What Do You Know About Postal Stationery?

Professor Rodney L. Mott

What Is Postal Stationery?

Postal Stationery may be defined to include all the stationery issued by the postal authorities on which a design has been made showing its value for postage. The most common forms are: stamped envelopes, stamped letter sheets (including aerogrammes), postal cards, letter cards, and newspaper wrappers. Some countries use other kinds of stationery, such as postal savings forms, money order forms, or telegraph forms, and these are also Postal Stationery, if they have value stamps printed on them.

There are many other forms used by post offices which do not have value designs printed on them. These are, of course, collectible, although they are not, strictly speaking, Postal Stationery. Among them are formula cards, penalty envelopes, and aerogramme forms to which adhesives must be affixed. Likewise the great variety of pre-stamp letters, with their very interesting, and often historic, postal markings, belong to the field of Postal History, rather than Postal Stationery. Picture post cards, also, belong to another category if they do not have value stamps printed on them.

Postal Stationery is older than the adhesive stamp. The Venetian "A-Q" letter sheets date from 1608; the Sardinia sheets from 1818; the revenue devices on British newspapers provided free postage after 1821; and the Sydney, New South Wales, letter sheets were issued in 1838. The first adhesive postage stamps were not issued until 1840. Indeed the British Post Office placed stamped envelopes and letter sheets (the celebrated Mulreadys) on sale the same day as the adhesives.

The hobby of collecting Postal Stationery began almost immediately after 1840, and was exceedingly popular by 1900. The early major catalogues all included it. After the First World War, it declined in popularity but, beginning in 1945, there has been a marked revival of interest. Postal Stationery is now perhaps the fastest growing branch of Philately.

Why Collect Postal Stationery?

Those who enjoy exploring new paths, who are interested in Postal History, or who enjoy the challenge of something different from the common philatelic collecting interest, find Postal Stationery a fascinating field. There are ample varieties of stationery to satisfy any collecting interest. Indeed, there are probably as many varieties as there are of adhesives.

For those who wish to extend their philatelic historical knowledge, Postal Stationery offers an excellent opportunity. The collector can learn about the different postal systems and services, such as for example the postal banking system used in Europe. He can expand his knowledge of the types and methods of manufacture of cards as well as paper, of printing methods, and of design. Since stationery items are larger than adhesives, it is easier to study many of the features through them rather than through other branches of Philately.

Postal Stationery is also an important addition to the collection of adhesives. A country collection without its stationery is incomplete. A topical collector who neglects to include the colorful stationery relating to his topic has left significant gaps in his collection.

The messages on the backs of postal cards and on letter sheets are important historical documents. Through them one can trace the changing customs of people, and the increasing use of typewriters; as well as opinions of the writers on an infinite variety of subjects.

When collecting Postal Stationery, missing perforations, centering, and gum sticking are less of a problem than when collecting adhesives. Furthermore, the items collected are sturdier, and less subject to careless damage than are adhesives.

Some collectors have sold their collections of Postal Stationery, or portions of them, at considerable profit. Over the past half century the value of many stationery items has increased sharply. Fortunately, stationery collectors are less subject to the whims of fashion that plague other collectors, and so there have been fewer booms followed by busts, such as occurred in Ghana adhesives. For the most part postal authorities have issued stationery strictly for utilitarian purposes. Very few countries have used it to exploit the unwary collector. Forgeries of stationery exist, but they are not common and are usually easily detected.

Although an investment in Postal Stationery can be very profitable, the novice, as in any investment field, can easily be burned. Speculation in stocks, real estate, paintings, adhesives, or stationery is always risky. When as investor has mastered his field, he can increase the odds in his favor, but even then he cannot eliminate the risk of loss entirely. Postal Stationery should be collected for fun; any profit is just a bonus.

