Franking (or "Franks") are any and all devices or markings such as postage stamps (including printed and/or embossed on postal stationery), printed or stamped impressions, codings, labels, manuscript writings (including "privilege" signatures), and/or any other authorized form of markings affixed or applied to mails to qualify them to be postally serviced.
While all affixed postage stamps and other markings applied to mail to qualify it for postal service are franking (or "franks"), not all types and methods are used to frank all types or classes of mails. Although there are differences in the manner that the postal systems of the 191 nations that belong to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) apply and regulate the way their mails are franked, most mails fall under one (and sometimes more) of the following four major types and/or methods of franking. The UPU co-ordinates the application of the regulations of postal systems of its member nations, including as they relate to franking, to permit the servicing and exchange of international mails. Prior to the establishment of the UPU in 1874, international mails sometimes bore mixed franking (the application of franking of more than one country) before the world's postal services universally agreed to deliver international mails bearing only the franking of the country of origin.
Each of the world's several hundred national postal administrations establish and regulate the specific methods and standards of franking as they apply to domestic operations within their own postal systems. Any and all conflicts that might arise affecting the franking of mails serviced by multiple administrations which result from differences in these various postal regulations and/or practices are mediated by the Universal Postal Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations, as the organization which sets the rules and technical standards for international mail exchanges.
A 6-member bipartisan Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, colloquially known as the "Franking Commission," is responsible for oversight and regulation of the franking privilege in the Congress. Among the Commission's responsibilities is to establish the "Official Mail Allowance" for each Member based proportionally on the number of constituents they serve. Certain other persons are also accorded the privilege such as Members-elect and former Presidents and their spouse or widow as well. A President who is convicted in the Senate as a result of an impeachment trial would not have a franking privilege after being forced to leave office. The sitting President does not have personal franking privileges but the Vice President, who is also President of the Senate, does.
In Canada, the Governor General, members of the Canadian Senate, members of the House of Commons, Clerk of House of Commons, Parliamentary Librarian, Associate Parliamentary Librarian, officers of parliament and Senate Ethics Officer all have franking privilege and mails sent to or from these people are sent free of charge.
In the United States, the franking privilege predates the establishment of the republic itself, as the Continental Congress bestowed it on its members in 1775. The First United States Congress enacted a franking law in 1789 during its very first session. Congress members would spend much time "inscribing their names on the upper right-hand corner of official letters and packages" until the 1860s for the purpose of sending out postage free mail. Yet, on January 31, 1873, the Senate abolished "the congressional franking privilege after rejecting a House-passed provision that would have provided special stamps for the free mailing of printed Senate and House documents." Within two years, however, Congress began to make exceptions to this ban, including free mailing of the Congressional Record, seeds, and agricultural reports. Finally, in 1891, noting that its members were the only government officials required to pay postage, Congress restored full franking privileges. Since then, the franking of congressional mail has been subject to ongoing review and regulation.
The phrase franking is derived from the Latin word "francus" meaning free. Another use of that term is speaking "frankly", i.e. "freely".
US Patent Issued to Francotyp-Postalia on March 6 for "Method and Arrangement for Securing User-Definable Data of a Franking Machine" (German Inventor)
Mar 08, 2012; ALEXANDRIA, Va., March 8 -- United States Patent no. 8,131,959, issued on March 6, was assigned to Francotyp-Postalia GmbH...
US Patent Issued to Neopost Technologies on March 19 for "Method of Accessing Digital Images of Mailpieces Franked by a Standard Franking Machine" (French Inventor)
Mar 20, 2013; ALEXANDRIA, Va., March 20 -- United States Patent no. 8,401,226, issued on March 19, was assigned to Neopost Technologies...