In 2017 the curator’s committee of the Portsmouth Historical Society had to pack up and store every item in our museum because the building was getting a necessary painting. Most things were put back in place last year, but it took until now for us to find what was stored in our permanent storage shed at the back of our property. Coming out of the shed was a treasure – an antique mail sorting table.

Mail Sorting “Table”

Where did it come from originally? Who used it? How old was it? A newspaper clipping from 1930 provided some of the answers.  The article is about an antiques exhibit for the benefit of St. Paul’s Church that was held at the home of Miss Hicks.  Among the featured items was a sorting table used by Miss Hick’s grandfather, Oliver D. Greene, who was Portsmouth postmaster from 1822 to 1845.  His son, Oliver E. Greene, was postmaster from 1845 to 1851.  Then Oliver D.’s widow, Phebe, later became postmistress from 1851 to 1854.    Like most items and homes in Portsmouth, this “mail sorting table” was used by many generations.  The sorting table was taken out to the stagecoach which brought in the mail.  The mail was put on the sorter and then the postmaster (or postmistress) would sort the mail for delivery.  Miss Hicks said the sorting table was used in the old Greene house and then moved to an historic home at the foot of Quaker Hill that had once been Lay’s Tavern.

When we look at the mail sorting table more closely, we find some labels penciled into the wood.  The labels are items such as “marriage certificates,” “town meeting warrants” and “treasurer’s reports.”  What are these labels doing on a mail sorting table?  The answer is that the table was passed down in the Greene family to grandson George B Hicks – Portsmouth Town Clerk from 1909 to 1933.

The mail sorting table is now on display in an appropriate place.  It is located near the “last mail wagon” in our Old Town Hall on the Portsmouth Historical Society grounds.