Sunday, January 10, 2021

Independent Mail - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday!  

I started this week's PHS post more than once and was having a difficult time getting anywhere with it.  I started and stopped on three different topics and just couldn't go much further than loading up an image or two and writing a couple of lines. 

You see, I invite you here to join me as I discuss something I enjoy.  I am hopeful that you will feel comfortable and you will be entertained as you (quite possibly) learn something new or read about something that you might find interesting.  I was forgetting that I should also have some fun with the process.  This is a chance for me (and you) to decompress a little.  So, let's see if I can manage that.

Things I Never Thought I'd See

As a young stamp collector, I remember seeing pictures of items that were interesting - but far beyond what I could ever hope to own.  Part of the issue was that I was a typical young collector in that I wanted everything.  It was exciting and interesting to explore everything you could possibly find in the hobby.  The other problem, of course, was that spending 25 cents for one item was a big deal. 

There were a few pictures of older (and more valuable than 25 cents) stamps in the beginner stamp albums most kids worked with.  Things like the "Black Jack," a United Stamps issue of 1863 that shows an over-large representation of Andrew Jackson.  

You can imagine how I felt when I finally was able to have one of these in my own collection years later.

I recently had the opportunity to acquire another such item and I thought I would share that with you today.

The Pile of Envelopes Stamp

Another very odd item that got my attention early was this octagon-shaped design that depicted a pile of letters.  You see, most of the older stamps showed a bunch of "old dead guys" and here was something that was very different from other stamps that were created in the 1800s to pay for mail.

No, the item shown above is not mine.  I just grabbed this image from a presentation file I have on the topic of this particular issue so I could illustrate the design.

Over the years, as I started paying attention to postal history (instead of just the stamps) I began to realize that this was probably not something I was going to add to my collection.  Pieces of mail with this stamp just didn't show up all that often, and when they did...   Well, my budget was going to go elsewhere for the hobby.

But, this December, there was an auction of material being offered where there was not just one, but hundreds of lots featuring this design.  One individual had been accumulating and studying these for some time, ultimately writing the definitive work on the topic (an excellent work by Michael Gutman).  The time had come for him to part with the collection - which meant there was actually an opportunity for me to *maybe* pick one up at a price I could afford.  After all, this was an advantageous supply vs demand situation.  The supply of these stamps on letters available for purchase was probably going to never be higher and the demand was not sufficient to keep prices high.

Long story short - I was able to pick one up!

Hale and Company - Independent Mail Company

James W. Hale created a network of private post offices and mail delivery routes in 1843 centered around New York and Boston.  Hale had this stamp design created in 1844, printing them in sheets of twenty.  Patrons could purchase a single stamp for 6 cents, which would pay for mail service between Hale's offices.  To encourage repeat business, a person could buy a whole sheet of 20 stamps for one dollar (5 cents per stamp).  

To put this in perspective, the first United States Postal Service stamp was issued in 1847.  The British had issued their first stamp in 1840.  Printing stamps to show payment for services was still a very new thing and Hale was very much on the forefront of this innovation.

Below is the item I was able to acquire for my own collection.  All I was looking for was a presentable example.  I was perfectly happy to let others bid on the host of other items with more 'going for them.'

This folded letter was sent by Susan G Spooner of New Bedford, Massachusetts to Augustus H Gardner in Boston on July 12, 1844.  The blue stamp with the "NB" pen marking showed payment for the 6 cents required to get the letter from New Bedford to Boston.  It did NOT pay for delivery directly to Mr. Gardner.  It is likely that it was picked up at the Hale & Company offices in Boston.

The distance traveled was a little over 50 miles, so a similar letter sent via the US Postal Services of the time would have been 10 cents (for distances over 30 miles and up to 80 miles).  A four cent difference (and perhaps 5 cents if Ms. Spooner bought a whole sheet of stamps) was not inconsiderable in 1844.

While a person could certainly write in much more detail about Hale & Company, I'm going to keep it short - which would be in keeping with the relatively short period that these stamps were used to show payment for carriage by Hale's independent mails.  Congress passed new laws that were enacted on July 1, 1845 that reduced postage to 5 cents for distances up to 300 miles and made it unlawful for alternate postal services to operate as Hale's had done. 

A Run-On Letter

The entire letter is present, with a couple of holes that make it hard to read a few words.  Apparently Susan Spooner wrote as she talked and she randomly applied punctuation as it suited her taste.  I have added some punctuation to increase readability... I think.  Feel free to click on the image below to get a taste of what the letter is like.

----------------Letter transcript--------------------

New Bedford.  July 12 1844

My dear Augustus:
It is so warm today that I cannot settle myself down to any regular employment, and am going to throw myself upon your kindness whilst I indulge in a short tete-a-tete with your humble self.  Although I have not yet received an answer to my last epistle which was sent just two weeks ago this day.  But I suppose every moment of your time is occupied in your studies, as your final examination comes off next month.  Tell me what day so that my thoughts may be with you, if I am not there in proper persona.  "The Ship" has at last arrived, but where we shall start on our journey is yet quite uncertain.  It may possibly be week after next.  The route which we now propose going is first to Boston, thence to Springfield, Hartford and then toward adjoining down the Connecticut to New York.  Then, up the Hudson to West Point and Saratoga Springs, perhaps to Niagara.  Though we have not decided on that yet ??? it be delightful.  I wish you could be of the party.  Our stay in Boston will be very short, which I shall very much regret as I always enjoy myself so much there, or I should say I have of late, but I hope you will come and see us.  Remember that when you get to New York that it will a much longer time that we shall not see each other than it is now.  And do you (know) that is now nearly eight months?  But I suppose that time with you passes very swiftly you have so much to do that you sometimes forget that you have a friend in New Bedford until she forces herself upon your memory by a letter.
     Be that as it may she would very much prefer intruding herself into your presence and having a real old fashioned talk.  Why I should talk you blind in half an hour.  I have so much to say and so many questions to ask you so you had better be preparing yourself for my visit.
     Mr Tarbell has been making us a visit.  He arrived in town last Friday and left on Tuesday and what do you think, he did not call on me until the day he left.  Isn't it melancholy?  But I think I know the reason why he did not come before and I think to he knows what I thought of his calling at to late an hour.  He will not trouble me much more.  I met him at a party the evening he came and he seemed delighted to see me.  And afterwards I met him at a dancing party and we danced and waltzed together and were very good friends.  He acted very strangely for there was no consistency in his doings.  I guess he is an odd fellow.  He told me that he liked New Bedford so much that he was coming down to spend the month of August.  What an honor he is conferring upon us.  I hope we shall be able to appreciate it.  Mr. Currier has left ?? and gone on to one of the wharves??  I was very glad to hear it for it seems to me rather small?? business, a man of his years.  Clerk in a dry goods establishment.  How unlike he and Tarbell are, but I believe they are neither of them great favourites of yours, so I will say no more about them only that if you knew Mr. C you could not help liking him or else you would be unlike every one else who has his acquaintance.  I mean gentlemen of course.
     Do you know that is just a year this month that I was in Boston and that our acquaintance commenced which has now ripened with friendship.  Had you told me then that a year from that time I should be writing you I should have thought it the most absurd thing possible as you know what my views on that subject was then.  But I have cause to be truly grateful that I have overcome those foolish notions.  My enjoyment has been so great ?? in receiving your kind letters which are always filled with entertaining matter and kind feelings that it seems to me, without them time would have passed on leaden wings.  I ?? that I fully appreciate your kindness and wish that I was more worthy of them but you know we are never satisfied so I have a new request to make. which is that you keep a journal and send it o me every Saturday with a postscript..... I shall expect one next Saturday.  Send it by Hale & Co's Independent Mail, which I shall patronize altogether.
    Your friend ??? Shepherd I met at a party this week.  She was looking very pretty.  I thought of you and wanted to ask her some questions about you but did not dare to as I am but slightly acquainted with her.  I am sorry to say that she is carrying on a great flirtation with a Mr. Williams of ? town.  You had better be looking after her.  Young girls that have too much beauty as she has it is dangerous to leave them.  Have you seen any of the Dr's family lately?  I should like to see Sophia, she is a disappointed woman.  Her situation in life and everything is so entirely different from what she wished that I pity her very much.  How can she be happy with such a husband?  Why I should rather be buried alive than live with such a man.  He is so cold and forbidding in his manners that there is no pleasure in his society.  I should very much prefer that my husband should be ? fond of society than be as he is.  But I have no patience to talk about this so I will stop now and begin to think a little more of you so as not to quite exhaust your patience as I fear it will be if I make this poor apology for a letter much longer. 
     Do write me soon for it seems an age since I heard from you and besides if we start on our journey as soon as we expect to I shall write you a third letter before hearing from you.  I will take that back for I don't think I should if you could not write me I should not think that you would care about knowing of my being in B (oston) so it depends upon you whether you receive that intelligence.
And now believe me sincerely . your friend. Susan

Susan G Spooner to Augustus H Gardener
dated  July 12, 1844
rec'd July 13th
Ans(wered) 31st


Augustus appears to have written (as a docket on the letter) the pertinent dates for this correspondence, which was a common practice for the time.   Perhaps we shall never know if Susan took it poorly that Augustus waited over two weeks to respond to her letter.  Did she meet him in Boston?  Was he, perhaps, more interested in his flirtatious, pretty friend who appeared to be attracted to Mr. Williams?  Or maybe, he was just busy trying to pass his exams.

I hope you enjoyed today's entry in the Postal History Sunday archives.  Be well everyone!

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