CP Article

Transatlantic CSA Patriotic Covers

John L. Kimbrough MD

This article appeared in the July - September 2006 issue of the Confederate Philatelist. Posted under a prior agreement with the then journal editors in effect since the early days of this website.

Far scarcer than their Union counterparts, Confederate patriotic covers have always held a special fascination for the collectors of the postal history of the South. In 1861, the people of the South embarked on a road to seek separation from the Union and formation of their own nation. They were proud of the flag adopted as the symbol of their new nation, the flag known as the "Stars and Bars." This new flag in various designs and forms from the intial 7-Star flag to the final 13-Star flag was the mainstay of the true Confederate patriotic cover designs. Often printed in full color, these Stars and Bars covers can be found used within the various Confederate States as well as some usages to the North in the early Confederate period while the U.S. Postal Service was still operating in the seceded states.

For almost a century and a half something was missing. There were no usages known of a Confederate Stars and Bars patriotic cover to a foreign destination during the Conrederate period. In looking back, that seems a bit strange as transatlantic mail continued to be processed normally with no restrictions in the early Confederate period. Much business was conducted between the South and Europe, especially England. So it stands to reason that such a usage should exist. And indeed it does.

Figure 1 -- Stars and Bars Patriotic Cover used from Augusta, Ga to Liverpool, England March-April 1861.

In early 2003, Stephen Taylor (known to many CSA members as “Your American Dealer in Britain”) made a purchase which included the item in Figure 1. Now, after all these years, is a Confederate patriotic cover used to a foreign destination.

The design in Figure 1 is the 7-Star Flag Dietz Type F7-19 in full color with Imprint 2 “Jas L. Gow, Printer, Augusta, Ga (Patent Applied For).” The cover, however, is not complete and is only a front. But all the important postal markings are on the face of the cover. The familiar small double circle Augusta, Ga., postmark is present dated March 26, 1861. The cover was posted unpaid in Augusta and addressed to R. Hutchinson Esq, Liverpool, England.

Prepayment of transatlantic mail was not mandatory at this time, so sending the cover unpaid with postage due on receipt was a legitimate and accepted usage. The cover was carried to New York City and received the “New York Br Packet 5” mark on arrival dated April 2 (1861). The New York mark overlaps the Augusta postmark. Across the top is a manuscript “Due 24.” The transatlantic rate from the USA to England was 24 cents. This manuscript was applied in Augusta at the time of posting but not necessary as the postage due was to be collected by the British on delivery in England and not by the U.S. Postal Service. The “5” in the New York handstamp indicates that 5 cents was due the U.S. Postal Service from the fee collected in England for the unpaid inland service from Augusta to New York. Five cents was the only amount due the U.S. Postal Service as the transatlantic crossing was aboard a British packet and not an American packet.

The arrival date in New York was a Sunday in 1861, and there were no sailings on that day. What happened next was that the cover appears to have been closed in a mail bag and sent most likely by train to Boston where the bag was placed unopened on the Cunard British Packet Canada which sailed from Boston the next day April 3, 1861 arriving in Queenstown on April 15, 1861. That is the only sailing compatible with this cover as the Liverpool receiving mark on the face of the cover is dated the next day April 16, 1861. What looks like a meaningless black squiggle in the center of the cover is actually “1/-,” the British postage due mark for one shilling which was the British transatlantic rate between England and the USA. At that time, one British shilling was worth approximately 25 American cents. Out of that one shilling fee, the British were to remit the equivalent of 5 cents to the USA. The cover is pre-blockade and from the time that the U.S. Postal Service was still operating within the seceded states. It is, however, clearly from the Confederate period as Georgia joined the Confederacy as one of the six original states on February 4, 1861. Philatelic Foundation Certificate No. 0394308 was issued to this cover front on February 5, 2003.

