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Newspaper Stamps- What and Why?

Our Newest Expert - Meet Doc M. Pepper

I am a United States Newspaper stamp expert! I am a leader in my field! To this my wife replies “Uh huh, and just how many newspaper stamp collectors are there, Mr. Leader? Are there at least 50?” Hmm…well…actually that number seems a bit high. I’ve gone to a couple of stamp clubs and shows where few, if any, have even heard of United States newspaper stamps. So let’s start there.

Oh, first, I do have a web site: and four publications about newspaper stamps (this makes me an expert you know). I’ll be lifting some of this edification out of my publication: United States Newspaper Stamps: 1865-1895- The Regulars.

So, starting back in 1863:

ACT OF MARCH 3, 1863

And be it further enacted that the Postmaster General may from time to time provide by order the rates and terms by which route agents may receive and deliver, at the mail car or steamer, packages of newspapers and periodicals delivered to them for that purpose by the publishers or news agents in charge thereof, and not received from or designated for delivery at any post office.

Under this act route agents were allowed to collect money for newspaper delivery right on the trains and ships without having to route the bundles through the post office. Of course this made it a bit difficult to track how much money should have been delivered to the post office, versus how much was actually delivered. Thus, on November 15th, 1865 the Postmaster General reported:

New stamps have been adopted of the denominations of 5, 10, and 25 cents for prepaying postage on packages of newspapers forwarded by publishers or news dealers under the authority of law, whereby a revenue will be secured hitherto lost to the Department.

The new stamps were PR1-PR3 (and later PR4). They were big (about 2” by 3 ½”) so as to be easily seen. The rate was 1 cent a pound.

The PR 1-4s were attached directly to bundles of newspapers with thick glue (brushed on by hand) and canceled with brush strokes using a thick black or blue ink. Since they were then tossed around on bundles on newspaper, surviving genuine used PR1-4 newspaper stamps are very rare (but fake used stamps are very common). On my web page I have a census of every genuine PR1-4 I know. Be aware this is a "conservative" census. I have seen many "used" PR1-4 newspapers, but I remain to be convinced they are all genuine. I have shown the backs when I have them since that thick glue was very hard to get off and pieces of newspaper and wrapping usually remain. “Used” newspaper stamps with perfectly clean backs are suspect.

On February 1st, 1869, Third Assistant Postmaster General A.N. Zevely discontinued the use of newspaper stamps and the Post Office went back to its old way of collecting postage in cash. It is not known why this action was taken, but the original problem of accounting for cash collected soon arose again and by late 1873 plans was made to once more start using newspaper stamps. The Continental Bank Note Company was commissioned to work on new designs.

By now rates were a bit more complicated. If the periodical was issued weekly or more often, the rate was 2¢ a pound. If the periodical was issued less frequently, the rate was 3¢ a pound. This led to 24 newspaper stamps issued in 1875 having values ranging from 2¢ to $100 with most values being divisible by both 2 and 3, explaining the odd values of the newspaper stamps such as 84¢, 96¢, and the ever fun $1.92 value.

Starting with the 1875 issue, the usage process changed. Now you took your bundle of periodicals to the post office, had it weighed, and paid the post master the required amount due. The postmaster put the corresponding amount of newspaper stamps in a receipt or stub book and stamped them immediately. The books were later sent to Washington for accounting and destruction. Here is an example from 1876 of Stub No. 170 from a Carson City, Nevada post office receipt book for the Appeal, which was Carson City’s daily newspaper in 1876.

Now this stub should not exist. The receipt books were supposed to be sent to Washington D.C. for accounting and then destruction. But obviously some slipped out. It should be noted newspaper stamps were still not available to the public (the stamps were only for Post Office use) and in fact it was illegal for the public to have newspaper stamps in their possession (they were to be assumed stolen)!

The United States Bureau of Imprinting and Engraving took things over in 1894 and created new designs resulting in PR102 to PR125. With the rate back to 1 cent per pound, all the odd values weren’t needed any more and the number of different values dropped from 24 to 12.

Actually what began to be questioned at this time was why newspaper stamps were needed at all. In true bureaucratic fashion postmasters had to put stamps (that no one ever handled but themselves) in a receipt book, annotate all the sales information in the receipt book, and then also fill out form 3235 with all the same information. Both were then sent to Washington. So why not just fill out the form?

In 1898 this is exactly what was approved and all remaining newspaper stamps were sent back to Washington for destruction.

“But wait!” called out the stamp collectors. If newspaper stamps are now obsolete, it must not be illegal to own them anymore. Can we buy remainders?” After some debate it was decided this would be permissible. And, upon further debate, it was decided the set, with a face value of $187.93 (about $6,000 in 2020 dollars), would be sold to collectors as a cost of $5.00 a set ($157.66 in 2020 dollars) with the thinking that more money would be raised with this approach. So be it! This is why the last set of newspaper stamps- PR114-125 are the most common.


Doc M. Pepper

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