Notes from the Past

Collecting Carrier Fees ca. 1860

Prior to July 1, 1863, there was no free "Carrier Service" in the United States however a number of the larger cities had a carrier system which operated on a fee basis.  The Act of July, 1836, sec. 41 states "Postmasters are authorized to have letter carriers.  They will nominate to the Postmaster General suitable persons to be employed, who are required to give bonds to the United States, to be approved by him."  The Act of May 8, 1794, provided "letter carriers employed at such post offices as the Postmaster General may direct may receive of the person to whom delivery is made 2 cents for the delivery of each letter."
the rate was adjusted periodically by subsequent legislation.  The carrier fees ended with the act of March 3, 1863, which stated "no extra postage or carriers' fee shall hereafter be charged or collected upon letters delivered by carriers, nor upon letters collected by them for mailing or delivery."

The use of carrier service resulted in a number of interesting covers.  Perhaps the most interesting are the uncommon covers which prepaid both the carrier service for collecting the postage from a box near the sender and also prepaid the carrier service to deliver the mail to the recipient.  On a 3¢ letter this would result in 5¢ postage during the period July 1, 1860, to June 30, 1863.  Covers which show the prepayment of the collection rate are much more common.  The reason for this is that mail placed in boxes or handed to a carrier for collection had to be prepaid.  Prepayment of the delivery carrier fee was optional.  The
regulations of the time said that mail dropped in a box for collection without stamps providing prepayment of the fee would be held until the sender sent the fee.  If there was no return address on the envelope then the recipient would be notified that his letter was being held for payment of the fee.  Of course, this also cost the recipient postage to mail the fee to the originating postage.

The vagaries of such a collection system led to some changes in the practice.  Some offices simply marked the letter which were short the carrier fee with a "Due 1 Cent" notice and left the fee collection up to the office of delivery.

Posted May 8, 2000

Editor's Note:  For further information, see "1860 - 1863 Three Cents Plus One Cent Plus One Cent" by Stanley B. Ashbrook, The Stamp Specialist - India Book, H. L. Lindquist, 1946.

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