By Janet Klug
In the parlance of the Scott catalogs, a stamp listed with an "L" prefix is a local postage stamp.
The locals listed by Scott are those that were issued, usually officially, by postal authorities for use in a specific region, or a limited postal system or city, but that were not valid for national or international delivery.
There are, however, many thousands of other local stamps that were issued by private carriers, corporations, organizations or individuals.
In the middle of the 19th century, local posts were thriving in the United States. Private city delivery and express services issued adhesive stamps for use on letters and packages. The stamps that were used in cities both large and small are listed in the Local Stamps section of the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. Also listed there are the express company stamps, including the famous Wells, Fargo pony express stamps.
The pony express began in April 1860. Its purpose was to reduce the time it took for mail communications cross the country to San Francisco, which, until the pony express, took a month by sea via Panama.
The pony express operated between St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif. While an estimated 35,000 letters were carried, the service was financially unsuccessful and ended in 1864. Covers carried by the pony express are rare and command high prices. A slightly more economical alternative are the local stamps used on the letters, such as the $1 red Wells, Fargo and Co. stamp, United States Scott 143L3, shown in Figure 1.
City dispatch stamps were used by private courier services on letters and packages delivered within a specified area of coverage. Some of the carrier services issued postal stationery, newspaper stamps, and special delivery stamps, and some of the stamps were merely handstamps rather than adhesive stamps.
Occasionally local stamps were issued in response to a strike that interrupted regular mail service.
An example is the Fresno and San Francisco Bicycle Mail, which operated July 6-18, 1894, while the American Railway Union went on strike and refused to move trains that included Pullman cars.
In those days, that was nearly every train, and as a result, mail was held up.
Fresno bicycle shop owner Arthur C. Banta organized local merchants to form a bicycle post to carry mail 210 miles between Fresno and San Francisco.
A Fresno and San Francisco Bicycle Mail stamp, Scott 12L1 is shown in Figure 2. The post carried approximately 380 letters before the strike ended.
When mail carriers have gone on strike, entrepreneurs have often filled the void. In 1971, postal workers in Great Britain went on strike. Within days, hundreds of local posts began operation, many of which issued their own stamps. The strike lasted from Jan. 20 through March 8, 1971.
The strike-mail cover shown in Figure 3 surely is a collectible that will confound the collectors of the future.
The cover bears a Cook Islands stamp that was overprinted and surcharged for use by a strike post. The overprint reads "Plus 20c United Kingdom Special Mail Service."
The cover was postmarked Rarotonga, Cook Islands, but a boxed cachet on the cover says the piece is "Surtaxed for United Kingdom G.P.O. Licenced Emergency Mail Delivery Service."
In addition to private delivery services, there are many other types of local stamps.
Both Australia and New Zealand have stamps issued in the names of their Antarctic research bases. Scott lists them as locals.
Unlike true local stamps, however, these stamps are good for prepayment of postage for mail delivery both nationally and internationally.
An Australian Antarctic Territory 2/3d green Emperor Penguins and Map stamp, Scott L5, is shown in Figure 4.
A New Zealand Ross Dependency 3d HMS Erebus and Mount Erebus stamp, Scott L1, is shown in Figure 5.
Germany had many locals, few of which are listed in the Scott catalog.
Among those Scott lists are Baden's rural postage due stamps, listed with the letters "LJ" as a prefix.
Before the advent of free delivery to rural areas, letters to rural addresses often required an additional fee. The Baden stamps were used on short-paid mail sent to rural addresses that required additional postage for delivery. Despite the "L" prefix, these are not true local stamps. They are really special handling postage due stamps.
A 12-kreuzer black on yellow paper rural postage due stamp, Baden Scott LJ3, is shown in Figure 6.
A very long list of cities and towns within Germany had private courier, parcel or express services. Their stamps and postal stationery are outside the scope of the Scott catalog, but they can be found in specialized catalogs.
Great Britain also had a large number of local posts delivering parcels, and more commonly, circulars.
Perhaps the most famous British local post was Dockwra's Penny Post that operated in London during 1680-82. William Dockwra, a customs examiner, charged one penny to carry letters and parcels weighing less than a pound to addresses throughout London and Westminster.
Dockwra's local penny post was the first to use postmarks, one of which is shown in Figure 7, to show prepayment of postage. His post was also the first to use a flat rate for services, and this served as a model for later postal reforms.
Two of Britain's great universities, Oxford and Cambridge, established messenger services between their various colleges. Each college had its own adhesives, and in some cases, postal stationery and parcel stamps.
British college stamps are a popular, albeit challenging, field of endeavor for collectors. A Merton College, Oxford stamp of 1883 is shown in Figure 8.
A very large section in the Scott catalog listings for
Saudi Arabia is devoted to locals of Hejaz.
Hejaz was a sanjak (province) of the Ottoman Empire. It began issuing stamps in 1916 when the sharif of Mecca proclaimed its independence.
The first stamps of Hejaz were designed by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), a British officer sent to assist the Arabs in their revolt against the Turks.
One of Lawrence's stamps, a ¼-piaster green Mosque Door Panel Carving stamp, Scott Saudi Arabia Hejaz L1, is shown in Figure 9.
In the 19th century, Swiss hotels were often built in remote mountain districts to provide secluded and restful vacations.
Some were so remote that they were not serviced by the Swiss postal system, so the hotels provided private postal services for the convenience of the guests.
The hotels issued stamps to pay for carriage of the mail from the hotel to the nearest Swiss post office. These hotel local post stamps are listed in the German-language Zumstein Swiss Specialized Catalog, Vol. 2, and in the Amateur Collector's Swiss catalog, a dealer price list.
A Swiss hotel post stamp from the Hotel du Mont Prosa, St. Gotthard, is shown in Figure 10.
The Shanghai and China treaty ports stamps are examples of truly local Scott-listed stamps that are not prefixed with the letter "L."
European mercantile settlements in China in the 19th century established municipal governments in treaty ports that were virtually independent of Chinese control.
Many of these municipal governments established local post systems for internal mail delivery. Eventually a postal system was developed to deliver mail between the various treaty port cities.
The Shanghai local post and treaty port local post stamps are listed without prefixes after the regular listings for China in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers, 1840-1940.
An 1894 2-candarin rose Pagoda and Junk stamp, China Treaty Ports, Chungking Scott 3, is shown in Figure 11.
Many so-called local posts are in operation today. Some are just for fun, while others raise money for charitable purposes.
Still others actually provide a real and necessary service. A local post can be as simple as a grade school system for delivering valentines or as complex as a city courier service. Collecting local post stamps and covers gives an added dimension to a stamp collection, whether the stamps are listed in the Scott catalogs or not.
Information on this fascinating specialty is available from two groups. For modern local posts, contact the Local Post Collectors Society, Peter Pierce, 7 Pratt Ave., Oxford, MA 01540-2826. For the 19th-century U.S. local posts, contact the Carriers and Locals Society, John D. Bowman, Box 38246, Birmingham, AL 35238-2436.