The “untold story” of Civil War stamp envelopes and their issuers
is now being told.
In Civil War Stamp Envelopes, The Issuers and Their Times, the
latest book by numismatist and researcher Fred L. Reed III, collectors
will learn about the varied lives of the issuers of postage stamp envelopes.
Postage stamps as money
For a time during the Civil War, postage stamps served as small
change. Hoarding of small denomination coins during the war created a
real need for a substitute. In July 1862, Congress monetized postage
stamps, thus permitting their legal use as substitutes for coinage.
The use of postage stamps as currency had certain disadvantages.
Because of their small size, paper content and glued backs, postage
stamps quickly became soiled or stuck together, rendered useless as
currency or postage.
As a solution to the easy soiling, private printing firms offered
specially printed envelopes to hold stamps to be used as currency. The
envelopes were printed with text indicating the supposed value of
their contents. Many merchants would advertise their business on the
front of envelopes used to keep the stamps handy. (A subsequent
solution was the encased postage stamp — a stamp placed within a brass
holder bearing an advertising message and a mica window for displaying
the stamp and its denomination.)
Reed told Coin World that his new book provides collectors of
these envelopes, and even those who aren’t yet collectors, information
about the uniqueness of these collectibles.
“There’s nothing like it [the book] to get inside the small change
difficulties of 1862, except perhaps for my encased stamp book, of
which this is a companion volume,” he said. “This book tells the
‘other half’ of the story of private money initiatives in the face of
gross government malfeasance to supply a circulating medium for
fractions of a dollar for a half year [from] July 1862 to February 1863.”
Reed said the stories behind Civil War encased stamps “are well
chronicled” but no one took the time to compile them together before
the release in 1995 of his book, Civil War Encased Stamps: The
Issuers and Their Times.
That book serves as a merchant chronicle catalog, auction summary
and counterfeit guide to the mica and metal store card emergency money
of 1862 developed by inventor and entrepreneur John Gault of Boston.
New book on envelope issues
Reed said the most valuable part of his new book on postage stamp
envelopes “is the authority this rigorous research brings to an
undocumented numismatic field. Prices for these stamp envelopes have
been all over the map (even over the $10,000 figure) but nobody knew
which ones were rare and valuable and which ones were less so. Now
He said the new book “demonstrates the rarity of the 514 different
varieties cataloged” and most of the varieties are illustrated and
their provenance provided.
After collectors read his latest book, Reed said he hopes they
“will make informed decisions based on facts and not fantasy.”
He said he also hopes that the book with be enjoyed by collectors
enough that they will “talk it up to other collectors, and eventually
buy the second revised edition of my encased stamp book too when it
comes out in 2014.”
Untold merchant stories
Reed said his original research provided him with some great
stories about the merchants who issued these envelopes.
He said many of the envelope issuers “were incredibly accomplished
in their business and professional lives, but others suffered
One example Reed offered was the story of a merchant who was shot
“outside his tavern by a disgruntled soldier and literally died in the
street. Another [issuer] committed suicide by literally taking a long
walk off a short pier into the Hudson River. Yet another hosted the
meetings that led to the first unified collegiate football rules and
association in this country.”
Two more books, one about federal and private postage currency and
the other about Civil War-era counterfeiting, are in the process of
being written, according to Reed.
Reed is also a monthly columnist for Coin World, writing
the “Spare Change” column about store cards and other tokens from the
19th century and later.
BNR Press published the new book. The 672-page book features
approximately 1,500 illustrations and is offered in two versions.
The softcover version is priced at $59.95 and the hardcover
version is offered at $79.95. Postage, handling and insurance are an
additional $10 per book.
Books are expected to ship in mid-October, according to Reed.
Orders may be sent to the author c/o Fred Reed, Department C, Box
118162, Carrollton, TX 75011-8162.
Those placing orders should indicate if they want their book autographed.
For more information contact Reed at email@example.com or through his website,
found at www.fredwritesright.com. ■