Civil War Stamp Envelopes, Their Issuers and Their Times. Book Review by Benny Bolin

Fred Reed has hit another homerun with his new book on Civil War Stamp Envelopes. The topic is one that has a limited collector base due to the relatively small number that still exist today (128 merchants issued 514 different varieties). But Fred has once again, as with his Encased Postage Stamp (EPS) and Lincoln books, gone above the normal item catalog and has completed a historical masterpiece. As a collector and researcher, I have been concerned that we are losing the history of the notes and other items as the hobby is seemingly becoming more focused on the financial aspect. But what Fred does, in my opinion, better than any other author today, is instill that historical aspect into his books. He did that well in the EPS and the Lincoln books but has surpassed himself with this book.  His in-depth research has resulted into a lot of previously unknown and unpublished history of the merchant/printer of each envelope. By reading his book, you almost get the feeling of knowing these people from our past. Before Fred’s book, the only reference available was a piece by Milt Friedberg that only had black & white pictures and due to some collectors refusal to share information, it was an incomplete list.

The book begins with a foreword by Art Paradis, the foremost collector of these envelopes who has now amassed the largest collection in existence today. He gives a nice history into his collection and his pursuit of new items. He makes a very poignant statement “I want to know the range of what is available and background information about the companies and people associated with them. This book fulfills these needs and desires beyond all expectations.”

Reed then progresses into a very detailed introduction to the small change crisis of the time, the different types of medium that was used and how postage stamps came to be used and the envelopes used to protect them.

A timeline follows that is very detailed and starts with the first appearance of the envelopes on July 4, 1862 and then goes into other appearances, major sales and concludes with the release of the book in October, 2013.

And then he goes into a lengthy history of prior cataloging efforts and famous collections/collectors. Having known Milt Friedberg for years and considering him my mentor, I know he was frustrated with the information he was able to gather on this subject. I know he would be proud to be mentioned in the book and with Fred’s efforts to detail the history of these little gems. This is one of the best parts of the book and is essentially a history of collecting postage stamp envelopes.   

Fred then goes into the meat of the book, the discussion of the different merchants. He has gone to great lengths to detail with illustrations when possible of the different envelopes and provides a description, printer and other information. He begins each listing with a history of the envelope as to who has owned it, prices it has brought in past sales and todays location if known. Some will say the book needs to have valuations in it.  I totally disagree as the value of these items are not static but are determined on a “day of sale” basis due to limited supply and demand.  Fred does a nice job of including the pertinent sales information, especially the values the envelopes have achieved recently. Then Fred includes the historical information, from pictures of the merchants, the buildings, newspaper ads, etc. Fred even includes historical information on some envelopes that are known to have been printed but are not known location-wise today as well as those firmly ensconced in the Smithsonian Collection. After detailing these 128 merchants, Fred lists and shows pictures of a number of envelopes that have no merchant name on them and therefore cannot be researched.

Fred concludes the book with two good references.  First is a synopsis of the envelopes by Reed number with Milton Number when known, the issuer name and their business or trade and ends with an extensive bibliography that will provide future historians much to review.

It was exciting to read Fred’s latest book. It gives a new perspective to these envelopes and provides so much new information it is almost unfathomable. It was a pleasure to be able to contribute in a very small way to the book.  If you are a collector of Postage Stamp Envelopes, fractional currency, encased postage or a history buff, I highly recommend this book to you.