Postal History Lecture – November 6, 2010

There's Alway's Work at the Post OfficeWhen historian Philip F. Rubio began work in the Denver Bulk Mail Center in 1980 he was acutely aware that his pay and benefits had been won a decade earlier in the Great Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970. After 20 years in the Postal Service, mostly as a letter carrier, he left to complete a Ph.D. in history at Duke University. Although originally motivated by a desire to tell the stories of the men and women whom he worked beside for two decades, Rubio combined his insider’s perspective with oral histories and extensive archival research to produce a groundbreaking labor history of the Post Office in the 20th century, There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality. While tracing the history of black employment in the Post Office since Reconstruction, Rubio reveals both the significance of Post Office jobs in the black community as well as the role of black activism “in shaping today’s post office and postal unions.”

Rubio will discuss his book and sign copies at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (NPM) on Saturday, November 6th, at 1:00 p.m. If you are not able to attend, the lecture will be streamed live and archived on the public events page of the NPM.

To preview his book, use the “View Inside” tab; UNC Press provides access to the table of contents, introduction, chapter 1, and the index on-line. There is also a full text search function for this title. The price, from UNC Press, is typical for academic press titles – $65 hardbound, or $24.95 paperback plus postage.

Civil War Propaganda Reconsidered

Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil WarDuring the Civil War, stationery printers in the North and South produced at least fifteen thousand different pro-Union and two hundred fifty different pro-Confederate patriotic envelope designs. Steven R. Boyd, a long time collector of patriotic envelopes and Professor of History at University of Texas – San Antonio, provides a fresh perspective on them in his new book, Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War: The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers. Although there is already a rich body of philatelic books and articles, Boyd has written the first book-length scholarly analysis of these patriotic envelopes and lettersheets. He explores their imagery and iconography to gain an understanding of what motivated soldiers and civilians to support a war that became far more protracted and destructive than anyone anticipated in 1861. While Northern envelopes typically argue for the importance of preserving the Union and preventing the destruction of United States, Confederate covers, in contrast, usually illustrate a competing vision of an independent republic free from the “tyranny” of the United States. These envelopes also reveal much about changing roles for women and African Americans in America due to the war.  

This book is another example of the growing academic awareness of stamps and covers as appropriate primary sources for scholarly study. Boyd previewed some of the material from his book at the Fifth Postal History Symposium in September.

The 192-page hard bound book, with 181 color illustrations, is available from LSU Press for $36.95 plus shipping, but if you order online before the end of the year with the code 04ANNIVER you can take 35% off the list price.

Postal History Discovery in the Archives

Registry Receipt
1904, Post Office Record of a Registered Letter from Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania to St. Louis

 

Coincidently with Larry’s posting about October being Archives month I stopped in Bellefonte, on my way home from attending the Postal History Symposium, to examine an archival collection at the American Philatelic Research Library. It consists of ledgers and official papers from the Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania Post Office spanning the 1890s until the early 1940s. As this gift had not yet been fully processed, I offered to inventory the materials and help prepare a finding aid in exchange for being able to peruse the two boxes.  

Not only do I expect to use some of these materials with a Summer Seminar class that I will be offering on U.S. Post Office forms. But, I also found an opportunity for more research on the role of Registered Mail in rural America. While a single form may shed light on the handling of a particular piece of mail, a Post Office ledger or collection of forms can reveal much about the operation of an individual post office and perhaps provide a window into postal operations more generally. Several years ago, I made an in-depth examination of a Registry Book from the Post Office in Stony Hill, Missouri that allowed me to draw conclusions about commerce in rural American two decades before RFD and three before Parcel Post. Since publishing that article, I have sought other Registry Books to test whether my conclusions are valid for other locations, economic conditions, and time periods. My cursory examination of the single Registry Book in this collection suggests that Registered Mail served a different function in Aaronsburg in the first decade of the 20th century than it did in Stony Hill in the 1880s.  

There are no doubt other undiscovered archival gems at the APRL. We expect to begin posting finding aids online next year; volunteers interested in helping should contact Tara. In the mean time, you are welcome to discuss your research projects with the library staff to learn what resources might available to support your projects.

New Vaccari Catalog

Vaccari CatalogThis weekend I received Vaccari’s 28th philatelic literature catalog, la Libreria Filatelica, in the mail. In addition to the sections on Italian States and the Italian Kingdom and Republic, the scope of the catalog is international with a strong European emphasis. The major sections include catalogs, dictionaries & handbooks, airmail, military, colonies & occupations, rates & regulations, revenues, thematics, postcards, and numismatics; plus a section for used and rare titles. At the back, tete-beche style, is their third catalog of general history titles, again heavily Italian and European.

Not only booksellers, but also as publishers and scholars, Paulo Vaccari sets such high standards for research and printing quality in his own titles that I regret never having learned Italian. Also, for over 20 years they have published the award winning Vaccari Magazine, a semi-annual postal history journal.

They continually update the electronic version of the Vaccari catalog with much of it bilingual, Italian and English. Their web site also includes press releases and a philatelic news blog in Italian.

