Postage meter

Postage meter

A postage meter is an electro-mechanical device for producing evidence of postage . Postage meters are regulated by a country's postal authority; for example, in the United States, the United States Postal Service specifies the rules for the creation, support, and use of postage meters. A postage meter imprints an amount of postage, functioning as a postage stamp, a cancellation and a dated postmark all in one. The meter indicia serves as proof of payment and eliminates the need for adhesive stamps.

The postage meter was introduced in the United States in 1912 by Arthur Pitney, who in 1920 went into business with partner Walter Bowes in order to produce the machines.

Postage meters have evolved from purely mechanical devices to today's Internet-based postage dispensing services. The evolution of the postage meter is covered in the following sections.


Since the issuance of adhesive stamps in 1847, postal officials have been concerned about security against stamp theft and how to process mail in a timely fashion. As early as 1884, a Frenchman, Carle Bushe, obtained a British patent for a device that would print a “stamp” on an envelope and record the amount of postage by means of a counting device, or meter. Inventors in Germany, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain pursued similar idea in the late 1800’s, but nothing came to pass.

Working independently, a young Chicago inventor, Arthur Pitney, obtained his first mailing system patent in 1902. Shortly after, he formed the Pitney Postal Machine Company, which became the American Postage Meter Company in 1912 The first machine consisted of a manual crank, chain action, printing die, counter and lockout device.

In 1919, Pitney joined forces with Walter Bowes, an entrepreneur who had achieved prominence in postal circles through his company, the Universal Stamping Machine Company, which manufactured post office canceling machines. In 1920, the two companies merged to create the Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter Company.

The Model M Postage Meter was authorized on September 1 1920 and was put into commercial use in Stamford later that year. (In 1986, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated the Model M as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark).


The postage meter normally consists of a keyboard for entering the postage, three seals, and a stamping mechanism. Years ago, users needed to bring their meter to a postal office in order to add additional postage (sometimes called a “reset” or “refill”). That changed in 1979 when Pitney Bowes invented remote meter resetting, otherwise known as Postage by Phone®. Today, users can add to their postage balance by telephone, prepaid cards, via the web or through a direct connection over the Internet. The first counter shows the remaining balance. The second counter shows the total postage of the franked consignments. The third one counts the amount of prints and is for statistic purposes only.

If the integrated scales are disabled, the postage has to be entered manually via the keyboard. Otherwise the machine calculates the postage regarding the dimensions and the weight of the consignment. Afterwards the letters are automatically run through an aperture, which is limited to the largest allowed dimensions, and the postage is imprinted. The balance-counter subtracts the imprinted value from the balance, the counter of the total adds the same value, and the printing-counter adds one. If the desired postage is no longer topped up, imprinting is denied. After running through, the consignment arrives at the collect pan orientated "postmark up/front". For thicker consignments there are peelable postage strips, which are manually inserted into the machine via an entry on the side.

Types of meters

Mechanical, manual and rotary-print head meters

Mechanical meters are letterpress meters that had to be taken to the post office and physically reset by a postal official. These meters were decertified and taken out of circulation by the USPS in 1999.

Manual Set and Rotary Print Head meters were decertified by the USPS in 2002. While more advanced, including remote meter resetting capabilities, this early technology was deemed susceptible to tampering.

Digital meters

With Digital Print Meters, postage is added through a modem connection. Postage is printed through an inkjet cartridge using special postage ink. The most advanced systems print Information Based Indicia (IBI), a 2-dimensional Data Matrix or bar code combined with visually identifiable characters and symbols. The data matrix contains such information as amount of postage, origin zip code, destination, mail class, weight, and confirmation/tracking numbers.

Leading systems also include IntelliLink technology, which provides access to a complete suite of management information and USPS services such as Delivery Confirmation, Signature Confirmation, Certified Mail and e-Return Receipt. Other preferred features include Weigh-on-the-Weigh and Shape-Based Rating, which automatically calculate the correct postage for mixed-weight and mixed-sized mail.

There are a number of companies offering postage meters, also called franking machines.

Internet- and stamp based meters

While most mailers use mailing systems, new technologies are making metered mail accessible to even the smallest of businesses.

eBay and PayPal users can print labels with postage using eBay's online postage solution and pay using their PayPal account. This technology, powered by Pitney Bowes, provides for a completely browser-based online postage solution.

Other technologies allow you to print postage from your computer, or from small stamp printers. In the first consumer application for postage meters, customized stamps are also possible.


Mailing System Components

A postage meter is only one component of a mailing system. Other elements include:

  • Base (the hardware on which the postage meter sits)
  • Postage Scale (which weighs postage)
  • Feeder (sends envelopes through the meter)
  • Sealer (moistens the flaps of envelopes)
  • Stacker (stacks envelopes)
  • Tape Dispenser (when postage cannot be printed directly on the mail piece)

For high-volume mailers, a postage meter may also be incorporated into an inserting system which prepares mail end-to-end.


External links

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