Notes from the Past

Handling Missent Mail in 1847

Postmasters were provided many specific instructions for handling the mail in 1847.  Among the provisions were those for missent mail.  The regulations and postage revenue recording requirements were provided by Postal Laws and Regulations for the Government of the Post Office Department published in 1847 as follows:

Letters missent and to be forwarded.

     195.  In forwarding letters by mail, postmasters will, in all cases, be governed by the address upon them.  If through accident, or mistake, a letter addressed to another office be sent to this office, they will follow the instruction in section 99. [Section 99 requires that missent letters be placed with the outgoing mail.]
    196.  Upon such a missent letter, they will charge no new postage for forwarding; but if necessary, they will add so much to the postage first marked on it, as will make the full rate of postage from the place where it was originally mailed to the office named in the address.
    197.  A postmaster will forward a letter addressed to and lying in his office, to any other office, at the request of the writer thereof, if he knows him to be such, or of the person addressed; and in such case, they will add a new postage for forwarding, to the rate already marked on the letter; the whole postage to be paid when the letter is taken out of the office to which it is forwarded.
    198.  Orders to forward letters should be in writing, and filed by postmasters.
    199.  In every case of a letter forwarded, the amount forwarded should be noted on the bill with which the letter was received, if it can be found; if not, open some other post bill; and it should be entered on the proper line of the Account of mails received, in the column headed overcharged, and the word "forwarded," with the date, written immediately after it.

These instructions are illustrated by this cover:

The letter was originally postmarked at Philadelphia on July 21, 1847.  It was properly rated at 5¢ for a letter addressed to the town of Eagleville in Clinton County.  However, the mail ended up in the packet bound for Eaglesmere, another town in Pennsylvania.  Both were small towns.

At Eaglesmere it was concluded after some time that the item had been missent and Eaglesmere, Missent & forwarded, August 2, and, what was believed to be a correct rate for forwarding, 10 were added to the letter in manuscript.  Typical of such small post offices, Eaglesmere had no handstamps.  At some time later, the added 5¢ for forwarding was corrected to the original 5¢ as the item had been missent and the rate from the original post office was only 5¢.

Posted August 29, 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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