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United States/Covers & Postmarks : Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

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Connieb
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24 Feb 2010
11:32:29am

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When someone says they collect postal history covers, what does that mean besides FDCs?
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Bobstamp
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24 Feb 2010
01:48:24pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Good question!

The "Ask Phil" glossary gives this definition of postal history: "Study of any mail piece that went through the mail steam with the purpose of conveying a message." That 's way too general to have real meaning.

As I understand it, postal history is the study of what made the mails work. Postal historians are mainly interested in rates and routes, based on the stamps used to frank covers, on postmarks and postal markings, and the historical circumstances that pertained at the time the cover were in the mail stream. A postal historian would not take even a first look at a modern FDC, although he or she might look seriously at an early FDC which, although it is "philatelic" in origin, might well be an historic artifact. (Modern FDCs are just commercial junk, in my opinion. Attractive junk sometimes, but junk nevertheless.)

I collect covers, way too many of them and sometimes ones that are too expensive for my budget. Most of the time I just don't care whether the correct rate was paid (and don't know anyway), nor am I very concerned how a cover got from point A to point B. What interests me is what was happening at the place and time the cover was posted, as it moved along the mail stream, and at its destination.

I am also interested in the reasons a cover came came into being in the first place (who sent it, and why?). Sometimes perfectly ordinary covers interest me simply because they represent significant moments in history. Yesterday I bid on three Second World War military covers in the Stamporama auction. All three were from the same American officer in a tank battalion. One was posted when the battalion was languishing in Great Britain, prior to D-Day; one was posted several weeks after D-Day, from France; and one was posted near the end of the war, from Germany. The tank battalion in question was one of the first on the beach in Normandy, and took part in several of the major battles that beat the Germans back toward Germany. Nothing about the covers would excite a "serious" postal historian because they are mundane artifacts. But, for me, the story behind them makes them well worth collecting as artifacts representative of one of the most dramatic periods of 20th Century history.

At the end of the day, I don't know whether I'm just a cover collector, or a sort of postal historian. My wife explains to people that I'm an amateur historian who studies old envelopes and stamps like an anthropologist studies artifacts. But I think people are still pretty puzzled by it all (and probably think that my wife has a heavy cross to bear!).

I'd like to know what any other "postal historians/cover collectors" think about this.

Bob

(Message edited by Bobstamp on February 24, 2010)

(Message edited by Bobstamp on March 01, 2010)

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Harley
24 Feb 2010
02:47:44pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Bob,
I believe you are more of an historian,who uses postal material to document an occassion in history.
Like a person who collects event covers,that document first flights,with proper postage rates,and correct stamps of the period,and possibly signitures,auxillary postal markings,,,anything that documents the occassion, besides verifying the event cover as authentic .
Postal history,is as implied by the title, the history of the postal system.
The covers are litle documents that show the what,where ,how and why the mail traversed the postal system.
The markings and stamps should be of the period of the dates on the covers.
In otherwords, ie: a 1938 stamp used on a 1998 cover is not postal history,but a curiousity cover(if it has something other than the stamp itself ,,as an historical significance,such as a return to sender cancel,insured or other markings of the 1998 era.It would be less desirable because of the wrong stamp,but still of interest to a postal historian.
There are too many avenues to travel in describeing postal history collecting.Each has it's own merits,each just as interesting as the other road not traveled .
With so many areas to choose from,one could pick a single area of interest,and spend a lifetime trying to fill in all the holes to make a complete (comprehensive)collection of that particular area.
But ,,as long as you are haveing fun , you made a good choice,and you are doing it the right way.
TOM

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Joelgrebin
24 Feb 2010
02:55:17pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Say Bob,
After the magnificent job you did on the Joe Hicks project, do you really have to be concerned about labels or titles? I think not.
This hobby?, is what is and it is whatever the individual wants it to be. All that matter is how you, the individual collector feels about what you are doing, and how you have enriched yourself and others by sharing your knowledge.
Joel

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amsd
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24 Feb 2010
04:19:15pm

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re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Connie,

you got a wealth of information from some of our most distinguished collectors, people whose interests and collecting habis exemplify the best of postal history (and some other positive things, but i didn't engage the blush filter and fear the screen will go red).

here's what Bob said: "As I've understand it, postal history is the study of what made the mails work. Postal historians are mainly interested in rates and routes, based on the stamps used to frank covers, on postmarks and postal markings, and the historical circumstances that pertained at the time the cover were in the mail stream"

and here's Tom's adjunct: "The covers are litle documents that show the what,where ,how and why the mail traversed the postal system.
The markings and stamps should be of the period of the dates on the covers."

