US Stamps

The famed Mulready envelope comes to America

Jul 26, 2019, 7 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Postal stationery letter sheets, valued at 1 penny each, were created as part of the British Post Office’s postal reforms of 1840. These reforms also gave birth to the world’s first national postage stamp, the Penny Black picturing Queen Victoria.

Both stamp and postal stationery were sold starting on May 1, 1840, and were valid for postage beginning on May 6.

William Mulready designed this letter sheet, and it is named after him. An example of the Mulready is shown in Figure 1. The arresting art is titled “Britannia sending letters to the world.”

This Mulready envelope was canceled in Stockton on Jan. 21, 1841, and sent to nearby Darlington. The rate for inland use was 1d for up to half an ounce, and the Mulready has a “Penny Post” handstamp.

Although there are several Stocktons in England, this one is probably Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham, which was linked to the Darlington address by a rail line.

As can be imagined, the complicated design of the Mulready was the butt of jokes, was derided and ultimately was lampooned. Figure 2 shows one of these caricatures.

It stands to reason that something as prominent in philately as these letter sheets would somehow migrate west to America. They did, and I have two versions of a Mulready takeoff used by stamp dealer E.A. Holton of Boston, Mass., one of which is pictured in Figure 3.

This 1897 version is shown courtesy of Linn’s reader Bill Sammis of Ithaca, N.Y. An earlier example from 1890 illustrates that Holton used the Mulready design on his business mail for at least eight years.

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