US Stamps

By John M. Hotchner

Unusual postage dues: letter to Santa and albino stationery

December 27, 2013 08:01 AM

  • Figure 1. A postage due attempt made on an envelope sent to Santa Claus using a label from a booklet of U.S. stamps.

  • Figure 2. An albino postal stationery impression that should not have been charged postage due.

  • Figure 3. Were the postal personnel laughing so hard they forgot to charge postage due on this cover using an underwear label?

  • Figure 4. The cartoon caption contest stamp for January is the $2 Inverted Jenny stamp issued in 2013. There will be a winner for the best philatelic and nonphilatelic lines. Rules to enter the contest are in the accompanying article. Entries must be received by Jan. 27.

When to charge postage due and when to ignore the formal rules likely ranks high on the day-to-day questions that test postal personnel. Two examples nearby prove the premise.

First is the Santa Claus letter in Figure 1. The label applied as franking is struck with a cancellation saying “Portland,” but the year date is not readable.

That message label is from a 1964 booklet pane of the 1962 5¢ Washington stamps (Scott 1213a).

The return address area shows a name, without an address. Santa Claus was the intended recipient. The postal clerk who handled the letter quite properly rated the letter as postage due because the message label had no postal value.

But someone further along on the chain recognized that without a return address it could not be returned for postage, and that it just wouldn’t be right to charge Santa.

So, “postage due 5 cents” was scratched out and the letter was presumably delivered to Santa’s Portland branch office. The next question is how it got from Santa’s archives to the stamp dealer who sold it to me, but perhaps that is better left as a mystery.

The second example is shown courtesy of Mike Lampson of North Carolina. It is a 1961 4¢ Franklin albino window business envelope in Figure 2. The image of the printed indicia is clearly visible under the 4¢ postage due stamp. It should not have been charged postage due. as the sender had purchased the envelope from the post office in good faith. It wasn’t his or her fault that the envelope got the impression of the stamp but no ink.

What likely happened is that the recipient had to pay the postage due for the pleasure of receiving what was probably a bill.

Albino postal stationery is not rare in the era up to the early 1960s and can be found with the postage credited as well as rated postage due. Trying to find one of each for your collection might be a challenge, but would make an interesting page for your album.

Waist-size postage

Thirty-three cents was the first-class letter rate on Aug. 5, 1999, when the Figure 3 cover began its journey from Lynn, N.C. to Laguna Niguel, Calif. It is something of a miracle that the cover was not identified as subject to postage due.

Is it possible that there is anyone who does not recognize the logo of Hanes underwear — in this case, a waist-size 30 tag which was pasted on the cover to mimic a stamp and 30¢ of the 33¢ needed?

To me, this is the single most unusual stamp substitute I have ever seen on a U.S. cover, made more so by being credited as genuine postage.

Thanks to Throop Brown of North Carolina for reporting this extraordinary cover.

Cartoon contest

Only 85 years after the 1918 24¢ Inverted Jenny sheet was purchased by William T. Robey at a post office in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Postal Service recognized the event by issuing a stamp that mimics the error.

In a move that has proven controversial, 100 panes of six were produced with the airplane right side up and randomly distributed with the normal sheets. This from the USPS perspective is a brilliant and clever marketing move that has collectors nationwide buying extras hoping they might hit the jackpot.

The collector community seems to be split on the wisdom of this strategy. Yes, it has gotten the issue and the hobby of stamp collecting free publicity, and perhaps encouraged some new folks to sign up for the hobby. But the question must be asked: Should the USPS be in the business of intentionally creating limited edition varieties?

Panes of the inverted Inverted Jenny currently have an offer-to-buy price in the range of $15,000 to $25,000. Any bets as to whether this situation will encourage the USPS to do more of this sort of thing?

How do you feel about this issue? The normal inverted version is the cartoon caption contest stamp for January (Figure 4). You are invited to put on the pilot’s goggles and tell me what you think they might be saying about the new stamp. You can also reflect on the original error, philately in general, or anything else that appeals to you.

Two prizes will be given: one each for the best philatelic and nonphilatelic lines. Put your entry (or entries) on a postcard if possible and send it to me, John Hotchner, Cartoon Contest, care of Linn’s Editor, Box 29, Sidney, OH 45365; or e-mail it to Be sure to include your mailing address.

For each winner, the prize will be the book Linn’s Stamp Identifier, published by Linn’s (a retail value of $12.99), or a 13-week subscription to Linn’s (a new subscription or an extension). To be considered for a prize, entries must reach Linn’s no later than Jan. 27.

Why not enter now while you’re thinking about it?