US Stamps

By John M. Hotchner

How did a stampless Christmas card make it through the mail?

November 19, 2016 09:00 AM

  • With no postage paid and a pasted-on label, this postcard should have had 2¢ postage due collected, but there is no evidence of postage due being requested or paid. Was it an experimental format for a telegram?

By John M. Hotchner

In a Jan. 7 U.S. Stamp Notes column, we looked at the 1923 stampless Christmas card shown nearby. 

It has a clear machine cancel from Montclair, N.J., dated Dec. 27, 1923. Because of the placement of the cancel, it is evident that there was never a postage stamp on the card. 

There is, however, a pasted on greeting that starts “Prepaid,” and continues: “Here’s a Christmas lettergram/Sent by hand of Uncle Sam/Fifty words the law permits/To the person who remits,/Ticked off by the ringing chimes/LOVE! Repeated fifty times.”

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The question posed in the column was this: How did this postcard go through the mail without postage? 

Several Linn’s readers wrote in with theories. Carl of atticpostcards.com suggested what I think is the most likely answer: “I’m wondering if the ‘lettergram’ is the key to it. A lettergram was a telegram’s duplicate printed message sent to the recipient via the post office. So it was probably legal for the telegraph service to paste stuff on their messages, as opposed to Joe Public on theirs.

“So, the lettergram message may have been produced by the telegraph service as some kind of Christmas promotion — maybe as a way to get a postcard quickly to someone anywhere in the country.”

This is supported, I think, by the fact that both the cancellation and the address are in Montclair, N.J. However, Carl points out that there is no signature on the card as would be the normal practice with a telegram. 

Gene Setwyn of Loganville, Wis., suggests that the card may have been delivered as a Christmas present. In other words, no postage due was assessed because it was Christmas. I’m inclined to doubt that because of the “prepaid” notation.

So, thus far, we have a working theory, but not a definitive answer.