US Stamps

USPOD gives serious reply to 1924 postal complaint

Aug 9, 2023, 12 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Complaining about postal service is not a new phenomenon. Consistency is good as a general matter, but the propensity of postal patrons to complain may be an exception to the rule.

The 24¢ stamp of the second United States airmail set (Scott C6) was issued in 1923 to pay the cross-country airmail rate for transit over three 8¢ zones. Figure 1 shows the stamp.

In 1924, a collector sent the cover in Figure 2 with the intention of getting a San Francisco-to-New York first-flight cachet. The cover arrived without the cachet, so the sender decided to apply to get his money back on the assumption the letter was not sent by airmail and should only have been charged the normal surface rate of 2¢.

Writing on behalf of the third assistant postmaster general, a staffer reported the results of the U.S. Post Office Department’s investigation:

“In further reply to your letter of July 14th last, requesting a refund of the postage in excess of that chargeable at the regular rate on the letter submitted by you and returned herewith, which was intended for transmission by air mail but which you say was not so carried, you are advised that the matter has been carefully looked into.

“The postmaster at Santa Barbara, California, where the letter was mailed and with whom the subject has been taken up, advises that the letter in question was dispatched to San Francisco via train No. 75 in a package labeled ‘Air Plane Mail’ and there is no evidence to indicate that the letter was not carried by airplane.

“The mere fact that it bears merely the mark of the Santa Barbara post office does not warrant the conclusion that the letter was not carried by airplane. While instructions were issued to place upon the first mail carried by airplane over the route established July 1, an inscription indicating that fact, it is understood that the notation did not appear on each piece of mail so carried, due to unavoidable causes.

“As it appears from the information obtained that the letter was actually carried by airplane, no refund of any part of the postage can be made.“

This is a masterpiece of bureaucratese. I particularly like the “unavoidable causes” excuse. It’s also notable that the drafter probably had formal training in how to construct run-on sentences, as he proves himself proficient in that art.

Still, it is impressive that the USPOD handled the complaint in a thorough and serious manner befitting a public service agency.

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