Let me preface this column with the solemn affirmation that I am, indeed, a law-abiding citizen. My bedding tag habit did not start until late in life.
Raised in a God-fearing household, I was always concerned about what consequences my earthly actions might have on my everlasting existence. Thus, one of my first moral crises came when I accidentally nearly ripped the tag off my mattress. That poor tag read “DO NOT REMOVE Under Penalty of Law.” It hung by a thread, taunting me for weeks, and when it finally fell off I was convinced I was done for; after all, the tag had used “CAPITAL LETTERS,” just like “THOU SHALT NOT.” It was my fervent hope that the bedding police would never stop in for a spot inspection. Luckily for me, they never did.
Imagine now, if you will, how much more difficult this inner struggle would have been for this young collector if that tag had a stamp affixed to it. My life as a confirmed mattress criminal would most definitely have begun much earlier. (Fortunately for me, New Mexico never had bedding stamps.)
I was reminded of all this last year, as my family set about the diffcult task of cleaning out my father’s home. In one out-of-the-way place on his property we found an ancient mattress. As we were hefting it into the roll-off dumpster, my eyes caught the flutter of the Figure 1 tag — still intact and on the mattress. I ripped it off without a thought and set it aside with things to save. The stamp itself (damaged, as many of those found on tags are), as designated by the State Revenue Society’s 2013 State Revenue Catalog, is No. BD6, a version of a Colorado bedding stamp that was in use during 1953–59. It is not particularly scarce, although all bedding stamps are far more desirable when found on a law tag (the official term for what I had once feared).
Figure 1. This law tag was rescued from an aging mattress while the author was clearing out a home. It bears a Colorado bedding stamp.
Figure 2. The best-known bedding stamp variety may be this Ohio stamp with the word “BEDDING” misspelled as “BEDDNIG.” It is not known used on tag.
Figure 3. Law tags bearing a legible date of use are scarce. This example, from South Carolina, is dated Nov. 7, 1963.
This sent me on a hunt through my various collections to locate some of the more unusual uses of law tags I’ve found over the years. I prefer collecting these to the stamps themselves. One exception, however, is the wonderful Ohio bedding stamp error shown in Figure 2 (BD6a). There were several different types of bedding stamps of the same design in use from the late 1940s through the late 1950s. Because the same printing plates were in use during that time, a major spelling error was apparently never recognized and was therefore repeated on several different stamps; the word “BEDDING” misspelled as “BEDDNIG.” The error may be found on stamps printed in green and in blue on stamps printed on four different colors of paper, and on both 1¢ and 2¢ stamps. To the best of my knowledge, this variety has never been found on a law tag.
Figure 4. A double impression error on a South Carolina bedding stamp, one of only a few varieties known from that state.
One of the hardest things about collecting law tags is finding ways to date their use, as they are rarely ever dated, despite most having a line at the bottom in which to note date of delivery to the buyer. An approximate age range must usually be defined by stamp type (thanks to the State Revenue Catalog). Figure 3 shows a scarce dated example of a South Carolina bedding stamp on a law tag dated Nov. 7, 1963. In the 30 years that bedding stamps were used in South Carolina, this was the only design ever created. SRS cataloged varieties deal with perf and shade differences, and one double-impression error unknown on tag, seen in Figure 4.
The other exception for finding dated law tags are those that reflect reused (usually renovated or repaired) materials, almost always denoted by a yellow or orange tag. These are typically much scarcer than a standard white or cream-colored law tag because of their nature. In the case of the law tag shown in Figure 5, “This article contains the same material received from the owner, to which has been added (in manuscript) New cover.” The dating is important on these because it reflects the date of sterilization — in this case July 12, 1934. Still, I have seen remade/renovated tags that do not bear a date of sterilization!
Figure 5. This 1934 New York law tag is dated July 12, the date the materials (all original with new cover) were sterilized. Remade and renovated materials tags are scarce, but are more frequently dated than most law tags.
Figure 6. A 1¢ City of Detroit bedding stamp on a law tag.
Figure 7. A 2¢ City of Detroit bedding stamp on tag. Detroit is the only city now known to have had its own bedding revenue stamps.
I know of only one city that ever produced its own bedding stamp: Detroit, Michigan. Because city stamps are not covered in the State Revenue Catalog, there’s even less information available for them than most of the state types. I am aware of a single design, produced in two denominations (Figures 6 and 7) and with variance only in shades. These tags are both single franking for the city, although one of these items was manufactured in Ohio and one in Illinois. Why the 2¢ stamp does not also bear an Ohio stamp is unknown, as Ohio was still using them as late as 1970 or so. Illinois never had bedding stamps.
