The Analysis of a Stampless Cover

Generally speaking, I am a philatelic prospector which in my opinion is great sport and on occasion profitable.  I comb the auction houses and various online auctions for the Philatelic Gems that have not been properly attributed. 

If you are looking for a fascinating hobby with the potential for new discovery now and then, this brief case history of a stampless cover may be of interest.

The Case Study Cover
What this Postal Marking looks like at first glance is Eresham? NJ - July 2 - May 13
and is addressed to a Mr. Mark Richards, Iron Merchant,  Philadelphia
Early postal history, stampless covers in particular, can be fairly complicated and confusing.  There are not many generalists out there, understandably most collectors are very knowledgeable specialists in their particular area of pursuit.  The above manuscript town stampless cover is the subject of this case study. 

The seller of this cover (eBay) stated that it was hand carried and thus would have no postal markings.  Additionally he stated that the cover had a dateline of 1816.  A dateline is usually found in the beginning of the content of a stampless letter and usually is something like Evesham July 2 1816 or some form similar as a prelude to the letter.  Quaker letters are somewhat different in their treatment of the Month.

Post Office County State Established Discontinued Scarcity Index
EVESHAM Burlington NJ 1808 1845 5
The town manuscript took me a few moments to figure out.  I could not quite read the full town manuscript cancel but I could discern a few of the letters E???ham, NJ - July 2 - May 13 and the sellers statement that the letter was dated 1816 was what I had to work with.  The final bit of information was that the letter was sent to Philadelphia, PA.  Nothing makes any sense until you start to analyze the cover.......

Usually figuring out the town is fairly easy as long as I can recognize a couple of the manuscript town letters.  I have a searchable Post Office database of most of the regions of the US.  I purchased the post office raw data a number of years ago for most of the Post Offices of the US.  The data was provided in a number of formats including ASCII and Excel files.  I took the ASCII data and placed it into a Microsoft Access database by region.  As you are probably aware, Boolean searches can be performed on a database (including Excel, but less efficiently) with incomplete information using an asterix where information is not known or is questionable.  Thus when I entered the information I thought I knew - E*ham - the above Evesham, NJ search result was returned.  Sometimes more than one result is returned, but it is usually obvious which is the appropriate answer.  This process took me about 10 seconds to figure out the manuscript town cancel.


OK, I got the town and PO dates of operation.  Seller says the dateline of the letter is 1816 so this is an early one.  I run over to American Stampless Cover Catalog (ASCC - the latest version of course) and I find that the earliest cover listed is dated 1816 so perhaps this cover is the earliest known use, then again maybe not, but certainly worth considering.


Now whats the story with these July 2 and May 13 manuscript dates that follow the Evesham NJ town cancel.  They make no sense.  Initially I thought the May 13 date was some sort of docketing (miscellaneous writing by the receiver of the letter) however the writing is in the same hand as the town cancel and July 2 date.  Clearly the July 2 is the date the Post Master applied the town cancel, the May 13 can't be docketing so it must be some sort of postal rate.


We now we know that the letter was sent from Evesham, NJ to Philadelphia, PA.  OK, on to Map Quest to get some driving directions - e.g.. mileage from Evesham to Philly (postal rates were based on distance and number of pages mailed during this period).  Doesn't work, Map Quest says there is no such town as Evesham, NJ - NUTS!!.  On to Google.  In a Google search we find that the town of Evesham, NJ changed its name to Marlton, NJ in 1845 (well that makes since, the Evesham NJ post office closed in 1845 as seen from the database information above).  Back to Map Quest, driving directions from Marlton, NJ to Philly - a distance of 14.5 miles.  OK, now were cook'in!

Now we are getting somewhere....  In the introductory information of ASCC you will find a summary of postal rates, years in effect etc.  Another good source which summarizes the ASCC rates and shows examples is a site run by Glen Estus - Glen is a bit on the eccentric side, but a fine gentleman.  The rates for this period Effective May 1, 1816 are as follows - courtesy of Glen Estus:

  • 1c Drop Letter
  • 6c less than 30 miles

    note: in some sections of the country (particularly the South) the rate charged was 6 1/4c

  • 10c 30-80 miles
  • 12 1/2c 80-150 miles
  • 18 1/2c 150-400 miles
  • 25c more than 400 miles

    So for a distance of 14.5 Miles we have a postal rate of 6 cents.  Well if we assume this is a double rate cover (it is) - 2 sheets of paper - we are up to 12 cents.  HOLEY JAMOLEY - the May 13 is not May 13 at all, it is actually Way 13, hot damn its a Way cover!! 


    During this early period, there was no delivery or pickup of mail - you want your mail, you pick it up at the PO.  You want to mail a letter - you do it at the PO.  However if you were fortunate to live along a postal riders delivery route between PO's and you were fortunate to catch the rider on his WAY (hence the term Way cover) to or from the PO, you could give him your letter and for an addition 1 cent, he would take your letter to the next PO stop on his route.  The 1 cent surcharge went to the PO rider and the PM applied the Way rate, in this case 13 cents (6+6+1).


    Way covers are relatively scarce and command a premium.  So now I have a very good philatelic cover, the content which is an Indenture agreement between the family of a 13 year old boy to a Philly merchant is fascinating and icing on the cake and finally we have a potential earliest known use.


    All this from a cover described by an eBay seller as having been hand delivered with "no postal markings". 

    The postal history analysis probably took me about 15-20 minutes and was done before I placed a bid on the cover.

    So these are generally the tools I use in my analysis of a stampless cover.  It takes a bit of time, some detective work and patience however it can be quite rewarding.



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