Note: The following article appears in the February 2021 issue of the American Philatelist.
Typically, when I’m working on writing columns for this and other publications, or working on feature articles, I start with something unusual I’ve encountered and build on it over time – both with materials and research. I create a file and continue to add to it until I’ve accumulated what I consider to be “critical mass,” allowing me to craft an interesting article, usually incorporating considerable original research as well.
Fortunately, in philately we have a huge body of published material upon which to draw, so at least the skeleton of research about an item or group of items is usually available, even if specialized information is not. But sometimes there is little or no published information. That’s when the fun begins. For me, this usually happens with cinderella items or pseudo stamps.
Figure 1. This cutout of an Ackers “local” intrigued the author when it was first discovered.
Many years ago, in an accumulation, I encountered the cutout shown in Figure 1. While I knew it certainly wasn’t a real stamp, its stamp-like appearance intrigued me. The “stamp” itself measures about 1 1/8 inches by 1 1/2 inches, and the simulated perforations gauge (kind of) 13, but they can’t really be measured, as they are unevenly spaced. The design, a letter carrier, is red and is “tied” by a black letterpress-printed “postmark.” The text of the deep red stamp, above, center and bottom, reads “Acker’s Local Delivery,” with a letter “A” above the “D” and “Y” of “Delivery.”
Figure 2. Examples of similar-appearing genuine 1883 locals from Cincinnati and St. Louis.
At first glance the item closely resembles two real local stamps, the Cincinnati and the St. Louis City Delivery issues of 1883 (Scott 39L1 and 131L1, respectively), both of which were operated by J. Staley and were shuttered by the government after only a few weeks of service. Both stamps are shown in Figure 2. While genuine uses of both are rare, individual stamps are not.
But what was the item I found?
Figure 3. A complete cover from 1901, bearing a printed example of one of the Ackers cinderellas.
Over the years, a few more cut-out items came my way (more on these in a bit), but it wasn’t until I found the Figure 3 item that I had any real idea of its origin. This is an actual cover (7 by 6 inches), addressed to a woman in Philadelphia. Now I was getting somewhere!
The image on this item is the same as the Figure 1 example, but is more of a carmine color and is much crisper in appearance. Additionally, the “stamp” is tied by a dark blue letterpress-printed “cancel,” dated June 8, 1901. It was sent by the Finley Acker Co. of Philadelphia and contained (according to the illustration) Ackers Weekly Bill of Fare, apparently some sort of publication. The Finley Acker Co. (1881-1920, see sidebar on page 140) was a highly successful upscale grocer for many years, with several locations in Philadelphia. But what about the stamps?
Although I scoured much of the traditional philatelic literature, I found nothing but a few tantalizing tidbits here and there.
By this time, the internet was well established as a resource, so my first effort involved various types of searches to find out more. While I was able to locate more information about the basic business, there was almost nothing about the cinderellas or the publication. I let the matter sit for a few more years and continued to add to my small collection when possible, noting different varieties and trying to date them.
Figure 4. Advertisement from the November 9, 1895, Philadelphia Inquirer, which refers to both private delivery and mailing of the circular.
One useful item I found is the Figure 4 newspaper advertisement from the November 9, 1895, Philadelphia Inquirer, which makes specific mention of Ackers Weekly. The publication, according to the ad, is mailed weekly (52 times per year) anywhere in the United States for 25¢ per year, “less than one-half the cost of postage.” The ad went on to note that Ackers Weekly “is served free each week in over 100,000 homes, but occasionally a house may be missed … For this reason we have arranged to mail it at the nominal price of 25¢ per year.” This was almost certain evidence that the publication – with a facsimile stamp – was being privately delivered. The earliest reference I have found for this is May 25, 1895, so that year is likely when the service began. The publication was also furnished free at grocery stores and at participating newsstands.
At that time, it wasn’t unusual to find companies hiring both young boys and old men to canvas densely populated city neighborhoods, sliding advertising materials under doors, much as we now see Chinese restaurants distributing door to door.
A couple of years ago, I was able to find the online posting by the Carriers and Locals Society of Mike Farrell’s collection of Ackers material. Farrell has formed impressive collections of a broad range of unusual material. Like me, Farrell had been concentrating on locating examples of varieties of this issue.
About the same time, I became aware of an article by Gus Spector that ran in the July 1995 issue of The Penny Post, journal of the Carriers and Locals Society. Spector’s article contained more information about how the labels came about, and less on the varieties. As I began to seriously work on this column, I discovered quite by accident that Spector updated his article in mid-2020 and published it in the Pennsylvania Postal Historian (May issue).
By piecing together the material provided by both Farrell and Spector, the picture became a little clearer, but it didn’t truly gel until I added my own research and compared their material to items in my own collection. The combined body of knowledge, so far, is presented here.
Finley Acker and Co.
The Finley Acker and Co. building, located at 123 N. 8th St., somewhere around 1900. Photo by Frank H. Taylor, courtesy of Philadelphia Free Library.
For many years, the Finley Acker Co. was one of the most prestigious grocers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at one time sporting four locations. The company, which operated from 1881-1920, was always a family-operated business. It apparently died with the founder.
From what we know, Acker stores were considered to be somewhat luxury grocers, dealing in chocolate, coffee, tea, various candies and confections, olive oil, cigars and much more. At its peak the company boasted three locations in Philadelphia (12th and Market Streets, 12th and Chestnut Streets and 121-125 North 8th St.) and one on the Atlantic City, New Jersey, boardwalk.
After the discontinuation of the “stamp” design, Ackers continued to mail advertising material to promote its offerings. Numerous different picture postcards and illustrated advertising covers are also known from the company.
Although it is still unknown exactly when the Acker company ceased operation, it is assumed to have been around 1920, as its listing in Philadelphia city directories ceases after 1920.
Here’s what we know:
Beginning in about 1895 (or 1893, according to Spector), Acker began private delivery of its weekly price list of grocery specials. These were distributed free in Ackers stores and newsstands and delivered to thousands of homes throughout Philadelphia. Each piece was franked by an Ackers Special Delivery stamp, which was affixed to the piece. I am not aware of any surviving examples of one of these intact covers. To the best of my knowledge, none of these were ever overprinted or “canceled” in any way.
Figure 5. An example of the early “Special Delivery” designs (Type II), printed on the cover.
Figure 6. A single example of the Type II Ackers Cinderella is known printed on card stock.
Within a fairly short period of time, it was decided that affixing labels to every piece was too time consuming, so the company began printing them directly on the envelopes. The cover shown in Figure 5 (8½ by 5 inches, but reduced at bottom) depicts one of these printed-on “stamps.” A few of these bear a light “cancel,” and a single example is known printed on card stock (Figure 6).
Somewhere around the turn of the century, Ackers must have been challenged by the U.S. Post Office Department over its use of a “Special Delivery” imprint that so closely resembled a stamp. Acker testified before Congress, most notably in 1897, as it was contemplating Loud’s Bill, which was to combat abuses of discounted mail classes. In that testimony Acker discussed his honest use of discounted postage rates.
Figure 7. The earliest dated example (by “cancel”) of an Ackers “Local” known to the author.
While Ackers continued to print indicia on its envelopes, the inscription was changed from “Special Delivery” to “Ackers Local Delivery,” and each was “canceled” by a dated, printed defacement. The earliest one of these I’ve been able to locate is March 23, 1901. That item is shown in Figure 7 (7 by 6 inches). Other dated examples I’ve seen bear 1902 and 1903 dates.
Sometime between 1903 and 1905, the dated “cancels” were replaced by a simple double-ring lighter blue “Philadelphia Special U.S.A.” marking that was integrated in the larger advertising illustration. The Figure 8 cover (7½ by 5½ inches) shows this iteration, which is printed on a simulated, textured alligator skin-patterned paper! This is the only one of these I have seen so far. The color of the “stamp” is now a brighter, almost reddish-orange color.
Figure 8. A printed Ackers Cinderella (with printed “cancel” and advertisement) on textured alligator skin paper.
Figure 9. Before “stamps” were eliminated entirely from Ackers mailings, they appeared along with a paid postage imprint, as shown here. This was as private delivery was being phased out, in favor of utilizing the mail system.
By Thanksgiving 1905, as Spector noted, the “cancel” was once again removed, and a paid 1¢ third-class mail permit imprint was added above the “stamp.” This indicates that private delivery was being phased out and most items now entered the mail stream. Spector owns examples of both private delivery and mailed examples from Thanksgiving 1905. The Figure 9 piece (date unknown) shows both the permit imprint and “stamp.”
