US Stamps

Cover includes invitation to laying of cornerstone in 1856

Feb 8, 2022, 1 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

The content of a cover is often more interesting than the cover itself. In the example shown in Figure 1, we have an ordinary-looking stampless cover canceled June 17, 1856, in Northampton, Mass. The cancellation is not scarce, but inside the cover is something of more interest. As shown in Figure 2, it is a fancy printed invitation.

The invitation reads: “Gentlemen, The Corner Stone of the Insane Hospital at Northampton, will be laid, on the morning of the 4th of July next. You are respectfully invited to assist in the ceremony.”

It is signed “Per order of the Committee, Sam’l A. Fiske, Secretary.”

Inside the invitation is a list of 66 members of the “Committee of Arrangements.” Even without invited guests, this group would have made an impressive showing.

The asylum was the third such state institution in Massachusetts, and despite the terminology used in the invitation, its proper name upon completion was the Northampton Lunatic Asylum.

The asylum received its first patients Aug. 16, 1858. Shortly after that, it had a population of 220, 20 more than the original plan, which specified a maximum of 200.

By 1980, the hospital registered its 64,500th admission, but contemporary court decisions operated to reduce the patient load and ultimately eliminated the use of the facility.

The hospital closed in 1993, and the next year, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. However, the buildings were later demolished.

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