Stamp Collecting: Envelopes often as collectible as stamps

‘Covers’ with interesting stamps or postal markings are an important part of any collector’s assortment

By Breck Pegram/Ky. Stamp Club Published:

Editor’s Note: When Breck Pegram brought the envelope containing a postcard from Queen Mary into the newspaper to be scanned, he handed it to me and said, “You’re holding a piece of history – a postcard Queen Mary wrote herself.” I handled it carefully; it was a sobering thought.

Among the different areas of stamp collecting is one that has maintained its prominence in the hobby. It is covers, which are envelopes with interesting stamps or other postal markings, which make them significant for a number of reasons.

At stamp shows you will find dealers who have boxes and boxes of these covers and as you go by their tables you’ll see collectors going through these in hopes of finding something they’ve been looking for or just finding something significant that everyone else has missed.

Among cover collectors there are those who are what I would call rate and route experts. These are people who have studied, let’s say, the postal rates at various times in and out of the United States. They may know that, in say 1905, a flood caused an interruption of mail service along a portion of the Ohio River and mail accumulated at Pittsburgh for a period of 10 days and was back stamped accordingly giving the recipient the reason for the delay in delivery.

Covers like this would be rare because there would be few of them on the market and thus they would be both valuable and interesting to the postal historian.


A central ingredient of value in a cover is rarity. Rarity must be accompanied, however, by demand. If a cover from an area that only had a post office for a short period of time lacks a demand for those covers, then the value will be low.

What is known as crash covers is another interesting area of cover collecting. A well-known area of this part of collecting is covers from the airship Hindenburg when it famously crashed and burned at Lakehurst, N.J. on May 6, 1937.

Several years ago I heard an excellent talk at a stamp club meeting in Louisville by Dr. Cheryl Ganz, Chief Curator of Philately at the National Postal Museum in the Smithsonian Institute. Dr. Ganz is a noted authority on the subject of crash mail and particularly Hindenburg crash mail. She has some pieces of Hindenburg crash mail in her personal collection and has even met several people who were on the doomed airship that fateful day.

In her talk she disclosed something a lot of people did not know and that is a lot of mail survived the crash because there was mail in some fireproof vaults on the Hindenburg. This is certainly an interesting and undoubtedly expensive part of cover collecting.


Another thing that makes some covers valuable would be those cancelled at a post office that is now closed. Franklin County has plenty of these and several members of the Kentucky Stamp Club are constantly on the lookout for covers with a post mark such as: Bridgeport, Joshua (near Bald Knob), Benson Station and a number of others.

The only one you might easily find is Jett, which was closed in the 1970s. The only post office left in the county today is, of course, Frankfort. That is sad and regrettable.

Also, post marks on covers are a popular area of collecting in Kentucky in part because some Kentucky post offices tended to have very colorful and interesting names such as: Jinks, Happy Top and Needmore.

We’ve talked a lot about value in covers. There is another part of cover collecting that is very important to stamp collectors and that is the degree of pure enjoyment that is obtained in looking for covers in whatever area you collect. The same applies to stamp collecting by itself. If you as a collector of stamps and/or covers see it as just a way to make a good investment you are definitely missing out in a big way.

You are getting enjoyment and knowledge only when you can sell or trade stamps and covers and make a nice profit. You should also get a lot of satisfaction out of finding covers from places that hold an interest for you. Maybe you are trying to build a collection from a period in time, say World War II or the Great Depression era, and you find one or more pieces at a stamp show or in a stamp shop that really adds to your collection but the pieces are relatively inexpensive. That only adds to the enjoyment you receive.


Several weeks ago I was in Collectors Stamps, Ltd., in Louisville and one of the staff there said he had something he felt would add to my collection of Great Britain and British Colonies. While I do not collect covers from this area of philately, I saw the historical significance of the item and I purchased it. It is illustrated with this column.

This is a thank you note to a member of the British Royal Family from Queen Mary, wife of King George V. The thank you note was sent Express Mail, as I imagine all the mail of the Royal Family is. This was in 1945 after King George V had died and Queen Mary was living at Marlborough House in London.

The envelope bears Queen Mary’s initials in the lower left corner of the envelope, MR, for Mary Regina (Latin for Queen) and then she has written a two-line note under the top line on the card that is offset printed. She has also autographed the picture on the reverse.

The members of the Kentucky Stamp Club enjoy collecting and learning about covers and they will be glad to share their knowledge with others interested in this subject.

Our next meeting is Saturday Oct. 13, 2 p.m. at Memorial Baptist Church, 130 Holmes St. You are invited to join us.

Breck Pegram is president of the Kentucky Stamp Club.

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