Figure 8 shows an intriguing mixed franking. The mattress itself was manufactured in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Because Wisconsin required law tags but never required bedding stamps, the first stamp to be applied was the Detroit city stamp, likely because the mattress was shipped across Lake Michigan by boat. Next, the tag picked up an Indiana bedding stamp, which slightly overlaps the Detroit stamp. Finally, the tag had a Pennsylvania stamp applied as that was likely the retail destination of the mattress (again, why there is no Ohio stamp is unknown). Based on the stamp types used, we can deduce this mattress was likely shipped in the early 1950s. Similarly, the tag shown in Figure 9 (also manufactured in Wisconsin) does, indeed, have the Ohio stamp, as well as Indiana and Pennsylvania.
Figure 8. (left) Mixed-frankings of bedding stamps on tags are always interesting. This one bears a City of Detroit stamp, as well as one from Indiana and Pennsylvania, but oddly does not bear one from Ohio.
Figure 9. (middle) A mixed-franking tag similar to the one in Figure 8. This one bears stamps from Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Figure 10. (right) The order in which the stamps were applied to this law tag would suggest the accompanying mattress was first in Georgia, then Florida, then South Carolina — a seemingly unusual route to have been taken. (North Carolina had a stamp exemption, per the explanation on the tag.)
Mixed-franking tags are a lot of fun and cannot always be explained. The Figure 10 tag, for example, does not mention where it was manufactured, but does state clearly that there is a “N.C. Stamp Exemption No. 12.” That’s all well and fine, but the paper trail of the stamps (in order applied) are Georgia first, Florida second and South Carolina third. The mattress ended up in North Carolina.
Figure 11. The author’s record number of state bedding stamps on a single law tag is illustrated on both sides of this one, which bears stamps of New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The mattress was manufactured in New Jersey, which didn’t require bedding stamps.
Figure 11 shows my personal recordholder for number of states involved in a single tag. That tag, which began in New Jersey (which didn’t have bedding stamps), bears the stamps of six states, including New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Based on the stamp types, it must have originated about 1943.
Figure 12. The first design of New York’s bedding stamps was known only on line-engraved stamps, seen at left. The example on the right, found by the author, was produced by lithography. Among the differences is the distinct lack of detail on the lithographed stamp, its smooth surface, as well as relatively crude cross-hatching in the frame.
The area of state and local revenues has much to offer in the way of study opportunities and new discoveries. While working on this column, I realized I had found a new type of New York bedding stamp that was previously unrecorded. Shown in Figure 12 (cropped from the law tags to which they are affixed) are two examples of the first design type of New York (BD1). It has been thought that these existed only as line engraved (intaglio) stamps, but the right example clearly shows it was printed by lithography. This is most clearly seen by the lack of detail in the design, but also it is smooth to the touch — something the intaglio version is not.
Figure 13. A franked law tag properly used on cover (left) and a detail showing the tag and an embroidered kid. Properly franked and tagged items are very difficult to find, since the goods on which they were used — mattresses, sofas, chairs and other upholstered furniture — are generally too large to collect. The New York bedding stamp makes this infant’s coverlet quite collectible.
Finally, if you are a postal historian, as am I, you generally prefer your stamps properly used on cover. This can be a real challenge with law tags, unless you have significant warehouse space. After all, we’re talking mattresses, pillows, chairs, couches and other pieces of furniture. However, occasionally we can get lucky. Shown in Figure 13 is a detail from a vintage infant’s coverlet, sold sometime in the mid-1940s based on the stamp. Attached to the coverlet is a pristine law tag with a top-margin 1¢ New York bedding stamp (BD7b). The entire piece is about 27 inches by 38 inches. While this is a fairly large item to collect intact, it beats hauling a mattress around!
So why am I now such a mattress madman, brazenly ignoring the law and taking tags wherever I please? It’s rather simple. That dire warning was never meant for the end consumer; it was to serve as warning for all brokers, wholesalers and dealers in this material. You and I may remove and collect as many tags as we wish, although it’s not as much fun now that stamps are no longer being used. Still, nice tags turn up from time to time in antique stores and other unusual locations. You can probably still find a few — if you don’t doze off while you’re looking.
Editor's Note: The “Stamps Where You Sleep: Tag — You’re It!” article was originally published in the April 2019 issue of The American Philatelist. We are bringing the archives of The American Philatelist to the Newsroom - to read back issues of The American Philatelist, click here and scroll down to the Back Issues section.