WASHINGTON, Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802), First Lady. Autograph free frank signed ("M Washington") on integral cover sheet addressed in the hand of Tobias Lear, Washington's private secretary, to "Messrs Thomas & Thomas / Printers / Walpole / New Hampshire", [6 October 1800].
1 page, 230 x 340 mm, integral letter described below, pale circular "Alex[andria] VA." datestamp and manuscript "Free" (in a clerk's hand) at top left-hand corner, remains of red wax seal, recipient's docket, tiny hole at seal, blank strip at upper edge missing, but otherwise in very fine condition.
[With:] LEAR, TOBIAS, Personal Secretary of George Washington. Autograph letter signed ("Tobias Lear"). To Messrs. Thomas & Thomas, Mount Vernon, 6 October 1800. 1 page, 4to, integral address leaf as described above, on Washington's personal watermarked paper.
ONE OF FOUR SURVIVING FREE FRANKS BY MARTHA WASHINGTON, ON A LEAR LETTER
Lear writes some 10 months after George Washington's death requesting the cancellation of newspaper subscriptions which had proven burdensome: "Mrs. Washington requests me to inform you, that she finds it inconvenient to take the number of Newspapers with which she has heretofore furnished; and is therefore determined to discontinue them at the end of the present year; to which period she begs you will send in your account for the Farmer's Museum &c, and inform her whether payment shall be remitted to yourselves, or made to some person in this quarter. The discontinuance of your paper is not on account of any objection to it in any respect; but merely to obviate the inconvenience which Mrs. Washington expresses on receiving so many papers. You will be pleased to be punctual in forwarding your account for the present year ..."
Congress granted Martha Washington the franking privilege on 3 April 1800, and she held it until her death on 22 May 1802. Her free franks are rare. In the 1974 edition of his Collecting Autographs and Manuscripts, Charles Agvent stated that "only three franks of Martha Washington ... are known to exist." The present frank is illustrated in the Stampless Cover Catalogue, p. 223; a photograph of this cover was used to illustrate Edward Stern, "Supplement to the History of the 'Free Franking' of Mail in the United States," in The Collector's Club Philatelist, Sec. II, vol. 23, no. 1 (January 1944), p. 7. Provenance: Creighton C. Hart (tiny heart stamp and pencilled acquisition date of 1959; his sale Christie's New York, 1993, lot 310).