One feature of a postcard’s backside that has received relatively little attention but which can be quite interesting and informative is the stamp box. The stamp box is usually found in the upper right-hand corner of the postcard’s backside. It was originally designed to indicate where the stamp used to pay for delivery of the postcard was to be placed. The first stamp boxes consisted of a simple empty rectangular box (Figure #1). It didn’t take long before postcard publishers added a message to the box to remind patrons to “Place Stamp Here”, in either plain or fancy terms (Figure #2 and Figure #3).
In 1873, The United States introduced its first officially printed government postal card which required one cent for domestic postage. Until 1898, privately printed postcards were treated as first class letters requiring two cents domestic postage. The difference between the postage needed to mail a government postal card and a privately printed postcard created some confusion. To relieve this confusion, postcard manufactures began to print the correct amount of postage required for their cards in the card’s stamp box (Figure #4). The confusion over postal rates was further compounded when it came to postcards mailed to an overseas address prior to 1898. Figure #5 shows the front side of a pioneer postcard printed in 1897 by the American Souvenir-Card Co. of New York. In the stamp box of the card’s backside is information pertaining to the correct postage rates for both domestic and overseas mailings (Figure #6). A commercially printed message (such as a product advertisement) could be mailed to any place in the world for one cent. A written message could be sent to anywhere in the United States for two cents. The two-cent rate also applied to cards sent to Canada or Mexico, two countries with which the United States had special postal treaties. Cards sent to other countries were treated as first class letters and required five cents postage.
Starting on July 1, 1898, the United States Postal Service allowed privately printed postcards to be mailed domestically for one cent postage, the same cost required to mail a government printed postal card. This change in rate required that some postcard manufactures modify the message printed in their card’s stamp boxes. One means to accomplish this was simply to have an employee strike-over the printed 2 in “2 cents” with a hand-written 1 as is shown in Figure #7. That same year, the cost to mail a postal or postcard internationally was standardized to two cents. Postcard stamp boxes soon reflected these new domestic and international postage rates (Figure #8).
The year 1898 was also important historically as it was the year during which the Spanish-American War was waged. Fought from April 21 until August 13, the War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. By terms of the treaty, Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for 20 million dollars. Once again, the postal rate information contained within postcard stamp boxes had to be revised as postcards sent to Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines as well as Canada and Mexico now qualified for the domestic postage rate (Figure #9). With the acquisition of the territory of Hawaii in 1900, Hawaii was added to the list of United States possessions which qualified for domestic postcard rates.
Next time, more interesting postcard stamp boxes including those boxes which help to determine the age of postcards.
How about you? Do you have an interesting postcard stamp box or some other interesting backside that you would like to see featured in a future column? If so, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to my mailing address at; Charles Bush, P.O. Box 112, Havre de Grace, Maryland, 21078. Thanks to all of you who have already sent in your treasures. You can look forward to seeing them in a future Reader’s Backside column, but please remember that my columns are written well in advance of publication.