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United States/Covers & Postmarks : When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

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Rhinelander
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27 Oct 2011
04:53:11pm
I believe the practice of backstamping ordinary mail with a received marking to demonstrated the expeditious flow of mail in the U.S. began in the 1880s. Can someone help narrowing this down and can pinpoint an exact year, or, ideally, can name the specific postal regulation?

I know that the practice of applying received markings to incoming postcards stopped in 1907 and backstamping of all ordinary mail was discontinued following a regulation issued May 8, 1913. However, when did this practice begin?? -- I was talked into giving a short presentation on the history and collecting of U.S. postal markings at the next meeting of one of our local NE Ohio stamp clubs. I prepared/am preparing a timeline of significant dates (postmarking-related) beginning with Massachusetts first colonial postal service set up in 1639 to WWI, but may continue up to the ink-jets. This is one of the dates, where I know a specific date must exist, but cannot find it.

Other dates, of course, are "soft dates," for instance, the earliest known use of a circular date stamp, where various writers will report various dates (depending on their definition of a CDS and available information at the time of printing.)

Thnak you for your help ...

Arno

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cdj1122
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28 Oct 2011
11:07:23am
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Wouldn't the addition of receiving or routing marks, either front or back, preceed the traditional birth of postage stamps ?

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Rhinelander
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28 Oct 2011
11:55:36am
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Not that I know. Your "typical" pre-philatelic cover will be marked with the following information on the front of the cover: 1) Indication of the postal charges, such as a marking of "post paid," "free," or a simply indication of the postage collected ("5"). 2) The originating postoffice. 3) The date of mailing (usually day and month date only). Not all of these markings were required at all times and these markings may be in manuscript or at later stages of technology could be stamped.

The practice that all first-class mail had to be marked on the back by the receiving post office prior to delivery, I believe, is a late 19th century idea. I did check the few 1860s covers I have and none has a received marking.

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amsd
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31 Oct 2011
03:22:00pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Arno,

i reviewed all my 65s (probably 200 or so covers) and variants on cover (from early 1865 through almost 1870) and found zero receiving cancels. I then went to my cover collection and looked through them. The earliest I could find was 1883. But interestingly, in looking through my other covers, I found far more that had no receiving cancels than did, from 1880s through 1930s. I'd say the percentage was probably about 4 without for every 1 with. This refers only to 1st class mail without additional service.

Of course, the absence...or presence...of a cancel doesn't prove or rule or its absence.

But I think it safe to say the rule, if it existed at all, wasn't adopted at least until 1870, and I found no evidence for it before 1883, and that only anecdotally.

David

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Rhinelander
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31 Oct 2011
08:15:40pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Thank you very much, David. This is good information.

I do have very few 1860s/1870s covers and few from the 1880s. -- I just don't collect much that falls in the pre-1880s period. The few pre-philatelic and philatelic pre-1880 items I have are mostly local postal history plus some "odds and ends."

I collect mostly machine cancels and there just wasn't much in terms of widespread use of machines until maybe 1885. The earliest received marking applied by a cancellation machine in my posession is Feb. 8, 1891, but the requirement for received markings must go back much further. Your 1883 find indicates that it must have become practice that year or earlier ...

The point is that the exact information must be somewhere in my gazillion pages of postal history and philatelic information I have accumulated over the years. I just can't find it. The sad (funny?) part of it, is that it is driving me nuts. Since there is a regulation that ordered the practice to cease, there must be one that started it. I have spend an insane, disproportionate amount of time over the last few days to find this information. I am actually laughing at myself about it :)

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amsd
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01 Nov 2011
02:41:26pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Arno, thanks. I don't think one should infer from the existence of a back stamp that it was a rule; as i mentioned, I have more without than with from that cover through the late 20s. If it was rule, it was honored more in the breach...

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cdj1122
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01 Nov 2011
06:31:45pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

It may have become a rule in one country and not in another at greatly different dates.
The first UPU Congress was in 1874 and the agreement came in force by 1975, so it might be that back stamps or receiving stamps became significant either as a result of one of their rules or simply as a way of keeping track of international mail received that had to be accounted for in some way.
That might explain why the practice is seldom seen before that time.

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Rhinelander
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02 Nov 2011
12:19:32am
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

That also is a good point, cdj1122. Some practices of handling mail may come about by international agreements or the adoption of a UPU rule. I know this for a fact for the postage due markings.

As for the "received" backstamps, I am happy to report that I finally found the date that I was looking for -- with a little help of another collector friend, who pointed me in the right direction. So, here is what I got:

Sec. 265 Postal Laws and Regulations (P.L.&R.) (1879):
Opening of Mails; Placing Matter on Delivery.— Upon the arrival of the mail at any post-office, the mail sacks and pouches, or the packages in a mailbag addressed to that post-office, and none other, should be opened. Every postmaster, immediately upon the receipt of the mail, will, if possible, place the postmark of his post-office upon every letter received in the mail, showing the date and the hour of the day when the letters were received.

Sec. 553 P.L.&R. (1887):
Back Stamping.— Every postmaster, upon receipt of the mail, will immediately place the postmark of his office upon the back of every letter therein received, showing the date and hour of the day when the letter was received. The value and importance of this practice are so great that failure to observe this rule, if continuous or repeated after notice, will be ground from for removal office.

So, in the P.L.&R. of 1879, which took effect July 1, 1879, postmasters were asked to place the postmark of the office upon every letter “if possible.” – The vague language “if possible” may account for the fact that little mail actually received an incoming stamp.

With the P.L.&R. of 1887, which took effect September 15, 1887, it became mandatory to put an incoming marking on the back of a letter and the “value and importance” of this practice are so great as to give grounds for dismissal. Still, not all postmasters may have followed the practice at all times, and probably compliance waned over time.

So, we should expect to find backstamps sporadically beginning in 1879 and commonly from 1887 to 1913, when the requirement was lifted.

I know, this is not for everyone, but certainly an example of postal history in action. Also, if someone has a date earlier than 1879, I will go back and continue digging, but these dates appear to conform nicely to the evidence David complied.

Best,

Arno

Links:
P.L.&R. of 1879: http://www.archive.org/details/postallawsregula00unitrich
P.L.&R. of 1879: http://books.google.com/books?id=bMU9AAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

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cdj1122
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02 Nov 2011
12:30:23pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Very good, Arno, it make sense.

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amsd
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03 Nov 2011
06:56:15am
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Image Not Found

Arno's request got me to look at my 65s and their grilled variants to see if I could find any examples of receiving cancels from the 1860s (65 was introduced immediately after Southern seccesion to replace the 1851 and 1857 series stamps, which were demonetized; its variants are grilled stamps used from 1867-69). I came up with absolutely nothing.

except


this little guy


Image Not Found


which I thought might prove the exception UNTIL I took a closer look. I don't believe that this is a USPOD receiving cancel but, instead, a receiving cancel of the company to which it was sent. It's only partially legible, but it seems to mirror the text of the embossed corner card on the front, "DOVER STAMPINGS". What do you all think? And, given the date, October 4, on the back stamp, and the Boston October 5 on the front, could this have been applied BEFORE mailing, especially given the Dover is in Boston and this is going to Bangor, which used to be in Massachussetts, but that's another story.

anyway, I think our receiving cancel rule remains safe for this period

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amsd
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03 Nov 2011
07:09:01am
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

And, this nice little cover offers Post Offices in two states and five towns ample opportunity to show that they had, indeed, received this letter...before they forwarded it on to the next town...and the next town.....and ultimately......gave up. Might the clerks have been too busy trying to find Mr. Griffiths to obey the receiving cancel rule, if it was still employed? or just wore out from all the hand cancels applied to the front?
Image Not Found

Now, can anyone explain why the Providence RI post offices would have touched it? And was Canaan a second "General Delivery" attempt? If I read this correctly, it was mailed from Apponaug on 10.21.19; received in (and/or forwarded from) Providence on 10.22; forwarded from Danbury on 10.25; and returned to sender from Canaan on 11.1. Odd to take so long from Danbury to Canaan, unless the clerks were looking for Mr Griffiths during this time and hence applied the "unknown" after failing to find him and opting not to forward further. Image Not Found

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drmicro68
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03 Nov 2011
05:02:47pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Wow, love this cover, since I collect Providence, RI, Danbury, CT and Litchfield Co (Canaan is fairly easy to get) postal history. And the address in Pawtuxet, RI is on Remington St--Remington being an ancestor on my wife's side.

