Sunday, November 27, 2022

Did Garibaldi Delay the Mail? - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday, featured weekly on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you take this link, you can view every edition of Postal History Sunday, starting with this one (the most recent always shows up at the top).

If this is your first time visiting, you are most welcome here!  If this is not your first time visiting, you know what to do already - get a favorite beverage, put on the fuzzy slippers, set your troubles aside and enjoy.  I attempt to write each Postal History Sunday in a way that is accessible to people who are both new to postal history and those who have enjoyed the hobby for some time.

This week, I wanted to share an ongoing project with everyone.

One of the first clues a postal historian has that something different than usual might have occurred is a date span that is longer than usual between the entry of the item in the mails and its reported delivery.  This item took 23 days to arrive at the destination post office.  Or, at least, it took that long before it was processed by that location.  This is as much as one week longer than usual, but easily 3-4 days late.

That may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things.  Yet it is enough for me to think there is a story here!

This item was mailed in Boston and exhibits an exchange office transit mark dated September 17.  The receiver marking on the reverse indicates that it arrived at the Rome office on Oct 10, 1867.  The envelope has an 1861 design 24-cent stamp and a 3 cent stamp affixed to the envelope apparently paying the 27 cent rate per 1/4 ounce via the French Mails to Rome.  

The Boston mark is a dark reddish-brown color that could be mistaken as black.  It is possible that the color has changed over time as it has aged, but I don't think it was ever a bright red.  The Boston marking clearly says that the postage is "paid" but the color to indicate an item as paid is red, whereas black is supposed to indicate an item is not paid.  The item must have been treated as unpaid or partially paid as there are two due amounts on the front.  The "27" was apparently recognized as an error and smudged, then crossed out.  The 23 remains for collection at delivery to Mr. Langdon Williams in Rome.

And here is what I can tell for certain about the route:

  • Boston Sep 17
  • New York Sep 18
  • Cunard Line steamship Persia
  • Queenstown (Ireland) Sep 27
  • London
  • Roma Oct 10

The normal route from London for this item in 1867 would have been via Marseilles, France, and via ship to Civitavecchia (seaport near Rome).  By late 1867, most mail to Italy other than the Papal State (which included Rome) would have gone via rail with entry at the Modane Tunnel.  However, with tension between Rome and the Kingdom of Italy and the favorable connections between the Papacy and France, the sea route would have been normal.

So, what's the problem?

For those of you who are reading and aren't collectors or explorers postal history on your own, it might seem as if I certainly know enough about this item already.  Even some folks who do work with postal history might say I've got it pretty well surrounded.  But I find this particular cover to be intriguing and well worth further exploring because it provides me with an interesting puzzle to work on.

Here are the questions I want to explore:

  1. Why did this letter take longer than usual to get to where it was going?
  2. What route did it take from London to Rome?
  3. Why did the Roman postal authorities decide that it was not fully paid, marking the envelope as requiring 23 bajocchi due on delivery?

Each of these questions may be related.  If I answer one, I may find that the answer leads to solutions for the other problems. 

Let's look at other letters to Rome

I am going to start with an item that was treated as fully paid by both the United States and the Papal State postal services.  It was also mailed from Boston, but in the year 1862.

1862 cover, Boston to Rome via French Mail at 27 cent per 1/4 ounce rate

While this item is five years prior to the cover in question, it still falls under the same postal arrangements as our first letter.  The Boston exchange marking is clearly red and clearly the same type of marking as our first cover.  It has the word "paid" under the date, which indicates the item was to be treated as paid by the receiving exchange office.  The black circular marking is a French Mail marking and the P.D. in a box also indicates that the item is paid.  The diagonal black line was the normal method the Roman postal clerks used to indicate that no postage was due on delivery.

The back of this cover has a single Rome marking that reads "Roma via di Mare."  This tells me the cover traveled via the Mediterranean Sea to get from Marseilles to Rome.  So the route from London would be:

  • Boston April 15
  • New York April 16
  • Queenstown, Ireland April 27
  • London
  • Calais, France April 29
  • Paris
  • Marseilles, France
  • Civitavecchia, Papal States
  • Rome May 5

The trip took 20 days to reach its completion and it took eight days to get from Queenstown to Rome. 
 This is three days fewer than the cover in question.  By itself, a three day difference between two covers is probably not a big deal.  

But I do have more comparisons!

This 1865 item shows a Philadelphia exchange office marking, again in red.  The "18/1" in red pen also indicates that the item was paid and it tells the French how much of the 27 cents postage was to be sent to them from the U.S.  The "1" in the "18/1" indicates that the item was weighed a single rate letter (1/4 ounce or less).  Again, this envelope shows French mail markings, a PD in box AND the diagonal Roman marking indicating the item as having no postage due.

