NYC Illustrated Mail
By: Michael Heller

Jun 14 , 2016

Michael Heller was again our presenter, speaking at the June 14 meeting on the topic “NYC Illustrated Mail.”  The talk centered on his recent exhibit at the NY2016 International Show, which reflected a large selection of illustrated advertising lettersheets and covers depicting buildings and street scenes of lower Manhattan during the time period 1845 to 1890.

The first exhibit page showed an illustrated invoice from a New York hotel, printed by intaglio engraving by Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson, engravers of the first U.S. general issue postage stamp.  During his talk, Michael described the various printing methods used to produce illustrated covers, including intaglio engraving, wood engraving and lithography.

Michael also discussed the important changes in postal rates that occurred during the 1840s and 1850s, which led to the greater use of envelopes and a huge increase in personal and commercial mail.  In particular, the low postage rates for unsealed circulars prompted businesses to send out beautifully illustrated lettersheets.

These lettersheets included: Wood engraving of Astor House hotel (NYC’s first luxury hotel) on folded letter franked by a five cent NY Postmaster Provisional; large intaglio-engraved illustration for silk importer that showed the NYC Post Office; lithograph of umbrella manufacturer; illustration of hardware importer on folded letter franked by five cent Franklin stamp; and large illustration of Stuart’s Steam Sugar Refinery.  Many of these folded letters had various stampless postal markings.

Michael also showed a large number of illustrated covers, beginning with the classic cameo designs, including: Peekskill foundries (NYC office); Collins hotel; Water Cure Institute; Howard hotel; and Bull’s Head hotel.  Other illustrated covers included: Lovejoy’s hotel; Brandreth House (with matching lettersheet); New York Times; Manhattan Hotel (with matching lettersheet); Harper & Brothers; Earle’s Hotel (various colors); and Grand Union Hotel (large matching lettersheet).