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Civil War Patriotic Envelope Collection, 1861, undated

Identifier: MM 8

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains 9,433 Civil War envelopes representing both Union and Confederate politics and social issues of concern during the war. Most of the envelopes in this collection are undated; others were registered with the District Court in their state of origin with an accompanying date. Others are identified as “Copyright Secured” with no date provided.

The majority of envelopes present unique designs; others are duplicates or variations of designs; for example similar designs and/or sets are printed in black and white and then again in color or the same design is used but with different poetry or political slogans. The envelopes are arranged by theme of the image and not sorted by Union or Confederate examples. There are two exceptions to this organization: those envelopes organized by state image (Box 15 and16); and those envelopes that specifically referred to the Union or Confederacy via the image and/or the message (Box 13 and Box 16). However, as indicated in the Historical Sketch, it is not always clear whether the printer was located in the North or the South. Weiss’ text, listed in the bibliography, provides a listing of more than 2,900 verses, which identify an envelope as a Union envelope; currently, no corresponding volume for the Confederacy is included in the Phillips Library collection.

The collection is arranged in two series. Series I: Volumes 1 – 12 includes twelve volumes, seven of which are arranged thematically. Series II: Loose Envelopes and Stationery includes envelopes arranged in boxes, thematically by image on the envelope. Sheets of stationery and envelopes with no images are also included in this series. This series also includes a package that housed assorted envelopes and accompanying stationery. Examples from each of the printers mentioned in the Historic Sketch are included in both series.

Series I: Volumes 1 – 12 includes two different volume sets. The first set includes seven volumes, which appear to have been arranged in scrapbook form by the librarians at the Essex Institute when the collection was acquired. The total number of envelopes in this set of volumes is 6, 927 envelopes, which includes Union and Confederate images. The scrapbooks are engraved on the spine with volume number and thematic title, identifying the types of subjects depicted by the images on the envelopes. Most of the envelopes have not been used. Others were addressed to several prominent residents of Salem, Massachusetts; these individuals include: Matthew A. Stickney; Miss E. C. Mack, in care of Dr. William Mack; Mr. E. H. Peabody; Mess. Jms Dyke & Co.; Henry Wheatland; John H. Nichols, Esq; George Perkins; Miss Pluto, care of Mr. J. Nichols; Mrs. G. H. Peabody; and J. W. Putnam, Esq. One envelope is addressed to “Mr. Librarian” of the Salem Athenaeum and another to the Librarian of the Essex Institute.

Volume 1, Flags, holds 948 envelopes in a variety of flag motifs. These include: single flags; embossed flags in the upper left corner or on the envelope flap; single flags with accompanying verse printed on the front of the envelope; images of two flags; flags of nations; flags and eagles combined in the same image; and flags, eagles, and shields combined in a single image.

Volume II, Flags and Shields, holds 1,059 envelopes using a variety of flags and shields motifs. These include: flags, eagle, and a shield; flags and shields; flags accompanied by a female figure; flags accompanied by a male figure; single shields; shields accompanied by a female figure; and shields with eagles. Embossed representations of these motifs are also included in this volume.

Volume III, Eagles, Seals, and Portraits, holds 1,057 envelopes in additional shield and eagle motifs. This volume also includes seals of individual states representing both Union and Confederate states. State flags are also included. The portraits depict individuals from both the Union and the Confederacy; Abraham Lincoln is strongly represented in this volume, before and after his death.

Volume IV, Portraits and Caricatures, holds 1,055 envelopes depicting portraits of political and military individuals representing both sides of the conflict. Images also display group portraits of famous individuals, such as Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, politicians representing both causes, and military commanders. Portrait series are also included; one famous series is the Championship Prize Envelope, a series of five envelopes depicting a political debate between Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. This set was created in both sepia tones and in multi-colored variations (The sepia version appears in Volume IV and the multicolored version appears in Volume V. Yet another set appears in Series II, Box 6). Caricatures depicted represent both political perspectives and the social issues of North and South; many of these envelopes were printed by James L. Magee.

