MYSTERY COVER

June 25, 2008 - The scan below was sent me by collector John Hedley, with his analysis, and some questions. My response follows his analysis. Further inquiries led to answers - read on.


(Click on image for hi-res version)

JOHN'S ANALYSIS:

Entire with a One Shilling green -Type J25. Large White Corner Letters from Plate 4. See S.G. G.B. Q.V. Fourth Edition (page 208).
Note the vertical perforations. The left hand side has a wide margin while the right hand side perforates the following horizontal stamp.  
Also has a 1d Red - Plate 81 - with B in all four corners.
See S.G. G.B. Q.V. Fourth Edition (page 171) Section G -
One Penny, Type G1, Letters in all Corners
1864 (April 1). Original Issue

Each stamp has a London Chief Office '1844 type' cancellation
In this case the number 20 enclosed in a diamond within a barred oval
See Stanley Gibbons G.B. Q.V. Fourth Edition (pages 27 & 28).
An oval cancellation LOMBARD STREET F.O. JY 5 65 has also been applied in red.

On arrival both stamps were cancelled by a red cds
 NEW YORK AM PKT 1863 JUL 17?
This is an impossible date. Does the 1863 mean something else?
Or a wrongly dated hand stamp was used?
Also applied (on arrival) is a 21 CENTS 'cachet', again in red.
What does that signify? It can't be for 'postage due' as the shilling stamp alone is more than enough

Plate 4 for the One Shilling stamp was put to press on 8th DEC 1864, which again makes a JULY 1863 date impossible.

 See below for enlarged view of cancels


(Click on image for hi-res version)

My response to John:

The 1863 in the New York handstamp is definitely a date, so it must have been a mistake.  
 
As for the 21 cents, I have a vague idea of how international rates worked back then, involving each country's stamping a letter to take its share of the  postage as the letter entered that country, so I think the 21 cents is the New York office taking the U.S. share of the postage, though it seems like too much.  I think the exchange rate was something like $4 to a pound, so the postage (13 pence) would have been worth almost exactly 21 cents, and they would have been taking it all!  
 
But that's a lot of supposition on  my part, so let me try to find someone else who really knows.  I will post your cover and analysis on a web page and send the link to a couple of friends.  
 
Stay tuned.

6/28/2008 - I just discovered this page which provides the USD to GBP exchange rate for any year from 1791 to the present, and found that the rate in 1865 was actually $7.69 (though it was rather volatile at the time), so the 11 pence of postage on this cover was actually worth 35 cents. That leaves only 14 cents to cover the British portion and ocean crossing of the cover's journey, and 21 cents seems like WAY too much for the US portion.

6/28/2008 - later - I emailed Michael Laurence, Editor of the US Philatelic Classics Society journal The Chronicle ( visit their web site) - and he suggested I post an inquiry on Richard Frajola's message board - (HERE).

Julian Jones responded almost immediately, and explained all, as follows:

NEW YORK AM PKT 1863 JUL 17 is probably a mistake in the year part of the date slug. The LONDON postmark of 5th July 1865 is consistent with the sailing of the Inman Line's 'City of Washington' which departed Liverpool 5th July, collected mail off Queenstown 6th July and arrived New York 17th July 1865.

The 21 CENTS was applied in London to credit the US Exchange Office with their portion of the postal charges (namely 16c ocean passage and 5c inland postage). The GPO kept just 3c (1 shilling = 24c). The 1d pays a late fee in London. The mail was probably bagged for the London to Holyhead TPO, crossed the Irish Sea on the H&K Packet , was sent down to Queenstown by rail - where it was put aboard the 'American' liner. All possible even tho' the letter was probably posted in London after the ship had left Liverpool. Inman Line was considered to be an 'American Packet' under the terms of the Anglo- American Postal Treaty of 1848 - which applies here.

My thanks to Mr Jones for the answer, and to Mr Frajola for providing this resource.

6/28/2008 - still later - Steven Walske, another frequent contributor to Frajola's message board, added this:

Here's another example of that NY year-date error - this one on an 1864 usage.


(Click on image for hi-res version)

So it looks like the New York office had a very careless clerk.

Steven's cover is a rare and valuable example of a MAILS SUSPENDED cover from the US War Between the States. Starting in mid-1861, mail service from the North to the South was suspended. Letters addressed to addresses in the CSA were sent to the Dead Letter Office, thence returned to the sender. More about mail service of that era here - http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/letterwriting/lw04.html.

Link to a Siegel auction page with several more of these MAILS SUSPENDED covers - http://www.siegelauctions.com/2003/859/y85921.htm.


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Created -- 06/25/2008
Revised -- 06/25/2008