By: Tony L. Crumbley Covers
On June 1, 1861 Confederate Postmaster General John H. Reagan assumed control of all Southern post offices and began the operation of the Confederate Postal System. At this point all U.S. postage was invalid in the Southern states. This presented a dilemma. There were no Confederate postage stamps available and it would be October before the first stamps would be available.
Confronted with the problem of no postage stamps, the Southern postmasters were left to their own ingenuity to provide postal services to their customer without the benefit of adhesive stamps. In this interim time, postmasters provided postage payment in four ways: 1) they printed their own adhesive stamps, 2) they printed envelopes with pre-paid postage, 3) they would hand stamp envelopes on demand, and 4) they would manuscript envelopes to indicate payment of postage.
Using the literal definition of provisional - "for the time being" - "or interim" - any cover posted during the period before the issue of Confederate stamps would be considered provisional. This is not, however, the generally accepted definition. A Confederate provisional is one which the postmaster prepared in advance of posting and sold to postal customers for later use. Provisional markings can exist from three of the four types of covers. They may have existed in manuscript but there is no way to determine those that were prepaid in advance.
The confusion with provisionals comes with the handstamp marking, most of which were clearly stampless covers prepared by the postmaster when the cover was presented to him at the post office. At times, however, the postmaster had the need to prepare covers in advance and his handstamp device was the only item he had.
One must keep in mind that not only did postmasters not have stamps, they did not have small change. A fifty cent note was the smallest denomination issued. After stamps were issued they were commonly circulated as coinage but prior to their issuance the postmaster had to make do with what he had. His solution when provided a 5 cent rated cover and a $1.00 bill would be to run an account of what was due or provide the customer with handstamp paid covers as change that could be used at a later date. Examples of these can be seen from cities such as Sumter, SC, Camden, SC and High Point, NC. Proof of these hand back provisional hand stamps can be seen in unused examples and in examples where the provisional marking was superceded by applying a postage stamp over the stampless marking.
The Scott Specialized Catalogue lists 121 different towns which issued provisional stamps or covers and The New Dietz Confederate States Catalog and Handbook lists 55 towns with press printed or adhesive stamps. John L. Riddell, Postmaster of New Orleans, is considered the first postmaster to issue printed adhesive stamps. He was followed shortly by postmasters in Beaumont, TX, Lynchburg, VA, Macon, GA, Marion, VA, Memphis, TN and Spartanburg, SC. These seven post offices were followed shortly by numerous other offices.
Little is known of Postmaster General Reagan's attitude toward these provisionals but these issues were generally accepted as valid only at the office of origin. Postmaster Riddell had the sheet margin of his adhesives imprinted with "usable exclusively in the New Orleans post office."
The desirability of these covers to collectors is understandable when one knows the rarity of the known copies. The common provisionals, of which 300 to 400 examples are recorded, such as New Orleans, LA and Raleigh, NC carry a price tag of several hundred dollars. For the vast majority of the provisionals, fewer than a dozen copies are known. Many such as Gaston, NC, Salisbury, NC, Fincastle, VA, Franklin, NC, Mt. Lebanon, LA, Port Lauaca, TX and Rutherfordton, NC are unique.
To learn more about this interesting era of collecting, the author would suggest joining the Confederate Stamp Alliance. Details can be obtained from:
Col. Ron Teff
19450 Yuma Street
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Postmaster Riddell was the first postmaster to create his own adhesive stamp. This is an example of the two cent stamp paying postage on a circular to Washington, NC.
The New Orleans provisionals were made from wood cuts from which 40 stereotypes were made arranged in sheets of five rows of eight.
The control marks on the Salem provisional were press printed with a brass die. The rate was later added with a hand stamp or in manuscript. Two ten cent rate covers are known.
Having received a supply of stamps, when this cover was posted, the postmaster applied the stamp over the provisional handstamp.
Only six examples of this triple ring hand stamp have been recorded. It is considered this hand stamp was the control mark for prepaid postage.
This unused example of the rectangle wood cut paid 5 is evidence this marking was used as prepayment of postage. Twenty-three used copies and one mint copy have been recorded.
The Greensborough postmaster brought back into use an outdated hand stamp with the city spelled Greensboro. He placed a paid ten within the hand stamp and used this as a control mark to indicate prepayment of the postage. This cover was posted on November 10 (1863). It was later turned and reused from Columbia, SC where a type II Archer & Daly was applied. Twenty-six Greensboro provisionals have been recorded, two of which were turned covers.
5 cent, black 29mm x 2 1/2 mm, "N.B. PATTON" control
H.S. "PAID" ms "5," 30 mm CDS