US Stamps

Early 20th-century attempt to save charity mail from trash

Oct 14, 2020, 8 AM
The Ohio Humane Society came up with a novel way to interrupt the automatic mailbox-to-trash-can reflex because of the illustrations on this cover. The mailing was done in 1920 or after based on the stamp’s vintage.

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

The day’s mail arrives, and likely the first thing you do is sort it into open and pitch piles with the latter going straight into the trash can.

It was ever thus, but the Ohio Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals found a way to fight back as shown here.

According to the handstamp on this cover, the society was sending printed matter — no doubt the usual literature on its work and the value of contributions to it. The objective was to encourage donations, an end not furthered when postal patrons trashed the mailing.

To help meet this objective, the society placed two illustrations prominently on the envelope telling recipients “DON’T” throw the mailing in the trash.

The cover has no date and no address, nor is there any evidence that an address label has been removed. My supposition is that a postmaster was handed a stack of these envelopes and asked to put one in each post office box.

When it comes to determining the approximate date of the cover, the postage stamp, which was affixed over the trash can image, helps. This stamp is Scott 542, the 1¢ green Washington printed by rotary press and perforated gauge 10 by 11, issued May 26, 1920.

How well did the graphic work? Since we have no access to comparative donation totals for the society, it is hard to say.

What I can say is that, then as now, most such mailings are unloved and unread. But I’ll bet in this case a lot of people were amused enough to take a look at the contents.

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