An 1847 Cover to Think About

                               AN 1847 COVER TO THINK ABOUT

© Calvet M. Hahn 1980; updated 2002

Recently an 1847 cover was sold by the Robert A. Siegel firm that offers an interesting problem for collectors to think about.   It was lot 139 in the Siegel sale of May 17, 1989.  This item had been off the market for many years in the Stephen Rich (1890-1958) collection, which was in the possession of the Philatelic Foundation. Along with other items from this postal history of New Jersey collection, the cover was deaccessioned and put up for sale; it was knocked down as lot 139 for $450 at that point.

The cover, figure 1, with a pen cancelled right sheet margin 5-cent brown 1847 stamp (possibly position 70R based on the right frameline) is on a typical brown or buff envelope that originated in Masachusetts where a 31mm dark-red circle MONSON/SEP/7/Ms. and an indistinct rate in the same shade was applied.

It was subsdequently sent on and forwarded and has a 30mm red NEWARK/SEP/11/N.J. circle and a double-bordered encircled ‘5’ rate to show the forwarding on to Binghamton, NY.

The 1847 is a 5¢ brown shade applied at the upper left of the envelope.  This four-margin stamp, with right sheet margin, is pen cancelled in three different fashions.  First, there is a typical vertical cross.  Then there is a spiral scribble which appears to tie the stamp to the cover.  Finally, there is a heavy crossing out of the ‘5 CENTS 5’ of the stamp itself.

The first critical question is whether the stamp belongs on this cover or whether it was added to a stampless cover.

If it belongs, it had to be applied in Monson, and the extra scribbling and crossing out would likely be applied at Newark when the envelope was put back into the post for forwarding.

Further, to be genuine, the indistinct postmarked rate would have to be the Monson, MS ‘5’ and the cover have to date prior to July 1, 1851, when the 1847 stamp was demonetized and the rate changed to 3¢ for prepaid mail.

The 5¢ stamp is brown in shade.  It would appear to be the color of the 1848 printing period rather than later.  However, it should be noted that there is considerable disagreement about the dates of shades of the 1847 issue.  Brookman noted that he would be surprised if ‘any five experts could look at a dozen of the stamps and agree 100% as to their shades.’  Both postmarks are dated in September, which eliminates the year 1851 from consideration as demontization was in July, 1851.

Only a very small proportion of letter mail in the 1847-July 1, 1851 period bore stamps.  Official post office records show that the ratio was 1.3% of all mail for the period and only 1.4% in 1851.  It was probably lower in 1847 or 1848.  Thus the odds are 98 to one or better against any 1847 stamp being used on a given letter.  And, of those that were used, far more were soaked off than left on the surviving correspondences.

Specialists of the 1847 issues note that very few of the stamps were used on envelopes, most being on folded lettersheets.  Most of the envelopes date from 1850 or 185l.  The envelope is quite uncommon prior to July 1, 1845, for it cost twice as much to use one then.  It only gradually came into use during the 1845-1851 period.

The brown envelope, so common in the 1851-1855 period, is fould in fairly widespread use during 1851.  However, it is progressively less common in 1850 and 1849 on letter mail.  In handling hundreds of thousands of pre-1856 covers, I have seen only a few handfuls of these brown envelopes dating to 1849 or earlier, although they are known as early as 1847.  Far more common are the brown faded lettersheets that wer used at least as early as 1841.

The official records show that Monson received no 1847 stamps of either denomination.  No 10¢ covers have been reported.  The recent (2001) 1847 Census records three 5¢ covers are known.  There is one with a red postmark of 7/9/1850 to Albany NY with a manuscript cancel, there is a 6/3/51 vertical pair with a black postmark addressed to Baltimore with a manuscript cancel and there is this example of September 7, year unknown, with a red postmark and manuscript cancel.  The Monson, MS dater circle offers no clues as to the year of this cover as no breaks are recorded over a wide span of years in the circles of this town.

