This page last updated: 26 January 2020

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

Back to Mail Rates.

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 [1] Ship Fee per letter [2] Total Double Triple
1816 Delivery at port of entry
Not over 30 miles 14¢ 20¢
31 to 80 miles 10¢ 12¢ 22¢ 32¢
81 to 150 miles 12½¢ 14½¢ 27¢ 37½¢
151 to 400 miles 18½¢ [3] 20½¢ 39¢ 57½¢
Over 400 miles 25¢ 27¢ 52¢ 77¢
1845 Delivery at port of entry
Not over 300 miles 12¢ 17¢
Over 300 miles 10¢ 12¢ 22¢ 32¢
1847 From the Pacific Coast 40¢ 42¢ 82¢ $1.22
1848 From the Pacific Coast to East Coast addressees ditto ditto ditto ditto ditto
To San Francisco addressees
To other California places 12½¢ 14½¢ 27¢ 39½¢

[1] Until 1845, 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 1845 law that reduced the number of zones to just two, also disconnected the rates to the number of sheets and instead based rates on the weight of a letter. IN this system, a single letter weighed up to ½ ounce, a double weighed up to an ounce and so on, with each new ounce or partial ounce adding an additional rate.

[2] A ship fee was charged in addition to United States postage on incoming mail from a foreign country with no postal treaty with the United States. Mail addressed for delivery at the port of entry was charged the ship fee and no postage. The fee was charged on each letter, regardless of weight. Whether a ship fee was charged on a particular letter depended on whether it was delivered to the post office direct from the ship in the ship’s mail. If a passenger carried it on their person, for example, and posted it at the post office no ship fee was charged. Other ways were devised to avoid the ship fee. Ostensibly, the ship fee was intended as a way to compensate the ship captain for carrying mail. However, the ship fee was added even when nothing was paid to the ship captain. The United States ship fee became irrelevant to Hawaii mail in mid-1870 when the Hawaii/United States Postal Convention superseded other rates. Before 1870, the ship fee was not charged on certain types of mail, such as mail arriving on contract steamships, or at certain times, such as the rate confusion in 1864, known as the Kalakaua Error Period. In 1856, Hawaii adopted a ship fee of 2¢ on incoming letters but until then did not charge a ship fee. For more detailed information, see Gregory Hawaii Foreign Mail to 1870, vol. 1, Chapter 9.

[3] The 18½¢ rate was changed to 18¾¢ effective June 1, 1825.

Summary of Letter Rates, December 21, 1850 [1] to June 30, 1851 [2]:

Type of Letter Hawaiian Postage U.S. Postage Ship Fee Per Letter [3] Total Double
U.S. East prepaid or collect 10¢ 40¢ 52¢ $1.02
Port of Entry prepaid or collect 10¢ - 6¢ per letter 16¢ 26¢
West Coast prepaid or collect 10¢ 12½¢ 24½¢ 47¢

[1] The Honolulu Post Office opened December 21, 1850 and began to charge postage on foreign mail leaving or entering Hawaii. Hawaiian rates are per ½ ounce.

[2] United States rates changed, effective July 1, 1851.

[3] 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. For more detailed information, see Gregory Hawaii Foreign Mail to 1870, vol. 1, Chapter 14.

Back to Mail Rates.

Copyright © 1999 - 2020 POST OFFICE IN PARADISE. All rights reserved.