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A 1799 Camden letter and postmark

Posted: December 2, 2011 11:45 a.m.
Updated: December 5, 2011 5:00 a.m.

In 1989 Robert J. Stets and Harvey S. Teal completed and published “South Carolina Postal History and Illustrated Catalog of Postmarks, 1760-1860.” Included in this work were six different postmarks and 14 different rate markings used by Camden postmasters during antebellum times. An illustration of them accompanies this article.

I have been collecting postal items from South Carolina since the early 1950s. I concentrated on collecting them from my home county of Kershaw and purchased items which differed from those already in my collection or secured photographs of them. My personal collection contained over 90 percent of all the illustrated South Carolina postmarks in the 1989 catalog.

About two weeks ago a postal item appeared on EBay which was totally different than any I had previously seen. I successfully bid and purchased the item. When I picked the item up in Savannah, Ga., on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, for the first time I held in my hands an April 3 (1799) straight line Camden postmark.

Previous to using this postmark, the Camden postmaster had been writing all of his postmarks and postal ratings in manuscript. The 1799 postmaster had secured type and a type hold or frame, had set the appropriate type to create the postmark and date, screwed it down tight in the frame, inked the type he had set and stamped this letter, Camden APril 3 (1799). Note he mistakenly used an upper case “p” in April. He changed the dates when appropriate.

There were no printing presses known by this historian to be in Camden at this time and it would be a few years before Camden would have newspaper. The postmaster likely brought a set of type from Charleston to use for this purpose.

This postmaster did not include the year date, but it is known by the fragment of the letter inside the cover which was written and dated by Joseph Brevard. The letter, although only a fragment, indicates it dealt with a routine legal matter.

Joseph Brevard moved from North Carolina to Camden right after the Revolutionary War and in 1789, the Legislature elected him sheriff of Camden District. When admitted to the Bar in 1792, he began a long distinguished career as a lawyer, judge on the S.C. Supreme Court, compiler of “An Alphabetical digest of the statute law in 1814,” and a U.S. Congressman, 1818-1820.

During this period, 1792-1800, only two other South Carolina postmasters used straight line postmarks, Charleston and Columbia. From 1810-1860, Beaufort, Spartanburgh C.H. and Crowder’s Creek used them for short periods of time.

The illustration accompanying this column indicates the first circular postmark from Camden was 1814. With the exception of this lone 1799 straight line example, all previously known Camden postmarks were manuscripts.

This item is proof to collectors that you seldom if ever complete a collection or “get it all,” so to speak. This columnist and collect many years ago learned he did not have it all or would ever get it all and for a certainty, did not know it all.

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