1847 – Certifiably Genuine?

The Question of Authenticity

There are a number of items connected with this cover that would lead experts to at least question its authenticity.  In addition to the fact that the cancel is now found to be in a color otherwise unknown from this town, we have the following negative elements:

1) The use of both a handstamp and pen cancel.

2) The tear and bleachy condition of the stamp.  (Fakers like to use damaged or cleaned stamps as they are cheaper to buy as source material.)

3) The lack of ‘pop.’

4)The difference in shade of the pen strokes, and the fact that one practically ‘conceals’ the tear trhoughout the stamp.

While some experts might condemn a cover on these points alone, I would not consider them definitive.  There are really only negative signals which might be overcome by a strong positive signal from another part of the analysis.  Rather, I should like to draw attention to three other points that can weight quite strongly.  These are:

1) The time it took to deliver the cover.

2) The problems of rating both as to distance and the designated use.

3) The plating of the postmark.

The problem of dates:  The only year date we have for this cover is the docketing notation that it arrived in Connecticut on April 22, 1851.  This is two and a half months after the Mobile postmark of February 2nd, for a trip that should have taken about a week in 1851.  No explanation for the delay (that I can construct) is satisfactory.  When there is a delay of this nature, there is normally some marking to explain it on the cover.

If Mr. Jarvis was not at Middletown when the cover arrived, it would have been carrier delivered in a few days, and he would not have docketed it received in April.  Had no one been home, the cover would have been advertised, and so  marked.  There is no indication that the cover was missent or delayed en route, or that it lay for two months at Mobile.  Some form of marking would almost inevitably have been used for any of these circumstances.  Rather, what we have is a very suspicious time gap.

The problem of rates:  In the spring of 1851, the standard rate was 5¢ for under 300 miles, and 10¢ for a longer distance.  Mobile was definitely over 300 miles from Connecticut, so that the basic postage rate for a single letter was ten cents, not five cents.

The only way to construct a 10¢ basic rate is to assume that the Mobile c.d.s. represented a 5¢ payment to which is added the 5¢ 1847 stamp.  This is circuitous reasoning that requires strong documentation in light of the fact that normal practice in such cases of added rates was to specifically note the addition on the face of the cover.  Numerous examples of such additions are known.  It is also necessary to assume that the stamp was applied first, and the rest of the rate paid in cash.  While such covers do exist, they are extremenly rare, and only a handful have been recorded.


It might be noted that Mobile had a companion handstamp to the ‘5’, with a blue 33 mm circle MOBILE, Ala./day/mo./10, which could have been used to postmark this cover, and at least indicate some awareness that the rate was 10¢.  The fact that this othere c.d.s. was not used, and no indication is given that Mobile received 10¢ other than the c.d.s. and stamp, is quite suspicious.

More importantly, the cash-plus-stamp explanation falls down on the basis of the straightline SHIP cancel that ties the stamp.  This marking is used on incoming ship letters of the period.  To accept it as genuine would mean that this cover did not originate at New Orleans and come to Mobile by steamboat, (for the marking would be different in that case) but rather that it originated at a foreign port, or one that was not linked by steamboat to Mobile.  The rate required for such a use is an extra 2¢ for the ship fee, so that the total postage to Connecticut would have to be 12¢ rather than either 10¢ or 5¢.  Only a very strained construction of the manuscript ‘paid’ in the upper left of the cover can explain away this 12¢ problem.

The relevant sections of the PL&Rs applicable in the spring of 1852 read as follows:

“500.  Any letter packet with one or more stamps affixed, equal in amount to the postage properly chargeable thereon, may be mailed and forwarded from any post office as a prepaid letter or packet; but if the stamps affixed be not adequate to the proper postage, the postmaster receiving the letter or packet for transmission, will rate it with the amount deficient in addition.

  1. Stamps so affixed are to be immedately cancelled in the office in which the letter or packet may be deposited, with an instrument to be furnished to certain of the post offices for that purpose.  In post offices not so furnished, the stamps must be cancelled by making a cross (X) on each with a pen.  If the cancelling has been omitted on the mailing of the letter, the postmaster delivering it will cancel the stamp in the manner directed, and immediately report the postmaster who may have been delinquent to the Department.
  2. All ship letters and packets are to be charged with a postage of six cents each, when delivered from the office at which they are first received; when forwarded in the mail to other offices, with two cents, in addition to the ordinary rates of postage.  They should all be marked SHIP, at the time of receiving them.  This applies to all letters and packets brought by vessels from foreign countries, as well as those conveyed from one port to another in the Unted States over routes not declared post roads.
  3. …Thus the Mississippi River, from New Orleans to the mouth, is a post road; yet letters carried by ship between New Orleans and any other port in the United States, are subject to the usual ship letter postage…
  4. …Letters brought by steamboats should be marked STEAMBOAT, at the time of receiving them.”

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