Add that, with Joel's admonition, which, while not strictly postal history, should never be ignored: "All that matter is how you, the individual collector feels about what you are doing, and how you have enriched yourself and others by sharing your knowledge"

So, postal history includes rates, routes, media (train, plane, coach), political and military history (one cannot ignore trans-oceanic mail interruption of the 40s and hope to understand the growth of airmail), the stamps themselves (several of our members like Steven Kok, Steve Davis, and Saleem Kahn all avidly collect the scenic American air mail service used solo in period, for instance; and solo usages of some prexies can fetch thousands).

I agree that the normal FDC isn't considered postal history, but mostly because most never went through the mail. However, once it enters the mails, FDC or tied seal or whatever, it becomes postal history.

David

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Stamperdad
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01 Mar 2010
11:39:06am
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Postal history usually consists of usages (destinations) and rates (proper rates) and commercial covers (not philatelic like FDC or Flight covers, Event covers).

Steve Davis

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Joelgrebin
01 Mar 2010
05:03:13pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Say Steve, what your take on the historical aspect of a cover or its stamp or its postmark?
JOel

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Rhinelander
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Support the Hobby -- Join the American Philatelic Society
01 Mar 2010
09:02:24pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Here is what the "Fédération Internationale de Philatélie" (F.I.P.) says what Postal History "is". The 'ask phil' defintion given above is garbage. Bobstamp already said so -- and I couldn't agree more. The FIP is somewhat like the United Nations of stamp collecting, made up of more than 80 national philatelic associations (APS etc.). They serve as an international standard setter, for instance, to ensure that philatelic exhibits are judged fairly and uniformly internationally. Well, here you go:

Postal history collections fall into three sub-classes

A. Collections containing material carried by, and related to, official, local or private mails. Such exhibits generally emphasize routes, rates, markings, usages and other postal aspects, services, functions and activities related to the history of the development of Postal Services.

B. Marcophily (Postmarks) exhibits showing classifications and/or studies of postal markings related to official, local or private mails on covers, adhesive stamps and other postal items.

C. Historical, Social and Special Studies exhibits which examines postal history in the broader sense and the interaction of commerce and society with the postal system.

So all of the above are 'postal history' collections. The notion that postal history is the study of rates and routes and that commercial covers are the only proper objects of study is basically owed to the legacy of one man: Robson Lowe. He revolutionized philately and as much as I credit him for advancing philately, broadening the scope of stamp collecting and bringing historical studies to the fore, his definition of philately 'proper' - still widely followed in most of Europe -- is probably to narrow. I like the FIP definition of postal history a lot. I think they did a beautiful job and really manage to give most of us a home.

http://www.f-i-p.ch/
http://www.fippostalhistory.com/

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Joelgrebin
01 Mar 2010
10:31:50pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

I always like to ask the question, which is more important form or function? In my opinion, form has to do with "strict" adherence to rules, guidelines, laws and so forth. Where as functiion has to do with essence or spirit of the thing. If I collected postal history strictly by previous post, I would build models rather than collect postal history. I think its great for some people to collect that way, but not for me. Collecting items is what pleases me and how I can present it in an appealing and informative way. I have exhibited in my local club and it suited the members just fine. If I wanted to exhibit in a larger venue then I probably would follow the above guidleines or not exhibit at all. Collecting is what is in the eye of the beholder. I like collecting stamps and covers for the geography and history offered.
Sometimes I wonder if the established infrastructure and its apparent adherence strictly to form is the reason many potential collectors are not joining clubs and supporting philatelic media.
Joel

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Harley
02 Mar 2010
12:32:06pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

There is postal history and then again there is postal history.
confuseing?????
PH is about the history of the postal system.That's fine if you want to stick to just the facts,with no deviations to the fact.
An incorrect postage payment in one instance is not postal history,for it is not "correct".
But on the other side of the coin,it can be part of PH in that the PO missed it and the letter went through the mail as if it were "correct".
When the postal rates(1st class) went up 2 cents,a person mistook $1 stamps as 1 c,and posted a 1st class letter with a $1.98 overpayment.
Does this discredit the cover as postal history???
Yes and no.
Yes under one set of rules and no under the other.
This letter would fall under history of screwups by the USPS.Now no one wants bad publicity,so a rule by one group outlawed this letter as "not" postal history.But would be avidly collected by the second group of postal historians.
There is no true answer to this.It is all a matter of personal opinion .Even respected societies that make these rules are only a group of people with like minded opinions as to what constitutes "proper" PH.
IMHO
TOM

(Message edited by HARLEY on March 02, 2010)

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Connieb
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02 Mar 2010
01:01:00pm

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re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

I appreciate all the great answers about what postal history is. Thank you.

