5c red brown Franklin on folded letter
In 1847 the United States followed the example of postal reform set by Great Britain in 1840. To facilitate the prepayment of postage by the sender, the Post Office Department issued adhesive stamps to be affixed to mail pieces. Unlike Britain, the United States did not require prepayment at first; it remained optional until 1855.
The Post Office Department issued two stamps on July 1, 1847—a 5-cent red brown stamp featuring an image of Benjamin Franklin and a 10-cent black stamp featuring an image of George Washington. The private security printing firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson printed the stamps.
As established by the Postal Rate Act of March 3, 1845, and effective July 1, 1845, the 5-cent stamp carried a half-ounce domestic letter up to 300 miles. The 10-cent stamp paid the half-ounce postage for greater distances. These rates replaced a much more complex and expensive set. In 1851, when even lower rates went into effect, a new series replaced the 1847 series.
The era of the 1847 stamps predates the common use of envelopes. The 5-cent red brown Franklin cover shown here is a typical example of a 'folded' letter - that is, a letter written on one side of a sheet of paper and then folded, with the letter inside, into a rectangular shape roughly equal in size to today's envelopes. Wax sealed the letter. The correspondent wrote the address on the front and affixed the stamp, usually in the upper right hand corner, just where the postage had been handwritten in earlier days.
The letter featured here was posted at Boston, Massachusetts, and addressed to Providence, Rhode Island, a distance of less than 300 miles.