This one has a postmark on the back that reads Civitavecchia via di Mare - once again telling us it went via ship on the Mediterranean.  This letter only took 16 days to get to its destination in Rome and only SIX days from Queenstown.  This difference can likely be explained by the shipping schedule in Marseille.  Mail ships did not leave daily for Rome, so if an item arrived in Marseilles in between ship departures, the time would be a bit longer.  We just have to establish that our first letter is longer than normal instead of this letter being shorter than usual. 

And here is another item treated as paid.  This one is a double weight letter mailed in1862.  It only took 19 days from departure in the United to its arrival in Rome.  After looking at several other letters from the US to Rome, it seems 16 to 20 days would be the normal travel period.

So, how do all of these DIFFER from our first cover?

  1. All of them have French postal markings
  2. All of them have the diagonal slash that the Roman post office to show an item as paid
  3. All of them have a Rome or Civitavecchia marking that reads "via di Mare"

The last point may or may not be relevant because I have seen other covers to Rome that have French postal markings, are treated as paid, but have no marking that read "via di Mare."  So, we will discard that fact for the time being.  But maybe I will return to it in the future.

And here is an 1861 cover from Rome coming back the other direction to the United States!

This letter was prepaid 32 bajocchi, which was the correct amount in 1861 for a letter weighing no more than 6 denari (7.1 grams - a bit under 1/4 gram).  This letter took 16 days to get from origin to destination. It has French postal markings and was treated as paid on arrival in New York City.

This is where we get a clue that might help us.  In 1866, the postage rate from Rome to the US was reduced to 23 bajocchi from the 32 bajocchi found here.  This might explain the mistake in the rate since the change was fairly recent (about one year).  Though you would think it had been long enough for the postal clerks in Rome to be familiar with it.

Which reminds me, I should show you our first cover again so you can remember what we're trying to puzzle out.

So what might explain the postal rate question?

At this time, there was no treaty for mail to be directly exchanged between the United States and the Kingdom of Italy or the Papal States.  Instead, mail to Italy was serviced under postal agreements through other countries.  The French Mails were by far the most common service utilized to get U.S. letters to Italy at a rate of 27 cents per 1/4 ounce (7.5 grams). Other options, such as the Prussian Closed Mail or Hamburg/Bremen mails were also available.

I think it is safe to say that the "23" is a due marking for 23 bajocchi, which was the effective rate for mail from Rome to the United States per 6 denari (7.1 grams).  So we will file that away as a fact for this cover.

The only explanation I have for the "27" is that the clerk might have been thinking about an older rate (prior to 1853) that went via Britain.  In that case, the mail could not be paid to destination - it could only be paid to Britain.  In my mind, this is a weak explanation, but it is all I've got.

So, why did they charge this letter as if it had not been properly paid?  There are two possible explanations.  First, they found that the letter was overweight.  Remember, the Romans were probably weighing the letter in denari and six denari was only 7.1 grams.  The French would rate letters at 7.5 grams and the US at 1/4 ounce (7.08 grams).  Is it possible that the US clerk measured the letter in grams and allowed a letter over 7.1 grams to go at a single rate?

Anyway, if the Roman clerk felt the letter was overweight, they went ahead and charged only for the additional unpaid postage of 23 bajocchi.

The second explanation is that the absence of the expected French markings and a Boston marking that didn't look as red as they might normally see caused an inexperienced or overworked clerk treat it as unpaid.

And, of course, I suppose there are other possible explanations - including the odd chance that it did not travel through France.  But, then I would expect more markings from German, Swiss or Italian postal services.  And there are none.

So, I think I have the answer to the route question as well.  I believe it went via France, just like the other letters, but it somehow missed being processed properly by the French clerks.

Garibaldi and the Attack on Rome 

Prior to 1860, Italy was broken into several different states.  By 1867, most of Italy had been united as the Kingdom of Italy with only the Patrimony of St Peter, around Rome remaining outside of the Kingdom.  Giuseppe Garibaldi was well known as one of the primary agitators for the unification of all of Italy and he may figure prominently with respect to the delay of this letter. 

The news of the process of the unification of Italy and, in particular, the exploits of Garibaldi caught the imaginations of people world-wide.  Below are snippings from the Mercury - the Hobart, Tasmania newspaper of that time.  You may feel free to read the clippings presented or you can wait for the summary below.

Garibaldi was on record as being vehemently against the Papal State and the Catholic Church calling it the "shame and plague of Italy"  at a congress of European leaders in Geneva earlier in September.  He created a rather overt plan to march on Rome with 10,000 volunteers to coincide with an insurrection within the city.

These attempts to cause an insurrection and take over Rome failed in large part because the Kingdom of Italy did not support the effort.  In fact, they arrested Garibaldi himself to prevent his personal leadership of the "Garibaldians" mentioned in the newspaper.  