Most of this is still beyond me at this point. Kudos to those who can sort all this out. It seems like there is a lot to know.

Thanks again.

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Bobstamp
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02 Mar 2010
02:12:13pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Harley said, 'An incorrect postage payment in one instance is not postal history,for it is not "correct". But on the other side of the coin,it can be part of PH in that the PO missed it and the letter went through the mail as if it were "correct".'

I've never understood why some collectors get so involved in whether a correct rate was paid for a given letter. There's nothing wrong with noting over- (or under-) payment, and I guess that's "postal history", but if the correct payment isn't paid, for whatever reason, it's interesting because for me it comes into the realm of social history. I myself often slap a few extra cents of postage onto an envelope simply because I don't want to stand in line for 20 minutes to determine the correct rate. And then there are covers which were overweight, but paid correctly, but we have no way to determine if they really were overweight because the enclosures have long since vanished.

For me, it's a thrill to hold in my hands a cover that proves by its addresses, postmarks, and postal markings that it "took part" in some great historical event, or that there were just a few degrees of separation between the cover and the event.

I have several covers that were salvaged from the crash of a Trans-Canada Airlines airliner at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1954. The crash resulted from the collision of the airliner with an RCAF Harvard trainer near downtown Moose Jaw. There were no survivors, and one woman was killed when the main part of the fuselage fell on the house where she was employed as a housekeeper.

To me, in effect, they are "witnesses" to a disaster that gripped Canadians as their worst-ever aviation accident, and in fact bear witness to the violence. I worked up a small exhibit about the crash, and in so doing learned a lot about how crash mail was handled by the Canadian Postal Department (postal history), about flight rules that were in effect at the time of the crash (social/aviation history), about the airliner itself (aviation history), about the impact of the crash on the lives of family members (social history), about the local geography of Moose Jaw and weather patterns that in part caused the crash. (geography and meteorology). More lessons in social history resulted from:

-- Meeting in person a woman who remembers her schoolmates picking up pieces of the airliner near their school, long after accident (the main body of the airliner fell near the school).

-- Exchanging emails with the son of the woman who was killed on the ground.

One thing I find interesting is that museum curators by and large have failed to understand the historical significance of covers. Even when covers are displayed in museums, they are displayed with little information and under terrible conditions. Here in Vancouver, there is a small museum about the role of Chinese-Canadians in the Second World War. One of the displays is of a wartime cover sent to (or perhaps by, I forget) a soldier who won Canada's highest military award, the Victoria Cross. Sadly, it was being displayed beneath a south-facing window and everything, return address, address, stamp, and postmark had faded almost to invisibility.

Enough rambling!

Bob

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Bobstamp
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02 Mar 2010
02:19:59pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Connieb said, "Most of this is still beyond me at this point.

And, if you take the large view, beyond most of us. Most collectors who become "expert" in postal history or "social history" based on covers concentrate on just one tiny area.

and she said, "Kudos to those who can sort all this out. It seems like there is a lot to know."

All it takes to "sort all of this out" is a brain placed inside a human skull and the willingness to examine covers closely, ask a lot of questions, and read a lot." It's amazing how much you can discover about a given cover just by looking at it closely in the context of what you already know or can discover through some research on the internet or in books and journals of all sorts, philatelic ones included.

There is indeed so much to know that no one can ever expect to know it all. Specialists are people who, over years, have learned a great deal about very little. It's always a pleasure to point out something about a cover to another cover collector/postal historian and see their eyes widen and their mouth form the words, "I didn't know that!"

Bob

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Dani20
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03 Mar 2010
09:01:39am
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Dear Connieb,
Bob wrote"At the end of the day, I don't know whether I'm just a cover collector, or a sort of postal historian. My wife explains to people that I'm an amateur historian who studies old envelopes and stamps like an anthropologist studies artifacts. But I think people are still pretty puzzled by it all (and probably think that my wife has a heavy cross to bear!)."

I read Bob's comments to she-who-must-be-obeyed, and my girl said"she does!"

