Notes from the Past

Advertising Letters - Part I

We often see the term "advertised" associated with a cover from the mid-19th century.  In that era home delivery was the exception and mail was held until the addressee called for it.  In the mostly rural society of the times, people did not regularly make a trip to "town" where the the post offices were located.  Further, since letters were often sent without prepayment of the postage, mail would go uncollected.

Provisions were made to deal with the accumulated undelivered mail.  "Advertised" is the term used to identify letters which had been unclaimed at the destination post office for a relatively long period and had then been "advertised" in an attempt to make delivery.  The Regulations for the Government of the Post Office Department included in Postal Laws and Regulations for the Government of the Post Office Department published in 1847 summarized the law regarding advertising letters as follows:.

CHAPTER 29.

Advertising Letters.

203.  At the end of every quarter, all letters then on hand, and which have not been already advertised, are to be entered alphabetically in a list, and advertised.  If there is a newspaper published near the office, and the publisher will insert the advertisement three times, at the rate of two cents for each letter mentioned in the advertisement, it is then to be published in such newspaper.  If there is no newspaper that has much circulation in the neighbor hood of the office, or if the publisher will not advertise the letters for the price abovementioned, then the manuscript lists of them are to be made out, and posted at such public places in the town and neighborhood, as shall appear best adapted for the information of the parties concerned.--Act of 1825, sec. 26.
     204.  The newspaper of the town or place where the office may be situated having the largest circulation in the vicinity, or usual delivery of the office, must be selected by the postmaster to advertise the uncalled for letters:  Provided, The editor or publisher shall agree to insert the same, at the above rate.
    205.  In case of question or dispute, as to the circulation of any paper claiming the advertisement of the uncalled for letters, it shall be the duty of the postmaster, on the first day of July in each year, to receive evidence, and decide upon the fact; and such decision shall remain for one year, unless for good cause, the Postmaster General shall otherwise order; and the evidence upon which the postmaster decides to give the printing to a particular paper, shall always be open to inspection.


Like many other things involving government, this provision included a small subsidy -- in this case for newspapers.  In many instances, newspapers sought selection to advertise letters.  The profit opportunity led to competition.  Section 205 led ultimately to the practice of printing ownership and circulation notices in periodicals.  Reliable circulation figures were important to advertisers as well.

To be continued.

Posted June 7, 2000

Editor's Note:  Modern philatelists are indebted to Theron Wierenga who republished this volume in 1980.  Italics follow the original.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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