Mike Heller spoke on the topic of “Early Illustrated Lettersheets” at our June meeting. While illustrated advertising on covers did not really take off until the 1850s (as a result of postal reform and the greater use of lithography), earlier advertising was evident in the form of illustrated content within folded lettersheets. The collection shown that evening spanned from 1837 to 1859, including both stamped and stampless items.
The presentation began with an 1837 stampless cover mailed from Watervliet, NY, which enclosed a printed advertisement for a factory that produced surveying instruments and bells. This included an illustration of their factory buildings and some of their manufactured items. This was followed by stampless covers with contents depicting steamboats and towboats (1841); a large illustration of a cotton press (attended by a slave, 1842) and early locomotives (1844).
Two of the lettersheets showed illustrations of the Astor House in NYC – one had stampless postal markings while the other was franked by a New York Postmaster Provisional (1845). Another folded letter showed a large illustrated view of the city of St. John, NB, while another showed a finely engraved view of Union College. One of the highlights of this grouping was a stampless cover mailed from NYC to Richmond, VA in 1847, which enclosed a large engraved illustration of buildings in lower Manhattan, including the New York Post Office (then located in the Dutch Reformed Church.)