Volume V, Caricatures, holds 1,040 envelopes depicting additional caricatures in blue and white, lavender and white, red and white, and brown and white color combinations. Although the label, Caricatures, is identified on the spine of this volume, additional images are included: city panoramas; state-related images; military battles; regiments and encampments; and troop movements.

Volume VI, Setts [Sets] and Miscellaneous, holds 902 envelopes and one piece of Confederate stationery. The envelopes depict a wide variety of images: Lady Liberty; military camp scenes, battles, troop movements; naval battles; ships; flowers and ribbons; battle monuments; government buildings; and scales of justice.

Volume VII, Miscellaneous and Confederate, holds 97 envelopes, 6 pieces of Union stationery, 4 partial envelopes showing image only, and 3 designs on card stock. The Union envelopes depict images of parting scenes between soldiers and the-girl-I-left-behind; a woman helping a wounded soldier; government buildings; and scenes signing the Declaration of Independence. Confederate envelopes in this volume depict various images of the Confederate flag also identified as the Pirate flag and/or the Secession Flag, and Confederate military encampments.

The second set of albums, the J. M. Davis Collection of envelopes, includes four accordion-style volumes. The cover title reads, Collection of Envelopes. War of 1861-65. The inside over reads: Envelopes Used by Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion followed by a count of the number of envelopes in each volume, and the total number of envelopes in the collection, identified as 448 envelopes on the inside cover; however, the actual count is 450 envelopes. The last line of each inside cover reads, J. M. Davis Havherill, Mass.

Volume 8 holds 111 envelopes of the Davis Collection. The envelopes in this volume predominantly support the Union cause; one envelope depicts the Secession Web, a spider web catching the southern states caught in the act of secession.

Volume 9 holds 117 envelopes of the Davis Collection. Caricatures dominate the envelopes in this volume presenting the contrasting opinions of the North and South. One envelope includes Washington’s Farewell Address.

Volume 10 holds 108 envelopes of the Davis Collection. This volume begins with two newspaper clippings; the first is entitled War Memories, which discusses the discovery of a “most curious and unique collection of war relics,” three volumes of patriotic envelopes from the Civil War discovered in The Literary Junk Shop. No date, author, or source is provided for the article. The second article, Old War Envelopes, Some Humorous Designs 1860-64, was written by Seymour Spencer, with the byline New York, Sept 27. Spencer discusses the same collection of scrapbooks, focusing on the caricatures found in the collection. He indicates that the items were found a “stones throw from Printing Square.” The volume contains several examples of The Loyal States envelopes and several envelopes with speeches that wrap around to the back of the envelope. Embossed examples are also included in this volume.

Volume 11 holds 114 envelopes of the Davis Collection, even though the statement on the inside cover indicates 112 envelopes. A large percentage of this volume pertains to Jefferson Davis displayed through caricatures.

Volume 12 is a stand-alone volume; it does not appear to belong to either of the above collections. It holds 319 envelopes, one fragment of an envelope, one brochure, and several newspaper articles. The album was created using a ledger book from the Fitchburg Railway Company. The newspaper clippings include: Battles of the War, Their Number and Where They Were Fought, which lists Confederate battles; a poem written by Edmond Clarence Stedman entitled The Hand of Lincoln; a poem, written by George M. Baker, entitled The Cruise of the Monitor; a poem entitled Rest, found under the pillow of a dead soldier in a hospital near Port Royal, South Carolina; and an article entitled, Fed and Confed – The Truth and History and How It Can be Told published by the Washington Post, which discusses war records of the Confederacy. The two-page brochure states the articles for the formation for the Soldier’s Relief Society created by the ladies of Charlestown, Massachusetts to “hold communion with the families of those whose husbands, fathers, and sons are absent on military duty.” Two-thirds of the way through the volume, the following statement can be found: The Confederation. Confederate Stamps. Inauguration of President Jefferson Davis, February, 1861. Several pages beyond this page house only Confederate images. This section also includes many blank pages, followed by intermittent pages with envelopes from both Confederate and Union perspectives.