However, for this cover to have been legally used with the 5¢ 1847, the Monson rate mark must be a Monson ‘5’, handstamp.  If the indistinct handstamped rate is a ‘3’, then the cover dates from late 1851 or after and the stamp was already demonetized.  It should be noted that several people who examined this rate marking—without knowledge of the known Monson rate markings—were unable to read it definitely as either a ‘5’ or a ‘3’.  They reported that it was just too indistinct.  Monson did use a handstamp ‘5’ during the 1847 period.  Unfortunately for the owners of this cover, the known Monson’5’ handstamps illustrated here do not match resemble the indistinct handstamp on this cover.  Further, it does not appear reasonable to read the size or shape of the Monson ‘5’ into the indistinct Rich cover handstamp.

Figure 2 is a 31mm cds Monson cover of February 13, 1847 with a thick-topped 5 rate mark.  This 31mm style is also found on a cover dated February 26, 1850 addressed to Samuel Damon in Boston, although by then the c.d.s. shows wear particularly at the 7 and 9 o’clock positions and the ‘5’ is wearing town on the top and in the width, figure 3.  A third cover is dated OCT/2(2)/MS. also from the Damon correspondence is street addressed for carrier delivery at No. 77 Blackstone, St.  It is not year-dated, figure 4.  A brown envelope with a manuscript notation ‘1850’ (which may or may not be accurate) shows a new circular date stamp of JAN/10 with a gap between the ‘S’ and the ‘O’ of MONSON and a smaller ‘S’ in MS.  This cover is a third from the Damon correspondence, figure 5.  It is a new handstamp as the rim is not broken.  This cover also has a different upswept ‘5’, which I associate with the unpaid rates of 1851-1855 in other New York State examples I have seen.

An alternate reading of the indistinct Rich handstamp is as a ‘3’.  This interpretation I find more reasonable, for among the dozens of ‘3’ styles known there is one quite similar to this in both shape and size.  This particular style comes in at least 28 different varietyes on stampless covers that I have recorded in New York State use.  Several are close appoximations of the Rich marking.

The double-bordered encircled ‘5’ rate of Newark is known in both the period of the 1847 and the 1851 issue stamps, so it does not greatly help date this cover.  Also Newark introduced a ‘5’ and ‘10’ in the circular date stamp in the fall of 1849 as seen on three covers in the Arch Directory.

Perhaps more significant is the break in the Newark dater circle between 7 and 8 o’clock just above the ‘RL’ of Charlotte in the address,which should be datable.  It appears to be found fairly late in the use of this circle postmark as Mr. Arch’s Dalrimple cover to Morristown shows it clearly in March 1851, figure 6, and it seems to be present on Mr. Detrolio’s cover to Buffalo of January 24, 1851.  It does not appear on the Brad Arch Valentine cover of 2/14/48,  figure 7 nor the cover to Hamburgh, NJ of July 1849 nor the December 9, 1850 cover to Flemington NJ, figure 8.  These examples seem to almost certainly make the Rich cover a post-demonetization from September 1851 or later.

In sum, there are a number of grounds for believing that the Rich cover is a stampless item from the 1851-1855 period to which a brown 5¢ 1847 has been added.  The reasons range from known data about the handstamps involved to the nature of the envelope used and the improbability of the particular adhesive and its pen cancels being found in connection with other data.

Because the Monson cover was publicly exhibited as part of the Philatelic Foundation’s holdings shortly prior to the sale and because there were strong doubts about its authenticity, the late William Miller, then chairman of the Philatelic Foundation was privately notified some time prior to the sale that this item, and some others, were suspect.

As the sale went on, the Philatelic Foundation does not appear to have perceived a problem in putting a donated item back onto the market when there were serious grounds for challenging its authenticity.  The organization is apparently using a standard of comparative fairness, i.e., treating its own material as thouugh it came from a dealer or collector and evaluating according to majority judgement.

Collectors who seek expert opinions, particularly when they have not personally attended the sales, need to think carefuly about the implications of the various approaches to deaccessioned material from reputable institutions.  Should all suspect items be withdrawn?  This approach holds that an expertizing service (no matter which one) should be, like Caesar’s wife, above all suspicion in regards to dealings in items in which it ever had a financial interest.  After all, how can a service pass on items it once owned?  Further, isn’t the fact that an item was sold by an expertizing group an implicit guarantee of genuineness unless the item is branded a fake prior to disposal?  Is an expertizing organization in a different class from a museum or archive that disposes of material?

