Let’s Make a Local Post

Local posts and independent mails have been a special interest of mine ever since I started working in philately, but not everyone is so familiar with this subcategory of stamp collecting. In the US, local posts are private companies that carry mail outside of the official government post office. These companies were first organized in the 1840s, to compete with or supplement the Post Office’s service. Although the classic era of local posts ended in the 1860s when new laws suppressed their ability to legally carry the mail, short lived local posts still occasionally pop up – usually through the will of creative philatelists who want to leave their mark in the world of stamp collecting.

I gave a presentation on the history and evolution of local posts for the American Philatelic Society. You can watch a recording of the talk here: https://youtu.be/8I2HvB7hOlA

Creating my own local post is something I’ve wanted to do for years, but never knew exactly when or how to pull it off. Well, it’s 2020, and due to the corona virus pandemic, I haven’t been able to visit stamp shows or first day ceremonies, and I’m aching for a stamp adventure. So it seems like the perfect time to put my local post research to work and create an exciting new local post that I can share with all philatelic friends!

Welcome to the Piggyback Post

I’ve decided to name my local the Piggyback Post. There are two reasons – the first is that, well, I just like pigs. I think they’re cute, smart animals. I used to collect pig figurines and items, and when I started stamp collecting, I was a bit disappointed with how few stamps, outside of “Year of the Boar” issues, actually celebrate or even featured pigs on them. The second reason is that my post will be “piggybacking” off the USPS – I’ll carry mail to the post office, but the USPS mail carriers are doing the real work.

First, I need a business plan. Although I enjoy artistamps, I want to run a real local post that carries mail. This means I need an office and a route.

Picture of The Gallery facade
The Gallery in Shelbyville, Indiana

Aside from cancelling stamp shows, the pandemic has also meant that events at and visits to my town’s local art gallery have been greatly reduced – and so have donations to the organization that keeps it running. I’ve been a member of the Shelby Art Guild Association for several years, and really enjoy having access to the gallery space to work on and share art. I was scheduled to be the featured artist for October – it seems like the perfect space to set the Piggyback Post Office!

The Piggyback Post will carry mail from The Gallery to the Shelbyville Post Office a few blocks away. With the office and route established, I’m ready to go! This is how most local posts are run. But through researching local posts, I know that technically carrying First Class mail (letters and cards) is legally the sole privilege of the United States Postal Service – a permitted monopoly. Despite the legal restriction, local posts managed by individuals are usually fine. It’s common sense that these post offices are set up for fun or events rather than profit, so there’s no need to suppress them.

Page from brochure instructing how the service works
Section of React business brochure, from Drummond’s Catalog of Philatelic Miscellany

However, in my attempt to make Piggyback Post as legitimate as possible, I’ve decided to add and extra service to the post. In 1982, the React Mail Service company was established to gather mail, sort it and stamp it, and deliver it to the USPS. Although the company was sued by the National Association of Letter Carriers, it was deemed perfectly legal. (It went bankrupt shortly afterward, however.) I’m going to run the Piggyback Post in a similar way: Customers can buy a Piggyback Post stamp for a dollar and drop off their mail in the letter box at the gallery. I will then provide the service of affixing proper US postage for them before carrying it to the USPS.

Now to design some stamps for the post! In 1966, the Rattlesnake Island local post was set up in Ohio and issued its first postage stamps for the service. The government actually stepped in and briefly stopped the service because their stamps were too similar in appearance to US stamps and could cause confusion with the US Post. The Post Office ordered that local post stamps should be distinct in appearance and that they could not be applied to the upper right corner of mail, where the US stamps are placed. Rattlesnake Island complied by issuing triangle-shaped stamps. After all, at the time the US had never issued triangle stamps, and in the time since, they’ve only issued a few.

Photograph of two, green 10¢ Rattlesnake Island stamps
Rattlesnake Island postage – 1966 rectangle stamp and 1967 triangle stamp

Following their example, I’ve decided to make my stamps triangle shaped. And of course they’ll feature a drawing of a pig. I actually used the same (but updated) pig image I drew a few years ago for an artistamp I was experimenting with. I decorated it with curly flourishes that look pretty on their own – but when placed together with a second stamp to make a square, the flourishes combine to create hearts. When the design was finished, I printed my stamps on sticker paper, and cut roulette perforations using a Brother ScanNCut machine.

Piggyback Post stamp

Issue: #1

First Day of Issue: October , 2020

Denomination: $1

Colors: Rose and Rust on White

Gum: Self-Adhesive

Perforation: Roulette size 5

Next, I need to make a cancelling device. Early US fancy cancels were carved from cork. Cork was cheap and easily available – and it was easy to carve into designs, from simple shapes to pictorials. I followed suit and carved a design into a cork to cancel my stamps with. The cancel design is based on the motifs from the stamp design. For the date, I purchased a handstamp online to use.

Carving a postmark from cork
The Piggyback Post letterbox

Customers need a letter box to drop off their mail, so I built that, too.  I sewed the letterbox from fabric and made it into a backpack. True to its name, Piggyback Post will be carried by piggyback.

And now we’re ready to go! The first run of the post will be on Friday, October 2nd, the date of my featured artist reception at The Gallery. After that, I’ll carry mail every Saturday in October (the 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th) before the post’s final delivery on Halloween, October 31st.

But I also want to share the Piggyback Post with philatelists and friends who can’t visit The Gallery – so I’ve also made some Piggyback Postcards that I’m selling online. For $5 you can purchase a card that I will address, stamp, and carry to the post office for delivery to you or a friend.

Photograph of a Piggyback Postcard with Piggyback Post stamp affixed and cancelled - cork cancelling device and date stamp are beside the card.
A Piggyback Postcard, stamped and dated

All money from sales of stamps and cards will go to The Shelby Arts Guild Alliance to maintain The Gallery. I hope this little fundraiser can help with some repairs and touch-ups to the building.

To learn more about historical carriers and local posts, I recommend checking out the Carriers and Locals Society.

For information on modern local posts, check out the Local Post Collectors Society.

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