Effective Jan. 26, the United States Postal Service added a new pricing category called “metered mail” for a single first-class letter.
For letters up to the 3.5-ounce weight limit franked with a meter imprint or any “postage evidencing system postage,” the first-ounce cost is now 48¢.
Evidencing systems include PC postage, personalized postage and similar labels, and imprints with information-based indicia (IBI).
This novel metered-mail price reflects a 1¢ discount from the 49¢ cost of mailing a letter franked with postage stamps, or what the USPS rate tables now call “stamped” mail.
The additional-ounce rate is the same for both categories, at 21¢, which is also the current nonmachinable surcharge.
Figure 1 shows the new stamped- and metered-mail letter rates in an excerpt from the Jan. 28 USPS Notice 123 rate tables.
Eligibility for the new 1¢ metered-mail discount does not require a permit, statement, minimum number of pieces or any other condition not required by ordinary stamped mail as long as the mailer franks the item with an IBI label or imprint.
The new price category, introduced as part of the across-the-board rate changes implemented Jan. 26, will take time to become generally known by post office personnel.
Pitney Bowes, a major supplier of meter and postage systems equipment and services, posted an online news report Jan. 29 highlighting the challenge.
Titled, “Are you having difficulty with the Post Office accepting your First Class Mail letters metered at $0.48?,” the report noted, “One step the Postal Service took was to issue an internal Retail Digest Announcement, pronouncing the new Meter Rate Category and the payment methods that qualify for the one cent discount.”
The USPS announcement states, “It is available for Single-Piece mail whether it is mailed at retail (dropped off at a retail counter or dropped into a blue USPS collection box) or as a residual piece in a commercial mailing.”
Even though the Postal Service took an extra measure to inform clerks of the rate, the distinction of what constitutes “metered mail” versus stamped mail is still uncertain among some.
I decided to document the new rate with a 48¢ IBI label from a USPS self-service kiosk and a post office-dated cancel.
I first checked to verify that the counter clerk was familiar with the “philatelic hand-back” provision in the Domestic Mail Manual so I could get my cover back immediately. Technically, this is only allowed for postage stamps, since the new rate is intended for mail with metered postage that does not require the “work” of cancellation. But I was thinking of the spirit of the hand-back provision, allowing collectors to obtain cancels on mail that does not enter the mailstream, saving all further work.
The three counter clerks were aware of the 48¢ metered-mail rate, but they thought it applied only to actual meter-machine use. I brought up personalized postage such as PhotoStamps, explaining that such postage does not get machine-canceled since the USPS calls them meters.
The clerks seemed to agree but held that the kiosk dispensed stamps inscribed with a forever value for letters.
The postmaster accompanied me as I went to the kiosk. I obtained a 48¢ IBI label from the kiosk and affixed it to an envelope for cancellation at the counter (showing the clerk the two-dimensional barcode that fulfills the postage-evidencing requirement).
Figure 2 shows the result.
Unfamiliarity with the new rate among the mailing public is to be expected, depending on the size of the office and the marketing efforts of the postage-system suppliers. A quick check of a trash can at my small suburban post office on Feb. 4 turned up the overfranked example shown in Figure 3. Mailed by a local automobile dealership, it is franked by a 49¢ Hasler meter imprint dated Feb. 3.
Any mailer-applied meter imprint of 49¢ in the current rate period is an overpayment.
There is one situation in which a letter bearing 49¢ IBI postage is not overpaid in the current rate period. If a post office clerk applies a PVI (postage validation imprinter) label to a letter, the stamped-mail rates apply.
This new 2 percent discount for using IBI-type postage could mark a further decline in the use of regular and commemorative stamps. This in turn would reduce the supply of used stamps to the hobby. But among small businesses and home offices — the mailers most likely to be switching postage methods — some might opt to use postage stamps as a distinctive touch.
Ironically, the Scott catalog editors recently raised the minimum catalog value of used U.S. single stamps from multiple-design commemorative issues. This change was in reaction to recent market trends showing lower supplies of this format to support hobby demand, even before the lower meter rate arrived (Linn’s, Feb. 17, page 55).
Ronald Blanks has collected stamps since 1968. He currently specializes in U.S. postal history of mechanical improvements.