Widely used during the American Civil War, patriotic covers were used still during the Spanish-American War. Image credit: Ian Brabner, Rare Americana

Cuba in 1898? We’ve got ‘em on the RUN

Widely used during the American Civil War, patriotic covers were used still during the Spanish-American War, almost 30 years later in 1898

Patriotic envelopes or “postal covers” and matching stationery were wildly popular during the American Civil War. Soldiers wrote from camp back home to their loved ones using patriotic envelopes and stationary. Concern mothers used them. Lovers used them. Small American business used them in routine correspondence.

These patriotic envelopes were meant to inspire and communicate feelings of nationalism and patriotic action. What better way of doing this, or what better channel might have existed in the late 19th century, than the United States mail?

The envelopes or “covers” were printed in a variety of colors and displayed small wood-engraved images on the front side of the envelope, often in the upper left corner of the envelope. The more unusual examples are avidly collected today.

Images frequently seen on these 19th-century covers were political in nature: runaway slaves, secessionists being hanged, Union and Confederate flags, soldiers and troops marching, in action, or at camp, and the patriotic figures of the day.

Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln often made it upon these Civil War covers. They were not always portrayed in a favorable light. Both were heavily satirized or characterized per Union or South sentiments.

After the American Civil War ended in 1865, these patriotic covers — in our experience of buying and selling them, at least — seemed to be over. But we were incorrect.

Patriotic covers were — well — patriotic. What better way to show your faith in God and country than mailing a letter with Uncle Sam chasing a Spaniard (bullfighter?) out of Cuba with a sharp bayonet? Image credit: Ian Brabner, Rare Americana

Patriotic covers would be resurrected for one more time at the end of the 19th century, with the next important military and political engagements the United States made; getting angry at Spain.

The above patriotic cover is an example involving Cuba from the Spanish American War in 1898. We would be curious to know what other examples might be extant from the era of 1898 and if any collectors have focused especially on this area of collecting.

I think the appeal of this type of illustrated stationery lies in the cartoon-like way in which history and politics are neatly encapsulated or, perhaps, simplified.

For example, here we see a man in Spanish national costume being chased out of Cuba at the point of a bayonet by Uncle Sam. The fleeing man’s shadow obliterates the word Cuba and will soon be replaced by that of Uncle Sam. Notice how in the design the American dominates the diminutive European; Uncle Sam is clearly the hero.

Demonstrations of American patriotism in war-time persist even today. Here, though, in a simple image and caption we are witnessing the emerging presence of the United States in yet another starring role on the world stage.


First published via RareAmericana.com

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