Series II: Loose Envelopes and Stationery includes 2,506 envelopes stored in boxes; these envelopes are sorted thematically by image. If the image is the same, the envelopes are stored by poetry, statement, or slogan written on the envelope. Caricatures are integrated into the categories. Thematic categories include: African American; Canons; Confederacy; Cotton; Eagles; Flags; Government; Jeff Davis; Lady Liberty; Military; Monuments: North-South Conflict; Portraits; Secession; Shields; States, Confederate; States, Union; and Union; and Miscellaneous.

Several of the envelopes were created in series; Charles Magnus was famous for his battle scenes series, printed in both black and white and in bronze, for which he would typically print 12 envelopes. Another series represented in this series is The House That ‘Uncle Sam’ Built, which is a series of 10 envelopes, based on the The-House-That-Jack-Built.

Stationery sheets are decorated at the top with images similar to those on the envelopes. Abraham Lincoln, several generals, Lady Liberty, and flags are represented on the pages. One sheet of Confederate stationery and envelopes with no image are also included. Box 17, Folder 6 includes an example of the packaging in which assorted civil war envelopes were sold; the images on the front of the envelope identify the types of envelopes originally enclosed in the package.


  • Creation: 1861, undated

Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Historical Sketch

Tensions between the North and South over the issues of states’ rights and slavery began to build in the 1850’s. Patriotic envelopes were printed to show support for these causes; flags were the main motif of these earlier envelopes, which typically had no political phrases or slogans. The majority of Civil War Envelopes, also known as Civil War Covers or Patriotic Covers, appeared early in 1861 after South Carolina seceded from the Union. Envelopes supporting the Confederacy continued to be printed until 1863; those for the Union states were printed until the end of the war. Patriotic envelopes were again printed during the Spanish-American War in 1898 by an Illinois printer, and again during World War II.

Patriotic covers are examples of 19th century American material culture. The images printed on the envelopes served as observations of the values, ideals, and political opinions of the middle class during that time. Although advertising envelopes had appeared in 1845, the Civil War marked “the first appearance of propaganda stationery” in the United States. According to William W. Weiss, Jr. in his book, The Catalog of Union Civil War Patriotic Covers, these envelopes expressed “various kinds of sentiments of patriotism and/or a negative caricature-like opinion of the enemy.” During the war years, “more than 15,000 different Civil War patriotic envelopes” were printed, the majority of which supported the Union cause. As with all the ephemera from the Civil War, the majority of envelopes that still exist favor the North.

At the beginning of the war, northern printers created envelopes for the South; as the war progressed, southern printers took over printing envelopes that sympathized with the Confederacy. More than 300 printers in the North created envelopes to support the Union. The agrarian South had less access to paper and printers; fewer than 30 printers in the South printed patriotic envelopes for the Confederacy. Images from both sources were printed in black and white or with two or three colors, using woodcuts, letterpress and lithographic techniques. Several images depicting military encampments and/or battle scenes were taken from photographs. At the outset, northern symbols were concerned with the preservation of the Union and the Constitution, fearing that secession would destroy the future of both. Southern envelopes began with the depiction of confederate flags and symbols of the South. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis became idealized icons of the war.

Printers became known for specific images. James L. Magee, a printer in Philadelphia, was known for his war cartoons. Frederick K. Kimmell, a printer from New York, created images using more detail and color than those of Magee. Charles Magnus, a printer from Washington, D. C. and New York, was one of the more prolific printers of the time. His images were done either in black and white, bronze, or were hand colored. Reagles & Company from New York specialized in series of envelopes. They were known for the envelopes depicting The Loyal States and The Rebel States. Series were also created for troop movements, battles, and political discussions between Lincoln and Davis. The printer’s name is typically imprinted near the image on the envelope.

