Sunday, March 20, 2016

Civil War Encased Postage

I've had this kicking around in my coin jar for years - never knew exactly what it was. I always thought it might be a bottle cap for a Sarsaparilla drink. It turns out it is a quite rare piece of American history. I think my dad must have picked it up at one of the Civil War fairs he went to in the 1960's. Here's the story.

In early 1862, just months after the American Civil War erupted, people predicted the hard times and shortages looming ahead and began hoarding resources, coins included. Many millions of dollars in gold and silver coins and even copper-nickel cents disappeared from the market as a result of this hoarding. Coins consequently commanded a premium over paper money.

The U.S. Mint soon coined copper-nickel cents almost exclusively, but demand exceeded supply. A resourceful public then used postage stamps as currency for small obligations, a situation that forced shopkeepers to accept stamps as change. Envelopes stating the amount of stamps contained within and cards bearing stamps were sometimes used to keep the stamps from sticking and being destroyed, and printers sold advertisements on large numbers of these envelopes. The government authorized the monetizing of postage stamps by July 1862 and soon began printing stamp impressions on bank note paper.

On August 12, 1862, John Gault received a patent for his 'Design for Encasing Government Stamps'—that is, a design for encasing stamps for use as currency. Gault's plans called for the corners of a postage stamp to be wrapped around a cardboard circle. A thin, transparent piece of mica covered the stamp, and an outer metal frame held these items secure. A heavier brass backing, suitable for advertising purposes, completed the piece. The size of a quarter but much lighter in weight, the object encased stamps from the 1861 issue-the 1-cent, 3-cent, 5-cent, 10-cent, 12-cent, 24-cent, 30-cent, and 90-cent. Gault sold his encased postage at a small markup over the value of the enclosed stamp and the cost of production.

Gault's enterprise ended on August 21, 1862, when the government issued postage currency in 5-cent, 10-cent, 25-cent, and 50-cent denominations. The government issued fractional currency the next year. Increased production of brass and copper-nickel coinage in 1863 also undermined Gault. Still, encased postage proved very popular because it solved the major problems of stamp damage and the necessity of opening stamp envelopes to count the contents. At least thirty companies took advantage of the advertising possibilities with ads stamped on the brass backing. Perhaps $50,000 or a little more in encased postage eventually was sold and circulated, not nearly enough by itself to solve the nation's small change crisis. Of the approximately 750,000 pieces sold, only 3,500-7,000 are believed to have survived.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013


A beautiful weekend with friends in the Thousand Islands.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dead and Alive and Frozen, too!

Rich Hughson and I are working on a new comedy routine loosely based on the time-old "Dead and Alive" skit. Our version employs sound effects and some rope tricks. It is a work in progress . . .

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year's Snowman

To create a snowman: look around for available material. Pile it up. Add and subtract until you are satisfied. Don't forget to step back from time to time to assess your work.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year's Eve 2012/13

Once again we celebrated the year's end/beginning in Watch Hill, Rhode Island with our dear friends who shall not be named here, but they know who they are. A featured event on this evening was the "baton twirling open" during which several guests took a turn at manipulating my LED devil stick. Here are some of the results:

Friday, September 7, 2012

FCV Spotlight: Dave

A Flower City Vaudeville promotion of Dave demonstrating his washboard kit.