Once A Year: Mailed From The Little Town Of Bethlehem

Dec 24, 2014

The old Pitney-Bowes stamp cancellation machine has been in the Bethlehem post office since at least the 1950s.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

The holidays are the time when beloved, old Christmas decorations and some memories are dusted off...

And, at a tiny post office in the North Country an old piece of equipment is turned on again for the people who want their Christmas cards marked as coming from the little town of  Bethlehem.

That equipment is an old Pitney-Bowes stamp cancelling machine, says Brian Thompson, the post master.

“It has been here since the 1950’s at least and it has literally run through millions of pieces of mail. Today is it only used in December here but it used to be used all year long. Everything that went through Bethlehem all year had a Bethlehem post mark on it.”

Years ago the postal service discontinued the use of such hand-fed machines. It went for larger, centrally located machines.

But the postal service allows the old Pitney-Bowes to be used once a year because so many people love having “Bethlehem” stamped on their holiday cards.

Bethlehem has about 2,500 residents but the tiny post office does a big holiday business, says Thompson.

“We go from not cancelling mail all year long to cancelling 50,000 letters in the month of December.”

Holly Gilbert makes the trip from nearby Lyman to get her cards stamped because her family likes it.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

But some people come from farther away, says Thompson.

“There is actually a family from Pennsylvania, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I understand, does not do any kind of stamps for Christmas and they are now at three generations will come here every year to do their Christmas cards.”

But when the New Year comes in and the holiday decorations are put away, the old Pitney-Bowes will once again just be an old piece of machinery sitting in the corner.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR