Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


During the Great Depression of the 1930s, money virtually disappeared and as a consequence, the cost of everything dropped nearly to zero. Postal rates were perhaps the lowest ever known and lasted through World War II, into the postwar expansion. In popular use was the "penny postcard," which doubled to two-cents on January 1, 1950. Also, the two-cent first class letter rate went to three cents in 1950.

When you mailed your Christmas cards, if you tucked the envelope flap inside and didnít seal it, you could send them with a special one-and-a-half-cent stamp.

My grandmother used the 1.5 cent stamps. She also would embarrass me by saving cards that people sent who signed in pencil, so that she could erase the signature and send them to someone else the following year. It was necessary to bend her pennies to afford postage. She would have been beside herself if "whiteout" had been invented!

First class postage is currently thirteen times higher than it was on January 1, 1950. The three-cent stamp is now thirty-nine cents! But even at that, postage today is a tremendous value when you consider the cost in the past, the times, and the money available.

The first postmaster in the central part of Van Buren County was John Fairman whose post office in a cave along the river was called Port Oro. He helped lay out and form the village of Van Buren in 1837 (early Keosauqua.) He carried letters in his hatband until he came across a settler who had mail coming, and charged a quarter, postage due, for the service. He got to keep a portion of the quarter. If the addressee did not have the quarter, Fairman either held the mail until the man could afford his letter, or he bartered with him and accepted payment in the form of meat, game, or vegetables.

Where there were official postal routes and designated postmasters, postal rates applied and postmasters were paid in a percentage of receipts. For totals below $100, he was given 30%; for totals over that amount, his percentage of take dropped gradually to 8% over $2,400. Rates were based on distances: six-cents up to 30 miles; ten cents for 30-80 miles; over 400 miles, a quarter. In 1845, postal rates began a slight downward trend.

Sending and receiving letters or e-mails now is something we take for granted. Hearing from a friend or relative may create a smile, but to the back woodsman a century or more ago, getting a letter from someone was something to treasure--like getting a Christmas present! Mailing letters to people was only on rare occasions, perhaps to announce a birth, a marriage, a death in the family, or a change in living location. After all, collecting the pennies together for posting the letter might require sacrificing Sundayís dinner roast!

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick