US Stamps

By Tony Wawrukiewicz

Modern U.S. Mail: Why were some postage due stamps “VOIDED” on U.S. mail?

May 21, 2015 05:18 PM

  • This well-traveled Dec. 18, 1961, third-class item was finally delivered to its third address, where the recipient paid 6¢ postage due, including the 3¢ due for the voided stamp.

  • This 1956 business reply mail envelope has a postage due meter strip of 4¢ (domestic postage plus business reply mail fee), voided when forwarded, but with no new postage due stamp added. This may have been because both old and new addresses were in the same postal zone.

Historically, postage due stamps on mail were used when unpaid postage was collected from an addressee. In such a case, the postal worker would obtain credit for the postage due stamps, the addressee would pay cash for the postage that was due, and the postal worker would thus be reimbursed for the postage due stamps.

However, if postage due stamps were affixed in the expectation that the amount due would be paid and instead the letter was undeliverable, forwarded or treated as dead mail, the postal worker had to obtain credit for these unreimbursed stamps.

This crediting process was complicated and is described in a number of official postal documents, including various Postal Laws and Regulations of the United States of America.

As of July 1, 1956 (see Postal Bulletin 19952, June 7, 1956), the procedure changed radically. From that date, canceled postage due stamps affixed to mail that was forwarded or returned or treated as dead mail were to be “voided,” and the postage due clerk had to claim the value of the postage due stamps for purposes of reimbursing his fixed credit.

This voiding and the method of claiming the value of the postage due stamps were new processes.

Beginning on that date, before mail with postage due stamps affixed was forwarded or returned to another post office, or transferred for delivery from a station or branch of the same office, or such mail became dead, the postage due clerk was to add a “VOIDED” rubberstamped marking on the postage due stamps.

After the stamps had been voided in this way, the mail was to be released for dispatch in the regular manner, marked for forwarding or return. Dead mail was handled as prescribed by Section 346.2 of the PL&R.

Mail bearing voided postage due stamps that was received at any office, station or branch was to be treated in the same manner as other postage due mail. The new, complicated method by which the postal worker received credit for the voided postage due stamps was explained in detail in the same Postal Bulletin cited above.

The voided postage-due process is demonstrated by the Dec. 18, 1961, third-class item in the first illustration. The piece was prepaid at the up-to-two-ounce domestic single-piece rate of 3¢ with the 3¢ Liberty stamp (Scott 1054) of the 1954 Liberty series.

It was then forwarded the first time, due 3¢ at the single-piece third-class rate for forwarding third-class matter, paid by the 3¢ postage due stamp (Scott J68).

The item was undeliverable at the first forwarding address, and was further forwarded to yet a third address. As per the new regulation, the 3¢ postage due stamp was marked “VOIDED.”

The item was deliverable at the third address, but now an additional 3¢ fee was due upon delivery for the second forwarding, for a total of 6¢ due from the addressee. The 6¢ postage due stamp (Scott J71) indicates that the total amount due was collected from the addressee at the third address.

In the second example shown of voided postage due stamps, a Nov. 8, 1956, business reply mail (return-paid) envelope was used to collect both the return surface domestic postage of 3¢ and the 1¢ business reply mail fee, for a total of 4¢ due, indicated by the 4¢ postage due meter stamp applied to the envelope.

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However, because the business had moved, the business reply mail envelope was forwarded. This forwarding of a business reply mail envelope is, in my experience, quite rarely seen. Also quite unusual (but understandable since this was a business-related forwarding) is the fact that the forwarding address was on a handstamp that was presumably given to the postmaster by the business.

It is unclear to me what happened next, because the envelope was apparently forwarded locally to Box 6002A in Zone 80 (that is, possibly to the same postmaster who would eventually claim credit for the postage due stamp). Therefore, it seems possible to me that voiding of the postage due stamps was not required in this case.

It is possible that the postmaster realized this after the forwarding took place, which was why no new 4¢ postage due stamp was placed on the envelope.

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 Wawrukiewicz's web site.