Postal History in Georgetown

C&O Canal BoatOn Saturday after the Postal History Symposium, my daughter Helen and I lunched in Georgetown before we toured the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park. This engineering project began in 1828, where Rock Creek meets the Potomac River, with the goal of creating a link to the Ohio River. Had the canal been finished, it would have created a navigable waterway from Chesapeake Bay to Missoula, Montana. However, by 1850 as railroads began to dominate transportation and communication, the canal had been dug only 184 miles to Cumberland, Maryland where it ends today, far short of the Ohio River. As we rode the replica canal boat, pulled by a pair of mules at 2 miles-per-hour, past the historic factories and mills that now house trendy restaurants and boutiques, I mused about the mail contractors who once traveled the towpath to serve Post Offices along the canal.

Bartleby's BooksAfterwards we stopped at Bartleby’s Books on 29th Street. Although they had only a couple philatelic titles in stock, I did not get the puzzled looks that so often greet requests for our literature. And, when I asked Karen Griffin, one of the owners, for postal history and Post Office documents she graciously searched their pamphlets and ephemera stock. The find of the day was the 1794 edition of the Postal Laws and Regulations containing the Post Office Act of 1794, 14 pages of “Regulations to be Observed by the Deputy Postmasters in the United States,” a table of Post-Roads from Passamaquoddy, Maine to Greensborough, Georgia, and 8 sample post office forms showing their correct use. This store certainly warrants a return visit.

Attending the Postal History Symposium

Jack Trammell
Jack Trammell presenting at the Postal History Symposium

Last Thursday, I completed an eleven-day philatelic road trip that included the fifth annual Postal History Symposium and a stop in Bellefonte to prepare for next year’s Summer Seminar. This will be the first of several postings related to the trip. 

Rather than various aspects of postal operations and reform that have occupied previous symposia, the speakers this year examined stamps from the perspective of “Imagery, Icons, & Identity.” To answer the frequently asked question of how the USPS selects stamp designs, John Hotchner led off the symposium with a history of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), on which he served for 12 years. Most interesting to me was to learn that when Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield established CSAC in 1957 the committee included a representative from the U.S. Information Agency to advise on stamp designs for Cold War propaganda. This probably accounts for the Champions of Liberty and Credo issues. 

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New Swiss handbook released

The American Helvetia Philatelic Society (AHPS) has released a wonderful introduction to Swiss philately with 32 chapters that cover the expected topics like classic cantonal issues and airmail – as well as topics like Hotel Post and Soldier Stamps that are particularly Swiss. Each attractively laid-out chapter was written by a different collector who specializes in the area, under the editorship of Richard T. Hall. If you are searching for a new collecting area, the book provides collecting tips and guidance for beginning collectors of Switzerland. At the same time, it will be an important reference work for experienced collectors. One of the valuable reference tools is the multilingual philatelic dictionary on CD. This 352-page, full color, hardbound volume with dust jacket, including the CD is $65 post-paid from the AHPS.

Smithsonian Publishes Postal History

Postal History Symposia bookAlthough the title – Smithsonian Contributions to History and Technology, No. 55: The Winton M. Blount Postal History Symposia: select papers, 2006-2009 – is rather ponderous and academic sounding, the latest volume from the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press is a lively collection of essays that examine postal history within the larger contexts of social, political, and economic history. The 16 not previously published essays, by 18 authors, were selected from over 60 papers presented at the first four Postal History Symposia: three from 2006 “What is Postal History?”; a single from 2007 “Further, Farther, Faster: Transportation Technology and the Mail”; four from 2008 “When the Mail Goes to War”; and half the volume from last year’s “Postal Reform” conference at the Match Factory in Bellefonte. Full disclosure – the final essay in volume is mine, “Cheap Postage: A Tool for Social Reform.” Considerable credit goes to Tom Lera, at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (NPM), for orchestrating and editing this volume.

The 170-page, soft bound, full color volume is available free from the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press – click on the Ordering Link and follow the instructions for sending an e-mail request at the bottom of the page; be sure to request “Contributions to History and Technology, No. 55.” Or, you may download the full text as a pdf file.

The Postal History Symposia are an annual project of the NPM along with the American Philatelic Research Library, and the American Philatelic Society. They were conceived as a venue for bringing together philatelic and academic postal historians, allowing them to interact and share their research. One measure of success is that seven of the 18 authors in this volume are academic or public historians, who do not collect stamps. The next symposia, “Stamps and Mail: Imagery, Icons, & Propaganda” is September 30th and October 1st at the National Postal Museum.

Introducing David Straight

David StraightGood Morning!

The sun is coming up in St. Louis – this is my time of day – the quiet, early morning before phones ring and e-mail announces new messages. Libby, our rescued poodle mix, is napping in front my armchair after a dawn walk.

Perhaps, you already know me through my Colophon column in the Philatelic Literature Review, or an article in one of the magazines where I share my stamps and covers. In any event, I would like to say a few words about my plans for this blog, my collecting interests, and my non-stamp background.

Writing a news column for a quarterly journal has always been frustrating because of the long gaps between issues. The plan is that my blog posts will complement, not replace, the Colophon. Blog posts will allow me to share news about book releases, literature awards, and research opportunities in a timely fashion as I discover them. In the Colophon, I will strive to provide information in greater depth and perhaps review some of the books announced. No doubt, it will take a little time to strike the proper balance between the two media; hopefully the relationship will evolve in response to readers’ comments.

Continue reading “Introducing David Straight”