EXTREMELY FINE. THIS IS ONE OF TWO RECORDED "SOUTHERN LETTER UNPAID" COVERS BEARING THE 12-CENT 1860 ISSUE AND ONE OF ONLY FIVE TO A FOREIGN DESTINATION. ITS HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE, EXTREME RARITY AND IMPECCABLE QUALITY COMBINE TO MAKE IT ONE OF THE QUINTESSENTIAL COVERS OF AMERICAN POSTAL HISTORY.
The U.S. May 27, 1861, suspension order prohibited post offices from forwarding southbound mail to disloyal Southern states. However, northbound mail continued to be sent via Louisville. Through June 6, northbound mails were forwarded to Louisville from Memphis or Nashville. From June 7 through 12, only the Nashville post office forwarded mail to Louisville, and Louisville continued to forward mail north.
With the resignation of W. D. McNish as Nashville's Federal postmaster on June 12 and the withdrawal of the U.S. mail agent from this route, Louisville held the mails still being sent north by the discontinued post office at Nashville. On June 24, Dr. John J. Speed, the postmaster at Louisville, was advised to forward letters from the South to the loyal states after removing postage. With approximately 5,000 such letters accumulating at Louisville by this date, Postmaster Speed employed a more practical means of invalidating postage by creating the "Southn. Letter Unpaid" handstamp.
Because the U.S.-France treaty had a provision for unpaid mail, this cover was allowed to go through the U.S. mails with no postage due until arrival in France. Two covers from this correspondence are known, both identically addressed on the same embossed envelopes. They were carried together in the mail postmarked at New Orleans on June 10. The other cover, ex Antrim and Wishnietsky, lacks the Louisville June 27 datestamp and has a single strike of the "Southn. Letter Unpaid" marking on the stamps. They were presumably released on the same day, which means that the Louisville office did not mark all letters in a consistent manner.
There are 29 "Southn. Letter Unpaid" covers recorded in the Special Routes book (No. 25 has been deleted as a fake since publication). The five recorded foreign-bound covers are as follows: 1) Louisville June 27, from St. Francisville La. to Prussia; 2) Louisville June 27, from Bayou Chene La. to France, ex Wunsch and Myers (Siegel Sale 882, lot 2001); 3) Louisville June 27, from New Orleans to France (the cover offered here, pictured on the front cover of the Special Routes book; 4) no Louisville datestamp, franked with Scott Nos. 36B and 26, from New Orleans to France, ex Antrim and Wishnietsky, Siegel sale 1064, lot 23; and 5) Louisville Jul. 11, from Petersburg Va. to England, 24c 1860, ex Matthies and Dr. Graves
Special Routes Census No. SLU-7. Ex Shenfield, Sweet, Judd and Kilbourne. Illustrated on p. 6 of Shenfield's Special Postal Routes and in Ashbrook's Special Service #28, p. 203. Pictured on the front cover and on p. 15 of the Special Routes book by Steven Walske and Scott Trepel