The United States Postal Guide

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In this ad from the 1885 edition of the U.S. Official Postal Guide, the Chicago Scale Co. invited postmasters to distribute promotional materials at the post office, and extended the same discount given to wholesale dealers for doing so. Additional compensation would be paid for lists of local farmers.
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See a series of ads from the Postal Guide in the Image Gallery.
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An ad for wood pumps (“Over 100,000 now in use …”) from the 1884 U.S. Official Postal Guide.
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Horse powers provided power for threshing, grain cleaning and sawing, as shown in this 1881 ad from the U.S. Official Postal Guide.
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Postmasters who provided lists of prospective customers to dealer Minard Harder would be compensated “liberally,” according to this 1885 ad in the U.S. Official Postal Guide.

In the 1880s, the (then named) U.S. Post Office Department implemented uniformity through a series of postal guides distributed monthly to postmasters. The guides included the letter of the law as it applied to postal matters and policy, updates and new information, such as (in the May 1882 edition) policies prohibiting shipment of plants to Romania, announcement of the acceptance of the Republic of Nicaragua into the Postal Union and division of the Davenport and Atchison route.

However, the guides also included paid advertising, not unlike the Yellow Pages of today’s phone book. While the center of the book was given over to regulations and policy, pages at the front and back of the book were packed with ads.

Some ads were related to postal business (lock boxes, ink pads and rubber stamps) but most were for products of interest to the homeowner and farmer. In that post offices of that era often were conducted as a sideline at the general store, advertisers could count on high readership of a strategically placed postal guide – especially when they courted the postmaster as a business partner.

Postmasters were offered discounts and commissions on orders, and cash payments if they provided lists of homeowners and their addresses. From patent medicines to washing machines to horse powers, the postal guide was nearly as good as Sears & Roebuck. Today, the guides offer a fascinating look at the history of the American post office and farm and home consumer goods.

Thanks to Farm Collector reader James W. Riggs, Blain, Pa., who provided these materials from postal guides from 1880-85. If you have materials to share in Iron Age Ads, send a copy to Iron Age Ads, Farm Collector, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. High-resolution digital images may be submitted by email:

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