Rhode Island Stampless Covers

The United States Federal Government issued its first adhesive postage stamps in 1847.
(Postmaster's Provisionals
were issued in 1846.)  Prior to 1846 all United States mail was sent without postage affixed and was either prepaid or paid by the recipient with the markings and cancels indicating the method of payment and the method of transportation.

Stampless covers and letters from the 1700s to 1856 offer us a fascinating look at our past as they are the thoughts, hopes and fears of real people who lived during those actual times. In addition some of the covers and letters give us real insight into the workings of business enterprises, shipping ventures and other types of period trade.

   Stampless Cover - January 29, 1789 & February 16, 1789
To Brown and Benson


NOTE: Domestic Stampless mail continued to be sent up until 1856 and International Stampless Mail until the Universal Postal Union (UPU) Rates went into effect.

Prior to the July 1, 1851 Postal Act it cost the same to send a collect letter as it did a pre-paid one and most mail was sent collect. The 1851 law provided for a lower rate (3-cents) for prepaid mail than for letters sent collect (5-cents). Thus, after 1851 there was a much greater incentive to prepay all mail. Prepayment of all postage became compulsory after April 1, 1855, and prepayment by the use of postage stamps became compulsory after January 1, 1856. 

Postal Rates prior to 1846 were exorbitant and just a little bit confusing.  The postage was rated on the number of sheets and the distance the mail had to travel. Only on mail weighing more than 1 oz did weight come into consideration. (Letters weighing more than 1 oz were rated at a quadruple rate and one additional rate for each 1/4 ounce thereafter.) This is the reason that most personal mail during that period was sent on a single folded sheet that served as both the wrapper and the letter itself.

The postal rates from 1799 to 1816 for single letters (one sheet) were as follows:



Under 40 Miles

8 Cents

41 to 90 Miles

10 cents

91 to 150 miles

12 1/2 cents

151 to 300 miles

17 cents

301 to 500 miles

20 cents

Over 500 Miles

25 cents

As can be seen by the above table, sending mail any distance in those days could cost as much as a man made in a days work. The 1816 to 1845 postal rates varied slightly in distance and cost from the previous rates but were still expensive. In 1846 the rate was set at 5 cents for half ounce letters sent under 300 miles and 10 cents for letters sent over 300 miles. (Rate was also 10 cents for letters sent postage due.) In 1851 the post office finally initiated a reasonable rate structure with all half ounce letters traveling under 3000 miles rated at 3 cents.

RI Historical Society
Stampless I
Stampless II

Stampless III
Stampless IV
Stampless V
Stampless VI
Brown & Ives Letters
The Hazard Family Letters
Joseph Tillinghast
Free Franked Letters
DeWolf Family Letters

Recently Added Pages