I have no opinion of course!!!
All good thoughts,
Dan

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
03 Mar 2010
09:23:57am

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re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

i actually think we're all saying the same things: postal history is a rather broad, as my daughter would say, underbrella that keeps our covers dry and our interests fresh. Both Tom's definitions and Bob's approach are fascinating AND useful and not mutually exclusive, because the plethora of overfranked covers at a rate change do provide insight into the postal system and its users alike. That's not to say that rates don't have their place: they absolutely do. And the difference between a 2c and 5c franked cover to Germany is more than 3c: it represents either the use of, or knowledge of, the treaty rate in place at the time, which was different for every other country in Europe, save England, but with different restrictions.

Another example, and i'll leave the soap box before I fall and sprain my nose, is the difference between a 61c and 64c cover. By now you know not to guess 3c. I know a few of you know the rates they pay. Anyone not KNOW who cares to venture a guess and explain which is the rare rate.

David

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Cjd
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03 Mar 2010
02:19:14pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

I suppose postal history starts with this morning, and works it way back from there...if you are talking about current rates, then I think the answer is that 61 cents is the next step above the base first class rate of 44, and 64 is for the oddball size, shape, etc., that the post office claims its system cannot handle without surcharge. A few months ago I got hit for the extra 20 cents based on a coin being included. I was asking for a cds at the window...that'll teach me! Based on what I've mailed out, I would assume that there are many more 61s than 64s.

My guess. If you are talking about anything prior to the current rate structures, then...

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
03 Mar 2010
04:25:28pm

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re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Collin, you are right on target on all counts; thanks not only for the correct guess but the explanation

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Harley
03 Mar 2010
11:45:48pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Starting in May,those over sized greeting cards will have a new 64 center,,a monarch butterfly.
Look for the new indicator on Hall Mark greeting cards.There will be an outlined image of a butterfly,as a reminder of the new stamp and the rate stamp needed.
It will no longer be a 20 cent surcharge,but a regular basic rate for large(unmachinable) 1st class letters.

Also,according to USPS,next rate to be 3 1/2 % increases across the board,and 2011 a possible 25 % increase.(rule of special circumstances,overrides inflation rate increase rule).
More cost,less service(again proposed no saturday delivery)(PO open,but no home delivery).
Newspaper article,Tribune Review,3/3/10.

TOM

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Harley
03 Mar 2010
11:52:59pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

There's another postal history question,,,
Seeing as USPS and Hall Mark are co operating with HM printing a butterfly image in the upper right corner(where the stamp goes),the same as the stamp the issued stamp for greeting cards(0ver size-unmachinable),,,,,,does this become postal history???? Not just the stamp,but unused card itself,as demo of joint effort to move the mail more smoothly(smoother) (faster)(more effeciently)-(so patron can be showed what stamp to use)-- pick one.
And,,,
what size card is unmachinable????
I've recieved many birthday,Xmas,holiday,greeting cards of fairly large size,and all just have 1st class stamp,and all are with previously machine and now the regular spray on cancels.(5 1/4 X 8)(6 1/2 X 9).
In fact,I got one dated june 18,2009 that came through with only a 42c heart stamp.(should have been 44 c.(postal history?????).
TOM

(Message edited by HARLEY on March 04, 2010)

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Liz
04 Mar 2010
12:15:46am

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re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Consider yourself lucky that you have had Saturday delivery up to now. It's been years since Canada had delivery 6 days a week. I haven't had my mail delivered to my door for the past 19 years.

Canada Post also has implemented a new rate for mailings within Canada of medium size envelopes (235mm x 165mm x 5mm maximum which is almost double the regular domestic rate of 57c for a maximum size of 245mm x 156mm x 5mm) The new rate for medium size envelopes mailed within Canada is now $1.10 plus 5% tax which will increase to 12% tax in BC July 1st!

For years we Canucks have paid the same rate for a greeting card as we do for a regular letter.

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amsd
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04 Mar 2010
07:08:20am

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re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Tom,

sure. i'd consider that part of postal history. For non-machinable definitions, consult DMM; or see http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/101.htm for a description. I have a nice USPS tool that shows when a piece is too thick or shaped incorrectly to qualify for regular first class.

If the butterly 64c is true, than this is the first time that i've seen USPS issue more than one stamp for this rate (and this is only the second time they've issued any at all for this still relatively new category). there already is a 64c dolphin (the inaugural stamp in this rate category was the 62c dragonfly). I've seen few dolphins on my mail, as you might imagine. it seems odd that the USPS would issue another nonmachinable surcharge rate stamp now, especially if they plan to increase rates on the May anniversary of rate increases. But they've issued stamps before with shelf lives of a day or two, all the while talking about doing away with stamps altogether to save printing costs. Well, i've always said every mouth as two sides.

as to incorrect rates, the automation of the PO has made it more likely, not less, that incorrect rates can be used, as it's the phosphor that triggers the cancelling machinery. If you wanted to increase the likelihood that an incorrectly franked cover makes it through the mails, design that cover to be as standardized as possible, with typed address and barcodes from your printer.

