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Illinois Rural Letter Carriers' Association

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Watch this video and join us in Creating The History That Will Shape Our Future.

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Stamp Your Way Through History

In 1775, when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General, the U.S. Post Office was born. So important was the Postmaster General that in 1829 this position was included among those in the President's Cabinet. As America began to grow and new towns and villages began to appear, so too did the Post Office along with them. The dates and postmarks generated from these places often has provided the historian with a window into a given time and place in question. Each postmark is uniquely distinctive with its own name of state and town, in addition to its distinctive date.

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An Act of Congress of March 3, 1845 (effective July 1, 1845), established uniform (and mostly reduced) postal rates throughout the nation, with a uniform rate of five cents for distances under 300 miles (500 km) and ten cents for distances between 300 and 3,000 miles.[16] However, Congress did not authorize the production of stamps for nationwide use until 1847; still, postmasters realized that standard rates now made it feasible to produce and sell "provisional" issues for prepayment of uniform postal fees, and printed these in bulk. Such provisionals included both prepaid envelopes and stamps, mostly of crude design, the New York Postmaster's Provisional being the only one of quality comparable to later stamps.
Congress finally provided for the issuance of stamps by passing an act on March 3, 1847, and the Postmaster-General immediately let a contract to the New York City engraving firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson.[22] The first stamp issue of the U.S. was offered for sale on July 1, 1847, in New York City, with Boston receiving stamps the following day and other cities thereafter. They consisted of an engraved 5-cent red brown stamp depicting Benjamin Franklin (the first postmaster of the U.S.), and a 10-cent value in black with George Washington. Like all U.S. stamps until 1857, they were imperforate.

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1857 saw the introduction of perforation, and in 1860 24¢, 30¢ and 90¢ values (with still more images of Washington and Franklin) were issued for the first time. These higher denominations, especially the 90c value, were available for such a short time (a little over a year) that they had virtually no chance of being used. The 90c stamp used is a very rare item, and so frequently forged that authorities counsel collectors to shun cancelled copies that lack expert certification.[21]

In February 1861, a congressional act directed that "cards, blank or printed. . .shall also be deemed mailable matter, and charged with postage at the rate of one cent an ounce." Private companies soon began issuing post cards, printed with a rectangle in the top right corner where the stamp was to be affixed. (The Post Office would not produce pre-stamped "postal cards" for another dozen years.)
The 1861 stamps had in common the letters "U S" in their design. To make them differentiable from the older stamps at a glance, all were required to have their values expressed in Arabic numerals (in the previous series, Arabic numerals had appeared only on the 30¢ stamp). The original issue included all the denominations offered in the previous series: 1¢, 3¢, 5¢, 10¢, 12¢, 24¢, 30¢ and 90¢ stamps. Numerals apart, several of these are superficially similar to their earlier counterparts—particularly because Franklin, Washington and Jefferson still appear on the same denominations as previously. The war greatly increased the amount of mail in the North; ultimately about 1,750,000,000 copies of the 3¢ stamp were printed, and a great many have survived to the present day, typically selling for 2-3 dollars apiece. Most are rose-colored; pink versions are much rarer and quite expensive, especially the "pigeon blood pink".

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The stamps of the 1920s were dominated by the Series of 1922, the first new design of definitive stamps to appear in a generation. The lower values mostly depicted various presidents, with the 5c particularly intended as a memorial of the recently deceased Theodore Roosevelt, while the higher values included an "American Indian" (Hollow Horn Bear), the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate (without the bridge, which had yet to be built), Niagara Falls, a bison, the Lincoln Memorial and so forth. Higher values of the series (from 17¢ through $5) were differentiated from the cheaper stamps by being designed in horizontal (landscape) rather than vertical format, an idea carried over from the "big Bens" of the Washington-Franklin series.
During World War II, production of new U. S. 3¢ commemorative stamps all but ceased. Among the three issues that appeared in 1942[40] was the celebrated Win the War stamp,[41] which enjoyed enormously wide use, owing partly to patriotism and partly to the relative unavailability of alternatives. It presents an art deco eagle posed in a "V" shape for victory surrounded by 13 stars.[41] The eagle is grasping arrows, but has no olive branch. A notable commemorative set did, indeed, appear in 1943–44, but its stamps, all valued at 5 cents, were not competitive with the Win the War issue. This was the Overrun Countries series (known to collectors as the Flag set), produced as a tribute to the thirteen nations that had been occupied by the Axis Powers.

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In 2006, the USPS applied for permission to issue a first-class postage stamp similar to non-denominated stamps, termed the "Forever® stamp".[12] The first such stamp was unveiled on March 26, 2007, and went on sale April 12, 2007, for 41 cents (US$0.41).[13] Termed the "Liberty Bell" stamp, it was marked "USA FIRST-CLASS FOREVER". On October 21, 2010, the second Forever stamp, featuring pinecones on evergreen trees, was issued for the holiday season. Coils of Forever stamps were first issued on December 1, 2010, in the se-tenant format with Lady Liberty and the Flag design. A re-design, announced June 16, 2011, featured four American scientists: Melvin Calvin, Asa Gray, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and Severo Ochoa. In 2011, all first-class stamps were changed to Forever stamps.

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