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Old Envelopes And New Money

Old, empty envelopes, both business and personal, can be worth money, reports Saturday Early Show Contributor Tony Hyman. Collectors call them “covers” and pay from 50 cents to $150 for the right ones. A very few can bring $5,000 or $10,000 and one rare Hawaii cover sold for more than $1 million, [*] but most sell for less than $10 each.

Cover collecting is a world-wide hobby -- Europe, Australia, Asia. A scarce Chinese Custom House cancellation could bring $20,000 [*] and have bidders on four continents. Somebody somewhere collects just about every type of postal marking from around the world. Mail canceled on board trains, airplanes, or ocean liners [selection*] brings $30 and up.

A lot of wartime mail is collectible. Mail from U.S. armed forces in WWII was called V-Mail, and was shrunk to save space and weight. Envelopes mailed by prisoners of any war, any time, any country [*] generally bring $50 and up.

Wartime propaganda covers are worth $20 to $200, and some Civil War covers, in the thousands.

Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.

Personalized and decorative envelopes of all types have value. Advertisements for guns, ammunition, Expositions, tobacco, medicine, and other businesses or products retail for $25-$250+
[selection of*]

Value is determined by condition, stamp, type and clarity of imprints, and heaviness and position of the cancellations.

For more information about buying, selling or collecting covers (envelopes), contact Bruce Lewin at Bridgewater Onvelopes Collectibles, 676 Route 202-206 North, Bridgewater, N.J. 08807. Telephone number: (908) 725-0022

Hawaii cover courtesy of Robert Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc., stamp specialists in Manhattan.

Additional covers courtesy of David Phillips Auctions, Inc. in North Miami, Fla. Email address is

Other covers courtesy of The National Cigar Museum.

Does your envelope (cover) have value? It miht, if it was:

  • illustrated with an ad for a company or product
  • mailed in Asia before 1950
  • mailed in the US or US Territory before 1890
  • mailed before 1930 and has rubber stamped postal markings
  • mailed in Africa before 1950
  • mailed during wartime by a military person
  • mailed by a prisoner of war
  • censored
  • from an overseas US government office
  • canceled on a bus, train, airplane or ship
  • canceled in a town that no longer exists
  • canceled in more than one country
  • decorated with homemade art
If you have files of old business letters, envelopes, bills and other paper from before 1920, you should get expert advice before disposing of it. These letters are historic documents to some serious collectors, and may contain information otherwise lost.

Today, kids and adults can build marvelous collections of covers with very little money. Hand illustrated covers are fun. Others enjoy collecting envelopes canceled on their birthdays, or in all the state capitols, or all the towns in a state.

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