The Great American Postage Stamp Exchange Of 1861.

Above left is the 3-cent Washington stamp (U.S. #26) used prior to the Civil War (1857) for first-class postage, and above right is the 3-cent Washington stamp (U.S. #65) issued after the Civil War started (1861) – replacing the older version.

In 1860 and 1861, eleven Southern states left the Union and formed the Confederate States of America – an action that resulted in the beginning of the Civil War. On April 12, 1861, the war erupted at Fort Sumter, and less than two months later, the United States discontinued all postal services to the South. 

But here’s the problem. Numerous U.S. stamps were still in the hands of postmasters of seceding states and Union officials feared that these stamps would be sent northward and sold – thus providing money for the Confederate states. When the U.S. Postmaster sent a proclamation to all post offices in the South, requesting that the remainders be sent back to Washington D.C., the order was largely ignored. That’s when the U.S. government made quick arrangements for designing a whole new set of postage stamps, demonetizing and replacing the current series.

The 1857 Series of U.S. Postage Stamps (above left) featured 8 different stamps – ranging from 1-cent to 90-cents. The new 1861 series (above right) – with some color variations – had 8 stamps as well.

As you might imagine, the process of demonetizing all current postage stamps while replacing them, at the same time with new ones, was clumsy at best – especially with transportation and communication much slower than it is today. So, when the new 1861 stamps were sent to U.S. post offices from Washington D.C., a notice was included that required an exchange period of six days to be announced in local newspapers. During that six-day exchange period, old stamps could be exchanged for new ones, but after that time, the old stamps would no longer be accepted as postage.

Now, this transition order was easily accomplished in larger cities back East, but for newer states like Iowa, with many rural post offices, this process was not an easy one. Not only would it take a longer period of time for smaller post offices to receive their new stamps, getting the word out to the public via local newspapers was complicated as well. That’s why today, stamp collectors will find a variety of stamps (older & newer issues) with a wider range of postmark dates on postal covers mailed between 1861-1862.

Read more here…

In April of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed James R. Hartsock as postmaster for Iowa City. It was his job, like hundreds of other postmasters around the U.S., to oversee this big transition from pre-Civil War stamps to the new ones. Let’s see how things went…

Here’s a rare embossed postal cover created for The Iowa City Republican newspaper and dates to 1861. The Republican began in 1848 as the Iowa Republican – succeeding the Iowa Standard – then renamed the Iowa Weekly Republican in 1855, and the Iowa City Republican in 1862. In 1922, it became the Johnson County News before ceasing publication in 1923. Read more here.

Even with the confusion of which stamp to use, its very obvious that Iowa Citians were very patriotic once the War was underway. Here’s just a handful of beautiful postal covers postmarked in Iowa City in the early 1860’s. Be sure to take note of the variety of colorful cachets that graced these letters!

(JP-011a) This rare postal cover was mailed in Iowa City on July 22, 1861 using the older Washington 3-cent stamp. The cachet was designed by stationer, S.H. Starr of Davenport, Iowa. Below (JP-002) (JP-011b) (JP-011c) all use U.S. #26 as well – postmarked in Iowa City on May 1 & June 10, 1861.
Read more about the Darlington family here.

These four covers (above) – postmarked in Iowa City in May, June and July 1861 – would make us believe that the transition from the old Washington stamp (U.S. #26) to the new one (U.S. #65) must have happened sometime around or after July 22, right? Keep reading…

(JP-011d) Before we leave the U.S. #26’s, here’s a rare Civil War-era cover (below) from Windham, Iowa – a little, unincorporated town in Johnson County (see map) that was platted in August 1854 and had its own post office until July 1902.

(JP-012a) Postmarked in Iowa City on May 20, 1861.

Whoops! Lookie here! Here’s a colorful postal cover (above) postmarked in Iowa City on May 20, 1861 – and it features the new Washington 3-cent stamp (U.S. #65)! That’s almost two months earlier than the July 22nd cover using the old Washington stamp we showed you earlier! So – as a stamp collecting sleuth – there are 2 options here…

Option 1) We’ve found an amazingly early postmark of the new Washington stamp – May 20, 1861. And if Option 1 is true, then our Iowa City friend – postmaster Hartsock – either made a big boo-boo, or an Iowa City letter-writer neglected to turn in his/her old stamps and still decided to use one on that July 22nd letter – slipping it past the postmaster’s eye!

Option 2) Someone, at a much later date, switched stamps on this May 20th cover – replacing the older Washington stamp with the newer one – and making it look like the new stamp was sold in May, 1861.

I’m leaning toward Option 2, but regardless, I guess it makes my point. There’s a lot of confusion – even to today – of when each postmaster around the country made the Great Exchange, and from what we see below – once Iowa City got to late August 1861, the new Washington stamp was being used regularly and the Great American Postage Stamp Exchange was complete! Now, enjoy the covers – all provided by my good buddy, Jim Petersen. See more here.

(JP-012b) Postmarked in Iowa City on August 31, 1861.
(JP-012c) Postmarked in Iowa City on Sept. 6, 1861. Below – (JP-012d-JP-012i)

(JP-012j-k) Directly above are two additional Civil War covers postmarked 1863/1865 in Sioux City, Iowa & Nashville, Tennessee. Read more details here (JP-049 a/b) Below are two Civil War-era covers postmarked in Amish in Johnson County, Iowa. Read more here.

Click here to read more about Iowa and the Civil War…

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

The postal series of 1861-62,

James R. Hartsock, History of Johnson County, Iowa containing a History of the County and the Townships, Cities and Villages from 1836 to 1882 – Together with Biographical Sketches, 1883, p 202

James Rush Hartsock, Find-A-Grave

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