United States, 1885 (Scott #E1)
"Running Messenger" Special Delivery StampSpecial Delivery stamps were used to expedite the delivery of a letter once it arrived at the destination post office. The first stamp ever issued for this service was in the United States in 1885.
On March 3, 1885, the United States Post Office authorized special delivery service, in which letters were quickly sent to their destination. In many places, special couriers were hired to deliver the special delivery mail as quickly as possible.
The first Special Delivery stamp was issued later in 1885. The 10-cent stamp was used to pay for the cost of delivering the message as soon as it arrived at a select group of post offices, as not every post office was capable of handling the additional service.
The stamp featured the image of a "Running Messenger" hurriedly carrying a letter to its destination. The stamp was used as a surcharge on top of the standard postal delivery rate; a user would apply both regular postage and also the special delivery stamp.
The New York Times described the new service this way:
Commencing to-morrow, persons wishing to have letters delivered at once in this city may do so by affixing to the letter, in addition to the regular rate of postage, a special delivery stamp, which costs 10 cents. Such letters sent to cities and towns having free delivery service or any city and town containing a population of 4,000 or over will also be delivered by special messengers immediately on arrival at the office. These special deliveries will be made between 7 AM and 12 midnight.- The New York Times, Sept 30, 1885
The day earlier, the Times indicated that not everyone was pleased with the concept of Special Delivery service:
At the meeting of the Ministerial Union of Philadelphia and vicinity to-day the Rev. T.A. Fernley, from the Committee on the Sabbath, called attention to the special delivery system which goes into effect Oct. 1, and which requires letters to be delivered on Sundays as well as other days ... which contemplates the violation of the Sunday law, which secures to every man the right of the seventh day of rest....- The New York Times, Sept 29, 1885
A resultant complaints had little, if any effect, and special delivery of mail went into effect. The following year, in 1886, the level of service was expanded to all post offices in the United States that offered free delivery.
Many other countries offered special delivery stamps, but the U.S. was very prolific, offering 23 Special Delivery stamps throughout its history.
In June of 1997, Special Delivery service was ended in the United States. The US Postal Service shifted its focus to Priority Mail and Express Mail, services that expedite delivery of mail.