Thursday, January 24, 2013

1800s envelope featuring a surprising red wax stamp

Old envelopes can still be cool, even when they're empty.

Here's what I can tell you about the front of this envelope:
  • It's about the size of an index card.
  • It's from the 1800s.
  • The name "C. Robinson" is written across the top.
  • It's addressed to Hon. Wm. H.L. Bayley of Bristol, Rhode Island.1
  • The partial postmark includes the words "D.C." and "FREE".

On the back of the envelope is a red wax stamp, 1¼ inches wide.

Take a closer look at it...

The text around the edges of the stamp reads "HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES U.S." The center features what looks like an eagle and an olive branch. Pretty cool! This was most likely a letter sent by a member of Congress roughly a century and a half ago.

The "FREE" on the partial postmark on the front of the envelope would seem to confirm that this politician had the franking privilege. Check out this excerpt from Wikipedia. The bold section is my doing:
"In the United States, the franking privilege predates the establishment of the republic itself, as the Continental Congress bestowed it on its members in 1775. The First United States Congress enacted a franking law in 1789 during its very first session. Congress members would spend much time 'inscribing their names on the upper right-hand corner of official letters and packages' until the 1860s for the purpose of sending out postage free mail. Yet, on January 31, 1873, the Senate abolished 'the congressional franking privilege after rejecting a House-passed provision that would have provided special stamps for the free mailing of printed Senate and House documents.' Within two years, however, Congress began to make exceptions to this ban, including free mailing of the Congressional Record, seeds, and agricultural reports. Finally, in 1891, noting that its members were the only government officials required to pay postage, Congress restored full franking privileges. Since then, the franking of congressional mail has been subject to ongoing review and regulation."

I think, to spice things up, we should return to the practice of sealing all of our mail with wax stamps, but I'm not sure the United States Postal Service would be too thrilled with that idea.

1. William H.L. Bayley is listed as a surveyor in a government tome titled (deep breath) "Register of All Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1849; with the Names, Force and Condition of All Ships and Vessels Belonging to the United States, and When and Where Built; Together with the Names and Compensation of All Printers in Any Way Employed by Congress, or Any Department or Officer of the Government."


  1. I have received a number of envelopes with sealing wax. Most from Europe arrive in beautiful condition. Some from the US do, too, but mostly the wax is broken, or gone and there is just a residue. I think the condition might have more to do with the quality of wax used than the rough handling of postal machines.

    That envelope is quite amazing. I love the seal, but I love that the envelope is actually a piece of political history more. So much cooler than campaign buttons!

  2. Oh, and I forgot to add. The envelope reminds me of one the new postage stamp issues ...