By Michael Baadke
When we think of how postage stamps are used, the first thing that typically comes to mind is a stamp on an envelope, paying the postage to deliver a letter from one location to another.
For many years postage stamps have also been used to pay for the delivery of parcels — small or large packages — and in some cases, postal authorities created special stamps specifically for this service.
Such issues are known collectively as parcel post stamps. In the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, parcel post stamps are numerically listed for each country using the prefix letter "Q." They follow regular postage stamps and other special service issues, such as semipostals and airmail stamps.
Not all countries have issued parcel post stamps. Additionally, some countries have issued stamps specifically for the shipment of parcels using a particular method of transport, such as train or ferry.
The earliest parcel post issue was probably a set of six stamps created by Italy in 1884. These stamps are inscribed "PACCHI POSTALI" across the top and feature a portrait of Italy's King Humbert I.
The 20-centesimo value stamp from that set, Italy Scott Q2, is shown at the top of Figure 1.
Thirty years later Italy issued its second parcel post set, consisting of long horizontal stamps perforated vertically down the center. The stamps were affixed to a waybill in such a way that the stamp was torn in half when the sender was given his receipt. This format was used in Italy for decades.
A 1914 5c parcel post stamp from Italy, Scott Q7, is shown at the bottom of Figure 1. Used copies of these and similar Italian stamps often consist of the right half only.
Parcel post stamps were first created for the United States Post Office Department in 1912, to meet new parcel rates established by the U.S. Congress earlier that year. The rates became effective Jan. 1, 1913.
The Congressional act that created the new parcel post rates made it less expensive to send packages through the mail.
The new law also required "that distinctive parcel post stamps must be used on all fourth-class matter beginning January 1, 1913, and that such matter bearing ordinary postage stamps will be treated as 'Held for postage.'"
The U.S. parcel post postage stamps were issued in 12 denominations: 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 4¢, 5¢, 10¢, 15¢, 20¢, 25¢, 50¢, 75¢ and $1.
The vignettes (central pictorial designs) of these stamps address three specific themes. The 1¢ through 4¢ issues show postal employees at work, performing their daily duties. The 5¢ through 20¢ issues depict methods of mail transportation.
The 20¢ parcel post stamp, by the way, was the first postage stamp of any country to show an airplane, and it bears the inscription, "AEROPLANE CARRYING MAIL." The stamp, Scott Q8, is shown in Figure 2 at the top.
The 25¢ through $1 issues feature scenes of industry and agriculture.
The stamps were designed by Clair Aubrey Huston, who by that time had been designing stamps at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for 10 years.
Although the 12 designs in the parcel post set are very attractive, the series was not well-accepted by postal clerks or the general public.
The stamps were all the same shade of carmine-rose, which meant that clerks had to take considerable care when selling the stamps to avoid handing out the wrong denomination.
Mailers were displeased by the large size of the stamps because they often had to be applied to parcels in multiples, sometimes in areas of limited space, such as mailing tags and the like.
A set of five parcel post postage due stamps were also issued in 1913 as a result of the same new rate classification.
The parcel post postage due stamps, in values of 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢ and 25¢, were nearly identical to one another, with the exception of the numeral of value positioned prominently in the center of the stamp. All were printed in the same shade of dark green.
This issue was also designed by Huston. The 25¢ high value of the set is shown at the bottom in Figure 2.
The strict regulations requiring the use of parcel post stamps on parcel post mailings were relaxed only six months after they went into effect. Beginning July 1, 1913, any postage stamp could be used to mail a parcel, and the parcel post stamps could be used for any kind of mailing.
As a result, collectors have found many examples of parcel post stamps used after that date on regular first-class mail.
Figure 3 shows a picture postcard mailed July 21, 1913, from Portland, Ore., to Hollister, Calif., franked with the 1¢ parcel post stamp, Scott Q1.
Postally used parcel post stamps are best saved intact on cover, regardless of the use, as doing so often preserves many important elements of postal history.
An example is the item shown in Figure 4, offered several years ago by the Danish auction firm of Thomas Hoiland.
The trimmed cover bears four stamps from Greenland's parcel post issues of 1905-37, the first stamps issued by that country.
The piece is from an 18kg parcel mailed from Christianshaab (Qasigiannguit) on Greenland's western coast to Copenhagen, Denmark. The exact date is not known because, as is the custom with many countries, the parcel post mailing did not receive a dated cancel.
Three of the stamps were issued as early as 1905, but the 20-ore red first appeared in 1915, so the cover is certainly from that year or later.
This type of detailed information would be forever lost if the stamps were cut from this piece, soaked and placed into an album. It is far better to preserve the entire item for its historical relevance.
Along with Italy, the United States and Greenland, there are a few other parcel post stamp series worldwide that are particularly well-known.
Belgium began issuing its railway parcel stamps in 1879, with the inscription "Chemins de Fer," which simply means "Railroads."
Over the years nearly 500 Belgian railway stamps have appeared, most with a railway theme in the design.
While Belgium's railway parcel stamps are still being issued, many other nations have ended their special parcel post stamp series.
Among these are Finland, which issued parcel stamps from 1949 through 1981; Denmark, which began issuing parcel post stamps for ferry service in 1919; Mexico's railway parcel stamps, issued from 1941-54; and numerous others.
Many nations, including the United States, created all-new stamp designs for their parcel stamps, while others designated parcel post issues by simply overprinting previously issued postage stamps.
Denmark's ferry stamps, for example, are all regular definitive postage stamp issues overprinted with the word "POSTFAERGE," meaning "ferry post."
Additional information about parcel post stamps for individual countries can be obtained by consulting either the Scott catalog or a specialized catalog for the country in question.