Wondering About Mail Delivery: What Does a Postmark Mean?

The V-mail with this postmark was dated Feb. 16, 1944.

The last of Babe’s letters that I transcribed — and the next two to come — got me wondering what it really means when a postmark is applied to a letter. The last letter was dated Feb. 16, 1944, but not postmarked until March 6, nearly three weeks later.

The next two letters were postmarked before, but dated after. Babe’s next letter is dated Feb. 19 and postmarked a week later, on Feb. 26. The letter after that is dated Feb. 29 and postmarked March 6.

Is it reasonable to assume that his family received the second two letters before they received the first one?

U.S. Army Postal Service postmark

Wikipedia’s entry defines a postmark as “a postal marking made on a letterpackagepostcard or the like indicating the date and time that the item was delivered into the care of the postal service.” The U.S. Postal Service itself has a similar definition, saying the postmark “indicates the location and date the Postal Service accepted custody of a mailpiece, and it cancels affixed postage.”

What difference, if any, does it make if the postmark is applied by the “U.S. Army Postal Service” (like the one on the left)? This letter was dated Nov. 15, 1943, and postmarked (as you can see) seven days later.

Obviously, it matters how long the letter’s author hangs onto it before he mails it. But once a letter gets a postmark, do they all travel the same route through the postal service? Was there always a place for an infantryman to turn in a letter? What was the equivalent of “going to the Post Office” for a serviceman? Should two letters with the same postmark, heading to the same place, take the same amount of time to get to their destination?

I’ve been reaching out to some other sources to try and get some answers because I’m just curious to understand, step by step, how a letter got from the serviceman to the parents’ mailbox.

6 thoughts on “Wondering About Mail Delivery: What Does a Postmark Mean?

  1. The U.S. Army Postal Service postmark should fairly closely follow the date on the letter provided that Babe was in a location where he could turn it in to an APO promptly. But the V-mail you show at the top is a different matter; as you know, V-mails were written on special paper to be microfilmed and airmailed to the States. The print made from the microfilm was then inserted in the envelope designed for V-mails and postmarked at that time. So the difference in date is the transit time from the writer to the V-mail photography station and thence to the States. Toward the end of the war, V-mails were often sent directly, without microfilming. There’s a wealth of information on V-mail at http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/victorymail/ and http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/2d2a_vmail.html. Examples of the forms are at http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/museum/1d_v-mail_letter_sheets.html.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s