The price of a first-class stamp jumps to 49 cents next week – a three-cent hike – and many mailers undoubtedly will grouse that the cost of sending a letter is bumping up against the half-dollar mark.
But take heart: You’re still in way better shape than your great-great-great-great-grandparents.
Adjusted for inflation, mail prices actually have moved in a fairly narrow band for the last 150 years, as the chart below shows. But in the first half of the 19th Century, sending a Mother’s Day card or paying a credit card bill – wait, neither of those existed in the 1800s – was a far pricier affair.
For all but one year from 1792 to 1850, the minimum cost to send a letter to the next town or beyond topped the current equivalent of a dollar. Then, at mid-century, the government worked to modernize postal service, including the introduction of the first authorized national postage stamps in 1847. Putting a Benjamin Franklin on your envelope would set you back 5 cents that year – but that’s the equivalent of about $1.41 today. (And mail sent beyond 300 miles would have cost great-great-great-great-grandpa Jebidiah twice that.)
With that modernization effort – and a booming nation with the attendant economies of scale – the cost of postage plummeted, and by 1864 the cost of a stamp was less than 50 cents in current dollars. Since then, the inflation-adjusted price has fluctuated from about 35 to 70 cents, and has ranged from 40 to 50 cents for the last three decades.
Still grousing? Run out and buy forever stamps. Until Sunday, they’re still 46 cents – and valid for postage even after the rate increase.