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New York Postmaster Provisional Covers, 1845-46

In March 1845, the U.S. Congress passed a law establishing new uniform rates of postage: 5-cents for a single sheet letter or a letter weighing 1/2 ounce or less traveling a distance under 300 miles and 10-cents for the same item traveling a distance of over 300 miles. These rates were effective July 1, 1845.


Congress did not authorize the U.S. Postmaster General to issue adhesive postage stamps until 1847, but during the interim period, a number of local postmasters issued their own adhesive postage stamps. Some of these so-called "postmaster provisionals" are great rarities and have catalog values in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.


The provisional stamp issued by Robert H. Morris (Figure 1), the postmaster of New York City, however, is one that is reasonably affordable to the average collector. Rawdon, Wright & Hatch, a New York-based banknote engraving firm, delivered just under 144,000 of a 5-cent stamp depicting George Washington (Figure 2). The stamp was sold in New York City from mid-July 1845 to June 30, 1847, when the first U.S. adhesive stamps were issued (U.S. Scott 1 and 2). It is estimated that about 5,500 copies survive: about 5,000 used on and off cover and 500 unused or uncancelled [1]. In the Scott catalog, this design goes by numbers 9X1 (1845-46), 9X2 (1847), and 9X3 (1847) depending on the paper type. The type printed on bluish wove paper, which is number 9X1, is the most common with a catalog value of $450 for a used copy, $550 for a copy on cover, and $1,500 for an unused copy. There are premiums for certain types of cancellations and usage -- for example, on a cover to Europe -- but the run-of-the mill copy won't break the pocketbook.


Figure 1 - Robert H. Morris (1808-1855). In addition to postmaster. Morris was mayor of New York from 1841 to 1844. Source: New York Public Library Digitial Collection.

Figure 2 - New York Postmaster Provisional, Scott 9X1. Philatelic Foundation (PF) Certificate number 547733, "Used Ms. 'X' Cancel. It is Genuine." Source: Author's collection.



Most but not all of the New York provisionals were initialed in magenta ink as a control before being sold or passed through the mails. The most common set of initials is "ACM" without any periods. ACM stands for Alonzo Castle Monson (Figure 3), one of Morris's assistant postmasters (as well as his brother-in-law). There are varieties of ACM with periods, and copies initialed by Morris or Marcena Monson, Morris's other assistant postmaster (and other brother-in-law). Those varieties sell at premiums.


Figure 3 - Alonzo Castle Monson (1822-1902). After his stint as assistant postmaster, Monson traveled to San Francisco where he served as a judge in the 1850s. He returned to the New York area in 1857 but almost died during his trip. He was onboard the SS Central America that sank in a hurricane on September 12, 1857. Of the 578 passengers and crew, only 153 survived including Monson. Also lost was 30,000 pounds of gold, which contributed to the Panic of 1857. Source: Eastman Johnson Catalogue Riasonne.



In addition to the used single copy shown in Figure 2, I am fortunate to own two copies on folded letters or covers, but only one that I am confident originated on the cover. The lesson is, there are forgeries of the New York provisional, as well as genuine copies that may or may not have originated on cover. To prevent a purchase that you will regret, get the stamp authenticated by the Philatelic Foundation (PF) or the American Philatelic Expertizing Service and look for a stamp on cover that is tied in some way to the cover, such as with a manuscript cancellation or circular date stamp that touches both the stamp and the cover.


The folded letter shown in Figures 4 through 6 was postmarked in New York City on March 13, year unknown, and journeyed about 170 miles north to Williamstown, Massachusetts. The U.S. Philatelic Classics Society (USPCS) maintains a census of postmaster provisional covers, and this is cover number 23244. It is one five covers in the census addressed to Miss Mary Perry (Figure 7) who was under the care of Dr. Henry Lyman Sabin (1801-1884), a lifelong resident and highly respected physician of Williamstown.


Figure 4 - Front of cover with copy of Scott 9X1. Number 23224 in the USPCS census of postmaster provisional covers. PF certificate number 594552 opined "It is a genuine stamp. We decline opinion on whether it originated on this cover." Source: Author's collection.


Figure 5 - Back of folded letter shown in Figure 2. Source: Author's collection.


Figure 6 - Partial text of letter shown in Figures 4 and 5. Source: Author's collection.


Figure 7 - Mary Pery Ford (1826-1902). Source: Find-A-Grave.com.


I purchase this letter from a dealer through the mail. When I received it, I noticed that the stamp was loose; in fact, it was barely attached to the cover. I checked with a preservationist who suggested using a small dab of "UHU Stic" to secure it to the cover. That is an archival quality glue that is water soluble. I did that and then sent it off to the PF for an opinion.


The PF opined that the stamp is genuine but declined to opine whether the stamp originated on this cover. That did not surprise me in the least. As you can see from Figure 4, the stamp is not tied to the cover by any sort of cancellation mark. It could have been added after-the-fact, perhaps to fool a future collector or just as a place to store a nice-looking stamp.


There is one cover to Mary Perry listed in the USPCS census that is franked with a fake copy of 9X1. The PF opinion found that the stamp on that cover is a Jean de Sperati counterfeit. (Sperati was a famous forger, and his counterfeits are actually highly collectable.) At least the stamp on my cover is genuine!


I have a portion of the letter that Mary Perry received. The subject of the letter is religion, and it is signed "Edwards." That is likely Joshua Edwards Ford (Figure 8). He and Mary married in 1847 and headed off to Lebanon (or what was then part of Syria) to work as missionaries. They returned to the U.S. shortly before Edwards death. Mary then returned to Lebanon where she would remain for the rest of her life.


Figure 8 - Joshua Edwards Ford (1825-1866). Source: Find-A-Grave.com.


I have a second cover with a copy of 9X1 shown in Figures 9 and 10. I'm fairly confident that the stamp originated on this cover because it is clearly tied to the cover by a "Boston 11 Apr 5ct" circular date stamp. It also has a very early PF certificate (number 18773) that opined it is a "genuine use." I include an image of that certificate (Figure 11) in this article because it is difficult to search older certificates on the PF's website. This cover is number 20522 in the USPCS census. It is one of a couple of dozen 9X1 covers that originated from Boston.


Figure 9 - Front of cover with copy of Scott 9X1. Number 20522 in the USPCS census of postmaster provisional covers. PF certificate number 18773 opined it is a "genuine use; stamp creased in fold of letter." Source: Author's collection.


Figure 10 - A portion of the back of cover shown in Figure 9. Source: Author's collection.


Figure 11 - Image of PF certificate number 18773. Source: Philatelic Foundation.


This cover was sent from Boston on April 11, 1846, to New York. I don't have the contents, but the letter almost certainly related to the silversmith business. The recipient was Platt & Brothers, a silversmith located at either 12 (from 1836-1846) or 20 (from 1846-1863) Maiden Lane in New York City. The sender was Low, Ball & Company, a silversmith in Boston. That firm remains in business and goes by the name of Shreve, Crump & Low with stores in Boston and Greenwich, Connecticut.


Thanks to Mark Schwartz for his review and comments on this article.


[1] New York Postmaster's Provisional 1845, Jeremiah A. Farrington, 1990, U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, Inc.

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