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United States/Covers & Postmarks : Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

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Walden
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14 Mar 2017
02:09:21pm
I am familiar with Richard Helbock's "United States Post Offices" series that contain a listing of every U.S. post office and the relative rarity of each postmark. I am wondering if there are any specialized catalogs that would identify the rarity of postmarks from different eras?

For example, the Afton post office in Nelson County, Virginia opened in 1857 and is still in operation. As a result, Helbock lists the post office with a rarity score of zero, indicating that postmarks from this office are easily obtained. I imagine, however, that an earlier usage from the nineteenth century would be much more unusual. But how rare would a postmark from 1870 or 1880 be compared to 1857?

I am considering starting a collection of Virginia postmarks from the Banknote era (1870s-1880s). For some of the postmarks, especially those whose offices existed for only a few years, it is easy to determine the rarity of the cover. For offices that had a longer tenure, however, the relative rarity of postmarks from that period can be difficult to determine.
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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
14 Mar 2017
03:56:14pm

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re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

I am not familiar with that book, but would have a similar curiosity as to how he would rate postmark rarity.

I am collecting all of New Jersey in all eras. I have the book "New Jersey Postal History" which lists all post offices, past and present, in the state. It includes the start and end dates for each. I've put this all into an Excel spread sheet. I list whether a post office is a DPO or is still in business. I list the start and end date, with the end date blank for a post office still doing business. For my own measure of rarity, my last column is the number of years that office existed, calculated from those two dates.

When I'm looking at covers on eBay, I can quickly look and see that a post office only existed for five years in the 1870s. That makes it rare to me. I'd give any post office still in business very low rarity basis since I can still go there and get a cancel over the counter. I will still buy a nice looking older cover for a reasonable price.

To do a complete analysis, you'd have to account for population and there are probably a couple more factors you could bake into it. Then it gets completely skewed! For instance Long Branch Village in New Jersey was a post office from 1882 to 1886, only 4 years. I have this postmark and there are several examples for sale on eBay right now for less than $10. Long Branch City was around for 16 years between 1886 and 1902, and I've never seen an example of that postmark. There are many other DPOs that existed better than 50 years that I've never seen.

Note that from time to time someone will unearth a cache of old letters and suddenly there will be ten or more of a formerly elusive postmark.

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smauggie
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14 Mar 2017
05:29:13pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

For some areas of the country these exist but are usually produced in small numbers and most are already in the hands of those who wish to use them. Your best bet is to contact your local philatelic library for assistance.

There are also specialized studies/catalogs of postal markings which will identify which city/state the countries come from. The United States Philatelic Classics Society has digitized some of these books for ease of use. See their website at http://www.uspcs.org/.

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keesindy
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14 Mar 2017
06:26:45pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Thanks for that USPCS link, smauggie. I hadn't visited their site in quite a while. They've made improvements since I last took a look.

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Walden
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16 Mar 2017
02:25:33pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

BenFranklin1902, I like your idea of using population to indicate rarity. It should be fairly easy to use the 1870 and 1880 Censuses to compare each county's population to the present day. This information could be used to supplement Helbock's checklists.

Your collection of New Jersey postmarks sounds like a great idea. How close are you to completing your collection? Do you have any additional recommendations for someone beginning to collect postmarks?

Thanks Smauggie, I will check out the Philatelic Classics Society.

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keesindy
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16 Mar 2017
05:43:42pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Use of population data to indicate rarity sounds like a good idea. However, I have one concern. Do we know how much of the mail during that period was personal as opposed commerce related? I'm thinking that quite a few very small cities and some towns/villages may have generated an unusually large amount of commercial mail when compared to the size of their population. Other similar-size communities may have generated considerably less mail simply because they didn't have commercial interests that generated mail.

