The first postage due stamp was issued by France in 1859. Attached to unpaid and short-paid letters, postage due stamps indicated the amount of money that needed to be paid before the addressee could receive his mail. Once that amount was collected, the postage due stamps were cancelled, and delivery of the mail could be completed.
Postage due stamps were introduced in United States by the Post Office Department in 1879. They were in continuous use until 1986 when they were discontinued. During the hundred plus years that postage due stamps were used in the United States, four separate designs of the stamps were issued. Figure #1 shows the complete series of the fourth and last design. The ½-cent through the 5-dollar values were released in 1959, the 11-cent and 13-cent values in 1978 and the 17-cent stamp in 1985. Since late 1986, the amount of postage due on letters and postcards has been indicated either by a rubber stamp or by application of a meter stamp.
The lower values of the fourth series postage due stamps can be found on postcards. Figure #2 demonstrates a common usage of the 1-cent stamp of the fourth series. Shown is a photochrome postcard sent from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Cincinnati, Ohio, in July 1963. The domestic postcard rate at the time was four cents. At first blush, it appears that the sender paid the correct amount to mail the card. However, the stitching on the left border of the card indicates that originally, there was a small bag of salt from the Great Salt Lake attached. The Post Office Department therefore considered this postcard to be a letter and required the letter rate postage of five cents. When the deficiency was recognized in Cincinnati, the 1-cent postage due stamp was applied. After the addressee paid the one cent due, the postage due cent stamp was cancelled indicating that payment had been received, and the card was delivered.
Figure #3 shows an oversized postcard sent from Saint Petersburg, Florida, to West Palm Beach, Florida, in February 1962. The domestic postcard rate at the time was three cents which the sender had dutifully paid. The card measured five and a half by seven inches which exceeded the allowable postcard dimensions of four and a quarter by six inches. Therefore, the card was considered to be a letter and was charged an additional one cent to make up the then current letter rate of four cents.
Postage due stamps were also affixed to mail which had been dispatched without any postage paid by the sender. Figure #4 shows a postcard sent from Denver, Colorado, to Saint Marys, Ohio, in August 1974. Sent without a stamp and without a return address, the Denver post office applied a rubber stamp indicating postage due from the addressee of eight cents, the domestic postcard rate. The 8-cent postage due stamp was applied by the post office in Saint Marys. When the recipients of the card paid the required eight cents in cash, the card was handed over to them.
Fourth series postage due stamps can also be found on foreign postcards mailed to the United States. Figure #5 shows one such example. Posted in Montreal, Canada, in July 1966, the sender of the card must have thought that American stamps were acceptable for postage in Canada. He was wrong. When the card arrived at the post office in Montreal, the postal clerk drew a red box around the 5-cent United States Washington stamp indicating that the stamp was not valid for postage in Canada. At the time, the treaty rate for a non-airmail postcard mailed in Canada to the United States was four cents. The card was marked eight cents postage due in Montreal (four cent deficiency plus four cent penalty) and sent on to New Castle, Pennsylvania. At the New Castle post office, the 1-cent, and the 7-cent fourth series postage due stamps were applied and cancelled when the addressee paid the eight cents due.
While the lower values of the fourth series postage due stamps can be found on regular postcards, the higher values and especially the 1-dollar and 5-dollar values are found primarily on business reply cards. These cards were sent out by businesses to solicit orders. The businesses would pay the postage on the cards to customers usually via a first-class mailing permit. They would also pay return postage on any orders they received. Figure #6 shows a business reply card with an order returned to the Kirby Hatcheries of Urbana, Ohio, in the early 1970s. On the card is a rubber stamp indicating eight cents postage due (six cents for domestic postcard postage plus an additional two cent post office service fee for each card returned). Rather than sending each returned card out separately, the post office would batch the cards and then send them to the addressee. The postage due on the business reply postcard shown is four dollars and eighty cents for a batch of sixty cards each due eight cents. The total amount due is represented by the eight fourth issue due stamps including four of the 1-dollar value. The due stamps were cancelled once the Kirby Hatcheries paid the amount due.
Collecting America’s forth issue postage due stamps on postcards is both a fascinating and at times challenging venture. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who shares my interest in such postcards. You may contact me through Barr’s or at my e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org). Until next time, have fun, stay safe and good hunting.