US Stamps

By Tony Wawrukiewicz

Invalid postage on domestic U.S. mail from 1954 to the present

October 28, 2014 02:35 PM

  • This May 11, 1954, letter mailed at Burlington, Vt., was first franked at the 3¢ domestic surface letter rate with a 3¢ United Nations stamp. A postal worker in Vermont considered the letter unpaid and unmailable, and marked it “Returned for Postage” and “Postage due 3 cents.” The writer paid the correct postage with the 3¢ Thomas Jefferson Presidential stamp, and the letter was correctly remailed to the addressee May 14.

I recently was asked whether, in 2000, special delivery stamps were valid as postage on Express Mail.

It’s important to note that by the year 2000, and in fact as of June 7, 1997 (according to the United States Postal Service’s Postal Bulletin 21946 for May 22, 1997), special delivery service was discontinued because Express Mail service had totally replaced it.

So the question is really, in the year 2000 could special delivery stamps that a person still had on hand be used as postage on an Express Mail item? Were such stamps valid as postage?

Let’s look at the history of valid postage. I am unable to locate any statement before 1954 that addresses the validity of postage use of special delivery stamps. Only with the Postal Manual Post Office Services Circular 1 of Oct. 18, 1954, Section 141.6, do we find:

“All postage stamps issued by the United States since 1860 are good for postage from any point in the United States or from any other place where U.S. Mail service operates except from the Panama Canal Zone where special Canal Zone stamps are used. The following are not good for postage:

“a. Mutilated or defaced stamps;

“b. Stamps cut from stamped envelopes, letter sheets, or postal cards;

“c. Nonpostage stamps (documentary internal revenue stamps, Migratory-bird hunting stamps, U.S. saving and thrift stamps. etc.);

“d. Postage-due, special-delivery, and special-handling stamps.”

The Postal Manual Post Office Services Transmittal Letter 77 of Sept. 6, 1960 (and possibly earlier) added boat stamps to item c, certified stamps to d, and included:

“e. United Nations stamps, except on mail deposited at the United Nations, New York.

“f. Stamps of other countries.”

Finally, at some point between the Domestic Mail Manual issue 4 of Oct. 1, 1980, and the DMM issue 20 of Nov. 14, 1985, stamps overprinted with an unauthorized design, message, or other marking were declared equally invalid.

From that date until the present, the list of invalid postage stamps has remained unchanged.

Therefore, from Oct. 18, 1954, until the present, any use of special delivery stamps as postage was invalid.

I cannot illustrate any invalid use of special delivery stamps as postage; however, I can show an attempt to use a United Nations stamp outside of New York City that was caught, and the letter was returned to the writer for postage due.

Unfortunately, this example is dated May 11, 1954, a date that predates any official statement that I am able to find about the validity of such a use.

On the other hand, John Hotchner has pointed out to me that he knows of a number of uses where invalid postage was disallowed before any official notice of invalidity was published. Therefore, this early invalid use of a U.N. stamp that was disallowed before any official announcement that such a use was invalid is not that unusual.

The May 11, 1954, Burlington, Vt., letter pictured on page 41 was first franked at the domestic surface letter rate of 3¢ for up to one ounce with a 1954 United Nations 3¢ Ear of Corn stamp (Scott 23).

At least by Sept. 6, 1960, this stamp could only pay postage at the U.N. post office in New York City.

As far as the postal worker in Vermont was concerned, the letter was unpaid, unmailable, and marked “Returned for Postage” and “Postage due 3 cents.”

The writer paid the correct postage with the 3¢ Thomas Jefferson Presidential stamp, and the letter was correctly remailed to the addressee on May 14.

Tony Wawrukiewicz and Henry Beecher are the co-authors of two useful books on U.S. domestic and international postage rates since 1872. The third edition of the domestic book is now available from the American Philatelic Society, while the international book may be ordered from the web site