Letter sheet
In philatelic
Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting, which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps...

 terminology a Letter sheet, often written lettersheet, is nowadays an item of postal stationery
Postal stationery
A piece of postal stationery is a stationery item, such as a stamped envelope, letter sheet, postal card, lettercard, aerogram or wrapper, with an imprinted stamp or inscription indicating that a specific rate of postage or related service has been prepaid...

 issued by a postal authority. It is a sheet of paper that can be folded, usually sealed (most often with sealing wax
Sealing wax
Sealing wax is a wax material of a seal which, after melting, quickly hardens forming a bond that is difficult to separate without noticeable tampering. Wax is used to verify something such as a document is unopened, to verify the sender's identity, for example with a signet ring, and as decoration...

 in the 18th and 19th centuries), and mailed without the use of an envelope
An envelope is a common packaging item, usually made of thin flat material. It is designed to contain a flat object, such as a letter or card....

. Letter sheets derive from the form in which written correspondence was made up before the mid-19th century - letters were written on one or more sheets of paper that were folded and sealed in such a way that the address could be written on the outside.

The term lettersheet has been used to describe the unstamped folded sheet letters used before envelopes became popular. Envelopes were not used much before the second half of the 19th century, because most countries' postal rates calculated for the extra sheet of paper that made up the envelope, thereby increasing the cost of mailing when an envelope was used.

Pre-paid lettersheets issued by postal operators are postal stationery because they bear imprinted stamp
Imprinted stamp
In philately an imprinted stamp is a stamp printed on to a piece of postal stationery such as a stamped envelope, postal card, letter sheet, letter card, aerogram or wrapper. The printing is flat upon the surface of the paper, as opposed to an embossed stamp which has a raised relief...

s, or indicia that indicate pre-payment, as opposed to adhesive stamps that are only printed by postal authorities. Lettersheets that require stamps to be applied have also been produced by private firms that usually have no authority for a pre-paid indicia, so postage must be paid by normal means at normal postage rates. Most country's postal authorities have issued true lettersheets at some stage; however, most have discontinued their use, except in the form of an aerogram
An Aerogram, Aérogramme or Air Letter is a thin lightweight piece of foldable and gummed paper for writing a letter for transit via airmail, in which the letter and envelope are one and the same. Most postal administrations forbid enclosures in these light letters, which are usually sent abroad at...

, due to the popularity of envelopes.


The first postal stationery item issued by a government is thought to be the AQ lettersheet issued in 1608 and showing the coat of arms
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

 of Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

. In 1790 Luxembourg
Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

 produced a 25-centime
Luxembourgish franc
The Luxembourgish franc was the currency of Luxembourg between 1854 and 1999 . The franc remained in circulation until 2002, when it was replaced by the euro...

 lettersheet. British newspaper publishers printed colourful stamps on paper supplied by the government between 1712–1870 and Australia produced lettersheets two years before the Mulready lettersheets were issued in 1840. During this period envelopes were rarely used. New South Wales
New South Wales
New South Wales is a state of :Australia, located in the east of the country. It is bordered by Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to the north, south and west respectively. To the east, the state is bordered by the Tasman Sea, which forms part of the Pacific Ocean. New South Wales...

 issued prepaid lettersheets in 1838 with uninked embossed stamps (making them difficult to see) to prepay postage within the town of Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...


The British postal reforms of 1840

Prepaid lettersheets were introduced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 at the same time as the first postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

s were available for use on May 6, 1840. Part of Rowland Hill's
Rowland Hill (postal reformer)
Sir Rowland Hill KCB, FRS was an English teacher, inventor and social reformer. He campaigned for a comprehensive reform of the postal system, based on the concept of penny postage and his solution of prepayment, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap transfer of letters...

 postal reforms were the introduction of prepaid lettersheets and envelopes designed by the artist William Mulready
William Mulready
William Mulready was an Irish genre painter living in London. He is best known for his romanticizing depictions of rural scenes, and for creating Mulready stationery letter sheets, issued at the same time as the Penny Black postage stamp.-Life and family:William Mulready was born in Ennis, County...

, whose name is always associated with these first lettersheets and envelopes. In the same way that the first postage stamps were issued in two values (Penny Black
Penny Black
The Penny Black was the world's first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system. It was issued in Britain on 1 May 1840, for official use from 6 May of that year....

 and Two Penny Blue
Two pence blue
The Two Penny Blue was the world’s second official postage stamp, issued after the Penny Black.It was issued in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and was first sold to the public at the London Inland revenue office in the afternoon of May 8th 1840. Except for its denomination of the...

) both the lettersheets and envelopes were issued in one penny and two penny values in the same black and blue colours as the same value postage stamps.

The design incorporated Britannia
Britannia is an ancient term for Great Britain, and also a female personification of the island. The name is Latin, and derives from the Greek form Prettanike or Brettaniai, which originally designated a collection of islands with individual names, including Albion or Great Britain. However, by the...

 at the centre top with a shield and a reclining lion surrounded on either side by a representation of the continents of Asia and North America with people reading their mail in the two lower corners. Rowland Hill expected the lettersheets to be more popular than the postage stamps but the postage stamp prevailed. Many caricature
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

s were produced by stationery manufacturers whose livelihood was threatened by the new lettersheet. Only six days after their introduction, on May 12, Hill wrote in his journal:

Within two months a decision had been made to replace the Mulready designed stationery and essentially they were a folly
Postage stamp error
A postage stamp error is any of several types of failure in the stamp printing process that results in stamps not having the intended appearance. Errors include use of the wrong colors, wrong denominations, missing parts of the design, misplaced or inverted design elements, etc...