Conversely, should an expertizing organization need to view its own reference holdings differently from those of a dealer or collector?  What is the perception of the average collector who sees such a piece in the market place?  Does he see an implicit guarantee of authenticity?  What standards should be used?  All these are questions to consider.

Mortimer Neinken, then Chairman of the Philatelic Foundation’s Expert Committee replied as follows:

“The cover in question formed part of the eminent Stephen G. Rich’s New Jersey postal history collection for many years.  As a noted postal historian and student, Mr. Rich was well qualified to pass judgement on material in his collecting area.

The Philatelic Foundation has adopted a policy of disposing of parts of its collections which are not needed for reference.  Such items should be made available to interested students, for private collections whenever possible.  All such Rich material was re-examined by the curatorial staff of The Philatelic Foundation and a number of outside experts prior to the sale.  It was their opinion that the item in question is a genuine usage.

The cover question by Mr. Hahn sold in public auction for $450.  Thus, to anyone who is knowledgeable in the area concerned, it seems perfectly obvious that Mr. Hahn’s raised question becomes academic since a side marginal pen-canceled 5¢ 1847 is easily worth that off-cover.

In regard to deaccessioned material sold by an expertization service, an independent expert committee would naturally be called in to evaluate any items in question by a purchaser.”

In a follow up response to Mr. Neinken’s comment, I published the following reply,

“I am delighted to see that Mortimer Neinken, Chairman of the Philatelic Foundations’ Expert Committee, was willing to put the organization’s deaccession policy down for collectors in response to my original article of October 20, 1980.  It is hoped other organizations will also comment, for the questions raised deal with all philatelic deaccessioning and not just the laudable policy of the Philatelic Foundation to dispose of items ‘not needed for reference.’

Mr. Neinken is also correct that the purchaser of the item would not suffer financially because off-cover 1847s run at prices close to the price realized for this cover.  However, that does not make the questions raised academic.  It mearly means the Philatelic Foundation had no financial liability in disposing of it.  Mr. Neinken did not address the moral problem of how collectors perceive deaccessions, and the possible implicit guarantee of genuineness.

Neinken points out that Steve Rich was a noted postal historian, ‘qualified to pass judgement on material in his collecting area.’  However, I don’t believe Rich, even with his well known panache ever claimed to be an expert on Massachusetts postmarks, specifically Monson MS.  It was not in his key area of postal history expertise.

Further, apparently for reasons of space, the editors of my inittial article deleted the report given me that an announcement was made on the auction floor that a question had been raised about the authenticity of another Rich piece, so that it was sold ‘as is’.  Another specialist has questioned that piece in print, and catalog listings based upon it have been corrected.  In other words, despite Rich’s admitted expertise, he, like other experts—and I exclude none including myself—can be wrong in an area of their special study.

The situation still leaves the question open as to what standards should be used on deacessioning and should they be higher for an expert committee?  Was the independent committee that Neinken assures us was used adequate to the task?

The questions I’ve raised as well as those raised by others about deaccessioned pieces suggests there is still something to think about by those involved in deaccessioning in philately.  Curators in other areas have found to their sad surprise that there was more than they had considered to the matter.  At least one museum curator has had to resign and other organizations have been publicly chastised.

Hopefully, readers will comment on the problem as a means of giving guidance in a difficult area.

No further reader comment was ever relayed to me.  Subsequent to the original publication of this article and the exchanges, there was a scandal in the early 1980s involving the Philatelic Foundation staff, which involved changing certificates and resulted in the removal of various personal as well as a later elimination of some experts.  This implies that my moral questioning problems were not completely academic; there were real events.

Further, the records of the Newark covers in the Arch Directory were not available for examination to determine the probable date of the Rich cover at the time the article was written.  Nor were the records of 1847 uses from Monson, MS, which were supplied by the 2000 Alexander Census.  Also, since that date, the subject Rich cover was sold as part of the Brad Arch estate for $1,000 at Siegel’s in 2000, among the higher priced items in the single 5¢ cover section that were not featured in color.  Of the 31 such items only one exceeded it and two equalled it in price.

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