List of Letters, c. 1860

May 3, 2015 § 2 Comments

The Maryland State Archives’ newspaper digitization project aims to preserve and provide easy access to newspapers published in Maryland from the 1700s through the 1940s.  Personal experience leads me to caution you that taking a casual look at their online collection can result in a great deal of time spent reading vintage advertisements and musing that the gossipy “Personal and Social” and “Local Matters” sections are, perhaps, the analog forerunners to social media (“Dr. and Mrs. H. L. Dodd’s little daughter recently sat on a needle and was very much inconvenienced until the cause of her sickness was discovered.” Yes, this tidbit really appeared in the paper, circa 1920).

While randomly browsing the Saturday, November 24, 1860 edition of the Kent News, a “List of Letters” signed by the postmaster caught my eye.

18601120listofletters

Curious about what this meant, I did some research.  Since Rural Free Delivery did not become a universal service until 1902, in the 1860s people had to stop by the post office and inquire whether they had mail.  Because of this, there was a postal regulation requiring:
“That the postmasters shall, respectively, publish, at the expiration of every three months, or oftener, when the Postmaster General shall so direct, in one of the newspapers published at or nearest the place of his residence, for three successive weeks, a list of all the letters remaining in their respective offices”

If the addressees failed to claim their mail within three months of the list being published, the Postmaster was charged with opening unclaimed items in order to look for “any valuable papers, or matters of consequence” and then attempting to notify or return items to the sender.

Today, individual post offices hold “dead letters” for a much shorter period of time.  “Undeliverable, unendorsed standard letters or flats” land in the recycling bin on a daily basis.  Certain categories of mail and loose-in-mail items are sent to the USPS Mail Recovery Center.  If valid claims for lost mail are filed, items are returned.  If not, they may be auctioned.

Have you ever lost something in the mail?

Sources

Leech, D.D.T. (1857). List of post offices in the United States; with the names of postmasters, on the 13th of July, 1857; Also, the regulations and laws of the Post Office Department. John C. Rives (publisher). Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=6U4ZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Publication 100 – The United States Postal Service – An American History 1775 – 2006 ( 2012, November). Retrieved from: http://about.usps.com/publications/pub100/pub100_001.htm

Stam, J. L. (1860, November 24) “List of Letters” The Kent News, 21(29), 2. Retrieved from: http://mdhistory.net/msa_sc2901/msa_sc2901_scm1621/html/msa_sc2901_scm1621-0006.html

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