Roger

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Rhinelander
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04 Nov 2011
12:38:40am
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Hello Dave,

As for the stamp on the 1867 cover, it appears to me that the sender, the Dover Stamping Co., being a manufacturer of stamping devices, used one of their own stamps on the back of the cover across the flap somewhat similar to a seal. Maybe the point was additional advertizing for the stamps they produce. Double circle stamps similar to it are quite common in the 1860s/70s and it makes me wonder if this is a company that produced some of these date stamps. The POD only supplied postmarks to the larger offices and the postmasters of the smaller offices had to buy their own stamps, if they did not want to use manuscript markings on all mail. I have one reference to sec. 321 of the P.L.&R. of 1852 which specifies that "Markings and rating stamps of metal are furnished only to offices that collect in postage $300 a year; but stamps of wood are furnished to offices collecting in postage $200 a year." Below $200 postmasters were obliged to obtain handstamps at their own expense. This minimum certainly changed over the years, but the point in this context is that there were many companies peddling handstamps to the postmasters of smaller post offices at the time, and based on the appearance of the backstamp on your cover the Dover Stamping Co. may just be one of these.

The twice forwarded cover from Rhode Island is a perfect example that in cover collecting the same item can be multiple things to multiple collectors. To David, I suppose, the interest is in rates and routes and the uncommon feature of being forwarded twice – this indeed is quite uncommon. To Roger, it is the local postal history and postal markings of certain places of interest. And to me, the only interest is in the sole machine cancellation.

But, firstly, I also do not have an explanation why a letter mailed to Pawtucket, R.I., was re-routed by the Elmwood station of Providence R.I. This is just curious. All of the markings, however, are not received markings, which were no more required in 1919, but have been applied in accordance with the postal regulations for forwarded mail and/or mail addressed to general delivery. I know little about forwarded mail and general delivery, but I suppose that mail addressed to general delivery was to be held for pick-up for a certain time period. Say, ten days. So upon receipt at the P.O., the general delivery mail was cancelled, and thus time-marked, so that it was clear when the clock started to run, after ten days then, the mail was returned to sender. So, here the letter arrived in Danbury and was stamped “Oct 25”. Then, prior to the expiration period, someone must have proposed “Hey, let’s try Canaan.”Often general delivery mail was advertized at the P.O. for pick up and maybe someone recognized the name and said the person had moved again. In any event, the letter was forwarded one more time and re-addressed to “William Griffith, Canaan.” That proved insufficient and the Canaan. P.O. returned the letter to the sender. That would be my reading of it.

The most interesting piece of the letter of course (to each his own, OK?) is the Apponaug, R. I., (a DPO) machine cancel. Unfortunately, this postmark has been stamped over (postmark collectors hate that about as much as collectors of mint stamps like their stamps to be stamped over) and it is also torn on top of everything else. That makes the postmark pretty much worthless in monetary terms, but it still is a discussion piece. It is from a hand operated machine manufactured by the Columbia Postal Supply Co. of Silver Creek, New York. This is a very common style, which was used in hundreds of towns from 1914 well into the 1960s, but because the machine only went to small towns, assembling a meaningful collection of these cancels takes time. In fact, these machines were primarily sold per direct marketing to postmasters of offices, which did not qualify for a cancelling machine that was government supplied. The postmasters owning such machines then sold them to other post offices when there office did receive an “official” cancelling machine, which caused quite a proliferation of this type of cancel. You will mostly find these cancels on postcards. Covers come at a premium. I do have a listing for these cancels but it is still far from complete. Dave’s cover pushes the earliest known use date of this cancel for Apponaug forward by a whole year. So, is this an interesting cover, which caters to all kinds of collecting interests? – I believe so.

Arno

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JLupia
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19 Sep 2012
04:45:37pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

I do not know the earliest use of the backstamp, but post offices seem to have used them sometime in the first half of the 19th century onwards. When they became typical ir regularly used, as opposed by use by regulation, is something I am not certain about. Your selective date of the 1880's is probably correct, that generally speaking, you might expect to find a backstamp dating from that time on U.S. covers. As a point of reference I will show you the following:

See Tom Clarke, A Catalog of Philadelphia Postmarks 18th Century to the Present, Part II, in the section titled : EARLY G.P.O. RECEIVED MARKINGS on pages 14-2 to 14-3, he shows the earliest known backstamp used at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania R-2 from January 3, 1859 that was used until August 19, 1861.
The backstamp design changed and Clarke gives the various numbers of these as R4; R6; R8; R10, R12 and so on.

