Letter sheet


Letter sheet

In philatelic terminology a Letter sheet, often written lettersheet, is nowadays an item of postal stationery issued by a postal authority. It is a sheet of paper that can be folded, usually sealed, most often with sealing wax in the 18th and 19th century, and mailed without the use of an envelope. Letter sheets derive from the form in which written correspondence was made up before the mid-1800s when letters were written on one, or more, sheets of paper that were folded and sealed in such a way that the address could be written on the outside. They were literally a "letter" on a "sheet" (of paper).

The term lettersheet has been used to describe the unstamped folded sheet letters used before envelopes became popular. Envelopes were not used much before the late 19th century, because most countries' postal rates calculated for the extra sheet of paper, that made up the envelope, thereby increasing the cost of mailing when an envelope was used; an extra postal charge was made for the extra sheet of paper.

Pre-paid lettersheets issued by postal operators are postal stationery because they bear imprinted stamps, or indicia, indicating pre-payment as opposed to adhesive stamps that are only printed by postal authorities. Lettersheets, that require stamps to be applied, have also been produced by private firms and usually have no authority for a pre-paid indicia, so postage must be paid by normal means at normal postage rates. Most country's postal authorities have issued true lettersheets at some stage, however, most have discontinued their use, except in the form of an aerogram and due to the popularity of envelopes.

History

The first postal stationery item issued by a government is thought to be the coat of arms of Venice on a 1608 lettersheet. In 1790 Luxembourg produced a 25-centime lettersheet. British newspaper publishers printed colourful stamps on paper supplied by the government between 1712–1870 and Australia produced lettersheets two years before the Mulready lettersheets were issued in 1840. [ [http://www.linns.com/reference/stationery/basic_stationery.asp?uID=] Linn's Stamp News: Postal stationery (retrieved 26 September 2006)] During this period envelopes were rarely used. New South Wales issued prepaid lettersheets in 1838 with uninked embossed stamps (making them difficult to see) to prepay postage within the town of Sydney. [ [http://www.norbyhus.dk/btpbr.html] Ken Lawrence: "Before the Penny Black Revisited" (retrieved 27 September 2006)]

The British postal reforms of 1840

Prepaid lettersheets were introduced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at the same time as the first postage stamps were available for use on May 6 1840. Part of Rowland Hill's postal reforms were the introduction of prepaid lettersheets and envelopes designed by the artist William Mulready, whose name is always associated with these first lettersheets and envelopes. In the same way that the first postage stamps were issued in two values (Penny Black and Two Penny Blue) both the lettersheets and envelopes were issued in one penny and two penny values in the same black and blue colours as the same value postage stamps. [ [http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/queen's/mulreadystationery-list2.html] Mulready stationery: Lettersheets and envelopes (retrieved 25 September 2006)]

The design incorporated Britannia at the centre top with a shield and a reclining lion surrounded on either side by a representation of the continents of Asia and North America with people reading their mail in the two lower corners. Rowland Hill expected the lettersheets to be more popular than the postage stamps but the postage stamp prevailed. Many caricatures were produced by stationery manufacturers whose livelihood was threatened by the new lettersheet. [ [http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/queen's/mulreadystationery-list3.html] Mulready stationery: Caricatures (retrieved 25 September 2006)] Only six days after their introduction, on May 12, Hill wrote in his journal:Within two months a decision had been made to replace the Mulready designed stationery and essentially they were a folly. [ [http://alphabetilately.com/M.html] Mulready Letter Sheets (retrieved 25 September 2006)]

19th century United States

During the American Civil War period, in 1863, two different size lettersheets were issued by the United States Postal Service that both had the same stamp design. The small lettersheet was for ladies correspondence and the larger size was for soldiers. Between 1886 and 1894 heavier lettersheets with a picture of President Ulysses Grant were issued, but lettersheets were discontinued due to poor sales, and the United States has not produced any since.

