Mail Art of the Civil War

Posted inThe Daily Heller
Thumbnail for Mail Art of the Civil War

Here’s an exceptional collection of commemorative envelopes issued during the Civil War (on both sides) found on a site devoted to The Roosevelt Civil War Envelopes Collection maintained by Georgetown University. Scores of envelopes celebrating the Union, condemning traitors, criticizing slavery and praising the Southern “cause” can be found here.

Each envelope citation includes a detailed description, like this for the one above: “Freed male slave in a straw hat. The man is superimposed on a blacktriangle containing the abbreviations of the states of the Confederacy.The black triangle is itself superimposed on an upside-down tranglecontaining horizontal lines. The image is a reference to GeneralBenjamin Butler’s ‘contraband’ policy, by which escaping slavesreaching Union lines would not be returned to slavery. Butler, atrained attorney, used Virginia’s secession to argue that underinternational law that escaped slaves were ‘contraband of war’ and hewas not required to return them to their former owners.”

Or this below (top): “Twoslaves seceeding (escaping) from the Confederacy. The two slaves are amother, who is carrying a stick over her shoulder with a bag tied tothe end of it, and a child, who is wearing a straw hat.”

Others below satirize “secessionists,” show a noose manufacturing process (“Hemp for the traitors”), the original Confederate flag and use metaphoric lettering that spells out “Death to Traitors.”

(Thanks to Mirko Ilic)

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →