Postage History

In one week we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the establishment of a post office in Jamestown, New York. On December 30, 1816, James Prendergast became the postmaster of the new post office in Jamestown. Jamestown had been known as “The Rapids” before that, but with the hope of the post office, a “proper” name for the growing settlement was chosen. (That is another story for some other time.) The post office was located in the Prendergast store on the corner of East Second and Main Streets. Richard Hiller, a relative of James Prendergast was a clerk in the store, and is the one who wrote the records in the first account book of the post office. This book is on display at the Fenton History Center.

Before a post office was established in Jamestown, mail was brought here from Mayville or Buffalo or from towns further east as settlement advanced westward and mail had to be carried to these post office to get it mailed. The rate charged for the transportation of a letter was based on distance traveled. About 1800 it cost 25 cents to send a letter from Boston to Washington, D.C. This would have been a single sheet of paper. This single sheet was folded so that the writing was inside and the outside had a blank space on which to write the address, the return address, and the postage amount required. No stamps and the folded paper would be sealed with sealing wax.

Recipients would often be the ones to pay the postage to be able to get the letter. Newspapers regularly ran a list of letters remaining at the local post office. If one’s name appeared on the list, one would have to go to the post office to retrieve the letter addressed to them.

Eventually stamps were used and the sender would buy the required stamp, affix it to the envelope, and the letter would be on its way to the addressee. But there had to be a way to indicate that the stamp had been used so that it could not be reused.  The postmaster after payment would then make a mark over the stamp thus canceling its reuse. Each postmaster had his own way of marking stamps. Some surviving envelopes with stamps show a line or two lines drawn over the stamp with a pen. Sometimes an “x” or other type of mark was penned. After a while, hand stamps with a variety of designs and ink pads were in used to mark the postal stamps.

The designs gave way to a hand stamp that gave the place/post office from which the letter was mailed and the date it was canceled. We still see this information on much of the mail today.

Pictured: Caption-Three envelopes with different cancellations for the stamps. The left one mailed from Iowa in 1858 has an inked hand stamp cancellation. The middle envelope mailed in 1855 from a different place in Iowa has a handwritten with pen cancellation. The one on the right was mailed from
Fredonia, New York in 1858 and is canceled with an inked hand stamp showing the place and date of mailing. These envelopes are from a collection of letters at the Fenton History Center.

200th Anniversary Celebration

On December 30th the Fenton History Center will be holding a special event to celebrate this 200th anniversary celebration of the Jamestown Post Office.  This will be held from 11:30 am – 1:30 pm at the Fenton History Center.    The program will begin at noon with addresses by Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, Jamestown station Post Master Eugene Oyer, Fenton Board President Richard Lundquist and Fenton Collection Manager Norman Carlson with additional local stories from Fenton Archivist Karen Livsey.  All are welcome to attend to celebrate this special date in Jamestown’s history.  Staff and volunteers will be on hand to collect information or recollections about the Jamestown post office.  Artifacts and archival pieces from the Fenton collections will be on exhibit during the afternoon.

Commemorative Hand Stamp Available

A special hand stamp has been created for the occasion.  Staff members from the Jamestown Post Office – Main Post Office will be there to hand stamp visitors’ chosen items at 11:30 and following the program.  The hand stamp is customized with an image of the 1904 post office building.

All are invited to receive a commemorative hand stamp of the anniversary, either by bringing an envelope ready to mail that day, with a current stamp, or by purchasing a commemorative envelope with an image of James Prendergast, the Fenton Mansion, the anniversary handstamp and signatures of the current Jamestown Post Master, Mayor, Fenton History Center Board President and Director.

If you chose to bring an envelope to mail, please have it addressed and stamped so that the two-inch by four-inch commemorative hand stamp can cancel the stamp.  The hand stamp will be available at the Main Post Office on E. Third Street until May 1, 2017.  However one can mail a letter or postcard only on December 30.

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