Welcome to our site! Advanced Search

United States of America


CURRENCY 100 cents = 1 dollar.

Thirteen separate English colonies grew up on the North American seaboard between 1607 and 1775. Initially, parallel developments by Holland and Sweden had begun, particularly in the area of New York. This area was settled by the Dutch in 1625, who called it New Netherland and named the city on Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam. The British drove the Dutch and Swedes out in 1664 and it was named New York after the Duke of York, who was given the area by his brother, Charles II.

First combined action of the colonies against Britain was taken at the Congress of Philadelphia (1775), where Benjamin Franklin (see below) was elected to be postmaster-general to control inland mails. This was one of the first revolutionary acts of the colonies.

After the War of Independence (1775-83), Britain recognized the United States of America, and the country gradually expanded westwards. The permanent establishment of the northern frontier (between Maine and New Brunswick, 1842; 49th Parallel, 1846) and the absorption of Texas (1845) gave the United States the potential boundaries that enclose the 48 mainland states of today. Though steady progress was disrupted in 186 1-5 by the secession of the Confederate States and the ensuing Civil War, the discovery of gold in California in 1849 started the first rush to the West.

Alaska (purchased from Russia 1867) and Hawaii (annexed in 1898; territory of USA, 1900) had statehood conferred in 1959.

Postal History (Colonial period)
The earliest extant letter recorded is dated 8 August 1628 from Manhattan in New Netherland ('Manhates in Nieuw Nederlandt') to Hoorn. Mail to Europe from Boston, Massachusetts was the subject of local legislation as early as 1639, and the first (short-lived) overland intercolonial service between New York City and Boston was established in 1673. Regular official posts date from 11 November 1692, at first under patent to Thomas Neale (the first serious attempt to organize an intercolonial system) and after the Act of Queen Anne in 1711 under the monopoly of the British crown directed from London. Post-riders carried the mail by land and private packets by sea between New York and Bristol. The appointment of Benjamin Franklin (jointly with William Hunter) as Crown Postmaster-General in North America in 1753 brought improvements. Admiralty mail packets between Falmouth and New York began on 18 September 1755. The first handstamps (town names, Bishop marks, etc.) date from this period. An overland mail from New York to Quebec was established in 1763 (see Canada). The high rates charged for letters were a cause of resentment in the colonies, though the Stamp Act of 1765, applying a revenue tax to newspapers, was a more immediate cause of the War of Independence. Franklin was dismissed from office in 1774, but William Goddard, a newspaper proprietor, started to usurp the Crown's prerogative to carry inter-colonial mails.

Postal History (since Independence)
During the war North American packets served troops loyal to Britain, after the defeat at Saratoga terminating at Philadelphia (1778) and Charleston (1780). The states in rebellion maintained a packet service with France. In 1782 the US postal service was made the monopoly of the central government. In 1784 the Falmouth packet service was resumed with a British packet agent in New York. By 1789 there were 75 POs. Post-riders were used on most routes, though some stage-coaches were operated from 1782. The use of handstamps of origin increased after 1800.

All steamboat routes were declared 'post roads' from 1823 and all railroads from 1838, but from 1836 to 1839 the Eastern Pony Express still rode the Philadelphia-Mobile section of the New York to New Orleans mail service. The first (unofficial) adhesive stamps were issued by a local private carrier in New York on 1 February 1842. A reform of postal rates to a simplified system (on 1 July 1845) led to the general adoption of adhesive stamps. In 1845 there were 14,183 POs; an independent system with 119 POs in Texas was absorbed in 1846.

Some postmasters issued provisionals in 1845-7. US government stamps first issued 1 July 1847 (these were made available in 30 states, three territories and Panama.)

Prepayment of postage was made compulsory on 1 April 1855, and prepayment by means of postage stamps on 1 January 1856.

Between 1849 and 1861 carriers in eight other cities followed New York's example of providing local delivery (issuing stamps for prepayment). By 1861 the total number of POs had doubled to 28,498 as settlers moved into the mid west.

