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Genealogical Research Circa 1880

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

Stamped envelopes are considered "back of book," or "BOB" items. These are philatelic items that appear after regular stamp issues in stamp catalogs, thus "back of book."

This particular stamp envelope (Figure 1) is either US Scott catalog #U164 (amber color envelope) or #U165 (cream color envelope).

This series of stamped envelopes was issued by the Post Office between 1874 and 1886, and this item was probably printed between 1878 and 1882. I say that because the paper is watermarked with a type 5 watermark as depicted in Figure 3, which was only used between 1878 and 1882.

The embossed design of George Washington was used on both color envelopes. The "3" figures are well-formed, the letters are thick, and George's queue - i.e., his ponytail - does not extend below the bust.

Whether the stamped envelope is #U164 or #U165 comes down, then, to the color of the envelope. At some point, someone penciled in "U165" on the back of the envelope (Figure 2), but to my eye, this envelope has a bit of a yellow hue, so my guess it is the amber color #U164. That also is the more common variety with a lower catalog value ($2.00 vs. $11.00). A definitive determination could be made by laying this cover side-by-side with a known copy of either #U164 or #U165.

The letter was sent by "A.B. Carpenter" of West Waterford, Vermont on February 7, year unknown but likely around 1880. That was undoubtedly Amos Bugbee Carpenter (Figure 4) who lived his entire life in the Waterbury area - born in Waterford in 1818, died there in 1904, and buried in West Waterford Cemetery.

His obituary in the St. Johnsbury Republican of April 27, 1904, said:

Mr. Carpenter was the member of an old time and honored family, prominent in religion, politics and society... He was instrumental in establishing the post office at West Waterford, and when it was re-established after the institution of rural delivery (i), Mr. Carpenter was reinstated postmaster, which position he held at the time of his death.

A biography of Amos was included in Men of Vermont: an illustrated biographical history of Vermonters and sons of Vermont, published in 1894. That bio notes that Amos was a farmer by trade but "persistently labored for many years" on recording the history of the Carpenter family in Vermont. That certainly explains why he would have sent a letter to John Ward Dean of Boston, Massachusetts.

John Ward Dean was the librarian at the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), which was headquartered at 18 Somerset St. in Boston. Born in 1815 in Maine, he died in 1902 in Massachusetts and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery and Crematory in Boston. He served as the NEHGS's librarian for more than 30 years and was warmly remembered at a memorial service where tributes were paid to his "work, worth and character," per the March 6, 1902, edition of The Boston Globe.

The NEHGS still exists and remains headquartered in Boston, albeit at a different location then in the 1880s. Founded in 1845, it is the oldest genealogical society in the US.

(i) See this post for a description of "rural deliver": Rural Free Delivery Cover from an Ex-Farmer Minister, 1907 (

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3 - Watermark #5 used on stamped envelopes. Source: US Scott Catalog.

Figure 4 - Amos Bugbee Carpenter

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