19th century United States

During the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, in August, 1861, two different size lettersheets were issued by the United States which both had the same three cents imprinted stamp
Imprinted stamp
In philately an imprinted stamp is a stamp printed on to a piece of postal stationery such as a stamped envelope, postal card, letter sheet, letter card, aerogram or wrapper. The printing is flat upon the surface of the paper, as opposed to an embossed stamp which has a raised relief...

 design. The small pink indicium on light blue note lettersheet (205 x 296 mm) was for ladies correspondence and the larger size (256 x 405 mm) was designed for soldiers, ostensibly as a convenient writing paper without the added burden of securing stamps. The suggested use, though practical, did not materialize and they were withdrawn from sales in April, 1864.

Despite the abortive attempt to popularize lettersheets in 1861, two cent lettersheets with a picture of President Ulysses Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 were issued on August 18, 1886. They were last produced in 1894, but slow sales of lettersheets continued until 1902. The US has not produced any since, other than air letter sheets or aerograms
An Aerogram, Aérogramme or Air Letter is a thin lightweight piece of foldable and gummed paper for writing a letter for transit via airmail, in which the letter and envelope are one and the same. Most postal administrations forbid enclosures in these light letters, which are usually sent abroad at...

 which became available in 1947 and were likewise discontinued in 2006.

Privately produced pictorial lettersheets were published by several stationers in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 and other cities. These lettersheets, predominantly showing bird's-eye views and street scenes, were created to comply with, yet circumvent, postal regulations that, like the United Kingdom's, were based on the number of sheets of paper. These lettersheets were popular because of their 8.5 × 21 inch size that could be folded in half, providing four pages for writing but the Post Office regarded them as one sheet of paper.

Air Letter Cards

Special stationery on thin sheets of paper, called Air Letter Cards were available in Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

 and Palestine as early as 1933. The sheets were folded to the size of the blue border, and gummed flaps were used to seal the sheet. Douglas Gumbley, director of Posts to the Iraq Government in the 1930s, realised there was a need for a lightweight form for use in the developing air services in, and through, the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 because regular overland mail was charged by weight and varied in size and seemed likely to be too expensive for airmail
Airmail is mail that is transported by aircraft. It typically arrives more quickly than surface mail, and usually costs more to send...

 service. He personally copyrighted the product in February 1933 and it was used first in Iraq and later in the British Mandate of Palestine where Gumbley was in charge of postal matters in the late 1930s.

World War II lettersheets

In early 1941 the United Kingdom introduced thin, lightweight forms intended for use by their overseas military forces. Known as air letter sheets, they took up much less space then regular letters, and by August the use of these sheets was extended to civilians. Allied POW
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 communications through the Red Cross
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide which was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human...

 used a special lettersheet inscribed Prisoner of War Air Mail in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 and German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 or Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 with a 2½d indicia. The Forces air lettersheets were rated at 3d while the civilian version was imprinted with a 6d stamp.

Several other countries adapted the British lettersheet model during the war, while many other countries introduced them after the war. Curiously, the British 6d air letter rate remained in effect until 1966 while other postal rates increased.

Some German POW and concentration camps issued their own special lettersheets for use by the inmates. Towards the end of WWII, at least eight forged German Feldpost
Feldpost is the German military mail service. Its history dates back to the 18th century in the Kingdom of Prussia during the Seven Years' War and War of the Bavarian Succession and has existed ever since in different forms and shapes.-World War II:...

 lettersheets were printed by the OSS
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

 Operation Cornflakes
Operation Cornflakes
Operation Cornflakes was a World War II Office of Strategic Services PSYOP mission in 1944 and 1945 which involved tricking the German postal service Deutsche Reichspost into inadvertently delivering anti-Nazi propaganda to German citizens through mail....

 to undermine Axis morale during late 1944 and 1945.

Modern lettersheets

The aerogram
An Aerogram, Aérogramme or Air Letter is a thin lightweight piece of foldable and gummed paper for writing a letter for transit via airmail, in which the letter and envelope are one and the same. Most postal administrations forbid enclosures in these light letters, which are usually sent abroad at...

, also written aérogramme, aerogramme, or airletter, also made from a lightweight paper, is the modern equivalent of the WWII lettersheet and most postal operators issue them prepaid, though Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 and Rhodesia
Rhodesia , officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965...

 have issued them without an indicium requiring the addition of a postage stamp before mailing.

The Universal Postal Union
Universal Postal Union
The Universal Postal Union is an international organization that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. The UPU contains four bodies consisting of the Congress, the Council of Administration , the Postal Operations Council and the...

 adopted the term aérogramme, the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 word for air letter, during the 1951–52 13th Postal Union Congress held in Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

and all countries inscribe this on their air mail lettersheets except for the United Kingdom which still uses the term Air Letter.

Not all lettersheets are aerograms, however. Cuba, for instance, has issued a number of colorful lettersheets that were designed for internal, non-airmail, use in Cuba.

External links

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