Stage-coach and Pony Express In 1849-58 the fastest route between New York City and San Francisco was provided by the packet via Panama, the isthmus being crossed at first by mule and after 1855 by the Panama Railroad (reducing the total time to three weeks). Overland it could take longer than this by stage-coach from Independence, Missouri, to Salt Lake City. Private 'express' companies were a natural feature of the pioneering movements westward (in particular the gold rushes), the government contracting only vital routes. Most private expresses used handstamps on printed envelopes already embossed with the obligatory US postage, but not separate adhesive stamps.

By 1858, however, a weekly mail had been established between St Joseph, Missouri, and Placerville, California, via Salt Lake City. Butterfield's overland stage service from St Louis to San Francisco by the southern route was inaugurated under government contract in 1858 and transferred in 1861 to the central route. The superiority of the latter had been proven by Russell, Majors and Waddell with their famous Pony Express. Though this ran for barely a year and a half (April 1860-October 1861) and carried a relatively small amount of mail (not surprising at $5 a half ounce, reduced latterly to $2), the exploits of its riders gave it immediate epic status.

The Pony Express carried mails for Wells, Fargo and Co., a successful security express outfit that specialized in transporting dust from successive gold rushes. By 1866 Wells Fargo had practically a monopoly of western stage lines. Three years later the first transcontinental railroad (Union Pacific) was completed. This did not immediately speed the mail from San Francisco to the east coast, as the contract for transport via Panama still had a number of years to run. The sea route was maintained until the mid 1870s.

The Civil War


When the Confederacy was proclaimed in February 1861, some 8500 POs lay in 'disloyal' territory. A rebel-appointed postmaster-general of the Confederate States maintained business as usual until 1 June when the US prohibited exchanges of mail and demonetized all existing stamps.

Various provisional stamps were prepared by postmasters of Confederate towns (many other towns used handstamps) 1 June - 18 October 1861. These were used in a decreasing area until the end of secession in June 1865.

Characteristics of the period include the re-use of envelopes, bisected stamps, 'drop' letters (left at the local P0 for collection at a reduced fee), and prisoner-of-war mail.

In the United States a uniform letter rate regardless of distance was introduced on 1 July 1863. The first Railway Post Office (RPO, as TPOs have always been designated in the USA) commenced operation on 28 August 1864 between Chicago and Clinton, Iowa. The service spread rapidly, reaching a peak about 1925. Fast mail trains were started between New York and Chicago on 16 September 1875 and led to widespread 'Limited Mail' trains over ever increasing distances. Coast-to-coast service from New York was achieved in November 1889 when the Omaha to San Francisco link was forged. In many cities posting boxes were placed on streetcars (trains) with a postal clerk who also collected from wayside boxes; this effected swift urban delivery and pouching (bagging) for despatch from main railway stations. On letters so posted the stamps received RPO cancellations. The cities involved were:

St Louis 1893-1915

Brooklyn 1894-1914

Boston 1895-1915

Chicago 1895-1915

Cincinnati 1895-1915

New York 1895-1900

Philadelphia 1895-1915

Washington 1895-1913

Rochester 1896-1908

San Francisco 1896-1905

Baltimore 1897-1929

Pittsburgh 1898-1917

Seattle 1905-1913

Cleveland 1908-1920

Omaha 1910-1921

American Civil War 1861-5
Click map for larger view

A pneumatic post (already successful in Europe) gave an even faster service in Philadelphia (1893), New York (1897) and Boston (1897), and later in Chicago and St Louis. In New York the service extended to Brooklyn, the tubes being carried across the girders of the Brooklyn Bridge. The system was limited by size to letter post and was expensive; it lasted in Boston and New York until 1950.

Pictorial and commemorative stamps in the USA may be said to have started with the Columbus issue of 1893. They became a regular feature of policy from 1924. No living person may be depicted.

Rural free delivery service was inaugurated on 1 October 1896 in West Virginia. This is recorded as the most costly single extension of the postal service.

