First U.S. Postage Stamp Goes on Sale
On July 1, 1847, America’s first postage stamps were issued.
In the 1840s, United States postal authorities were carefully watching the world’s reaction to Great Britain’s Penny Black – the first adhesive postage stamp. An adhesive stamp was being considered for use in the U.S. and when Robert H. Morris, postmaster of New York, proposed issuing a provisional stamp, there were no objections.
Morris assumed the printing cost, and in 1845, the first U.S. postmaster’s provisional was issued. Other postmasters followed suit, providing their own distinct stamps for pre-payment of mail.
Two years later, the U.S. Post Office Department decided to create its own government-issued stamps. A contract was awarded to a firm of bank note engravers for the printing of 5¢ and 10¢ stamps picturing two major American figures, though the 5¢ issue almost pictured another president.
Early plans for U.S. #1 called for it to picture War of 1812 hero and former president Andrew Jackson. However, America was on the brink of division and Civil War, so Benjamin Franklin was selected as a unifying figure for his role in America’s independence. Franklin is also credited with organizing America’s postal service back in the 1700s. On July 26, 1775, he was appointed by the Continental Congress as the first Postmaster General of the Confederation – which was of great importance to communications during the Revolutionary War. The 10¢ issue of 1847 (Scott #2) pictures George Washington, Revolutionary War hero and the first U.S. president.
The stamps were to be available in major post offices on July 1, 1847. Due to delays in production, only one office, New York City, received the stamps on that date. The stamps were produced until 1851.
Rates were determined by the weight and distance the letter was being mailed. Letters mailed a distance of 300 miles or less were 5¢ per half ounce; while those mailed over 300 miles were 10¢ per half ounce. Postage could be paid by the sender at the time the letter was mailed, or by the addressee upon receipt.
When the sender paid postage, the letter was marked “paid” by pen and ink or hand stamped. If no such cancel was evident, the person receiving the letter paid the postage. Inspections for accuracy and records of postal revenues were virtually impossible. With pre-printed stamps, accurate records could be kept of how many were issued and sold. It wasn’t until 1855 that the use of postage stamps became mandatory.
The first United States Postage Stamps, the 5¢ and 10¢ issues of 1847, began a new era in mail service.
Click here to view last year’s discussion about this history.