Arago: Documents


Postal rates and regulations form letter


Sent to the Postmaster of Groveland, Illinois, in March 1838. This pre-printed form letter sent by Robert Johnston, Second Assistant Postmaster General, to all postmasters discusses the classes of postage and their rates as of 1838:

"The law fixes three classes of postage: [that] on letters, newspapers, and pamphlets. There are two rates of pamphlet postage: [those for] periodical and [non-periodicals]. In determining the rate of postage on any article, always [remember] that every thing sent in the Mail, which is not a newspaper, pamphlet, or magazine, or classed with these articles by the department, is to be charged with letter postage."

Rates of Letter Postage

Rates of Newspaper Postage

Johnston describes a newspaper as "a printed sheet, containing current intelligence, issued in numbers, at regular intervals. An extra newspaper is a sheet published by the printer ... between regular periods ... and sent to subscribers to give them early intelligence of events. A supplement is an additional sheet, issued with a newspaper, [to cover] matter that cannot be comprised in the paper."

Rates of Pamphlet and Magazine Postage

The postmasters are ordered to remove all wrappers covering newspapers, pamphlets or magazines. "Frauds are sometimes attempted by concealing letters or memoranda in these articles. A wrapper forms no part of the paper or pamphlet; neither is postage paid on it. It is a violation of law to enclose or conceal a letter, or other thing, in any newspaper, pamphlet or magazine ... in order that it may be carried free of postage ... [this also included] communicating intelligence by means of dots or marks, [or] designating particular words and letters contained in newspapers and pamphlets. In all such cases the newspaper, pamphlet, or magazine, should be charged letter postage." If the addresse refuses to pay, the item should be returned to the originating post office for the postmaster to prosecute the sender — the legal penalty being five dollars.

"You will exclude from the mail packets of every description weighing more than three pounds, and all articles that would hazard the security of the mails, or expose them to be worn or defaced."

And then explains the Regulations Governing All Postmasters, namely:

"The duties of your office must be performed only by you ... or by a sworn assistant[s] ...; no other person [is] to have access to the letters, newspapers, and packets, in your office.

No Postmaster can change the name of his office, without the order of the Department; in all communications to the Department, every Postmaster should [cite] the name of his Post Office, County, and State.

You [or your assistant] should always be in readiness to receive the mail when it arrives, and despatch it [quickly] ... you are allowed seven minutes only to change the mail. If carried [by] stage, coach, or sulky, the driver [must] deliver it as near the door of your office as he can come with his vehicle; but he is not required to leave his horses, neither should he be permitted to throw the mail on the ground.

At the end of every quarter ... last day of March, June, September, and December, you will make up your accounts and forward transcripts of them to the Department.

When a Postmaster resigns, or is removed from office, he should bring up his accounts to the time he delivers over the office, and forward transcripts of them to the Department ...

You are not authorized to give credit for postage, or to receive any thing but specie [coin] or its equivalent; all payments to the Department must be made in specie or its equivalent. No allowance can be made to Postmasters for the depreciation of money received for postage, nor for losses by fire, robbery, or theft.

At the beginning of every Post Office quarter you will require [newspaper] subscribers ... to pay the quarter's postage in advance; without such payment you will not deliver them any papers, even though they tender you the postage on them singly. At the end of a quarter you may refund the postage on [any] newspapers [that failed to arrive] at your office. The postage on newspapers that come occasionally, and on all pamphlets and magazines, is to be paid on each as they are delivered.

The [compensations; payments] of Postmasters are fixed by law, and the Postmaster General has no power to increase them."

paper; ink / printed; handwritten
Height x Width: 10 x 15 7/8 in. (25.4 x 40.32 cm) Height x Width (unfolded): 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.32 cm)
Museum ID:

  • Postal rates and regulations form letter
  • Postal rates and regulations form letter
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