newly private (less than three years) Postal Service was violating the government inflation rules. On September 4, 1975, the USPS announced that effective ten days later, they would bring their rates into compliance, and the postal card rate dropped from eight cents to seven cents. The controls expired on October 1, 1975, and on October 9th, the USPS announced that the postal card rate would be nine cents, effective on December 31, 1975. Thus, Scott number UX 68, the seven cent emerald post card saw legitimate use for a scant four months. The reply card, Scott UY 25, saw very little use, and was not even available from most post offices. A number of “first day covers” exist. Try finding either card used on any other day in this timeframe! Most postal cards were not cancelled as they were nominally already “pre-cancelled,” so dated items are hard to find. International postal cards are catalogued at a much higher rate, but these had to be cancelled, and so used copies usually bear a date stamp. The average domestic post card used in this time frame was rarely cancelled.
It won’t break the bank to buy one of these cards, but the problem is finding one from this time frame with a date. Even harder to find is the eight cent card (Scott UX66) used by a large commercial permit holder in the seven cent rate period. Commercial mailers who had stocks of the eight cent card were allowed to use them (a false franking), and to get a credit memo (good for cash or postage) for the overpayment. Cards were supposed to have a tracking number, but virtually none did. Personal cards are not a false franking so much as simply an overpayment. The cover here was mailed October 24th from Parishville, NY to adjacent Potsdam, and postmarked to catch the last mail (star route) carrier rather than sent via the regional sorting center. Timing is everything. The address is very faint as a #3H pencil was used. Happy hunting.
When Yesterday’s Undesirable Stamps Become Okay
By Russell White, Wisconsin Postal History Society
No, this article is not about the “rare just-issued” stamps of an islet showing “today’s hottest celebrity”. In April 1912, the United States began parcel post service, a fourth class of postal service. On January 1, 1913, the Post Office issued stamps solely for use on fourth class mail. Effective on that date, “regular” postage stamps were not valid for fourth class mail. The parcel post stamps were uniform with their carmine color, frame, captions and overall design. The central vignettes show scenes associated with parcel mail. Twelve values ranging from one cent to one dollar were created. Scott lists these values as Q1-Q12. Used copies of the higher values are scarce today, since presumably most of those used were on packages and not saved. Copies of any of the top four values, on cover, fetch prices in the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Also issued were five parcel post postage due stamps, which Scott lists as JQ1-JQ5.
The stamps were particularly unpopular with small office postmasters who now had to stock two whole additional sets of stamps that could only be used on one class of mail. Parcel post stamps could be legitimately used on samples or letters accompanying merchandise or parcels. These uses in the six-month period are scarce and highly sought after by many collectors. Most letter or card uses during this period involve the one, two, four or five cent stamps. Unfortunately, fourth class postmarks were usually in an undated format.
After a few months of comparatively limited use, effective July 1, 1913, the post office department relaxed the restrictions; All postage stamps could be used on either regular mail or parcel post. This spelled the end of a separate class of stamps. Postmasters rushed to use up the detested red stamps. The post card rate at this time was one cent and first class letters required two cents. Most covers in the post July 1,1913 period use one of these two values. A number of envelopes bear two one cent stamps. Postmasters seemed determined to exhaust their supplies quickly. The stamps were distributed to virtually all post offices, and numerous examples must exist from most of these offices. The covers are not particularly expensive and a collection of them for the post offices in a given town, county or state can provide an interesting challenge with a lot of fun, but a comparatively modest outlay. Although most values were not exhausted in the Post Office central vaults until 1921 to 1925, depending on value, most were used in the first two years (1913 and 1914), and then not re-ordered. As a collector of New Hampshire postal history, I look for covers from there, and illustrated here is a cover from one of the NH offices.
Covers showing the five cents stamp exist, but are considerably scarcer, and a few ten cent values used on cover paying registration are known, but are truly scarce. Values above ten cents on cover are very scarce, and are actively sought by collectors hoping to exhibit at the national level. Covers with the parcel post postage due stamps are fairly scarce for all values. They tend to be found in the hundreds of dollars range, possibly because in the earlier years, many covers were stripped to provide stamps for collectors who otherwise had a blank spot in their album.
You can determine the method you might use to search these out. I’ve had some luck in “dollar” cover boxes at shows, and occasionally at postal history dealers at the same shows. $1.00 and $5.00 covers aren’t seen as separate auction lots very often so that avenue has not been very fruitful for me. However you choose to collect, by value, by town, or all the towns in a county or state, or even all offices in the U.S. (now that WOULD be a monumental task), a clear purpose, a modest budget and a lot of time are really all that is needed
April issue No column this issue
May/June issue No column this issue
July/August issue No column this issue
September issue No column this issue
Did your Specimen Die of a Forgery, or was there Proof?
By Russell White, Wisconsin Postal History Society
Canada adopted the decimal currency system in April 1859 effective July 1,1859. Decimal currency stamps began appearing at that time. Other colonies adopted the decimal system later. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick switched currency late in 1859, but stamps were not available in Nova Scotia until October 1, 1860. In today’s jet era, it is hard to remember that it often took weeks for mail and stamp supplies to arrive from the printer. Perkins, Bacon printed the 1851 sterling issue in England, but for the 1860 issue, the authorities turned to American Bank Note Company in New York City.
The design had to be approved by various officials, both in England and then the province before it could be finally printed. An essay was made depicting the design. When approvals for the overall design were received, preparations began in earnest. A die was prepared for use. This master would later be copied to produce the plate of 100 images used to print the sheets of stamps. Printings are often made as work progresses on the die. Finally a die proof is made, usually in black, and approval sought to proceed to the next step. Printed on india paper, the die proof is often mounted on card to protect it. Since multiple officials need to see the proofs, often several proof strikes are made. Shown is a cut down die proof of the issue.
Once approval is obtained, a color must be chosen. Usually several colors were tried and the authorized official(s) asked to select the color for the issued stamps. Sometimes, a number of sheets were printed, and some were overprinted SPECIMEN. In Nova Scotia’s case, Four different typefaces were used for overprinting, three on one sheet. A block showing three different typefaces is shown.
Once the stamps color is chosen, production begins, and the result is a stamp ready for use. Well, almost. Minor changes may be made to the sheet size, perforations get applied to the printed sheet and gum applied. In the 1860s, variations occurred. Two papers were used for all values, toned (yellowish) and white. Two perforation machines were used on many stamps, but occasional ad hoc changes were made to fix individual sheets. And that’s just the real stamps !
With any issue, there may be forgers. This “stamp” purports to be a specimen of Nova Scotia, but the poor printing alone makes deception unlikely. The original stamps were engraved by ABNC; the forgeries lithographed by Francois Fournier and offered in sets of six. Canadian stamps have been used in Nova Scotia since 1868.
November issue No column this issue
December issue No column this issue
Latest update: June 14, 2005