New York postal history: 1838 – 1862
By: Calvet M. Hahn

Oct 1 , 2000

The speaker for October was Cal Hahn.  The basic thesis of the talk was that most events concerning classic U.S. philately can be found during the approximate quarter century beginning circa 1837 and running through 1863, and that, during this period, New York served as a major testing ground for postal policy.  Only the introduction of commemoratives (15¢ Lincoln 1869s etc.) and the UPU events fall outside the critical quarter century.

An inchoate recognition of this seems to have been made by a number of collectors ranging from Chambers and Bond to Stollnitz and Grunin, but I don’t believe the proposition was ever previously laid out in detail.  Too, the New York post offices and the postmasters involved are little known.  The attached leave-behind pulls together much of the information about both that has been scattered through many different sources.

New York had earlier become a major city after linking up with the Midwest through the Erie Canal, which diverted much trade going down river to new Orleans or overland to Philadelphia, so that by the mid 1830s, it was the predominant trading city in America.

The critical quarter century begins with the reconstruction of the New York City carrier system following the great fire of December 1835, which destroyed much of the business district and bankrupted many carriers who had extended credit to their customers.  The carrier system was basically reorganized in 1836 as a result of the fire and the new act of 1836.

Regular transatlantic steam transport of the mails began in May 1838 (race between the Sirius and Great Western) and was followed in 1840 by the Cunarders.  This new transportation era coincided with the introduction of the 1837-1839 express mails and the introduction of route agent handstamps on the railroads (1838).

Between 1836 and 1845 the independent mails rose and fell, while the 1840s and 1850s saw the growth of locals and their near demise.  The 1840s also saw the beginning of regular treaty mails as well as the use of New York port as a jumping off point for the Gold Rush mail and special Caribbean mail services.

The last flailings of the old party system played out during the late 1840s and 1850s, with the basis being set in the late 1850s for our present Republican and democratic parties as well as machine pol8tics (Tammany Hall), with New York playing an important role in these events.

In adhesives, the first American adhesive showed up in New York (February 1842) Greig’s local), while the federal government got into the adhesive business in August of that year when the Post Master General authorized the New York postmaster to acquire Greig’s operation and issue its own stamps.  The first use of adhesives for intercity operations took place in 1843 as a result of a political experiment.  The failure of Congress to include adhesives in the final Acts of March 1845 led the Postmaster General to use the New York provisional (9X1) as an experimental general issue.  The provisional issues showed the government did not have to fear revenue loss from the 1845 rate reductions and led to the further rate reductions of 1851.  The evidence was strong enough that a general adhesive was authorized in 1847, with New York being a first use city.

New York was a testing ground for the branch post office system in the late 1830s and early 1840s and was used as an instructional source for other post offices (Collectors Club Philatelist article of July 1984 on Robert Morris).  It had its own procedures for money letters possibly as early as Philadelphia’s ‘R’ system.  Its City Despatch Post stamps were the model for the LO1 and LO2 government issues and the model for special service stamps of later years such as postage dues, officials.

The era ends with the civil War and related events such as demonetizations, specials services (Free for the Regiment—see my 1971 article in American Philatelist), and the introduction of a national carrier delivery system.  It also saw the beginnings of organized philately (1859-1863), which concentrated initially in New York.

Route agents can flesh out additional details for this critical quarter century from their own holdings for themselves.  However, it seems clear that New York usually played a significant role in postal events of the era.