The number of POs reached a peak in 1901 (76,945), then started a long decline to about half, owing to improved sorting and delivery, a standard recently not maintained.

'Coil stamps' (Imperf. x Perf.) in rolls of 500 were made available for easier stamping of bulk mail on 29 December 1908. Another expedient was the widespread use of 'precancels', stamps officially cancelled before sale with the name of the issuing office (almost invariably Town! State in two lines between bars). These had come into use haphazardly since 1890, but were regularized by uniform procedures in 1911.

Though conventions had been signed as early as 1887 for exchange of parcels with foreign countries, the domestic transport of parcels was not taken out of the hands of private carriers until 1 January 1913. Parcel post stamps were issued, but their separate validity was ended after six months.

The first experimental airmail flight between US cities was made on 10 April 1912 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The first regular internal airmail service was inaugurated 15 May 1918 serving New York - Philadelphia - Washington. Special airmail stamps were issued two days earlier. From 1935 a regular transpacific clipper service connected San Francisco with Hawaii, Wake, Guam and Manila. It was extended in 1937 to Hong Kong, and in 1941 to Singapore. A regular transatlantic service flying New York - Bermuda - Lisbon began in 1939.

For details of the Gulf War 1990-1991, see the section on Kuwait, under the Persian Gulf.


Though Alaska had no postal service under the Russians and has used only stamps of the USA, its geographical separation gives the stamps used there a particular interest.

Alaska had settlements of Russian fur traders from 1784, but was purchased from Russia by the USA in 1867. From 1884 it became a district of Oregon, was made a territory on 24 August 1912, and gained statehood on 3 January 1959.

The first US P0 in Alaska was at Sitka (1867) with a sea connection first to San Francisco, and after 1869 to Port Townsend, Washington Territory. After the Juneau gold strike, various expresses provided services until in 1896 a government service was attempted between Juneau and Circle City. In September 1897 an international exchange was put into operation between Dyea, Alaska, and Dawson City, Canada. By 1900 dog sleds were in use on inland routes.


FIRST STAMPS ISSUED 1 October 1851 (stamps of Hawaii invalidated 14 June 1900). Used stamps of USA from 14 June 1900.

Group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, comprising Hawaii, Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau and Kahoolawe, 'discovered' in January 1778 by Captain James Cook and named Sandwich Islands after the fourth Earl of Sandwich. Here on his return Cook met his death. Hawaiian independence as a kingdom was recognized by Britain, USA and France in 1843. Foreign missionaries and American residents soon became numerous, and in 1887 white pressure forced a liberal constitution upon the Queen. The dynasty was overthrown in 1893 with the assistance of US marines, and a republic was declared. A US protectorate was proclaimed locally, but President Cleveland refused to ratify annexation. A short-lived republic ensued until on 12 August 1898 the islands were annexed to the USA. They were given territory status on 14 June 1900, and statehood on 21 August 1959.

First exchange of mails between Hawaii and the USA was established in 1849. Before that the merchants had relied on occasional visiting ships. Mail from a British naval force in 1846 was carried via Hong Kong. Until the islands joined the UPU in 1882, the stamps were valid only for local usage and US stamps were affixed as well to pay postage beyond San Francisco. The posts were absorbed into the US system on annexation.

USA Postal Expansion 1763-1803
Click map for larger view

USA to 1847
Click map for larger view

Western Expansion 1847-61
Click map for larger view

USA to 1914
Click map for larger view

Next Page >>

Current Stamp Auctions


    We offer thousands of items for sale, here are just a few of our favourites...

  • GRENADA - 1888 4d on 2s orange, variety

    GRENADA - 1888 4d on 2s orange, variety "upright d", SG 41a, fine mint og, centred to top. Scarce stamp.

    Go to item details...

  • AUSTRALIA - NEW GUINEA £1 chocolate and dull blue, N.W. Pacific Islands ovpt, SG 99, superb mint.

    AUSTRALIA - NEW GUINEA £1 chocolate and dull blue, N.W. Pacific Islands ovpt, SG 99, superb mint.

    Go to item details...