CWTS Article of the Month!

November 1999

"Hussey's Private Message Post"

by Werner G. Mayer

Extracted from The Civil War Token Journal, Volume 20 Number 1.

    Early postal systems were primarily for the transmission of governmental communications.  A postal station was a location for the reception, delivery and transmission of official mail and was the site at which fresh men and horses were stationed to relieve exhausted men and horses in the dispatch of communications.  The public had depended on special messengers or entrusted their mail to travelers for delivery.  The first truly public postal system is credited to France.  The French postal system was initiated by King Louis XI in 1464.  The organization and administrations of the postal system was contracted to private entrepreneurs.  England didn't organize a public postal system until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1591.

    In the American colonies the first post office was opened in 1639 and was established by the General Court of Massachusetts.  Virginia established a postal service in 1657 and New York established a monthly mail service between New York City and Boston in 1672.  This route became the well known Boston Post Road.  It started at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in colonial New York City.  Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General of Philadelphia in 1737 and in 1752 he became the Postmaster General of the English Colonies, a position he held until the Revolutionary War.

    The Second Continental Congress of 1778 established a mail system.  Article IX of the Articles of Confederation stated "The United States in Congress assembled shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of...establishing and regulating post offices from one state to another thoughout all the United States, and extracting such postage on the papers passing thru the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office."  Benjamin Franklin again was chosen to lead the new U.S. Postal Systems, with a salary of $1,000 a year.  With the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1790m Congress, under Section 8 paragraph 7, decreed that "The Congress shall have establish Post Offices and Post Roads" retaining exclusive power to regulate the mails.

    In the early 1840's a number of privately owned local mail deliverers made their appearance in Cincinnati, New York and Philadelphia.  These mail deliverers, or "private posts," as they became known, would deliver mail to the ultimate addressee and not just to the nearest local post office as the Federal Postal Service did.  The first of the private local posts was Bloods Penny Post of Philadelphia, PA which was established in 1840.  Bloods Penny Post issued the first adhesive postage stamp in 1841, one year after Great Britain had issued its first postage stamp and six years before the U.S. Postal Service.    The private posts developed as a result of extremely poor mail distribution by the U.S. Postal Service.  A revolution in communications was taking place in the United States and the Postal Service was not growing as fast.  In the 1840s there was the rapid development of the railroads, ocean transport, commerce with the Orient, and steamboats, necessitating an efficient communications system.

    New York City had a large number of private posts, most of which did quite well during the 1840's and 1850's.  Some of the better known private posts were Boyd's City Express Post, Swart's City Dispatch Post, Bouton's City Express, and Hussey's Special Message Post.  There were numerous other private posts, none of which were as economically important as the preceding private posts.  Initially the private posts did not draw the attention of the U.S. Postal Service, as they were providing a much needed service.  The private posts proved to be quite profitable and popular and were encouraged by businesses and the public to expand and improve their services.  It was this competition that forced the U.S. Postal service to reluctantly provide post to house deliveries, embossed stamped envelopes, special delivery, and local parcel post.  All of these services were already provided cheaply and efficiently by the private posts.

    As the larger private posts became more and more profitable, the U.S. Postal Service began to apply pressure on Congress to restrict their activities.  There were numerous court battles between the private posts and the U.S. Postal Service.  It wasn't until 1883 that the last of the posts were driven out of business.  Congress gradually, over a period of years, passed a number of laws limiting more and more the legal rights of the private posts to operate.  The Act of 1851 empowered the Postmaster General to establish postal rates within cities and towns; whereas previously, postal rates and routes only existed between cities and towns, post office to post office.  This Act also enabled the U.S. Postal Service to monopolize the collection and delivery of all mail.  Many new mail carriers were hired and hundreds of post boxes were placed all around New York City.  These postal boxes, for the collection of letters, were to be emptied by the U.S. mail carriers four times a day.  There was to be no charge for the pickup of this mail, but the delivery was to cost 1 cent per letter within the city.  A number of the largest private posts, such as Boyd's City Express Post, Swart's, and Hussey's Special Message Post continued to do business as before, ignoring the efforts of the U.S. Postmaster General to drive them out.  The Postal Act of 1861, however, effectively removed all competition to the U.S. Post.  It abolished the local posts once and for all.  After the Civil War the U.S. Post took all the remaining private posts to court until they were driven out of business.  The last of the private posts, Hussey's, finally ceased doing business in the early 1890's.

