A recent find of covers & singles has led to the re-examination of what previously had been termed a “silent precancel” on the U.S. 3¢ Stamp, 1851-57 Issue. The stamps have either a single horizontal and/or vertical ruled line(s) in black pencil or pen and/or red pencil applied prior to use spanning the stamp from edge to edge. Every off-cover single, as well as those on cover, are post-cancelled by a black Providence, R.I. postmark of the day.
The origin of these lines (who did the ruling?) has yet to be confirmed. However, the multiple addressee’s, the various colored ruled lines, the type’s of ruling, and at least 2.5 years of use, suggests that the Providence Post Office put the lines through multiple panes. These “control marked” panes would then have been disseminated to individual or institutional (see Brown University covers) account holders, where they were affixed to covers & delivered the PO. The Providence PO then accepted them as unused (uncancelled) stamps, & applied their postmark (otherwise the stamps would have been deemed used) and put them in the postal stream.
So why refer to these as “control mark” and not “silent precancels”? Silent precancels are those that do not contain the town name in the imprint on the stamp (ref. D. W. Smith, Silent Precancels, 1995). Additionally, precancels usually do not have CDS’s applied to them after placed on cover. Interestingly, the black Providence, R.I CDS, has canceled each example examined on & off cover. During this period, most “devices” would have been in the possession of the individual or institutional account holder. The covers examined show multiple colored inks (black, red), as well as different writing implements (crayon, pen, pencil) being utilized.
It does not seem plausible that the Providence P.O. would allow 3¢ panes to be ruled by multiple account holders in various inks with various implements out of their jurisdiction, and then to re-accept them as proper payment on covers. And where is the time saving for an account holder or institution that needs to stamp hoards of mail? It is more feasible for a patron to pay a small fee to the Providence P.O. to obtain “control marked” panes, where the post office clerk would have applied these with generic writing implements. Curiously, there are examples of more than one ruled line (red & black) being used both horizontally and vertically (see covers #10 & #11a) on a stamp on cover. Could this be the P.O. clerk’s way of denoting different account holders?
Finally, in support the theory that the P.O. applied these markings is the fact that numerous “Advertised” covers passing through the Providence P.O. during this same period have been seen with red (& blue) crayon markings (often in a “T” or “X” configuration) on the cover front (see below). This red crayon marking, when compared to the “control marked” examples, is similar in color, texture, & width.
With regards to Brown University, this academic institution did not open an on-campus P.O. until 1926. It seems plausible that enough mail went from Brown University (school, faculty, students) that they needed to set up an account with the Providence P.O. to use their “control marked” panes (was this an attempt to stop pilfering or misuse or simply for convenience). The stamps were almost certainly applied at Brown University.
It is also feasible that Brown became an unofficial branch of the Providence P.O. & sold stamps & delivered letters to the Providence P.O., essentially providing a “carrier” service & had a stock of stamps available. This makes it work far simpler than having the Brown “agent” collecting cash & letters to take to the Providence P.O. to buy special ruled line stamps which he/she then stuck on the Brown letters. Otherwise, there would be no need for ruled-line stamps. From the other on-cover examples, it remains to be determined if they can be tied to an industry or institution in the Providence area.
Let it be said that persistence pays off. In February of 2003, a cover came to light that adds credence to the “control mark” theory presented above. And to a 3¢ collector, who better to confirm your hypothesis than Dr. Carroll Chase himself. While this marking neither appears in Chase’s writings nor is mentioned in subsequent 3¢ research (less D. W. Smith, 1995), Chase apparently was aware of this marking. How do we know this? The cover denoted #11a bears his distinctive cursive style and reads as follows: “The ruled pencil lines (found in red & black) used in Providence as a control. Authentic & interesting.” Chase goes on to state “Apparently a whole pane was thus ruled.” And as this research has shown, clearly more than one pane was ruled, in a variety of colored lines, and in a number of combinations.
Another find was made on March 22, 2005. After recently obtaining a red crayon ruled single on piece that had been Chase-plated with his notations (thanks to J. Kellerman), I rechecked the census to find that Roy Weber had a similar Chase-played single on piece with his notations. To my surprise, these two singles separated for who knows how many years, can be rejoined. The scan above is said rejoining, showing that these stamps were once on a single cover, perhaps paying a 6¢ rate, cancelled with a MAR 16 Providence RI cds. The reverse shows Chase’s distinct handwriting, plating both stamps as 36L6 and 81R6 (two singles from each pane showing red ruled lines on same cover).
Dr. Chase made the following observation: “Providence R.I. “Precancelled” by red crayon pencil line across sheet before cutting into”. Interestingly, he refers to the lines as a “precancel”, whereas on the Sweetland cover shown above, he refers to these lines as a “control”. It is my belief that Dr. Chase examined the red ruled lines on piece initially and formulated the “precancel” theory. At a later date, it would appear that he came across or was presented the Sweetland cover with double-ruled black pencil lines and the “control marking” theory was born.
One last point, why do we not find examples of this “control mark” being used prior to 1855? It should be noted that 1855 was the year that compulsory prepayment went into effect on April 1st. Could Welcome B. Sayles, the Providence Provisional Postmaster, have enacted this “control mark” process over this two year (?) period until the new system of prepayment was firmly in place. More covers need to be examined used prior to 1855 and after 1857-