Notes from the Past

Why so Many U.S. 1847s are Pen Cancelled

Postage stamps authorized by the Act of March 3, 1847, were one of the new elements which had to be dealt with in 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.  Of course, the question of preventing the reuse of the stamps arose.  The instructions provided were followed precisely by the postmasters and led to the many pen cancels noted for the 1847s.  The specific regulations were as follows:

Stamps for the prepayment of Postage on Letters.

     497.  Postage stamps, one printed in black, representing the head of Washington, of the denomination of ten cents, and the other printed in brown, representing the head of Franklin, of the denomination of five cents, will be transmitted to any postmasters at important points, upon their application in writing, addressed to the Third Assistant Postmaster General.
    498.  Any postmaster receiving stamps, will, by the next mail, acknowledge the receipt of the amount.  At the expiration of each quarter, and with his quarterly postage accounts, he will render an account of stamps, charging himself therein with any amount which remained on hand at the close of the preceding quarter, and with the amounts received during the quarter just ended, and crediting himself with the amount then remaining on hand.  The balance of the account so stated, representing the amount of stamps he has sold or disposed of, the postmaster will add to the balance due on his return for the same quarter for postages.
    499.  In case of resignation, removal, or death, the postmaster or his representative will not be allowed a credit for any stamps turned over to his successor, unless such successor has duly qualified by giving bond, and shall forthwith transmit his receipt for the amount to the Auditor for the Post Office Department.
    500.  Any letter or packet with one or more stamps affixed, equal in amount to the postage properly chargeable thereon, may be mailed and forwarded from any post office as a prepaid letter or packet; but if the stamps affixed be not adequate to the proper postage, the postmaster receiving the letter or packet for transmission, will rate it with the amount deficient in addition.
    501.  Stamps so affixed are to be immediately cancelled in the the office in which the letter or packet may be deposited, with an instrument to be furnished to certain of the post offices for that purpose.  In post offices not so furnished, the stamps must be cancelled by making a cross X on each with a pen.  If the cancelling has been omitted on the mailing of the letter, the Postmaster delivering it will cancel the stamp in the manner directed, and immediately report the postmaster who may have been delinquent to the Department.
   502.  Stamp letters and packets will be entered in the post bills, and also in the abstracts of mails sent and received, as prepaid by stamps.  The amount of stamp letters sent will, in the computation of the postmaster's commissions, and for that purpose only, be added to the amount of postages received.

It is interesting to note how much attention was paid to the questions of accounting for the mail.  Many of the regulations were written to provide the rules governing the accounting process which must have kept many clerks busy in the office of the Third Assistant Postmaster General who was responsible for the accounts.  We should remember that this was an era in which much mail was sent unpaid because people did not trust the mails to be reliable and the funds which were received by a post office involved both prepayments and collections for postage due.  Further, the postmaster's remuneration was dependent upon the sales of the post office.

Posted June 19, 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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