An early collector of postal cards summed up the matter by saying: "I just ask the collector, in making up his philatelic train, not to leave off the postal card coach - the parlor car of the train. Leave off, if you will, the foreign revenue sleeping car, the United states revenue smoking car, the United States proprietary dining and drinking car - but don't leave the parlor car or the palace car on the siding. Your train may be lighter without it, but you will miss a lot of comfort and pleasure."

How To Collect Postal Stationery

Some people have seen the advantages of collecting Postal Stationery, but have hesitated to do so because of some of the challenges it presents. In fact, however, it is quite as easy to form a collection of stationery as it is to collect adhesives. And it is perhaps less expensive.

Everyone receives items of Postal Stationery in his mail every week; and if they are saved, a small but interesting collection will soon accumulate. For those in more of a hurry, auction houses dispose of stationery, either as single rare items, in groups, or in sizable collections. There are fewer dealers of stationery than of adhesives since there are fewer collectors, but there are enough to provide good sources of material at competitive prices.

One of the best ways to build a collection is from Sales Circuits of the United Postal Stationery Society. Other collectors dispose of their duplicates through these circuits, often at prices which are not only reasonable, but frequently at real bargains. A few hints on collecting Postal Stationery may answer some of the beginner's questions:

1. All stationery should be saved entire. Postal cards are never collected as "cut squares" and the modern trend is against collecting envelopes and wrappers that way. To detect such varieties as watermarks, differences in printed headings, or kind of flap on envelopes, it is usually necessary to have entire specimens.

2. There are albums available, but it is not necessary to use one. UPSS offers album pages for U.S. cut square, as well as pages for U.S. aerogrammes. A very good album for United States Postal cards has been published by Scott, with printed places for each of the major varieties. Several companies offer blank albums with cellulose pockets for individual items. Many collectors make their own albums with a binder of their choice and light cardboard or heavy paper pages. Others prefer to use a file.

3. Even though stationery is not as fragile as are adhesives, care should be taken to keep it in as fine a condition as when it left the post office or was delivered by the postman. Hinges should never be used to mount Postal Stationery, as they tend to disfigure the specimens. Corner mounts, similar to those used for snapshots (but preferably larger and of clear acetate) should be used instead. UPSS makes these available to collectors. Several other working tools for postal stationery collectors are also available from the Society.

Some collectors, and dealers who should know better, write catalogue numbers and other information on Postal Stationery specimens. These should be done only when absolutely necessary. Then the writing should be only on the back, and very lightly with a soft pencil. Rare items may be banded with thin paper bands on which the necessary information can be written, or they may be put in Mylar or Cellulose acetate (never cellophane) envelopes. In the latter case, one end should be left open, so the air can circulate freely.

4. Some collectors prefer mint copies, since they present a clean, neat appearance. Others prefer postally used ones, which often are interesting for the postal markings and messages on them. Some collectors try to obtain a specimen of each.

5. Catalogues are as necessary for Postal Stationery as for adhesives. They are the most convenient source of information regarding size and date of issue, size of perforations of letter cards, kind of envelope flaps (called "knives"), design, watermarks, and purpose of issue.

Exhibiting Postal Stationery

Because of the unique and colorful character of much of the Postal Stationery, it often attracts more attention in stamp exhibits than other philatelic material. The exhibitor has the pleasure of showing his collection to an interested audience, as well as matching his skill in the selection, mounting, and explanations of his material with other collectors.

It is by no means necessary to have a collection of rare and unusual items to have a winning exhibit. While rarity is one factor with the judges in most shows, there are many other things which are equally important, such as: skill in presentation, clarity of explanations, and ingenuity in the conception and organization of the exhibit.

The preparation of Postal Stationery for exhibit presents special problems; but these offer an interesting challenge, and they are by no means insurmountable. The art of mounting stationery, with its larger pieces than adhesives, and of writing it up is one that can be learned only by practice, and by studying exhibits of other collectors.

