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Those Little-Known Stamps for Newspapers

Since the beginning of our U.S. postal system, the delivery of newspapers and periodicals was treated as an important function of the mails. Congress felt that an informed public was essential to a strong democracy, and for this reason, newspapers and periodicals have always enjoyed preferential postage rates in comparison to letter rates.

Prior to the issuance of special stamps in 1865 for the sole use of newspapers and periodicals, all rates were collect, with the postage being paid upon delivery. This left many of the post offices with a large number of papers which were never called for and in turn additional paperwork for both the post office and publishers.

Even though newspapers and other periodicals enjoyed the special postage rates, this did not insure timely delivery. In fact, newspapers moved so slowly through the mail that the publishers and news dealers found it faster and cheaper to send their papers by other methods, and avoid the red tape of the postal system.

During 1851 the post office cut their rates in half to subscribers who would pay the postage quarterly, and in advance, to try and pry business away from the private companies. The rate cut did not restore the delivery of newspapers by the postal system, but it was a nice try. By 1860, most newspapers were sent in bundles on trains and by steamboat for local distribution by dealers.

Letter rates were made uniform in 1863, for mail sent coast to coast, and the same was true for newspapers. Rates for papers weighing up to four ounces, on a weekly paper was five cents per quarter, payable by subscribers in advance. Daily papers were charged thirty-five cents postage per quarter.

In 1865, the post office once again attempted to pry loose some of the newspaper business from the express companies, by producing for the first time, newspaper and periodical stamps.

In his annual report for 1865, Postmaster General William Dennison describes the new stamps:

New stamps have been adopted of the denominations of 5, 10 and 25 cents for the prepayment of postage on packages of newspapers forwarded by publishers or news dealers under authority of law, whereby a revenue will be secured hitherto lost to the department.

The first issue of newspaper stamps were HUGE, and each was a newspaper in itself! Each stamp of the first issue measured 51 by 95 millimeters not including their large margins.

These stamps were printed by the National Bank Note Company, and featured medallic images of Washington on the five cent, Franklin on the ten cent, and Lincoln on the twenty-five cent.

It is interesting to note that these stamps are said on occasion to have been issued on April 1, 1865 which would indicate that Lincoln was still alive when this particular issue was released. Other sources tell us that the stamps were released in September, 1865. In any case, the twenty-five cent "Giant Red" Newspaper Stamp was the first U.S. postal issue to depict our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

The next changes in the handling of newspapers through the postal system was brought about by the Act of 1874, which streamlined the handling of newspapers.

In the Postmaster General's Annual Report for 1876, 3rd Assistant Postmaster General Edward W. Barber gave an enthusiastic and comprehensive report of how the system worked:

On the first day of January, 1875, the new law requiring prepayment of postage by stamps on all newspapers and periodicals sent from a known office of publication to regular subscribers through the mail went into operation. The system worked well and has given general satisfaction.

The report went on to read:

Previous to the time when this law began to operate, no stamps were required for the prepayment of postage on newspapers sent to regular subscribers, as the postage was collected in money quarterly at the office of delivery.

Last year [1874] there were 35,000 offices at which newspaper postage was collected, while under the present system, the whole amount is collected at 3,400 offices where newspapers and periodicals are mailed.

The postage is computed on the whole issue, the proper amount in stamps handed to the Postmaster, who gives the publisher a receipt as evidence of payment, and on the stubs of the receipt book he affixes and cancels the stamps which correspond in value with the sum mentioned on the receipt. In no case are stamps affixed to the papers that pass through the mails.

These stamps are twenty-four in number and were prepared by the Continental Bank Note Company. The denominations are as follows: 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84 and 96 cents; $1.92, $3, $6, $9, $12, $24, $36, $48, and $60.

The new fixed rate of two cents a pound was for those publications issued weekly or even more frequently. The three cent rate covered those publications issued less frequently.

The 1875 issue and those which followed in 1895 are among the most beautiful representations of the engraver's art.

The one cent through ten cent stamps feature the Allegorical figure of Freedom, looking to the right, which was modeled after Crawford's statue upon the dome of the Capitol. These stamps are printed in black.

The twelve through 96 cent values depict the Vignette of Justice and are printed in pink. The $1.92 issue features the Goddess of Agriculture in deep brown. The $3 features the Figure of Victory in vermilion and the $6, that of Clio, in light blue. The $9 issue is printed in orange and features Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom. The $12 is in rich green and depicts Vesta, the Goddess of the Fireside. (It is interesting to note that as the dollar values increase on this issue, each design of the female figure wears less clothing.)

The Goddess of Peace is represented on the $24 stamp in purple. Commerce is depicted in dull red on the $36 value. The $48 issue follows with a figure representing Hebe, the Goddess of Youth, in light brown. Completing the 1875 issue is the $64 value in rich purple depicting a Vignette of an Indian maiden. She is robed only from the waist downward.

On February 1, 1895, a new series of these stamps was introduced to meet the requirement of the new rate of one cent per pound. This issue retained the central allegorical illustrations of the 1875 issue.

The use of Newspaper and Periodical stamps was discontinued on July 1, 1898. At that time the stamps were devalued and those in the hands of postmasters were ordered returned for credit.

For collectors, 50,000 sets of the 1895 issue were placed on sale at all first-class post offices at $5 a set. In January, 1899 all of the collector sets which remained unsold were withdrawn. But during this short period, some $110,000 worth of the sets had been sold.

Today, the assemblage of a complete collection of Newspaper and Periodical Stamps provides the collector a true challenge. Many of the issues are quite elusive, and requires not only patience in acquiring, but also a well-padded bank account -- it can be done, however.

A type collection is perhaps the best method of assembling a representative collection. With a little time and a couple of hundred dollars this can be achieved. If one is interested in purchasing a single stamp for their collection, the 1895 issues are generally available for a few dollars each.

Many of the issues are quite common in "Mint, Post Office Fresh" condition, while finding stamps which have been canceled and are attached to their receipt stubs are quite scarce if not rare.