In his famous treatise titled "Politics," Aristotle remarked, "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost." The printing press and the mail service have played key roles in making the universal participation Aristotle described a reality in the United States.
Since Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press in the 1440s, information has been best distributed by the printed word — books, newspapers, periodicals. Making it affordable for publishers to disperse these types of written materials through the mails, however, challenged the Post Office Department throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.
In 1847, when the United States issued its first two pre-paid postage stamps, the cost of stamps seemed exorbitant to the ordinary person, so the Post Office Department reduced rates in 1851, hoping to increase usage of the mail. It set the rate for printed circular matter at one cent per ounce for mail transported up to five hundred miles. Though this facilitated the diffusion of information to many citizens throughout the country, the rate still discouraged widespread use.
Due to the expense of sending large numbers of newspapers and periodicals through the mails, publishers often utilized private express companies. In an attempt to get a share of this business, the Post Office Department lowered bulk newspaper rates in 1863. In 1865 the first Newspaper and Periodical stamps were issued for prepayment of the rate. The rate was further reduced a decade later to just two cents per pound for publications issued at least once a week. The rate was cut in half in 1885, to just one cent per pound. These rate reductions finally made sending newspapers and periodicals through the mail affordable.
Postage now affordable, newspapers sprang-up all over the country, linking citizens with their state capitals and with Washington, D.C., and inviting greater citizen participation in politics. Clearly, Newspaper and Periodical stamps are a testament to a democratic government.
The Newspaper and Periodical section within Arago is still a work in progress. This category only displays a small portion of the Museum and the Miller Collections' Newspaper and Periodical stamps. The remaining denominations and sections will soon be included.