Many stamp shows have special sections for Postal Stationery, but in any case, exhibits of it frequently win the show awards in competition with adhesives. In addition, the United Postal Stationery Society awards its coveted Marcus White Trophy in shows which have sufficient competition for it. Then at the Society's Fall Convention each year all of the winners of this trophy during the preceding year compete for a Special Award in an exclusive Court of Honor Competition that is judged separately from the open competition of the host show. This annual championship competition is know as The Marcus White Memorial Postal Stationery Showcase.

Keeping Up To Date

New Issues of Postal Stationery are appearing almost every month, and new varieties of existing issues are often discovered. This is where membership in an organization of collectors may be of special help. There are several such societies, including those organized in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The largest organization, and the major world-wide one, is the United Postal Stationery Society, with members throughout the United States and in many foreign countries. Its magazine, Postal Stationery , provides good articles on the stationery of many countries. Its Newsletter, The Pantograph of Postal Stationery , also contains stationery information. In addition, the Society publishes catalogs and handbooks on stationery.

Further Information

The serious collector is almost inevitably led to search for information about his collection. He will want to know when the items were issued, how to distinguish varieties, and why the postal administration issued them. This will open a door to a fascinating realm of information about the customs, governments, economics, and life in different countries. He will soon find he would like to know about differences in paper and card stock and various methods of printing.

The literature of Postal Stationery is very extensive and is constantly expanding. Bibliographies by Mrs. Helen Zirkle and the author in the Philatelic Literature Review [v. 13, no. 3, 1964, p. 51-74; v. 14, no. 3, 1965, p. 82-91] have over one thousand titles. The list below gives the best general catalogues:

Postal Stationery of the World (Edited by Edward Fladung).
This was published in sections, listing countries alphabetically, by Higgins and Gage of Pasadena, CA, and is now owned by Classic Philatelics, Box 5637, Huntington Beach, CA 92615-0637.

Grosser Ganzsachen-Katalog (Compiled by Dr. Ascher).
Although long out of date on prices, and with no listings since 1922, this encyclopedic work is still the "Bible" for the collector of foreign stationery. It is written in German and has been reprinted [with 1996 price guide].

Neuer Ganzsachen-Katalog (Compiled by the Berliner Ganzsachen-Sammler-Verein,
1 Berlin 20, Weissenstadter, Ring 39h, Germany)

Michel Ganzsachen-Katalog Europa West , Schwaneberger Verlag GMBH, Munich

Kessler's Catalog of Aerograms (Volumes 1 and 2, 1961; Volume 3, 1969; edited by A.E. Lewandowski; now owned by Classic Philatelics).
A complete and scholarly listing of the aerogrammes of all countries.

The following are some of the best catalogs for United States and Possessions Postal Stationery:

United States Postal Card Catalog (Compiled by an Editorial Committee of the UPSS).
This is by far the most authoritative listing of issues for United States Postal Cards.

UPSS Catalog of the 19th Century Stamped Envelopes and Wrappers of the United States , Edmund C. McGovern, Editor (1984)
UPSS Catalog of the 20th Century Stamped Envelopes and Wrappers of the United States , Austin P. Haller, Editor (1990)
These are updated and revised versions of the Thorp-Bartels catalogs and have cross references to the original editions.

The Postal Stationery of Hawaii (UPSS), (out of print).

The Postal Stationery of the Canal Zone (UPSS, 1985).

The Postal Stationery of the Philippines under United States Administration, 1898-1946 (UPSS, 1983).

Ryukyu issued under United States Administration - Part II, Postal Stationery , 2nd Edition, by A. Askins (1979). By the Ryukyu Philatelic Specialist Society, Ltd.

Some of these sources are now out of print, but UPSS members may borrow some of them from the Society library. (UPSS sources in print may be purchased from the UPSS Central Office Publications Available from UPSS Central Office). There are also good philatelic libraries in several American Cities, including New York, Boston, Weston (Mass.), Washington, DC, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, and the APS Library at State College, PA. (Philatelic Museums & Libraries )

Published in 1986 by The United Postal Stationery Society, Inc., Central Office, Box 48, Redlands, CA 92373

Last modified September 13, 1997

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