Old postage not accepted?


Here we have a story of an old Christmas card that was never delivered from 1914. What caught my eye was this line:

This is seriously so low on things to be concerned about, but this was a paid for stamp that was never delivered by the post office. The 1 cent stamp should be honored to this day, right??? Especially since it was used and sent into the system. It would be one thing if it sat in someones home since 1914 and then delivered to the post office today with a 1 cent stamp… but it was sent into the system with an approved stamp in that time period.

It should be honored, yes?

My take: poorly written story. If I can read between the lines, the card probably was written, mailed and received in 1914. It almost certainly had a postmark and cancelled one cent stamp. No reason to believe that it wasn’t delivered to Ethel Martin in 1914.

Someone in IL. recently found the old card, put it into a new envelope with forty-one cents postage and sent it to "Ethel Martin/. Oberlin KS. Post office in Oberlin gets it, knows she’s long dead, looks inside, somehow searches locally to see if a relative is still alive, finds Bernice Martin is still alive, sends it to her.

Mystery solved. But the story, as written, makes it sound like the card was stuck in the system somehow. I think not.

Gettig away from the details of cancelled, not, etc, embedded in that story …

The OP is asking whether a letter which had proper postage when given to the post office should be delivered today even though postage rates are now different. What follows is US-centric, but probably applicable elsewhere.

Clearly after a postage rate increase you can’t put the old rate’s first class stamp on a letter, turn it in to the PO, & expect them to deliver it. They’ll turn it back & demand the extra 2 or 3 cents.

But equally clearly, the day before a rate increase many letters are put into the system with the proper old stamps affixed and are delivered a 3-5 days later after the rate increase is in effect. There is no postage due at the recipient for the difference. So they will deliver mail which entered the system at one rate and exit it at another.

So the question really is “How long is that guarantee of delivery at the old rate good for?”

I wasn’t able to locate anything in the USPS DMM that specifically addresses lost/misdirected mail processing, much less time limits on it. Damn. But at least we understand the problem.
In an interesting twist, the UPS has begun selling stamps which have no price on the face, but which simply say “first class postage”. (example: http://shop.usps.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10152&storeId=10001&categoryId=11830&productId=29351&langId=-1) These are sold for the current rate, 41 cents, but will be accepted as complete first class postage even after rate increase(s). So you can now buy insurance before a rate increase, and at zero premium other than the time value of your money.

These are different from the lettered stamps they often sell just after a rate increase which are sold for the new rate but were printed before the new rate was fixed.

When the mail is accepted into the system at the point of lodgement (or at the first processing facility if lodged in a street box), that’s when the postage is checked, if it’s checked at all. After that, nobody who handles that letter will do much about it. For example, at the facility where I work, I sometimes come across a tray of several hundred “cleanskins”. This is blank mail with no postage. It shouldn’t be this far into the system. It might be that a customer has posted it that way deliberately to defraud the post office, or it might be an error on our part (bulk mailings have the postage affixed by us, not by the customer) due to the clerk at the point of lodgement not doing his job properly. By the time it gets to me, I have no way of knowing which it is, and I have to assume the customer did the right thing, and that it’s our fault. As for the value of stamps, I honestly never look at the things - I’m scanning town names at high speed. Also, postal rate rises usually have a grace period in the order of weeks, not days. During that period, they won’t sell you the old stamps, but will accept them for postage.

The above applies to Australia Post, but I’m wagering the USPS would be similar in most if not all aspects.

Which is actually rather a hefty premium: if you assume a mere 5% per year ROI, the cost of postage would need to increase a bit more than 2 cents per year for you to break even.

Put a different way:

The post office makes pretty well jack out of you and your letter to Aunt Zelda. The big money is in the multi-million dollar lodgements made by the likes of American Express. The latter type of mail is easy for the post office to deal with - when the Amex truck backs up to the mail facility to unload a million credit card statements, the post office charges the rate as it applies on that day. If the price went up last midnight, tough noogies American Express. After that, the mail pieces just bear “POSTAGE PAID ATLANTA” or whatever on them, and subsequent postal employees would have no idea what the postage rate was, and nor would they care.

This leaves Aunt Zelda’s letter with the stamp on it, and it’s easier, cheaper, and better PR for the post office to offer a decent grace period. Case in point: at the facility I used to work at, we had a guy doing “hand rolling”, which is old fashioned manual cancelling of stamps. These days that is only done to the handful of articles that can’t be fed through the machines. Management ended up doing away with that job, because it was found to be cheaper to let the occasional scrooge steam off a stamp for reuse than it was to pay a guy to obliterate them.

I never suggested it was a good investment…

The real payoff comes in not having to fuss with the make up stamps & the extra trip to the PO.

I have read in the past that the letter stamps were not acceptable for international postage since the actual denomination needs to be visible to the other national post offices so they can settle up properly. I’ve seen no mention of that with these stamps which leds me to wonder if the prior was UL, or I just haven’t looked at the internatinal rules. Other than postcards home from foreign vacations, I’ve probably sent 3 peices of international mail in 40+ years, so it’s hardly a big issue personally, but enquiring minds want to know …

I work in a post office, and the question arises every time the rate goes up.
And the answer they send to all of us in reminder letters is: The rate in effect is the one when the person relinquished the mail to our control.
If it was dropped in a mail box at the old rate and not picked up until the rate had changed, it’s our problem, not the sender’s, since it was in our control and out of theirs.
So that’s the rule: Must have sufficient postage when it enters our control, and then there’s no more fees.

That sounds right – if the letter had still been in the P.O.s possession when it was found, they would have delivered it without additional postage.

The PO does seem to have one exception for rate increases: SASEs that accompany story submissions. I always have stories out when there’s an increase, often having been mailed before the rates go up, and I always get the rejection, even without additional postage and even if the publisher mails it after the change.

I should add that uncancelled stamps are good indefinitely. You can take old stamps to the Post Office and they will honor them for face value.

Be careful here; the reason this stamp is good forever is because it says “FOREVER” on it; not because it says “FIRST CLASS POSTAGE”. Many US stamps are no-denominated but only the FOREVER stamps are forever.

British stamps have been denominated as “1st” and “2nd” for quite a few years now, and they are valid whatever the current rate of postage.

Looks like the card was misdirected to an Illinois post office, according to this. I’d say the card did get stuck in the system,. Other news reports suggest that the penny stamp was insufficient postage even in 1914 – although how, I’m not sure. Perhaps the card was larger than average size?

As for old postage being accepted: NZ changed from pounds, shillings and pence in 1967, and so did our stamps. But I do have an envelope in my collection, mailed in the late 1970s or so, where someone (rather cheekily, I suspect), used old stamps, in pence, and the mail go through. Wouldn’t happen all the time, though.

Thanks for that link with a video. One comment: the “stamp” that is on that postcard is not a real US stamp. So, the post office couldn’t deliver it(although, I’ve seen postcards from the period with a “postage due” being delivered). And it also appears to be a normal postcard from the period, and one cent would have been the correct rate for a postcard.

This is not true of every postal service. Some of them set time limits on the validity of stamps, or periodically proclaim all stamps older than a certain age void.