Curley’s Cancellations

The cancellations on this envelope are meant to spell out "H. Clifton Byrd"
The cancellations on this envelope are meant to spell out “H. Clifton Byrd”

Former University of Maryland President Dr. Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd was a nationally known figure in his time.  And like many famous individuals, he received letters from all over, many of which included autograph requests.  In fact, he kept a stack of headshots in a folder, presumably ready for signing and mailing at a moment’s notice.  While most of the admiring letters he received aren’t noteworthy, we recently came across a request for an autograph so unique that we just had to share.

Myron Rullman, Sr. of Washington, D.C. was a collector of what are known in the philatelic field as “name cancellation covers”.  The idea is that you send a stamped envelope to a post office with an interesting, unusual, or significant name, and ask them to send it back bearing the cancellation mark with the name on it which they then send back to the collector.  Mr. Rullman’s collection put an unusual twist on this idea.

You see, Mr. Rullman was also an autograph collector.  He would decide on a famous individual whose autograph he wanted. He’d then send two envelopes to a series of post offices until the cancellation marks represented the person’s name, either as initials or their full name.  He’d send the completed envelopes to the celebrity- one for their records, and one that they could sign and send back to him.  A 1946 newspaper article at the time said that Rullman already had more than 200 of these signed pieces.

Rullman wrote to Dr. Byrd in 1950, enclosing the cancelled envelopes bearing the postmarks of three towns: Aitch, PA, Clifton, LA, and Byrds, TX.  Rullman felt he had to explain the first and last towns, writing “there being no post office named Harry I have used the Aitch postmark to spell the initial.  The Byrds is used for the same reason”.

Dr. Byrd was happy to comply with Mr. Rullman’s request. His note when returning the signed copy said “It is interesting indeed that you have a hobby such as this”.

The three post offices on Mr. Rullman’s envelope are gone now.  Byrds, Texas still shows up on a map, but its post office closed in 1957.  Clifton, Louisiana may no longer have a post office, but it maintains its long history of handiwork.  But you won’t find Aitch, Pennsylvania unless you jump into Raystown Lake, created in the 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This is the first time any of us have seen anything like this. Have you seen it before? Tell your story in the comments, we’d love to know!

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