After 15 years of editing and preparation, one of the most significant books in American postal history and philately is at the printer. With never-before access to the original Post Office documents, The Travers Papers: Official Records – United States Postal History and Postage Stamps – 1834-1851 tells the story of the design, production, distribution, and destruction of the first United States postage stamps, the fabled 1847s. The compilers, George Brett, Wilson Hulme, and most especially Tom Alexander have written essays placing these original documents within the political and social context of the American postal reform movement. Barbara Mueller contributed her decades of philatelic writing experience to the editing of this project. Not only does this book answer many important questions about the 1847 stamps themselves; it is the also most comprehensive collection of documents related to the U.S. Post Office during the years covered. Beginning in 1834, Tom provides the why and how background for the first U.S. stamp issue. Jim Lee will publish the 1300 page work as two clothbound volumes in a deluxe slipcase for $300 to be shipped around Thanksgiving. A pre-publication price of $225 (plus shipping) is only available until October 15th.
The survival of these original Post Office documents, a chapter in this new book, is itself a tale of mystery and intrigue. When Congress mandated a reduction in the cost of storage and the Post Office Department prepared for a massive destruction of documents in 1907, philatelist Arthur M. Travers conceived a plan to systematically select, transcribe, and preserve the original documents relating to the production of United States stamps. As Chief Clerk to the Third Assistant Postmaster General, the official responsible for stamp production and distribution since 1847, Travers had access to all the official records and correspondence. By 1910, he had located all the significant Post Office documents related to US stamps between 1847 and 1873 and prepared a manuscript for publication. Then Travers committed tragic indiscretion, he sold rare “blue paper” stamps from the Post Office vault to a Philadelphia dealer and pocketed the money. After he was indicted and fired, his manuscript along with the original documents disappeared; their whereabouts were unknown for most of the 2oth century. In the June 1997 American Philatelist (pp. 545-552), Wilson Hulme and Tom Alexander announced the recovery of both the manuscript and the original documents along with plans for their publication. A small sampling of the documents, a teaser, was published by George Brett in the 1997 American Philatelic Congress Book.
With the deaths of Wilson and George, Tom assumed full responsibility for the project. In his previous book, The United States 1847 Issue: A Cover Census(U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, 2001), Tom had already done extensive research on the first U.S. stamps. He elected to expand upon Arthur Travers’ original plan and collection of documents, making this new work a comprehensive examination of post office reform as it led to the production and distribution of the 1847 issue. The commentary that surrounds and explains these documents is a far-reaching examination of the US Post Office from 1834 until 1851. Some of the topics included are British postal reform, newspaper postage rates, private express companies, franking privileges, mail transportation, city carriers, the Cheap Postage Association, U.S. Mail Packets, the Anglo-American Postal War, and the firm Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson. The contributions and careers of Cave Johnson, George Plitt, Duff Green, Robert H. Morris, Selah R. Hobbie, John Marron, and George Bancroft are examined.
Three additional volumes covering the 1851-57 issues, the 1861-68 issues, and the remaining stamps issued to 1873 are planned to provide access to and commentary for the remaining documents originally preserved by Travers.