VERY FINE. A MAGNIFICENT "SOUTHERN LETTER UNPAID" COVER FRANKED WITH A COMBINATION OF THE NEW ORLEANS POSTMASTER'S PROVISIONAL -- USED WITHIN THE FIRST WEEK OF ISSUE -- AND THE UNITED STATES 3-CENT 1857 ISSUE, WHICH WAS REJECTED BY THE LOUISVILLE POST OFFICE. ONLY ONE OTHER SUCH COMBINATION IS RECORDED, AND THIS IS THE FINER OF THE TWO. AN IMPORTANT POSTAL HISTORY ARTIFACT FROM SEVERAL PERSPECTIVES.
This folded notice of Protest was dated June 14, 1861, by the notary public in New Orleans, Octave de Armas, and mailed to James Lester in Eddyville, Kentucky. It was probably postmarked at the New Orleans post office on the following day (June 15), but this type of circular datestamp (with large serif letters) is often difficult to read; in this instance, the day of the month is illegible. By the time this letter reached Nashville on or about June 17, the U.S. mail agent had already been withdrawn from the route between Nashville and Louisville (the last regular mail run was on June 12). On June 15, the Nashville postmaster, W. D. McNish, started to forward mail to Louisville by using the American Letter Express Company, who brought the mails across the lines and deposited them in the Louisville post office. This letter was among the first group of mail forwarded by express under this unusual arrangement.
Starting June 13, the Louisville postmaster, Dr. John J. Speed, decided to hold the northbound mail received from Nashville, rather than divert it to the U.S. Dead Letter Office. Speed sent a request to Washington D.C. for instructions on how to handle the mail that was rapidly accumulating. When this letter arrived in Louisville on June 19, it was held until Postmaster Speed received instructions from the U.S. Post Office Department, which were wired on June 24, advising him to "forward letters from the South for the loyal states as unpaid after removing postage stamps..." Since it was impractical to remove stamps from all of the letters (although apparently that was attempted at first), Postmaster Speed created the "Southn. Letter Unpaid" marking to explain to the addressees that the U.S. stamps applied by the senders were invalid for postage. The first group of mail to be released with the "Southn. Letter Unpaid" marking was actually the mail received at Louisville by private express between June 17 and 25, which included the cover offered here. This group was released on June 25, but none of these letters was postmarked with the Louisville datestamp.
There are 29 "Southn. Letter Unpaid" covers recorded in the Special Routes book (No. 25 has been deleted as a fake since publication), only two of which have a Southern Postmaster's Provisional stamps (both New Orleans). There is one other New Orleans provisional cover known that was addressed to Louisville, carried by American Letter Express from Nashville, but it bears only the "Due 3" marking and was not marked "Southn. Letter Unpaid" because it was delivered locally in Louisville.
Special Routes Census No. SLU-14. Illustrated in National Philatelic Museum 1857 Perforation Centennial book and Special Routes (p. 17). Ex Worthington, Caspary, Lightner, Matz, Haas, Ishikawa and Walske. With 2010 P.F. certificate