Notes from the Past

Abraham Lincoln, Postmaster

Abraham Lincoln was postmaster of New Salem, Ill., From 1833 to 1836, at a salary of about $25 a year, and it is the ambition of many collectors to acquire a stampless cover used at this town during the period while Lincoln was postmaster.  No doubt they are scarce.  An extraordinary Lincoln stampless cover was sold on February 19, 1952, by the Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, at the auction of the great Oliver R. Barrett collection of Lincolniana, probably the best known Lincoln collection ever assembled.

This cover was franked, "Free, A. Lincoln, P.M., New Salem, Ill., Sept. 22," and addressed to "Mr. Geo. M. Marsh, Portsmouth, N.H.," all in Lincoln's own hand.  There was no handstamped postmark.  The year was 1835 and the cover, so franked, is possibly unique.  That letter's contents were also interesting, written by Matthew S. Marsh (and dated Sept. 17), brother of the addressee, telling how things were going in New Salem and adding the comments:  ". . . the Post Master Mr. Lincoln is very careless about leaving his office open & unlocked during the day -- half the time I go in & get my papers, etc., without anyone being there as was the case yesterday.  The letter was only marked 25 & even if he had been there and known it was double he would not (have) charged me any more -- luckily he is a very clever fellow & a particular friend of mine."  Evidently, since Lincoln, as postmaster was also franking his mail free of postage.

The letter if very familiar to lincoln students, including Carl Sandberg, who quoted it in one of his Lincoln books.  It brought $1,600, and was sold to a Chicago book dealer who, it is reported, was acting for a client.  According to file notes of my own, the cover was found in family correspondence about 1926.

- George B. Sloane
Sloane's Column
March 1, 1952
Posted October 26, 1999

Editor's Note:  Sloane subsequently noted that he was reminded by Herman Herst that there were two more letters written by Lincoln, as postmaster, in the sale (though not franked by signature), one postmarked "Free," and "Vandalia Ill., Nov. 10 (1835)."

Index of 507 Notes from the Past

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