As the war progressed, images depicting social issues became prevalent. According to Steven Boyd, in his book, Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War, African Americans from the South were depicted as docile and loyal; in the North, images condemned slavery and represented the desire for emancipation. In the South, white women were depicted as models of female domesticity; in the North, the roles of women changed as the war progressed and the images reflected this. Flags, eagles, cannons, military encampments, battle scenes, troop movements, state seals, state flags, portraits, and caricatures appeared as both sides became more entrenched in representing their political viewpoints. Along with a variety of images, political slogans, poetic verses, songs, and letters appeared on the envelopes with the images. Weiss’ book identifies more than 2,900 verses used on Union envelopes; the number would be much larger if Confederate verses were counted. Embossed images were used on the upper left side of the enveloped or on the envelope flap. The majority of images were printed on white envelopes. As the images became more involved or series of envelopes were created, colored enveloped were used and images became larger, some of which wrapped around to the back of the envelope. The size of the typical envelope was 3 inches x 5 inches, though some envelopes were smaller in size. Larger envelopes were also created to depict military encampments and full battle scenes.

Envelopes were sold individually at a variety of locations – book shops, stationery stores, and directly from the printers that created them. Weiss’ book lists 301 printers, publishers, and vendors who printed and sold Civil War covers. They were also sold in packets of 6 - 10 envelopes, which many times included pieces of stationery using the same or complimentary designs as the envelopes.

If an individual wanted to emphasize his political leanings or concern for a particular social issue, he or she would use a specific envelope with an image supporting the issue, referencing such in the enclosed letter. In the beginning of the war, the images were educational for both sides; as the war progressed, the images needed no explanation as to why they were chosen or what they represented. According to Steven Boyd, this meant that the images were examples of intended iconography of the time and the issues represented became more important than the images themselves. Boyd indicates that iconography is a part of art history; thus the envelope images can be used to study both the iconography of the 19th century and the political/historical issues of the war. This option exists because most of the envelopes were kept as souvenirs and not used to send letters through the mail.


19.5 linear feet (17 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection contains 9,433 Civil War envelopes representing both Union and Confederate politics and social issues of concern during the war. Most of the envelopes in this collection are undated. The majority of envelopes present unique designs; others are duplicates or variations of designs. Sheets of stationery and envelopes with no images are also included.

Series List

SERIES I. Volumes 1-12

SERIES II. Loose Envelopes/Stationery

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


Volumes 8, 9, 10, and 11 were gifts to the library on September 12, 1981. The entry for the accession (acc. 127645) reads: "Envelopes, Civil War, 448 in 4 albums 'Envelopes used by soldiers in the War of the Rebellion', Collected by J. M. Davis, Haverhill Mass." No information is provided for the name of the donor. Volume 12 was a gift from Fernand Hutchins in August of 1964. The envelope package, housing a variety of envelopes and note paper, was a gift from Willard L. Speiry in June of 1953.

Bibliography and Related Material

Boyd, Steven R. Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War: The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2010.

McKinstry, E. Richard. Charles Magnus, Lithographer: Illustrations America’s Past, 1850-1900. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2013.

Rickards, Maurice. The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator, and Historian. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000.

Weiss, William R., Jr. The Catalog of Union Civil War Patriotic Covers. W. R.Weiss, Jr., 1995.

Adolphus W. Greely Papers, 1844-1871, 1908-1909, MM 29

Civil War Collection 1780-1926, MM 1

Civil War Envelopes – currently RESTRICTED, Acc 2012.34

John Tapley Papers 1840, 1861, 1869, Fam. Mss. 995

Peirce-Nichols Family of Salem, Massachusetts Papers, 1702-1967, MSS 468, Box 6, F20

Processing Information

Collection processed by Barbara Pero Kampas and cataloged by Tamara Gaydos, August 2013.

CIVIL WAR PATRIOTIC ENVELOPE COLLECTION, 1861, undated [circa 1850-1865, 1898]
Inventory prepared by Barbara Pero Kampas
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of this collection was funded by a grant from the NHPRC (National Historical Publications and Records Commission).

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA