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Collecting United States Postage Currency
By George S. Cuhaj
December 19, 2012


The following is an excerpt from the 2013 Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money, 31st Edition, by George S. Cuhaj, which can be found online at


In mid-1862, hard money was fast disappearing from circulation and postage stamps were pressed into service as a means of making small change.

The Postmaster General in his December report of 1862 said, “In the first quarter of the current year, ending September 20th , the number of stamps issued to postmasters was one hundred and four million dollars; there were calls for about two hundred millions, which would have been nearly sufficient to meet usual demands for the year. This extraordinary demand arose from the temporary use of these stamps as a currency for the public in lieu of the smaller denominations of specie, and ceased with the introduction of the so-called ‘postal currency’.”

But stamps were ill-suited for the wear and tear of commerce and at least in the early part of this period, the post office refused to exchange them for new issues. Before Gault produced his encased postage or the die-sinkers had produced their “copperheads” (more commonly now known as Civil War Tokens), a few enterprising printers produced small envelopes, approximately 70 x 35 mm in size, labeled with the value of the stamps contained and usually with an advertising message either for themselves or for some local merchant. This was mainly confined to the larger cities of the east. New York City had by far the most pieces, but Brooklyn, Boston, Albany, Cincinnati, Jersey City and Philadelphia are also represented.

The New York Central Railroad, in addition to envelopes, issued a stiff card with two slots by which the stamp or stamps are captured.

Some of these envelopes have the value of the stamps printed on them, others have blank spaces for hand written values. Occasionally the printed values are changed by hand.

The issues of J. Leach, stationer and printer in New York City, are by far the most common. They have been seen in five distinct types with multiple denominations within the types.

The first listing of Civil War postage stamp envelopes was published by Henry Russell Drowne in the American Journal of Numismatics in 1918. That article, primarily based on the Moreau hoard of 77 envelopes, reported that these pieces “were variously printed with black, blue, red and green ink on white, amber, lemon, pink, orange, violet, blue pale green, buff, manilla and brown paper.” Red and blue ink on white paper was the most popular combination. Wood cuts and electrotypes were employed in the manufacture. One single piece bears a picture of Washington. All of the envelopes show evidence of having been hastily made and printed.

These pieces are all extremely rare. The most common probably having no more than half a dozen extant pieces. The pricing thus reflects the rarity of the firm name and the desirability of the design, legend and value. Drowne reported that the 25cts denomination is “by far the most common, about half as many are for 50cts, and a quarter for 10cts and 75 cts.” All prices are for the envelope only; stamps may be included but there is really no way of knowing that they are original with the envelopes. Any stamps will increase the total value by their own philatelic value.

Prices are for intact envelopes in very fine condition with no problems. Front-only specimens appear frequently and bring only 15% to 30% of the prices shown. A total of 110 different numbers are listed here; it is doubtful that 500 pieces total of all types still exist.

In the numbering system, a first number is assigned for each firm name or known major design type within that firm. The second number of the system is the stated value of the envelope in cents (blank value shown by 0); “hw” following the second number means the value was hand written. A question mark means that the value of the piece has not been reported. “Vars” means that minor varieties exist.

Encased postage has always been among the most elusive of American numismatic items to collect, and consequently, among the most rewarding. With their natural appeal to numismatists, philatelists, and collectors of antique advertising media, demand has also been strong. This competition for scarce items, especially so in high grades of preservation, has meant a steady upward price progression that also makes Encased Postage Stamps desirable from an investment viewpoint.

While a complete set – by denomination, merchant and major variety – of Encased Postage has never been formed and likely never will be, it is entirely within the grasp of the determined numismatist to assemble a collection that is “complete” within self-set boundaries; that is, 6 denomination, by merchant, by type of merchant (medicinal, dry goods, etc.), by locality of issue, or by any other criteria.

While not generally collected along with the Gault encased postage stamps, the so-called Feuchtwanger rectangular encasement is a contemporary, though unsuccessful, competitor.

Approximately 31x61 mm, with a brass frame and no mica cover for the stamps, this item is generally found with a trio of 3-cent postage stamps; a face value of nine cents. The item is also found with other quantities of 3-cent stamps, though the originality of these other denominations is questionable.

Naturally, since the stamps are easily replaced, their condition has little bearing on the value.

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