Before eBay was born, I occasionally bid by fax for assorted lots in long distance auctions. I don’t remember what I was trying to purchase, but in one grab bag of ephemera, I received this tiny envelope with elegant blue piping and a curved flap. Postmarked on July 15, 1847 in Bristol, it’s a testament to Victorian England’s postmen, who delivered it to Swansea the following day (exactly 167 years ago today).
Sent to Mr. John Morris on Gower Street, the envelope had long since lost whatever letter it contained. The seal on the back was also missing, as was the stamp. Or so I thought at first glance.
On closer inspection, I saw that someone had penned the word “Paid” in the upper right corner where one usually affixed a stamp. This puzzles me. England introduced the world’s first postage stamp, the famous Penny Black, in 1840. Realizing that black was not the best color for a stamp — how would you see the cancellation marks? — the post office switched to brick red stamps the following year. So the mystery is, if postage stamps had been used for the last seven years, why was the envelope simply inscribed Paid?
Sorry, I’m not going to answer that question because I simply don’t know, but if any reader does, I would appreciate a comment.
The other thing that strikes me is the envelope’s size, approximately that of a modern day business card. My wee envelope seems better scaled to an invitation to a doll’s tea party than to a letter mailed to Mr. Morris. Were many envelopes that small in the past? Note the size compared to modern day stamps.
Actually, the envelope is just the right size for my cat. And now that I think about it, Morris was the name of the ginger cat that starred in all those 9 Lives TV commercials…