Not strictly stamps, coins or paper money Encased Postage became, for a brief period, a medium with which to buy and trade goods and services.
In early July 1862, shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, there was virtually no gold or silver coins available for use of trade or to give change. If one was fortunate or wealthy enough to own ‘’greenbacks,” there was a premium to buy federal coins. Copper coins were being hoarded, which made it increasingly difficult to pay for daily needs such as haircuts, milk and the like.
At this time some enterprising merchants issued scrip with values up to a dollar advertising their wares, and later tokens also came to the market place. It was during this period that Fractional or Postage Currency notes were developed in the form of small pieces of paper. The latter showed current issues of stamps with their values, thus representing an exchangeable and accepted piece of currency. Originally distributed to Army paymasters, it was not until later, September 1862, that these notes were distributed to the general public.
Other actions by the federal government eventually led to the Act of July 17, 1862 which provided for the use of postage stamps as monetary vehicles and entered the foray as Encased Postage. Due to the fragility of postage stamps, a method of protection had to be developed to prolong their useful life, thus came about the encasing of the stamps.
Among the many entrepreneurs with a vision to capitalize and profit from this new form of commerce was one John Gault of New York City. After a stint in the gold rushes of California and developing a successful business in Boston, Mr. Gault returned to New York to enter the market for this new form of currency. He was granted a patent No, 1627 on August 2, 1862. His encasing unit comprised two discs of brass about the size of a quarter, the stamp with it’s four corners folded down was placed between a mica face, a piece of cardboard against the back side, thus sealing the stamp between between the two brass discs. The back casing was left blank in order to allow advertisements by interested parties, for a fee of course.
Some thirty-one different merchants signed up to utilize this novel medium that spanned the Northeast, including twenty merchants who were involved with medicine production, such as J.C. Ayers of Lowell, MA who advertised Sarsaparilla and Burnett’s Cocoaine Kalliston, as well as retailers Lord & Taylor, insurance companies, bankers, wholesalers, jewelers and of course Gault’s own company. Another group in the Midwest was recruited by traveling salesmen who in many cases also represented Civil War token manufactures. The salesmen would visit small towns and interest local merchants in the advertising potential of this unusual medium.
So thanks to a hardworking salesman, we have the B.F. MILES issue of 1 Cent and 5 Cent denominations. Benjamin Miles ran a wholesale drug and chemicals business in Peoria, Illinois. Perhaps Mr. Miles was unsure of the potential of the product, as his encasements are some of the rarest of the series of Encased Postage.
Doyle’s May 1, 2017 auction offers a 5 Cents example (Lot 1159), believed to be one of fewer than fifteen known examples. A recent discovery, it was rescued from an an old cigar box by a sharp-eyed and interested sleuth while cleaning house.
So is it a coin, a stamp or a bank note? We do know that these relics of our past are collected by enthusiasts in all fields and that “there’s still gold in them there hills!”