Confederate States of America

Postal History

Clarks Mills NC

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CSA #1 Grid Cancel and Manuscript Clarks Mills NC

Is the above cover a Genuine Cover or is it a Fake Cover? According to the Confederate Stamp Alliance Authenication Committe, it is a Fake Cover. Certificate #3420 issued 8/21/1999 states: "that this stamp DID NOT ORIGINATE on this envelope" (capitalization emphasis is not mine but the Committee's). That is a very interesting statement. The Committe Members will be the first to admit that they are only offering an opinion, but it is an opinion that stays with the cover and forever brands it as a fake. In this particular case, I am not so sure that the cover is unequivocally a fake. It could just as easily be genuine. In short, I do not believe at this time that it is possible to tell for sure one way or the other. Here is the story behind this cover as I have been able to research it. This can also be used as an excellent demonstration as to how an item of CSA Postal History can be researched.

I first aquired this cover in 1989 as part of a large auction lot. The stamp was faulty and tied by a Grid cancel. The manuscript postal markings and the address were faded, and I was not at first able to read the writing. I put the cover away in a desk drawer thinking that it was nothing special, and I was also concerned at that time about its authenticity. One day I pulled the cover out and began to look at it very carefully. By using various UV light techniques, I was able to decipher the postal markings and the address.

The manucript across the top reads: "Clarks Mills NC Dec 17 (no year is given)," and it is addressed to Columbia PO NC. The stamp is the 5c Green Stone 2 which has an Earliest Known Usage Date of 2 Dec 1861. The Grid is an 8-Bar Framed 20mm Grid. Grid cancels were often used by CSA Army Postal Clerks as Field Cancels, but the only recorded 8-Bar Grids used as Field Cancels were used in 1864. An 1864 date is not compatible with this cover. Also, Army Grid Cancels were issued to army postal clerks and were well-made steel cancellers. The Grid on this cover is an uneven woodcut or cork cancel of the type that could easily have been carved and made locally for use by the local postmaster. Grid Cancels are also known on a number of different CSA covers not associated with Army Field Usage, but these covers also have a town CDS.

I had never heard of Clarks Mills NC. So I had to first set out to see if it was an actual CSA post office. Clarks Mills NC does appear on the listing of CSA NC post offices and was located in Moore County. As part of my research library, I have a full atlas of period Civil War maps. I found a period map of the area, and sure enough Clarks Mills appeared on the map. So it was unquestionably a real period town. In further researching the town and in speaking with a number of other collectors incuding several NC specialists, I could come up with no one who had ever seen or recorded a cover from Clarks Mills NC. Columbia NC (the cover's address) is an equally obscure NC town but is also a listed CSA post office located on Albemarle Sound in Tyrell County NC. Therefore, the 5c rate and the 5c green stamp are compatible for a 17 Dec 1861 date for delivery under 500 miles. Everything so far fits. The conclusion was made in 1991 that this was the only recorded CSA cover from Clarks Mills NC. I put all this together and wrote an article on the cover for the Confederate Philatelist which was published in the SEP-OCT 1992 issue ("Clarks Mills NC Grid Cancel Discovered"). Click on the title if you wish to read the original article. At the time the article appeared in print, the authenticity of the cover was not challenged by anyone.

I sold the cover to a collector in 1993. He kept it in his collection until early 1995 when he changed the focus of his collection at which time I reacquired the cover when I purchased a significant amount of his holdings. I sold the cover a second time in Nov 1995 to another collector who in mid 1999 while reorganizing his collection submitted the cover to the CSA Authentication Committee. Much to his surprise and to mine, the cover was returned with a bad certificate.

Since the cover now has a bad certificate, it has been returned to my possession. I have since examined the cover in further detail. Since the initial reporting of this cover, I am unaware of any other Clarks Mills NC CSA covers that have been recorded. I confirmed this in conversation with specialty NC collectors and postal historians. So far as I know, this is still the only one. Since the CSA Committee does not state on the certificate why they feel that this is an added stamp, I can only surmise that their conclusion was based on the fact that a Gird Cancel used in conjunction with a manuscript town marking has not been recorded. Grid cancels that are not used as Army Field Cancels are generally found with towns that actually have a Circular Date Stamp town marking and not with manuscripts. If this stamp did not originate on this cover, then the stamp would have been added later AND the Grid Cancel itself would also have been faked and applied after the stamp was affixed to the cover since the cancel ties the stamp. To go to all that trouble to fake this cover is in my humble opinion an absurdity. The stamp is faulty, the manuscript markings were initially unreadable, and the cover without proper research was totally unsalable. That concept just does not fit with the reality of the cover. Here is how we can research this further --

  1. I first scanned the cover into the computer and blew the stamp up 400% (particularly the area where the stamp is tied to the cover). This clearly shows that the Grid ties the stamp to the cover, and the ink on the cover and the ink on the stamp match. Certain areas of the ink are somewhat lighter than others, but this can easily be explained by uneven inking of the cancelling device which is very often seen on CSA covers.
  2. To say that the stamp was later added to a manuscript cover implies that there must have been some sort of manuscript notation indicating that the postage had been paid. One could argue that perhaps the original cover was handcarried. But the address clearly has P.O. (Post Office) in it. Covers were generally not handcarried to a Post Office but directly to an individual. Even if the cover was handcarried to the post office, then there should still be a notation for a drop letter fee. Again examining the cover using the scanner revealed to me no evidence of the presence of any manuscript rate notation and no evidence of any manuscript cancellations on the stamp itself. Possibly the stamp was covering something important.
  3. The next step is that I soaked the entire cover in water. This did several things.

I have since reapplied the stamp to the cover in its original position using magnification and a small amount of archival quality water soluble paste. Soaking covers and lifting stamps should really be left to the experts and done only when it is absolutely necessary to either clean a cover or when questions of authenticity need to be answered.

After doing all this, I myself am absolutely convinced that the stamp is indeed original to the cover. Every thing fits except for one questionable thing. What does not fit is the actual use of the Grid Cancel itself. For this I can see three possible explanations --

  1. The Clarks Mills NC postmaster did have access to a Grid Device even though he did not have a town canceller. After all, Grid devices were in common use in the 1850's. Who is to say that he did not have such a device? The proof would be if another CSA Clarks Mills cover were found used in the same or similar way. Until then, we cannot know for sure as this is the only cover.
  2. The Grid could possibly have been applied as a receiving mark in Columbia NC as the stamp may not have been properly cancelled. But Columbia NC is itself a rather scarce usage with the only reported covers being manuscript usages with no Grids.
  3. Since the cover crossed NC it could have gone through a number of different post offices enroute to its final destination. Perhaps one of these postmasters enroute noticed that the stamp was not properly cancelled and used a Grid to cancel the stamp enroute.

Who is to say what actually happened. But to label the cover an out and out fake without a full analysis is premature. My own personal opinion is that the Clarks Mills NC cover is most probably genuine and represents a previously unrecorded usage. But the CSA Authentication Committee does not agree with me. I would have thought that with so many open questions about this cover, that instead of branding it a fake a better choice would have been to issue a "No Opinion" certificate. Authentication Committees generally perform an excellent function and should definitely be used. But they are not infallible. Also, the CSA Authentication Committee does not lift stamps or engage in specific detailed primary research on a submitted cover. Therefore when submitting an item for certification, it is best to submit all the information that you have associated with the item.

In discussing this situation with a member of the Authentication Committee, it was brought up that the Committee really does not like to issue "No Opinion" certificates and makes every effort to arrive at a definitive judgment. This is because collectors do not like "No Opinion" certificates, and the collecting public does not really understand the significance of such a certificate. All it means is that there is not enough information available to form a definitive opinion. It is neither good nor bad and certainly does not destroy a cover like an out and out bad certificate does. Covers can of course be resubmitted if new information is discovered, but the cover with a bad certificate tends to be discarded and forgotten. It has also been suggested to me in all seriousness that since the opinion of the Authentication Committee is confidential known only to the Committee Members and to the one who submitted the cover, that I could just discard the certificate and ignore it. I would consider such an act to be completely unethical. Once a certificate has been issued, no matter what the result, any subsequent potential owner has the right to know what that certificate says. Certificates once issued should most definitely remain with the cover.

It is just a real shame that a cover that has a distinct potential of being an important piece of CSA Postal History has been prematurely and in my opinion unfairly officially labeled as a Fake.

John L. Kimbrough MD

24 FEB 2000 -- Since the above was written, another cover has now been identified with a manuscript town marking and a Grid cancel. The cover illustrated above contains a CSA #12(AD) stamp tied by a weak strike of an enclosed Grid cancel. The stamp is clearly tied and is clearly original to the cover. At the upper left corner is the manuscript notation "Luray, Va apl 29/64." The stamp also contains a light pen-cancel in the same ink as the manuscript town notation. This particular cover is also an Adversity Cover made from a period Fauquier County, Va printed judicial form. Other Luray, Va manuscript covers are known and none that I am aware of have a Grid cancel as well. That would indicate that this Grid was applied either in route or possibly on arrival in Lexington, Va to prevent reuse of the stamp as the receiving postmaster probably thought that the original pen-cancel was inadequate. This cover is offered to show that indeed other covers do exist which are unquestionably genuine that do contain a manuscript town mark and a Grid cancel.

John L. Kimbrough MD

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