US Stamps

John M. Hotchner

Two 1950 covers show free forwarding of merchant mariner mail

May 25, 2018 09:30 AM

  • Sent from New York to California, this 1950 cover bears a handstamped message saying that the content is properly paid mail to a merchant marine crew member whose ship had sailed before receipt of the letter. At that time, the Post Office Department allowed such mail to be forwarded without additional cost.
  • Also from 1950, this cover sent from Pope & Talbot Lines in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to the company’s Steamship Division in New York City has a pasted-on message in place of postage.

U.S. Stamp Notes – By John M. Hotchner

As recently as 1972, mail for crew members and passengers of merchant ships could be forwarded to them without payment of additional postage.

Two examples are shown here. Both are dated in 1950, and the two covers bear nearly identical inscriptions.

The first cover, from Sept. 29, 1950, is addressed to California and bears a printed return address of J.H. Winchester & Co. Inc., steamship agents and brokers of New York City. The handstamped message in red in the upper right reads:

“This Parcel contains Merchant Marine Crews Mail forwarded in bulk by Authority Third Assistant Postmaster General. No Postage Required, Proper Postage Affixed By Senders of Letters in Accordance with Operation Regulation Governing Merchant Marine Mail.”

This cover includes a typewritten “SS SOLFA” above the address. It was backstamped Oct. 3, 1950, in Los Angeles.

The other cover has a Pope & Talbot Lines, San Juan, Puerto Rico, printed return address and is addressed to the same company’s Steamship Division in New York City. In red in the lower right is “Crew Mail/SS P&T Adventurer.” The pasted-on message that is in place of the stamp reads:

“This envelope contains mail for members of Merchant Marine forwarded in bulk  by Authority Third Assistant Postmaster General”

The 1972 date at the beginning of this column refers to the Domestic Mail Manual for that year, in which Section 234.31, reads:

As an alternative to 234.2 and 243.2, ordinary (unregistered) articles of correspondence (except those which appear to contain merchandise) addressed to crew members or passengers on board a ship may be forwarded in the international mail, by surface or air, in one envelope addressed to a ship or travel agency under the following conditions:

a. The envelope in which the articles are to be forwarded shall be approximately 9 inches by 6 inches in size, and shall be supplied by the sender. Do not put postage on this envelope but place the following endorsement in the upper right corner of the envelope:


b. The envelope must be presented unsealed at the mailing office for check of the contents. Any additional postage required must be paid on each of the articles enclosed, as follows:

(1) Articles of United States Origin. Pay on each article the difference between the postage already paid and the appropriate international rate (surface or air) to the new country of designation.

(2) Articles Originating in Other Countries. If envelopes [sic] is to be forwarded by air, place full air postage from the United States to the new country of destination on each article enclosed. No additional postage is required if the envelope is to be forwarded by surface means.

c. If the envelope is intended to be transmitted by air, place lable [sic] 19 bearing the words ‘Par Avion’, in the upper left corner of the envelope immediately below the return address of the sender.

d. The total weight of the forwarding envelope and its contents is limited to 18 ounces.

Earlier versions must have allowed for postage free domestic forwarding.

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My copy of the Domestic Mail Manual is dated in 1988. It has no entries permitting this sort of free mail. My conclusion is that the service no longer exists in the United States.

Any Linn’s reader who can tell me more about the history of this service is welcome to email me.