Postage: 2 cents!

Albin Clothing Store Records, ca. 1890s.

Recently, I’ve been working on the Albin Clothing Store records housed in ISU Library Special Collections & Archives.  The records, which date from the 1890s, survived a fire which left them covered with surface dirt and soot.  Most of the documents are folded, but too fragile to unfold without cracking or tearing.  We are dry cleaning, humidifying and flattening, mending, and rehousing the documents so they will be in a usable condition.

Albin Clothing Store Recrods: partially humidified documents in the humidity chamber.

The records include letters, receipts, and invoices, many of which are still in their mailing envelopes with original postage.  While pre-paid, adhesive, postage stamps were first introduced around 1847, their use began in earnest only during the second half of the century.  A law passed in 1856 mandated that postage must be pre-paid; prior to that time, recipients usually paid for postage upon delivery of the letter.

According to Andrew K. Dart, 2 cents was the rate for mailing a 1-ounce (or less) letter in the 1890s, and all of the stamped correspondence in the Albin Clothing Store records are at the 2-cent rate.  Most prevalent in the collection are carmine 2-cent stamps of Washington’s profile.  The engraving for this stamp was based on a bust of Washington by the French neoclassical sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon.

2-cent Washington profile stamp, carmine, ca. 1890.
2-cent Washington profile stamp, green.
Commemorative 2-cent stamp: the Landing of Columbus, purple-maroon, from the painting by Vanderlyn, ca.1893.

The postal marking below is not an adhesive postage stamp, but rather, a pre-printed stamped envelope, one form of “postal stationery.”  Postal stationery includes any envelope, wrapper, postcard, or other sheet that has been marked with an imprinted stamp showing the amount of postage that was pre-paid.  Stamped envelopes first debuted in the U.S. circa 1853.   This 2-cent example depicts the first Postmaster General of the United States, Benjamin Franklin.

The nineteenth-century postage in this collection is incidental to the significance of these records for ISU Archives; however, I always enjoy finding unexpected historical treasures like this.  It might be a lock of hair in an old family bible, or postage stamps, or a calling-card tucked into the pages of a volume of poetry, but there are tiny tokens of our history and our cultural traditions to be found everywhere.  It’s nice to be able to slow down occasionally to appreciate them.


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