By Michael Baadke
Recently I had the opportunity to go through a box of discarded envelopes mailed from all over the country between the middle of December 1998 and the middle of January of this year.
That period includes the Jan. 10 date that United States domestic letter rates increased by 1¢.
I thought it would be fun to see if I could find some nice examples showing how the Jan. 10 rate change went into effect, and how mailers complied with the new rates.
I came across a handful of envelopes that were mailed on Jan. 9, the last day that the 32¢ letter rate was still valid. Three different examples are shown in Figure 1.
An envelope marked with a 32¢ Jan. 9 meter stamp is shown at the top of the illustration. Below it are a 32¢ Liberty Bell stamped envelope and a 32¢ Flag Over Porch stamp, both canceled with Jan. 9 postmarks.
Because Jan. 10 fell on a Sunday, envelopes bearing this date in the cancel are likely to be scarce. I didn't find any in the 200 or so envelopes I went through, so I settled on the next day — Jan. 11 — to illustrate how the new rate went into effect.
Figure 2 shows three Jan. 11 examples. The top cover shows a 33¢ metered cover with a Jan. 11 date. Below it is a Jan. 11 cover franked with the nondenominated 33¢ H-rate Hat stamp. This cover was dated twice: once with an Easton, Md., standard machine cancel, and once with an Eastern Shore sprayed-on cancel.
The third cover in the illustration shows a Jan. 11 cover bearing a 32¢ Wreath stamp and a nondenominated (1¢) Weather Vane makeup-rate stamp to meet the new rate.
The common first-class letter rate was not the only rate to increase on Jan. 10, and I was pleased to find one cover in my batch that correctly showed an increase in a lesser-known rate.
The Jan. 11 meter-stamp-franked cover pictured in Figure 3 shows 26.1¢ postage paid for presorted first-class mail.
That meets the new rate for the first ounce of what is known as 3-digit automation: mail sorted by ZIP code to a specific level.
Prior to Jan. 10, the rate for this presorted classification was 23.8¢.
I didn't find one of the new 33¢ Flag envelopes used on Jan. 11, and chances are that I won't. They were issued in Washington, D.C., on that date and were not available nationwide until the following day.
Figure 4 shows an interesting selection of nine envelopes that are also related to the rate change.
Let's start at the top and work our way down.
The first envelope is common, showing a 33¢ Hat stamp to pay postage Jan. 4, when the rate was still 32¢. These stamps were placed on sale Nov. 9, 1998, so there will be plenty of regularly mailed covers such as this one that were sent prior to the date of the rate change.
The next envelope is a little puzzling. Apparently the mailer wasn't sure when the rate change was going into effect, so he added the 1¢ Weather Vane stamp to his 32¢ Stephen Vincent Benet stamp, even though the cover was mailed Jan. 7, three days before the rates increased.
The cover showing the single 32¢ Madonna and Child stamp is postmarked Jan. 11, making it look like the envelope is short-paid, but it's possible that it was mailed Saturday, Jan. 9 at a location that had no mail pick-up scheduled until Monday, Jan. 11.
I'll be watching for later examples of short-paid mail to add to this collection.
The remaining examples all meet or exceed the new rate in various ways.
Reported shortages of 1¢ stamps across the country may account for the extra postage paid by four mailers: two 20¢ (postcard rate) Blue Jay stamps paying 40¢, a 1991 19¢ Fawn stamp and a 32¢ Flag Over Porch paying 51¢, two 32¢ Wreath stamps paying 64¢, and a 2¢ Mary Lyon accompanying a 32¢ Statue of Liberty to pay 34¢.
The same stamp shortage may have been the reason that a postal clerk in Coldwater, Ohio, created a 1¢ postage validation imprint label to place alongside a customer's 32¢ Statue of Liberty stamp on Jan. 12.
The final cover in Figure 4 shows another 33¢ meter stamp, but with an unusual twist: the date in the meter is Dec. 19, 1999.
Judging by the accompanying sprayed-on marking, the cover was actually mailed Jan. 19, 1999. It looks like the person in charge of this particular postage meter remembered to change the year date when the time came to do so, but forgot to advance the setting for the proper month.
Collectors all over the country will have fun looking for different examples similar to the ones shown here, as well as others, such as postage due markings for short-paid mail, covers that reflect new fees for certified and registered mail, new Express Mail and Priority Mail rates, and more.
Put them all together, and they make an interesting collection that shows a contemporary slice of United States postal history.