The front has since been expertly rebacked for better preservation for future generations. As an aside, look very carefully at the cover in Figure 1. There is a small faint blue blob of ink just above the flag. On close examination, this blob is actually a fingerprint in the original printing ink — a little personal mark left on the cover by the original 1861 printer.

Figure 2 -- Overall Stars and Bars Patriotic Cover used from Augusta, Ga to Liverpool, England March-April 1861.

But the story is not as yet complete. Three years after discovering this cover (Figure 1), Stephen Taylor in England enters the picture again and comes up with a second CSA patriotic cover front from the same correspondence used from Augusta, Ga. to Liverpool, England (Figure 2). Now there are two. Both cover fronts came from the same source and show the same usage, about one week apart, but are different Stars and Bars flag designs.

The second cover (Figure 2) is an overall design of the 7-Star Flag Dietz Type F7-2. The same Imprint 2 seen in the cover in Figure 1 is also present on this cover. The Augusta, Ga.. postmark is at the top right dated March 20, 1861. The cover was sent unpaid and arrived in New York where it received the “New York Br Packet 5” mark here seen partially struck off the cover dated March 27 1861. This cover sailed on the Cunard British Packet Arabia which departed that date from New York. The Liverpool receiving mark is at the lower left dated April 8, 1861. The prominent British manuscript “1/-” is quite apparent for the one shilling due on delivery. Note that a “Due 24” is missing from this cover as that marking was unnecessary. This second overall cover front has CSA Certificate No. 4738 issued February 7, 2006.

These two items are both fronts and not complete covers. To understand why this is so, one has to grasp the mindset of 19th Century collecting. The interest present today in postal history is an early 20th Century phenomenon which developed by stages into how postal history covers are currently viewed. The 19th Century collector had virtually no interest in postal history as it is understood today. The philatelists of that era cared only for the stamps in and of themselves and not for the usages and not for the covers that today’s collectors prize so highly. A cover with no stamps would have held no interest at all for them.

These two new-found items were undoubtedly originally saved for only one reason since they had no stamps — they had pretty colored flag designs that someone back then decided to save. Since the flag designs were really the only thing important to the original collector, the rest of the cover was superfluous and simply cut away and discarded. This is seen very frequently in older 19th Century collections, particularly from Europe. Saving cover fronts was the norm and not the exception. The fact that such an item may become a great rarity worth thousands of dollars to collectors centuries in the future is something that the person who saved the covers in 1861 could not possibly have comprehended. Fortunately, these items were spared the other common way of collecting at that time: pasting items in scrapbooks.

What treasures have been spoiled completely in that manner can never be known. Knowing this also helps to understand why there are still many covers from that period that are complete and were not converted into fronts. The complete covers did not generally come from actual mid 19th Century collections and were not specifically saved as covers. They came instead from family and business correspondences which were saved for the letters and contents, not the covers. The covers were entirely incidental.

Much CSA postal history seen today comes from business covers filed and stored with thc contents until later making their way into the collector’s market, often quite by accident and usually separated from the contents. Witness the 1861-1862 Carroll Hoy and Company New Orleans Correspondence familiar to all CSA postal history collectors which includes many scarce early CSA provisional and other usages. This was entirely a business correspondence filed away and stored until found in the first half of the 20th Century. Putting this all together should help understand how fortunate it is to have discovered these two patriotic items at all and not just bemoan the fact that they are fronts and not complete covers. These fronts are rebacked because once their significance has been established, a rebacked cover front can be more safely handled and much more easily preserved for many generations to come.

Within the space of three years in the early 21st Century, two examples of previously unknown transatlantic CSA patriotic covers have surfaced. Could there be more? Could others exist to different foreign destinations? These are very good questions. The answer is that no one currently knows. It is certainly possible there may be others yet to be found. It is also possible there are more buried in old collections that are simply not known to the CSA collecting community at large. Both these items discussed are pre-blockade. The next great hurdle to overcome would be the discovery of an actual blockade usage of a CSA patriotic cover if one does indeed exist. Only time and diligence will tell.

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