I hope this helps,
John

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Rhinelander
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19 Sep 2012
05:13:30pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Hi John,

That is interesting. -- But just to be sure: backstamping was likely required for certain purposes much earlier, for instance mail addressed to general delivery, or registered mail etc. I was interested at what time it became required to put received markings on all first class mail, even those not requiring special services or treatment.

So, yes, a received marking may have existed at the Philadelphia GPO in 1859-61, but perhaps it was only used for certain purposes and not as a general receipt marking (?)

Arno

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JLupia
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19 Sep 2012
09:12:21pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Hi Rhinelander

The backstamps listed in the section I cited were for general first class mail and was regularly performed at Philadelphia beginning in 1859. "Earlier backstamps are known, with Wilmington DE backstamping a letter, according to Konwiser, Postal Markings, p. 384, on Jan 1, 1845 and possibly before." Tom F. Clarke, A Catalog of Philadelphia Postmarks, Part II, page 14-1. As you can see Clarke was studying the backstamps for regular first class mail based primarily on the pioneering work of APS Hall of Famer Harry Myron Konwiser (1879-1961).

See also Harry Myron Konwiser, Postal Markings, Quaterman 1980; David L. Jarrett, ed., Postal Markings (Harry M. Konwiser) 1982.

You are correct that other forms of backstamps were used for other purposes earlier, which is logical, i.e., registered mail. Philadelphia registry markings as incoming postmarks began at least by October 29, 1845. See Clarke X-40, in Part II, page 13-1.

I hope this helps.

John

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Rhinelander
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20 Sep 2012
11:51:42am
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

John,

This is good stuff. However, I have not been able to locate a postal regulation earlier than the one quoted above actually requiring that all first class mail must be backstamped. It is possible that my resarch was incomplete and I would welcome any addition. This does not preclude that earlier received markings exists. I have found none.

However, concluding from the practice of backstamping mail in Philadelphia that it was required practice is putting the buggy before the horse. Especially, because you say it was the GPO's backstamp, I believe it is possible that it was not a general received marking for all first class mail, but used only for mail addressed to general delivery to document the required holding period before mail was returned to the sender or turned over to the dead letter office (not sure about the deposition of undeliverable mail at the time). Actual examples are needed to verify -- anyone? It is also possible that it was a pilot project or just a practice that the Philadelphia postmaster fancied. Why all mail -- if that is the case -- was backstamped with received marking in Philadelphia from January 1859 to August 1861 is just really curious. Why would this be done? I am little baffled.

Arno

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JLupia
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20 Sep 2012
02:07:50pm
re: When did the practice of backstamping U.S. incoming mail begin?

Arno

I realize now you are looking for a United States Postal Laws and Regulations published in the Official United States Postal Guides, published annually (I think), rather than the physical evidence of postal markings, which date to and before the production of United States postage stamps, which everyone probably already knew.

You answered your own question though when you alluded to the "If not delivered within 10 Days" imprinted on the envelopes. The answer lies in two parts. PART I : the obvious fact that the postmaster needed to know the date received in order to throw the mail into one of the appropriate 10 bins. When the letter reached bin #10 it was sent back. The way the Postmaster knew this was because of the dater or receiving marking imprinted on the back by a rubber CDS. PART II: George H. Reay's contract of September 1871 REQUIRED the envelopes to bear the imprint "If not delivered within 10 Days". See Prescott Holden Thorp, Thorp-Bartles Catalogue of United States Stamped Envelopes (Netcong, New Jersey, Prescott Holden Thorp, 1954) : 67ff. , p. 77 No. 307 (7c vermillion). See also Bob Markovit's website U. S. Special Delivery
http://www.usspecialdelivery.com/library_misc/stationery_02.html

Since the government made the requirement Postamasters everywhere were required to comply. Neither, during this period or anytime in the 19th century did the Postmaster General nor the U.S. Government provide post offices with canceling devices, daters or other postal marking devices. "We find no regulation or statute by which the Department supplied cancelling devices." Edward L. Willard, The United States Two Cent Red Brown of 1883-1887 (N. Y., H. L. Lindquist Pubs., 1970) Vol. II, page 2

So you see there was a regulation put forth within a government contractors contract guidelines that resulted in requiring postamasters to keep track of time but no provision whatsoever to aid them in the execution of this rule.


This either cleared it up or muddied the waters. Regardless, I hope this helps,

John


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