Hezekiah Scovell’s First Postage Stamps
Niagara County can lay claim to many “firsts” in its two hundred year history. One, which is probably not well known, is the first use of adhesive postage stamps for use on letters. This honor belongs to Lockport postmaster Hezekiah Scovell who served in that capacity from 1835-1848 and was the first postmaster in Western New York to use adhesive on postage stamps, an item which he designed especially for Lockport.
Serving several terms, Scovell received his postmaster’s commissions from Martin Van Buren, John Tyler and John C. Calhoun. Scovell’s “sticky stamp” was not well received and short lived, lasting only a little more than one year. More than just poor adhesive, Scovell’s stamp was uncommon in that the person sending the mail had to purchase and pay the price for the stamps, a revolutionary concept at the time. Up to that point, the cost to mail a letter was usually paid by the recipient, not the sender. The prepayment plan did not catch on either as most postal patrons neglected to purchase stamps and simply dropped off their letters without buying stamps, forcing the recipient to pay the full cost of mailing. It wasn’t until 1859 that the Post Office mandated the use of adhesive stamps, or “Provincials.” Provincial stamps were produced separately by each city. At that time, a uniform cost was established of 5 cents for a one ounce letter traveling 300 miles or less.
Scovell’s 1846 Lockport Stamp is described by collectors as follows. “It is a 5 cent stamped oval, in a slightly rectangular background. The number 5 is in black in the center of the oval. At the top is the word “Lockport” in print. The cancellation consists of Mr. Scovell’s initials H.W.S. and two ink lines crossed. The work “Paid” in the center of the oval is quite distinct.” The first postage stamps are of course quite hard to find and are highly prized by collectors. The Provincial stamps of some cities are so rare; they command prices above $100,000.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094