This page last updated: 14 April 2009

::: MAIL RATES - Pre-Postal and Inaugural Treaty Rates :::

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United States rates in the Pre-Postal Period varied according to the distance a letter was to be carried from the post office where it entered the mail. These "zone" rates were stable from 1816 (with a minor change in 1825) to 1845. United States zone rates were substantially modified in 1845 to reduce the number of zones to just two. Rates were adopted in 1847 for mail to or from the Pacific Coast and in 1848 for mail sent from one place in the West to another place in the West.

United States Postage Rates, 1816 To December 21, 1850 - The Pre-Postal Period:

Year Distance Single Ship Fee per letter Total Double Triple
1816 Delivery at port of entry 6 6 6 6
Not over 30 miles 6 2 8 14 20
31 to 80 miles 10 2 12 22 32
81 to 150 miles 12 2 14 27 37
151 to 400 miles 18 2 20 39 57
Over 400 miles 25 2 27 52 77
1845 Delivery at port of entry 6 6 6 6
Not over 300 miles 5 2 7 12 17
Over 300 miles 10 2 12 22 32
1847 From the Pacific Coast 40 2 42 82 $1.22
1848 From the Pacific Coast to East Coast addressees ditto ditto ditto ditto ditto
To San Francisco addressees 6 6 6 6
To other California places 12 2 14 27 39

  • A single letter was defined by the number of letter sheets, each sheet counting for one rate. Thus, one sheet was a single letter, two sheets were a double letter and three sheets were a triple letter. If an envelope was used (rarely done before 1845), the envelope itself counted as one sheet and the letter inside also counted as one sheet (or more). In 1827, the United States set a weight-based rate for any letter weighing one ounce or more, deeming any one ounce letter a quadruple rate letter, regardless of the number of sheets, plus one additional rate for each one-quarter ounce over one ounce. In other words, for letters weighing less than an ounce, the rate was determined by the number of letter sheets, but once a letter weighed one ounce, postage was charged at one rate per 1/4 ounce, regardless of the number of sheets. Apparently this law was passed to prevent people from sending heavy items wrapped inside a single letter sheet.

  • The 18 rate was changed to 18 effective June 1, 1825.

  • The ship fee, including the ship rate on letters for delivery at the port of entry, were on a per letter basis, rather than weight. This feature of the ship fee remained constant until the ship rate became irrelevant to Hawaii mail in 1870.

  • In the period 1849-1850, rate marks shown at San Francisco on letters originating in Hawaii sometimes include the ship fee and sometimes omit it. This difference arises because of the way the letter was delivered to the San Francisco Post Office. If a letter was delivered by the captain as a ship letter, the ship fee was added to the rate. If a letter was enclosed in a letter packet and addressed to a friend or agent at San Francisco, the letter packet was delivered as a ship letter with six cents ship fee due, regardless of weight, but the friend or agent posted the enclosed letters at the San Francisco Post Office where they were received as ordinary domestic letters, on which no ship fee was due. The letter packet system lasted until Hawaii adopted a ten cents per half ounce rate on letter packets.

Summary of Letter Rates, December 21, 1850 to June 30, 1851:

Type of Letter Hawaiian Postage U.S. Postage Ship Fee Per Letter Total Double
U.S. East prepaid or collect 10 40 2 52 $1.02
Port of Entry prepaid or collect 10 - 6 per letter 16 26
West Coast prepaid or collect 10 12 2 24 47

  • The Honolulu Post Office opened December 21, 1850 and began to charge postage on foreign mail leaving or entering Hawaii. Hawaiian rates are per ounce.

  • United States rates changed, effective July 1, 1851.

  • Henry Whitney's early published rate notices for prepaid mail omitted the ship fee and listed 50, instead of 52, as the rate for a single letter to go via Panama, including Hawaiian postage. Whitney absorbed the two cents ship fee paid to the United States in the ten cents Hawaii postage until September, 1851. He may also have been unfamiliar with the two cents ship fee at first. Also, Hawaii never included the Hawaiian postage in rate marks applied to paid letters at Honolulu. Thus, Honolulu rate marks on paid letters in this Period always show a "40" rate. Further, on paid letters, San Francisco omitted the ship fee in rate marks shown, although it charged the ship fee to the Honolulu Post Office account. That omission was due probably to a lack of any perceived need to show it since nothing was due from the recipient on delivery. Collect mail was unaffected because postage was paid by the recipients and the San Francisco office included the ship fee in the rate to be collected. The United States charged the ship fee on all letters arriving at San Francisco by non-contract vessels, regardless of whether it actually paid anything to the captain, so San Francisco rate marks on collect letters always include the ship fee.

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