US Stamps

John M. Hotchner

Looking up detailed postal rules

October 08, 2018 09:15 AM

  • Figure 1. Detailed rules regarding operation of the Postal Service can be found in the continuing series of Postal Bulletins published by the United States Postal Service. Sometimes reference to them is essential to understand what has happened to a piece of mail, as in the case of this 1956 cover with a pointed finger “Return to Writer” message.
  • Figure 2. Editions of the Postal Bulletin going back to 1880 can be searched on the website www.uspostalbulletins.com. Shown is part of the homepage of the site.

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

Postal rules can be arcane, but there is a reason. The American public, in the course of sending mail (almost 150 billion pieces of mail in 2017), presents the United States Postal Service with an amazing array of situations bearing on the ease or difficulty of delivering all that mail.

The Postal Service tries to manage this impossibly complex situation by publishing detailed rules for the benefit of the mailing public and for its own employees. These rules are published in the Postal Bulletin. Now released every two weeks, it began as a daily publication in 1880 (originally called Daily Bulletin of Orders Affecting the Postal Service.)

The Postal Bulletin provides procedural guidance that can prevent the acceptance of mail that will be problematic, delineate the circumstances when certain types of mail can be accepted, and explain to senders why something was returned as undeliverable.

For those of us who collect post office auxiliary markings, the compilation of these Postal Bulletins is an invaluable resource, and one which is available to collectors, thanks to the work of a team lead by Tony Wawrukiewicz, Linn’s Modern U.S. Mail columnist.

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Here is where you can find it online at the website. The title of the site is the “Digitized US Postal Bulletins and PL&Rs.” The latter refers to the Postal Laws and Regulations, another series of Post Office Department publications.

Here is an example of an instance where the Postal Bulletins are useful. The 1956 cover shown in Figure 1 was sent from Green Bay, Wis., to a person attached to the military in Germany, with an APO address. The cover bears only 2¢ U.S. postage in the form of a meter.

It was returned to sender with a pointing finger handstamp, and the message “Dispatch Prohibited By Order #19848 See Postal Bulletin June 2, 1955.”

Looking up that Postal Bulletin, I found a notice headed “3d Class Circular Mail Addressed to Overseas APOS’s.”

The notice read: “Some postmasters are erroneously accepting third-class circular mail addressed to overseas APO’s.

“Such matter is not mailable to APO addresses and will not be dispatched overseas. This restriction does not apply to other third-class mail such as house organs, news or church bulletins, books or catalogs.

“Postmasters shall see that employees are appropriately instructed on this subject.”

Figure 2 shows part of the home page of the “Digitized US Postal Bulletins and PL&Rs” website. The tab “US Postal Bulletins FAQs,” takes you to a page with information about how to search the Philatelic Bulletins on the site.