According to a 1913 letter from the Finley Acker Co. in Spector’s possession, “There was an act passed in July 1912 prohibiting the use of any stamp other than a United States postage stamp on the face of any advertising matter – at which time we discontinued having same printed on our advertising matter.” Thus was the end of the Ackers “stamps.”
If, indeed, the company’s claims of distributing more than 100,000 weekly fliers for 17-19 years is true, close to 100 million Ackers “stamps” were printed and distributed (see second sidebar "The stamps," page 142). It seems odd that the entire survival number comes down to a small handful of known examples. But that’s the nature of ephemera; the vast majority is destroyed, leaving us with only tiny bits more than a century later.
The other major component of philatelic research is to ask for help.
If you have information on any of the Ackers “stamps” or covers that would add to this small body of research by three independent individuals, please share it. I think I can also speak for Spector and Farrell that it would be greatly appreciated!
There are three basic design types known for the Acker cinderellas.
The first of these (labeled as Type I), is known only as a label to be affixed, and the pair shown is an example from Gus Spector’s collection. I have never seen one in person. The design is the “Special Delivery” type, with “Ackers” printed on the mail bag. It is only known in red.
Type I. This type, known only as a label to be affixed, features a postman, arm extended, with the inscription “Special Delivery.” His bag reads “Ackers.” Only known pair, courtesy Gus Spector.
Type II, known as both an adhesive and printed directly on some mail pieces, is like Type I, but now features “Ackers Weekly” on the mail bag. It is known in red, pink and more-or-less carmine shades. A single example is known on card stock.
Type II. Identical to type I in both color and printing, except postman’s bag now reads “Ackers Weekly.”
Type III is the Ackers Local Delivery type. It is known in red (undated, 1902-05), maroon (1902, not shown), pink (1903), carmine (1901 and undated), reddish-orange (undated), bright orange (undated, not shown) and carmine lake (1902). It’s possible some minor shades are the result of the environments in which they have been stored, but there are several major color types described here. Individual examples may be uncanceled or “canceled” with a printed black or blue defacement, sometimes dated, sometimes not. The paper for most of the envelopes is a light buff color, but at least the one example described in the article as Figure 8 is known on a textured paper resembling alligator skin.
Type III. Similar to Types I and II, except inscription (at top, center and bottom) now reads “Ackers Local Delivery.”
The colors known to exist on Type II stamps. From left: red, pink and carmine-ish (printed on spliced-appearing card stock)
There are, almost certainly, other colors and dated examples in existence. A diligent search could reveal new types, more than a century later.
A range of colors known to exist on the Type III labels. From left: red, pink, carmine, reddish-orange, carmine lake.
54th Congress, Second Session, Feb. 22, 1897, Testimony on the Loud Bill. United States Congressional Serial Set, Volume 3476. Testimony by Finley Acker, page 104.
“Ackers Special Delivery.” (Accessed April 5, 2019). https://www.pennypost.org/pdf/farrell/Ackers_FarrellCollection.pdf
“Advertisement,” The Philadelphia Inquirer (November 9, 1895): 2.
Spector, Gus. “The Finley Acker Company,” The Penny Post 5, no. 3 (July 1995): 26-29.
Spector, Gus. “The Finley Acker Company vs. The U.S. Post Office,” Pennsylvania Postal Historian 48, no. 2 (May 2020): 20-25.
For Further Reading
Recommendations from the APRL research staff:
“A History of Postage Stamps: Local or City Delivery Stamps,” Scott, J. Walter. American Journal of Philately (Second Series), Oct 1888. (Article)
Modern Local Posts in the United States. Local Post Collectors Society. (Littlerock, CA: Local Post Collectors Society, 1986). G3701 .L811 L811m
20th Century Local Posts Catalog. Dye, Glenn W. (Wildwood, NJ: U.S. Locals Collectors, 1967). G3706 .L811 U586t 1967
The World of Local Postage Stamps. Kelley, Peter. (Batley, W. Yorkshire, Great Britain: Harry Hayes, 1976). HE6184 .L811 K29w 1976
Catalog of Local Post Issues. Rowcroft, William, Jr. (South Ozone Park, N.Y.: William Rowcroft, Jr., 1960. HE6184 .L811 R877c