Saturday, March 19, 2005

Boots & Glue: Early Postal Methods

Did you know . . .

. . . the typical “mailbox” in early rural America might consist of nothing more than a secret knothole in some landmark tree at the side of the road near the farmhouse? Mail-bearing stagecoach drivers knew the deposit locations of residents along their routes. So did trusted neighbors who, by mutual agreement, brought out mail from the post office in town, when convenient. The “post office” in those generations often was the public house (tavern). Town dwellers had designated cubbyholes for their own mail in a desk or cabinet of the pub.

Some farmers provided boldly conspicuous mail receptacles. A common device was an old boot tied or nailed, open end facing outward, to a post or tree at roadside. In appreciation for the stage drivers’ service, a few of the farm folk put crude water troughs beside their “mailboxes.” This not only demonstrated their thanks but provided an incentive for the rushing drivers to stop and deliver their mail (on those rare days when the farmers had any).

Postal stamps weren’t used in America before 1847. Originally, stamps had to be glued to the letter. If you had only a 10-cent stamp (bearing George Washington’s image) and you needed just 5 cents postage, you were allowed to cut the stamp in half.


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