U.S. #Q1 pictures a Post Office clerk.

On January 1, 1913, the US Post Office Department initiated its Parcel Post Service for fourth-class mail.

Before 1912, private companies controlled package deliveries throughout the United States. Because delivering packages in larger cities could make more money, these companies often overlooked small towns.

That changed when Congress passed a law on August 24, 1912 creating a parcel post service for fourth-class mail. Instead of private companies, the Postal Department would now deliver packages to all parts of the country. Rural Americans would now have access to goods and merchandise they could not have gotten before. This gave rise to mail order giants like Sears, Roebuck and Co., and Montgomery Ward and Co.

Parcel Post service could be used for sending items weighing 16 ounces or more through the mail. The mail is divided into four classes, with Parcel Post making up the fourth class. Almost any type of merchandise can be mailed parcel post, including day-old chicks, baby alligators, and honeybees. Only items that could be dangerous to handle cannot be sent through Parcel Post.

U.S. #JQ1-5 – Complete set of five Parcel Post Postage Due stamps.

Special Parcel Post and Parcel Post Postage Due stamps were produced for the new service. Like other Postage Due stamps, these showed that amount of postage due on packages that were insufficiently prepaid. The recipient of the package rather than the sender paid this amount. The Parcel Post Postage Due stamps were all dark green with a large numeral indicating the amount to be paid.

The Parcel Post service began on January 1, 1913. The special Parcel Post stamp were required on all fourth class packages. The stamps were an instant success. During the first five days, post offices reported that they handled over four million packages. However, despite this early surge in popularity, the stamps would quickly lose favor. Philatelic author Henry M. Gobie later dubbed these stamps the “Fourth Class Follies of 1913.”

U.S. #Q4 pictures a rural mail carrier.

Postal employees objected to the Parcel Post stamps for several reasons. They stated the large stamps just didn’t fit where they needed to be applied. They also complained that they were all the same carmine color, making them difficult to distinguish one from the other. And they also disliked the odd number of stamps (45) per sheet.

As a result, the use of Parcel Post stamps for this designated purpose ended in June 1913. But the rural delivery of parcels by the US Postal Service continued. The only difference was that regular stamps could be used on parcels, and Parcel Post stamps could be used on regular mail. The stock of Parcel Post stamps was allowed to run out. In use for just six months, the Parcel Post stamps were one of the shortest-lived US series.

U.S. #Q8 – The world’s first stamp to picture an airplane.

Though these stamps had caused confusion, no one complained about their beauty, as the pictorial centers (vignettes) were some of the most interesting yet produced. The lower denomination stamps paid tribute to the postal service, showing mail carriers, clerks, and other vehicles that carried the mail. One Parcel Post stamp featured the first airplane ever shown on a government issued stamp. The four Parcel Post stamps with the highest denomination featured manufacturing and agriculture. The 75¢ stamp features a grain-harvesting scene. The threshing machine and team of horses stand in front of a large pile of grain. The design honored the farms of the Midwest. This stamp was the last of the series to be retired, and was still delivered to some post offices until 1922.

U.S. #Q11 was the last stamp in the series to be retired.

Parcel Post stamps may have been short lived, but the stories surrounding the US parcel post are not. One such story tells of a 48½-pound package (just under the 50-pound limit) sent from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho. The package contained four-year-old May Pierstorff! May’s parents wanted to send her to visit her grandparents, but found the train fare a bit steep. They decided to mail her for just 53¢. They attached the stamps to May’s coat, and she rode the entire way in the mail car. The mail clerk on duty, Leonard Mochel, delivered the girl to her grandmother’s door!

U.S. #Q1-12 – Complete set of 12 Parcel Post stamps.

Click here to pick out the individual Parcel Post and Parcel Post Postage Due stamps you need.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Stunning stamps more than 100 years ago. More of this please! and when will the Editor compile\publish some of this into something like a book? A truly different tack on the extraordinary world of philately, as an unbiased witness to our history; social, cultural, legal, governmental, and, yes, anecdotal such as May’s story. Happy New Year Mystic. GdR

  2. Stamps and Stories need to be put together and published as a book. It will be an interesting read for
    philatelist like me. The pictures in the stamp are very interesting. They are worth looking over and over. The colors are some what different fro modern ones and stand out.
    Happy New Year to all readers and Mystic management staff.

  3. A good read to begin the new year, esp liked the story of using just 53c to mail a child safely to her grandparents! Goes to show the trust bestowed on the USPS…

  4. Very nice write up with interest.
    By the way the “world’s first-ever heat-sensitive stamp” had some issues in Arizona. Seemed to be mostly exposed during the summer even inside the house. This time of year seem to work good.

  5. Love all the stamp history and especially comments by the readers. I too would like to have a book, maybe several books….and yes, waiting for all of the stories for 2018 (some new ones, some reprints). Blessing to all.

  6. I have made my own book, Just print the articles as shown put them in a sheet protector and place them in a binder. I have two years now and starting on my third

    1. I too have started a collection of these articles. Generally very interesting. A couple stamp acquaintances have also created sets of monthly stamp album pages for the lead stamp of the day for the month. If you’ve got some means to generate your own pages (they’ve used Album Gen – an add-on to EZ Stamp – Mystic carries EZ Stamp) you can make the books a collection of the daily stories printed out and make your own album pages to include the stamps as well.

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