THE MYSTERY OF THE CARRIER USE
OF THE ONE CENT 1861
[Solved at Last by Kerlock Shomes]
[as reported exclusively for Stamps by Dr. Warsaw]
London, April 18, 1943
The war has naturally prevented me from meeting my old friend Kerlock Shomes as frequently as I was wont to in the good old days before the war, when we saw so much of each other in the familiar rooms in Baker Street. Shomes, having retired years ago as a private detective (although he would never admit to that title), is still living in the country, developing a victory garden, and spending his spare time in improving his technique on his favorite instrument, the snare drum.
From time to time my distinguished friend has been called upon by his fellow citizens in Tunbridge-on-Thames to unscrew certain "unscrutable" mysteries, and only recently he came to London on one of these missions. It had been reported that "six lamb chops" had been served at a dinner to a distinguished American magazine correspondent, and the question had naturally arisen, "where in 'ell did they get 'em?
The President of the local Chamber of Commerce, realizing that he represented the business men of Tunbridge, engaged Mr. Shomes to visit London and ferret out the source from which emanated this Olympian feast. If London could serve a dinner with as many as six lamb chops, why could not Tunbridge, which traced its history back to the time of William the Conqueror?
So Kerlock came to London, and spent hours and hours traveling from one market to another in the quest of lamb chops, or at least for information as to where the famous "six" had been purchased. After a long and very tiring day, however, Kerlock had to admit that there was "no soap," and he decided to spend the evening resting in his old bachelor quarters in Baker Street. Mrs. Simpkins, his old housekeeper, who had been keeping his rooms always ready for him in case he ever came to town, was delighted to see him again, and, as a careful servant, she was prepared.
A hearty dinner, produced without ration cards, was soon being served. Mutton broth, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, an egg omlette (soufflé) and imported roquefort cheese, followed by black coffee, made Shomes feel like a new man. Add to this a bottle of Napoleon brandy and a well filled pipe, and Shomes was all set for "the end of a perfect day."
As his train did not leave for Tunbridge till midnight, he had ample opportunity to indulge himself in his latest ambition, that of making a complete Grand Opera orchestration of that American classic, "Yes, We Have No Bananas." Having set up his drum, and placed the music score where he could easily make his recording, he was about to begin when the doorbell rang.
"Cripes," said Shomes to himself, "Aint I never goin' to get no time to myself when I got a few hours off?"
All this I learned later, as it was I who rang the doorbell and later burst in upon Shomes to disturb his solitary evening.
"Hello, Warsaw," said Shomes, "I thought you were in Africa, studying the effect of mosquito bites on flying fortresses."
"So I was," I replied, "but I recently saw a copy of the Times in Tripoli, and at once flew home in hopes that I could find you. I took a chance that you might be in town, and so came post haste to Baker Street. Thank God I have found you."
"But what, my dear Warsaw, is the cause of all the excitement? Has Rommel staged another strategic retreat, or has America run out of gas?"
"Much more serious than that, Kerlock," I exclaimed, "for the latest report from the States is that that country is in the throes of a feud that may lead to a civil war."
"Extraordinary, my dear Warsaw," remarked my friend. "I had supposed that at present the one thing that is absorbing the attention of our allies overseas is the big thirteen billion dollar War Bond Drive, and that the people are united as never before to put this drive across."
"In a sense that is so," I said, "but just recently a matter has arisen that threatens to undermine the stability of the Republic. It seems, according to the Times, that someone has dared to suggest that carrier fees on letters used before July 1863 could be paid by l¢ stamps both for collection and delivery. You know that at that time there were no salaried postmen. Carriers, as they were called, picked up letters at collection stations and took them to the main post office. For this service they received one cent, or as we would say, a ha'penny. Other carriers delivered these same letters to one's office or home and received therefor a similar amount. If a man in New York sent a letter to a correspondent in Boston, and he used a l¢ and 3¢ stamp, it has been considered that the l¢ stamp paid the fee for collecting the letter outside the main office."
"So what?" said Shomes, "Is this so important a matter that you had to leave your post at the front and fly back to England when every doctor, even though he specializes in bugs, is needed at the scene of action?"
"That's what you think," I replied, "but you don't know nothin' about America. There are hundreds of thousands of stamp collectors in that country and to them philately is the fourth "f." philosophy, physiology, philanthropy and philately. The last is the most important. Unless one's mind is at ease one can not function as one should, and wars and rumors of wars must wait until we clear up such vital points as the Carrier use of the l¢ 1861."
