Handstamped town postal markings can be grouped into categories based on the geometry of the town and state lettering. These include straight line, arch, oval, and circular formats. While most markings are fairly plain, there are some more exotic markings that have been termed fancy stampless cover markings. These fancy markings also can be categorized by the existence of fancy lettering in the marking, decorative marks within the marking, and ornamental frames around the lettering. In addition to the town marks, there is the rating marking which in the 1845-1851 period was usually handstamped, and some of these are fancy too. And other auxiliary markings include the “PAID” if a letter was prepaid, “FREE” if a letter was franked, or some other markings such as “SHIP”, “STEAM”, or “WAY”.
In addition to postal markings applied by post offices, there are other postal markings used on mail sent outside of the government mails. These are highly collectible and form sub-specialties by themselves. Among these are letters handled on board steamboats with markings applied by the clerks of those vessels. And private expresses carried mail to places where there were no post offices such as the California gold camps. Military mail corresponds with the wars fought in the United States. Stampless covers are common from even the Civil War, even though stamps were commonplace then, as the soldiers often had no postage.
The above 1852 letter from Hawaii to Illinois was sent via San Francisco, Panama and New York City. The letter originated at Waimea on the island of Hawaii and entered the mail at Honolulu where it was postmarked February 25 with a postmark declaring United States postage was paid. The sender paid Hawaii postage (5¢) and United States postage (6¢ plus a 2¢ ship fee) according to the 1850 treaty between the United States and Hawaii. The treaty stipulated each country would charge its regular postage rates on letters received from the other country, plus transportation, so the 1851 Hawaii and United States letter rates applied to this letter. A side-agreement allowed United States postage to be charged to a Honolulu post office account at San Francisco, enabling prepayment of United States postage in Hawaii. On this letter, the sender paid United States postage to the Honolulu post office so the “U.S. Postage Paid” postmark was used to tell the San Francisco post office to charge United States postage to the Honolulu post office account and forward the letter fully paid to Illinois. From Honolulu, the letter traveled to San Francisco on the American barque Noble. At San Francisco, the letter was marked “PAID” and postmarked with an integral “6” marker because the San Francisco post office lacked an “8” marker until later in 1852. From San Francisco, the letter went to Panama City on the steamship Tennessee, crossed Panama on the Panama Railroad and went from Aspinwall, Panama to New York City on the steamship El Dorado. A receipt docket was dated April 29.
This letter was datelined at Waimea on February 6, 1852 by Rev. Lorenzo Lyons and addressed to the parents of his deceased wife, Betsey Curtis Lyons, who had died in Honolulu in 1837. Lyons and his wife were in the Fifth Missionary Company, arriving at Hawaii in 1832. They were stationed at Waimea and Lyons served there for 54 years. Among other things, he was the town’s first postmaster (1858-1886).
- The letter was taken by horseback to the landing at Kawaihae and then by interisland schooner to Honolulu.
- The Honolulu post office charged Lyons’s account with 13¢ to pay Hawaii and United States postage.
- Noble left Honolulu February 27 and arrived at San Francisco on March 16.
- Downstream post offices in the United States treated the letter as fully paid based on the “PAID” mark, so it made no difference whether San Francisco used an “8” or a “6” rate mark since the single letter rate without the ship fee was 6¢.
- Tennessee departed San Francisco on March 20 and arrived at Panama City April 3. The trip across the isthmus took about four hours by railroad. El Dorado departed Aspinwall on April 3 and arrived at New York City on April 12.
1. American Stampless Cover Catalog. Vol. 1, 1997, David G. Phillips, N. Miami, Florida.
2. American Stampless Cover Catalog. Vol. 2, 1987, David G. Phillips, N. Miami, Florida.
3. The Posted Letter in Colonial and Revolutionary America. Alex ter Braake, 1975, American Philatelic Research Library, State College, Pennsylvania.
4. Postal Markings of Boston, Massachusetts to 1890. Maurice Blake and Wilbur Davis, 1949, Severn-Wylie-Jewett, Portland, Maine.
5. The First Hundred Years of United States Territorial Postmarks, 1787-1887. Carroll Chase and Richard Cabeen, 1950, American Philatelic Society, State College, Pennsylvania.
6. Vessel-named Markings on United States Inland and Ocean Waterways, 1810-1890. James W. Milgram, M.D., 1994, Published Collectors Club of Chicago.
7. Hawaii Foreign Mail to 1870, Fred F. Gregory, 2012, Published by the Philatelic Foundation.
United States Domestic Postage Rates 1792-1855 , by Glenn A. Estus
Postal History Society , APS Affiliate AF0004
Postal Office in Paradise , Mail and Postage Stamps of 19th Century Hawaii, by Fred Gregory