    Hussey's Bank and INsurance POst was established in New York City in 1854 by George Hussey.  Mr. Hussey was born in New York City in 1812.  He was employed by the "old" Bank of New York in 1836, where he remained as an employee for over 30 years.  During the time he was employed by the bank he opened his postal service at 82 Broadway, Room 12.  Hussey opened his service as a direct result of his experiences at the bank.  There was an urgent need for the delivery of business documents directly to the addressee on a daily basis, as opposed to delivering the documents to the local post office and waiting for the addressee to pick them up.  Hussey's business, unlike other private posts, was unique in that he supplied special services only for banks, insurance companies, real estate corporations, etc.  He did not provide mail service for the general public.  He promised immediate delivery of documents and papers essential to businesses.  His Special Message Post was never really considered a private local post but rather a messenger service.  He has no post boxes placed over the City as did the other services.  This characteristic of his business enabled him to survive the drive by the Postmaster General to eliminate the private posts.

    In 1858 Hussey moved his business to 50 William Street, between Wall and Pine Streets, and had his form's name changed to Hussey's Instant Special Message Post.  His staff consisted of between 25 and 40 messengers.  Mr. Hussey's private residence was 17th Street and 5th Avenue in the City of Brooklyn.  IN 1872, the building at 50 William Street was demolished, so he moved around the corner to 54 Pine Street.  Mr. Hussey issued his own postage stamps.  At first they were available at $1 per hundred stamps.  IN 1863, he raised his delivery rate to 2 cents and so he issued a 2 cent stamp dated 1863.  He later issued other denominations of stamps and also provided a special delivery stamp.  Mr. Hussey's advertising circulars depicted a horse and rider identical to the horse and rider on Civil war store card 630AK-1a.  He issued his tokens in 1863 and is the only known merchant that issued his own private postage stamps and currency.  In 1875 Mr. Hussey retired due to ill health.  The Message Post was sold to Robert Easson.  Mr. Easson's name first appeared on postage stamps issued by the firm in 1877.  It was still located at 54 Pine Street.  In 1888 the firm moved to 61 Pine Street.  Mr. Hussey's postage stamps, as are all other privately issued postage stamps, were considered quite collectable in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  As a result, many of his stamps have been counterfeited to meet the demand of collectors.  Copies can be obtained quite cheaply; whereas the original issues are usually rare and expensive.  The Civil War tokens Hussey issued are very attractive and collectable, but cannot be considered rare.


CWTS Article Archive
Winter 2016 A Reminiscence
Winter 2016 My First Sulter Token
Spring 2016 Protesting Union Civil War Policies
Winter 2015 Slave Owner Issued Civil War Tokens
Fall 2014 Hill the Barber & African American Store Card Issuers
Fall 2014 Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Myth, The Man, The Mystery
Apr. 2004 Henry Varwig - OH165GD
Mar. 2004 Dating Mr. Sayre's Tokens
Feb. 2000 Knowledge of Civil War Tokens
Jan. 2000 Ohio 710A
Dec. 1999 Speculations About Yankee Robinson
Nov. 1999 Hussey's Private Message Post
Oct. 1999 The Great Central Fair
Sep. 1999 Wm. S. Wilcox of Adrian, Michigan
Aug. 1999 Grading Isn't Really a Monster
July 1999 The 1860 Presidential Campaign Medalets
June 1999 The Other Store Cards of Central New York
May 1999 George McClellan - The Peace Maker?
Apr. 1999 Sutler Tokens at Gettysburg
Mar. 1999 More on the Monitor and Merrimac
Feb. 1999 Civil War Token Mini-Set -- General Franz Sigel
Jan. 1999 Die Sinker Errors on Civil War Tokens
Dec. 1998 The Abraham Lincoln Mini-set
Nov. 1998 Civil War Token Errors
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