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"The Striding Messenger": A Philadelphia Local Post Circa 1846 to a Budding Chemist

For a short period in the mid 1800s until they were put out of business by Congress and the Post Office, there were a number of companies that produced their own stamps and delivered mail locally in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and Cincinnati.


The folded cover in Figure 1 is an example from Philadelphia circa 1846. This cover, which I picked up at a Schuyler Rumsey auction in December 2023, has Philatelic Foundation certificate number 514162 dated July 31, 2013. The certificate opines that the stamp is a genuine usage of Scott 15L5 "tied by pen smear on local folded cover."


Figure 1


The stamp on the cover (see Figure 2 for a close-up) was produced by D.O. Blood & Company, which was formed in 1845 by brothers Daniel Otis Blood (1819-1853) and Walter H. Blood (1815-1864).


Figure 2


According to Philadelphia As It Is In 1852 published that year by one R.A. Smith, "In addition to the usual post-office facilities, Philadelphia possesses the advantage of the most complete City Post in this country. Blood's Despatch Post...was established in 1845, and was for a long time considered a doubtful experiment. By its attention to the public interest, and by continued improvement, it has now become a necessary convenience to business men and families. Several hundred box stations are scattered over the city, from which letters are collected every two hours; and thousands of letters are thus collected and distributed daily."


The stamp design is often referred to as the "Striding Messenger" for obvious reasons. The prominent building in the center of the stamp is the Merchant’s Exchange Building, which was built between 1832 and 1834. The building stands to this day and serves as the headquarters of Independence National Historical Park. A subsequent version of this stamp with the words "City Despatch" below the messenger appears in the logo of the Greater Philadelphia Stamp & Collectors Club (www.gpscc.org).


The U.S. Philatelic Classics Society has a great page on its website with a wealth of information on Blood and other local carriers. See https://www.uspcs.org/resource-center/philatelic-exhibits/carriers-locals-and-independent-mails-exhibits/.


For the cost of 2-cents - the denomination is not shown on the stamp, D.O. Blood delivered this letter from the sender, who is unknown, to Campbell Morfit who lived at 21 Vine Street. A bit of sleuthing makes me reasonably confident that Campbell Morfit (Figure 3) was a 25- or 26-year-old budding chemist who would go on to distinguish himself in the field.


Figure 3- Campbell Morfit Circa 1858-1860


Campbell was born in Missouri in 1820. His father, Henry Mason Morfit (1793-1865), was a well-traveled claims lawyer who always maintained an office in Washington, DC, which is where Campbell and his family relocated in 1821. Campbell attended Columbian (now George Washington) University in Georgetown, but before he graduated, he began to study chemistry under James C. Booth (1810-1888) in Philadelphia. Booth was a renowned scientist who gained a strong reputation for training excellent chemists.


Exactly when Campbell moved from Washington, DC to Philadelphia to train under Booth is unknown, but it was probably in the late 1830s and no later than 1840. It was in that year that Campbell's name first appears in the Philadelphia Public Ledger's October 7, 1840, column titled "List of Letters Waiting in the Kensington Post Office." His name appears again in the Public Ledger of December 14, 1840, when he was recognized for receiving an Honorable Mention from the Frankin Institute for a chemistry paper he wrote. By 1841, Campbell and Booth appear regularly in Philadelphia newspapers endorsing "Hover's Indestructible Record Ink" as the real deal.


Campbell does not appear to have taken up permanent residency in Philadelphia until 1849, which is when he first appears in the Philadelphia City Directory. (It could have been 1848 considering that there was probably a lag between when someone established residency and when their name appeared in the directory.) In 1846, 21 Vine Street, the address to which this cover was sent, was a boarding house, and it makes perfect sense that Campbell would have taken up temporary quarters given that he was probably still training under Booth and his family remained in the Washington, DC area.


Campbell did not stay in Philadelphia long. By the early 1850s he established his own laboratory in Maryland. He did, however, continue working with Booth, co-editing the monumental Encyclopedia of Chemistry in 1850, a 1,016-page tome. He was the first chemistry teacher at the Maryland Insitute and was a professor there of applied chemistry from 1854 to 1858. He then moved to New York City before emigrating to London in 1861 where he was a fellow of the Chemical Society of London and the Institute of Chemistry. He would die in London at age 77 in 1897.



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