Postage: Making the Appointed Rounds

The Inverted Jenny postage stamp featuring an upside down Curtiss JN-4 (Photo by U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing via Wikimedia Commons)

25 years ago today, first-class postage in the United States was increased from 25 cents to 29 cents.

Here are a few facts about the postal service, stamps and stamp collecting.

The earliest postal system in North America wasn’t much of a system at all. Ships would carry mail into port and advertise in the local newspaper the names of those who had mail waiting. The recipient would usually have to pay for the service. A private postal service began in Boston in 1639, but service between Boston and New York had to wait until 1672. In 1692, the British Crown granted Thomas Neale the right to set up a postal system and collect tax on all official documents. When the patent expired 21 years later, the British Parliament extended their system to the Colonies.

On July 26, 1775, the United States Post Office was created. Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General and served until being named representative to France in September 1776. From 1829 to 1971, the Postmaster General was a position in the President’s cabinet. In 1971, the Post Office was replaced by the independent United States Postal Service.

The first American postage stamps were issued in 1847 in denominations of 5 and 10 cents. The five-cent stamp paid for a one-ounce letter traveling less than 300 miles. A 10-cent stamp was required for heavier letters or those going more than 300 miles. Five cents in 1847 is equivalent to $1.28 today. The cost of first-class postage eventually decreased to two cents in 1919. It has increased ever since. It passed the 10-cent barrier in 1974, 20 cents in 1981, 30 cents in 1995 and 40 cents in 2007. The current cost is 49 cents for a first-class letter, a bargain compared to 1847.

Package prices were separated from letter prices in 2007.

The study of stamps and postal history is called philately. Among the rarest and most valuable stamps are the British Penny Black, the Mauritius “Post Office” Stamp and the American Inverted Jenny, which was a misprint featuring an upside down airplane. The most valuable stamp is the British Guiana 1c Magenta, which sold for almost $9.5 million in 2014; only one copy is known to exist.

Our question: What do stamp collectors call envelopes?

Today is World Cancer Day and Independence Day in Sri Lanka.  It’s also national stuffed mushroom day, national thank a mailman day and homemade soup day. It’s the birthday of American civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, aviator Charles Lindbergh, and Irish comedian Dara O’Briain.

In 1974, the year first-class postage hit 10 cents , the top song in the U.S. was “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand; the No. 1 movie was “The Exorcist,” while the novel “Burr” by Gore Vidal topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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