"But, Warsaw, why all this stew? Every one who knows anything at all about philately is conversant with the fact that the l¢ 1861 in America was used to pay the Carrier fee up to July 1, 1863."
"Quite so," I replied, but did it pay both fees, collection and delivery? Unimportant, you will probably say, "but do you realize that at present philatelic America is divided into two camps, one claiming that the delivery fee could be paid by the l¢ stamp, and the other claiming that it couldn't?"
"Well," said Shomes, "What of it? Who cares?"
"My dear friend," I answered. "You seem to be missing the boat. This question has got to be decided, else America is lost. That is why I am seeking your help. Just as the Stoics of old were divided into different schools of thought, so the collectors of America are divided today. There is the school which claims that delivery fees could be paid by stamps, although there are no covers to prove it. Then there is the school which just as stoutly denies this and demands 'put up or shut up.' So there the matter stands at present. There is a third party to the controversy, a man named Ssorg, but his views are of little value and may be disregarded as having no weight at all."
At this point Shomes, with a sign of complete boredom, left his comfortable chair and walked over to a small safe that is installed in the alcove of his living room. After he had opened it he returned bearing a cover which he asked me to inspect.
This cover, I noticed, originated in Boston and was addressed to Providence. The postmark read "Boston, Mass., March 31, 1862." It obviously was delivered on the following day, as there was this notation in pencil on the back:
"April 1, 1862. I.G. Yates, janitor and part-time letter carrier of the Providence Post Office, hereby certify that I delivered this letter in person to the party whose name and address appears on the front of this envelope. I received one cent from the postmaster for performing this service, since a l¢ stamp had been placed on the envelope by the sender in Boston. I make this statement in case any one in the future should question the fact that delivery fees could be paid in advance.
(Signed) G. Yates."
As soon as I read this I exclaimed, "Where Shomes did you get this letter? It's a pity that you didn't know what was going on in America, for this remarkable cover would have put a stop to all the controversy that has existed in the States during the last two years. It would have ended the feud, and collectors could have devoted their entire time to the prosecution of the war."
"Well," said Shomes, "now that you mention it, I have known about this feud for a long time. I purposely did not say anything about it, as I planned to exhibit this cover at the forthcoming International Exhibition in New York in 1946. Already I have arranged with a famous collector for a special frame to display this cover, all by itself, in the lobby in front of the elevators when you enter the Exhibition hall. I am assured that special armed guards will watch this frame night and day, and that it will be insured for $40,000 (why not, it's the only one known)."
"I must ask you, Warsaw, to keep this information entirely confidential, as I naturally want to give those American boys something to look at when they attend this big show."
Of course I assured Shomes that his great secret was safe with me, although I regretted that the philatelic world would have to wait so long before being put right on a matter of such vital importance. At any rate the mystery was solved at last.
As it was now nearing midnight, and Shomes had to take a late train back to Tunbridge, I prepared to leave. I could not, however, refrain from taking a few minutes to express my continued admiration for his ability always to solve any perplexing problem that I brought to him. To this Shomes replied:
"My dear Warsaw, there are no problems in the world that cannot be solved. Even in philately the records are there if we read them correctly, and even if we don't, covers such as my 'Yates exhibit' usually turn up to prove that the best of the experts 'don't know nothin yet.'"
Much relieved, I returned to my hotel (my apartment was closed while I was in service) and for the first time in weeks I enjoyed a good night's rest.
I awoke early, and feeling entirely refreshed, I lay in bed and reviewed the events of the night before. Somehow there seemed to be something wrong. If it were true that no American cover had ever been found proving conclusively that the l¢ 1861 could pay the delivery fee, how did it happen that Shomes should have secured one, and the only one known. Although he was not a stamp collector he seemed to have an uncanny knowledge on all subjects, and I had never known him to be taken in by anyone offering rarities in any kind of a hobby. I still felt, however, that in this instance the thing didn't make sense. And then it came to me!
With a bound I was out of bed and calling Shomes on the long distance phone. When he answered I said:
"Kerlock, do you remember the date of the certification on the back of that cover you showed me last night?"
"Why, yes," he said, "it was April 1, 1862."
"That's as I remember it," I answered. "Did you ever hear that the first of April in America is used by wags and village cutups to pull off wise cracks? Think it over."
"Well," said Shomes, "I'll be damned!"