Civil War Patriotic Envelope Collection Open For Research

American Eagle Responding to the South Carolina Secession

Printed on the back of the envelope: The destruction of the Snake of South Carolina, Nullification and Secession. and all her progeny, by the National Bird.

The Phillips Library was the recipient of a grant from the National Historic Publication and Records Commission (NHPRC), which provided the opportunity to process more than 85 manuscript collections of historic significance.  One of these collections is MM 8, Civil War Patriotic Envelope Collection, which houses more than 9,400 examples of envelopes created to promote the political and social causes of the war, depicting both Union and Confederate perspectives.

Stephen Boyd, in his book, Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War, The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers, states that more than 15,000 different patriotic envelopes were printed during the war, the majority of which supported Union causes; as with most of the ephemera from the Civil War, the extant envelopes favor the North.

The collection includes 12 volumes of envelopes and 4 boxes of individual envelopes, which are organized thematically by image.  Most of our collection includes unique images; however, some of them are also duplicates.  Interestingly, images were used to promote several causes varying only by the political and/or social slogan printed on the envelope.  One such instance is shown below; a similar flag motif was used, but each envelope represents a different side of the war. Similar Flag Motif Used by Union and Confederacy

These envelopes, also known as Civil War Covers or Patriotic Covers, began to appear in 1861 after South Carolina seceded from the Union.   At the start of the war, northern printers created envelopes for both sides of the conflict; eventually, southern printers began to print Confederate envelopes.  Additionally, northern printers continued to print negative caricature-opinions of the South.  Thematic images used included flags, shields, portraits of prominent military and political individuals, caricatures, canons, battle scenes and troop movements, military encampments, military regiments, and Lady Liberty.  Images also included Quaker support of the Union, women’s roles, and examples depicting the lives of the soldiers fighting the war.  A small sampling of stationery created to coordinate with the envelope images can  also be found in this collection.   Several envelopes are decorated on both the back and front sides.  One example, shown below, depicts Art Ward Jr’s political speech at Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati, on the front of the envelope and an image of the Camp Dennison encampment on the back.

Artemus Ward, Jr. Speech at Camp Dennison, Front of EnvelopeCamp Dennison, Near Cincinnati, Back of Envelope with Ward Speech

When the envelopes first appeared they were used educationally to promote the political issues of the war and the social issues of the time.  Individuals would choose a particular image to support their personal causes, referring to that cause in the accompanying letter sent in the envelope.   Eventually, the envelopes became valued as souvenirs and were not used.  The majority of the envelopes in this collection were never used.  Some envelopes, however, do include postage and were addressed to several prominent residents of Salem, Massachusetts.  These individuals include:   Matthew A. Stickney; Miss E. C. Mack, in care of Dr. William Mack; Mr. E. H. Peabody; Mess. Jms Dyke & Co.; Henry Wheatland; John H. Nichols, Esq; George Perkins; Miss Pluto, care of Mr. J. Nichols; Mrs. G. H. Peabody; and J. W. Putnam, Esq.  One envelope is addressed to “Mr. Librarian” of the Salem Athenaeum and another to the “Librarian of the Essex Institute.”

Several prominent printers, one of which was Charles Magnus from New York, printed envelopes in thematic sets; Magnus was known for his battle scene series, which he would typically print in sets of 12 envelopes.  Our collection includes examples of these battle scenes; some of the sets are printed in black white, others in bronze.

Four Scenes of the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, Printed by Charles Magnus

Four of 12 scenes of the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, printed by Charles Magnus.

Another famous set is the Champion Prize Envelope set, which includes 5 images of political debates between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

Two of 5 Scenes, Champion Prize Envelope Set

Two of 5 scenes, Champion Prize Envelope set, depicting political debate between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Published by J. H. Tingley, New York.

Poetry was also used on envelopes printed in sets.  One such series is The House That ‘Uncle Sam’ Built, which includes 10 envelopes, based on the The-House-That-Jack-Built.  Well known series also include The Loyal States and The Rebel States, each of which depicted the states supporting each cause.

For more information about the collection, please visit Philcat.  The catalog record for this collection provides a link to the Finding Aid.

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