Saturday delivery for some reason has Congressional oversight and will garner no support. it's failed multiple times before, but i can't think of a single cutback that would generate more savings than that.

I thought i had remembered reading somewhere that the USPS was NOT going to raise rates this year (they already raised rates on special services like EM and PM), but if Tom's source is correct, then we'll be looking at 46c stamps and 67c nonmachinable surcharge rate if both aspects increase by 3.5%.

Like Liz, once I moved to the country, mail delivery changed. I go to the mail box on the street (other side, across the country route) and pick up mail there. The carrier insists the box be mounted in such a way as to incsure that the county plows smack it each year; each year, it takes on a new, grotesque shapes until the day the plow takes it to a place we can't find it and we replace it to start the process all over again.

Our local post office has curtailed Saturday hours, but all government supported institutions are doing the same (NYC's libary system is cutting way back on hours, for instance)

So, back to Tom's origianl question: 42c getting through. Is it postal history? Sure, and i'd probably save one example of it, but they're so plentiful that one should suffice to document what is a very ordinary occurrence. I usually wrap up a batch of these oddities around each rate change to document early use of new rate, late use of old rate, and whacky use of stamps to make up rates (the $1 stamps misread as 1c stamps).

David

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Harley
04 Mar 2010
02:56:05pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Another report on rate increases,,,
Local Postmaster says no increase this year.
And newspaper reports statement by Postal Regulatory Commission--Has estimated that increases of 3 percent this year and 10 percent next year would be needed to get the agency back to break even statis.

So the reports are all over the relm.and we still dont know for sure.
The proposed new butterfly stamp for non machinable to be a new series.The rate will always be a butterfly stamp.A new image each year or rate change period,but it will be a butterfly and will conform to the joint effort with Hall Mark, so their envelopes will be in compliance ,,showing the butterfly outline image to denote the non machinable rate ,,for an indefinate period.
TOM

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Rgnpcs
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04 Mar 2010
03:11:17pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

If you live another fifty years, you either will not have to worry about increases from the USPS, as there probably will not be a USPS, and no stamps, or if for some reason the USPS is still around, then the first class rate will probably be $50.00 for the first ounce, and $15.00 for each ounce over, or more. You all better start saving your money.
Richaard

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Harley
05 Mar 2010
04:09:54am
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Richard,
That's a low estimate.
gaugeing from past 50 or so years,the rate increases have gone up about 1500%.If it remains constant that $50 should come out closer to $66.
I seriously doubt there will be a need for "letters" 50 years from now.Already the need for snail mail has dropped 50 or 60 %,,as shown by USPS drop in 1st class mail pieces.
More and more correspondence is done electronicaly.ET deosits for retirement checks,ET payments for almost all transactions.I think those will increase to include pay checks,deductions ET to taxing groups,etc..
The only need for USPS will be freight.And there are numerous businesses for that already.
Personal mail,such as interfaceing with the publc will go more to the telephone and internet.
Look to see future charges for email accounts.

Even with the future to be more expensive,it will altimately balance with the increases to ones income.
Lets not frighten the young ones.
No more stamps in the future????? So should we collect all the stamps we can? Will they someday ALL be antigue collectables? Will we be able to sell our stamps of today for a whopping 1500 % profit 50 years from now????????????????????
Will Postal History be retitled- "Postal Antiqueties" ?

TOM

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Cjd
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06 Mar 2010
03:52:50pm
re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

Greeting cards aren't inherently more expensive to mail in the U.S. There is a math formula to determine whether any given envelope can use the base 44-cent rate. Basically, the closer the envelope gets to square, or on the other end of the spectrum, the more it resembles a box of spaghetti, then it becomes nonmachineable, and has to pay the surcharge.

I did a little checking after David's last quiz, and the "square" issue must have to do with the automatic sorter being able to align the letter for purposes of reading the address, because an envelope that otherwise qualifies for 44 cents gets surcharged if you rotate it 90 degrees and address it across the narrow width.

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amsd
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06 Mar 2010
06:18:08pm

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re: Collecting postal history, non-machinable rates, and much, much more

bingo

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