Privately produced pictorial lettersheets were published by several stationers in New York and other cities. These lettersheets, predominantly showing bird's-eye views and street scenes, were created to comply with, yet circumvent, postal regulations that like the United Kingdom were based on the number of sheets of paper. These lettersheets were popular because of their 8.5 x 21 inch size that could be folded in half, providing four pages for writing but the Post Office regarded them as one sheet of paper. [ [http://dlib.nyu.edu:8083/nyhsead/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=/lettersheet.xml&style=/saxon01n2002.xsl&part=body#series1] New York Historical Society "Guide to the Pictorial Lettersheet Collection ca. 1840-1890" (retrieved 6 October 2006)]

Air Letter Cards

Special stationery on thin sheets of paper, called "Air Letter Cards" were available in Iraq and Palestine as early as 1933. The sheets was folded to the size of a blue border, and gummed flaps were used to seal the sheet. Douglas Gumbley, director of Posts to the Iraq Government in the 1930s, realised there was a need for a lightweight form for use in the developing air services in, and through, the Middle East because regular overland mail was charged by weight and varied in size and seemed likely to be too expensive for airmail service. He personally copyrighted the product in February 1933 and it was used first in Iraq and later in the British Mandate of Palestine where Gumbley was in charge of postal matters in the late 1930s.

World War II lettersheets

In early 1941 the United Kingdom introduced thin, lightweight forms intended for use by their overseas military forces. Known as air letter sheets, they took up much less space then regular letters, and by August the use of these sheets was extended to civilians. Allied POW communications through the Red Cross used a special lettersheet inscribed "Prisoner of War Air Mail" in English and German or Japanese with a 2 1/2d indicia. The Forces air lettersheets were rated at 3d while the civilian version was imprinted with a 6d stamp. [cite book | first=James | last=Mackey | year=1971 | title=Airmails 1870–1970 | chapter=11 | pages=178–180 | publisher=B. T. Batsford, London ]

Several other countries adapted the British lettersheet model during the war while many other countries introduced them after the war. Curiously the British 6d air letter rate remained in effect until 1966 while other postal rates increased.

Some German POW [ [http://www.edwardvictor.com/Holocaust/netherlands_main.htm] German POW camp lettersheets in Westerbock, Netherlands (retrieved 14 January 2007)] and concentration [ [http://www.edwardvictor.com/Holocaust/ravensbruck_main_main.htm] Ravensbrück lettersheets (retrieved 14 January 2007)] camps issued their own special lettersheets for use by the inmates. Towards the end of WWII, at least eight forged German Feldpost lettersheets were printed by the OSS Operation Cornflakes to undermine Axis moral during late 1944 and 1945. [ [http://www.psywarrior.com/Cornflakes2.html] Operation Cornflakes feldpost lettersheets (retrieved 14 January 2007)]

Modern lettersheets

The Aerogram, also written aérogramme, aerogramme, or airletter, also made from a lightweight paper, is the modern equivalent of the WWII lettersheet and most postal operators issue them prepaid though Ireland, New Zealand and Rhodesia have issued them without an indicium requiring the addition of a postage stamp before mailing.

The Universal Postal Union adopted the term "aérogramme", the French word for air letter, during the 1951–52 13th Postal Union Congress held in Brussels and all countries inscribe this on their air mail lettersheets except for the United Kingdom which still uses the term "Air Letter".

References

External links

* [http://imagesoftheworld.org/stamps/1d-mulready.htm 1d Mulready Lettersheet]
* [http://imagesoftheworld.org/stamps/2d-mulready.htm 2d Mulready Lettersheet]
* [http://alphabetilately.com/M.html Mulready Stationery] Envelopes, Lettersheets, Parodies, Lampoons, Caricatures and Exhibit Pages
* [http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/queen's/mulreadystationery.html National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C.] Stamps That Changed the World
* [http://postalheritage.org.uk/collections/archive/stamps/phillips/VolII/view Mulready example page VolII] British Postal Museum & Archive
* [http://postalheritage.org.uk/collections/archive/stamps/phillips/VolIX/view Mulready example page VolIX] British Postal Museum & Archive


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