Meter stamps are a mechanical way to print postage. They came into use shortly after post offices started using adhesive stamps. While the traditional versions were convenient and perfect for personal use, they were far too time consuming for companies and other large businesses that sent out large amounts of mail each day.
Many countries had tried for years to invent some sort of equipment to do it directly on the envelopes. Each time a new method was developed, the post office would use these new machines on an experimental basis to check their efficiency and quality. Although the first franking machines were used in other countries such as Norway, New Zealand and Great Britain, they were allowed to be used in the United States on first class mailed until twenty years after the first experimental machines were used. The first letter in the United States that was printed with this method was in 1920.
The best way to describe them is as a receipt of a prepayment fee to use the mail or postal system. The United States has three different types of receipts for the USPS: adhesive postal stamps, stationery and meter stamps. Recently, there has also been the addition of computer versions. They are made on a Government-licensed device that imprints the amount required. It can be set at whatever amount is required for the particular type of mail.
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Whether the business is sending out a first class letter or a package of certain weight, these will print out whatever amount is required. You enter the correct amount that’s required and a small adhesive sticker will be printed. A more efficient way is to stick the envelopes in the device where they are automatically printed on the envelope. These can only be used by the licensed user that is assigned to that particular meter number, which appears on the print.
Businesses usually use these because they are much more convenient than purchasing hundreds of individual ones and manually putting them on each item to be mailed. Companies that use them have found that they offer efficiency to the company, making it quicker than taking the mail to the post office unstamped. The businesses purchase a certain dollar amount from, which is credited into the meter. When the company has used up that dollar amount, it will no longer function until more is added.
Many people believed that they were unattractive, so recently there have been different designs added. When businesses rent these, they have a choice of which style they would like to use.
As opposed to collecting normal ones, many individuals are heavily into the habit of collecting meter stamps. There are even collector website out there. Some of these collectors carry hundreds of different types and styles.