I don't know of any sources for employemt data for that era or other types of information that might shed some light on this. I suppose someone with a whole lot of time on their hands could review gazetteers from the period to guesstimate the potential for commercial impact on mail volumes, but I don't see that happening any time soon! Big Grin

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
16 Mar 2017
11:16:28pm

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re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Thank Walden, I've never seen the Richard Helbock books, so I did an Internet search and found that they are readily available through Brookman. Volume IV has New Jersey included, but nowhere could I find a screen shot of a typical page, nor an explanation of his scarcity ratings. I would order at least this volume, and Brookman has a deal on eBay for all 8 volumes plus the "Postmarks on Postcards" book for $200 postpaid. Can anyone give a review, maybe a scan of a page?

As far as completing my New Jersey postmark collection, I doubt this will ever be accomplished. I am collecting the entire state, all eras, looking for one example per office. My binders are bulging because I have multiples per town. If I have a hand cancel from 1942, and I come across a flag cancel from 1908, I cannot turn it away.

There are about 650 current offices in the state. And using the book "New Jersey Postal History", there are probably twice as many DPOs. My list now has 1,550 towns and varieties, and I'm still sorting the list. Last counted, I had near 500 towns, but still missing a lot. No worries, lots to look forward to, and a lot of time to do it!

Keesindy's concern about population counts vs business centers, adds to the complexity. I believe that would be more valid today than in the past, especially the 1870s and 1880s were times when people worked close to home. America moved out to the suburbs after World War II, giving us the phrase "Bedroom Communities". That's when employment and population really got skewed.

Still, in my experience I have found cancellations for post offices that existed for a few years for cheap money. It seems most cover sellers on eBay aren't that astute to what they are selling. I see lots of towns I never saw before, get excited, and then see that the seller misread the faint postmark. So you know they aren't looking anything up! Still there are a few astute dealers who are pricing towns that existed for 5 years or less at absurd numbers! And I ain't buying!

And a town that seems to have no surviving covers can change instantly when someone comes across an old stack of family letters from that town.

The biggest threat I see to collecting town cancels is that they don't make 'em anymore. Today 99% of the mail is cancelled at a regional processing center, so only the mail requiring counter service like Registered Mail will get an actual town hand cancel. Even then when a patron comes to the counter to pay to mail an item, the clerk is 99% more likely to use a meter than stamps and cancel.


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smauggie
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17 Mar 2017
03:50:06am
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Tom,

I have and do use these handbooks. If I were you I would consider Helbock's book indispensable. They are excellent.

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vinman
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17 Mar 2017
11:18:22pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Hi Tom,
Here is a scan from Helbock's US Post Offices Volume IV-The Northeast.

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
18 Mar 2017
10:14:55am

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re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Thanks Vince! I never would've thought he'd merge the states together in one list like that. Can you bring the book to our meeting on Tuesday? Thanks!

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Walden
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19 Mar 2017
06:15:17pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Keesindy, I agree with you that population figures would be an indirect estimate of the number of surviving postmarks, but in the absence of more detailed studies it may be the best we have when supplemented with Helbock. Given that the Census lists the population for each county, it will be a very imprecise estimate for postmarks from small towns and rural areas.

BenFranklin1902, thanks for the recommendations; your collections sounds fascinating!

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keesindy
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19 Mar 2017
07:16:23pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Walden, my 1882-83 Polk Gazetteer for Indiana has population numbers for every little community that they include in the book, but I don't know offhand how they obtained or generated those numbers.

I just did a quick check in my gazetteer and found a couple of communities with 50 and 60 population, respectively. The postmasters are also listed. I don't know if Polk produced these gazetteers for all states back then, but if someone is focusing on a particular state or two, that info may be available either from the digitized gazetteers that are showing up online or from a state or local library.

So if gazetteers are available, the info may be more precise that one might think!

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keesindy
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31 Mar 2017
10:11:47pm
re: Catalog for U.S. Postmarks from the Banknote Era (1870s-1880s)?

Following up on my previous comment, here are listings of published R. L. Polk state gazetteers as presented in their 1882-83 Indiana gazetteer and their 1888 California gazetteer. Both volumes include populations for even the very small places listed along with postmasters where there was a post office.

They were apparently expanding the business very quickly in those years, but hadn't yet discovered the eastern seaboard outside of Maryland, New Jersey and Georgia!

I don't know how many of these have been digitized and presented online.

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