Of interest here is that the timing of these events would coincide with the normal delivery period of the piece of mail in question (it finally arrives on October 10 in Rome).  Is it possible that the uproar in and around Rome delayed the mail?  I think it entirely likely that it may have done so in some fashion.  The letter could have been physically delayed outside the city OR the postal clerks may have been distracted or prevented from duty.  This also brings us to the possibility that the people who processed this mail were not the normal clerks - which could explain some mistakes being made.

There is too much, let me sum up

So, let me remind you of the questions first!

  1. Why did this letter take longer than usual to get to where it was going?
  2. What route did it take from London to Rome?
  3. Why did the Roman postal authorities decide that it was not fully paid, marking the envelope as requiring 23 bajocchi due on delivery?

It is my theory that this letter was either delayed in its arrival OR it sat in the Roman post office waiting for someone to process the mail.  It seems to me that the uproar in Rome and the surrounding territory by Garibaldi's forces would have been sufficient to create problems for the timely delivery of mail.

I believe that the letter took the normal route that the 27 cents in postage paid for via France.  Most of my logic for this is that there is no evidence that it took another route via German mail options.

And finally, I favor the idea that the letter was rated as being more than 6 denari (7.1 grams) in weight.  The clerk, possibly inexperienced or under great pressure, opted to collect the postage for the unpaid second rate level, but recognized that one rate level was paid.  Another explanation runs a close second for me - and that's the idea that the inexperienced or harried postal clerk simply didn't see paid markings and figured it must be treated as unpaid.


And there you have it.  A puzzle that I continue to make progress on.  I shared this with you in hopes that each of you might have a bit more understanding about the questions I, as a postal historian, find myself digging into. There is no requirement that you should want to do this yourself, nor is it necessary for you to feel as if all of this exploration was interesting to you at all!  Instead, I am hopeful that you found some of it entertaining - even if the entertaining part was watching a vegetable and poultry farmer with Computer Science background pretend he can transport himself back to 1867 and read the minds of postal employees of the time.

Have a fine remainder of your day and great week to come!  I am grateful for each of you who provides me with encouragement, feedback and information and I give thanks for all who take the time to put on the fuzzy slippers and share a few moments of your day reading Postal History Sunday.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Puzzling It Out - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday, featured weekly on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you take this link, you can view every edition of Postal History Sunday, starting with this one (the most recent always shows up at the top).

Sometimes the attempt to write a fresh post every Sunday can feel pretty daunting.  This is especially true if the planned post topic no longer works.  And, of course, that is essentially what occurred this week.  The initial plan was that we would be attending Chicagopex (a stamp/postal history event) for at least part of the weekend.  I figured I would do something I had done in the past and report on what was going on there.  I expected I would take some pictures, make some observations, and otherwise tell everyone what was going on.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the show...  Ok - not funny.  We received a call after we had driven for over three hours that the people who were going to tend the farm for us had been in a car accident (they're fine) and could not take care of things.  So, we sat in a Casey's parking lot for about 45 minutes trying to find alternatives.  In the end, we turned around and here we are - back at the farm and in "make the best of it" mode.

So, I'll move up the time table on my exploration of the cover shown below.  It attracted my attention because of the two bold, red markings on the front.

The Puzzle

All of the hints about the story this envelope can tell are visible to you right now.  There are no contents.  There are no dockets other than the "via Panama" at the top left.  There are no markings on the back-side (the verso) of this envelope.  This is it.

The letter was mailed and postmarked at Elmira, New York on February 4 and it was sent to Valparaiso, Chile for a Mr. Frank Hall.  He had apparently arranged for his mail to be sent "care of Messrs Alsop & Co."  Thirty-four cents of postage appear at the top right which was apparently accepted as sufficient pre-payment.

That leaves us with three more markings that have something to tell us.

We'll start with the easiest one to see and explain.  The red "12" is the amount of the collected postage that was to be given to the British postal services.  In order for a letter to get to Valparaiso, Chile, from New York, it had to be carried first to Panama.  It would then cross the Isthmus until it was put on board a steamship that was under contract with the British Post Office to carry mail to South American ports.  At the time this letter was in the New York City post office, we must have been under an agreement that British service would cost 12 cents.

Then,we come to this mess.  If you look carefully, you can see the number "24" in red that had apparently been put on this envelope.  Someone must have decided this was wrong and they covered up that marking as best they could with a heavy waffle-like cancellation.  If you take a moment, you might be able to notice that the red ink for the "24" is slightly different than the ink for the "12" and the waffle marking.  But, the "12" and the waffle seem to be the same ink.  That tells us the "24" was applied at a different time than the other two.

And then there's this.  Look carefully, do you see another marking in red ink here?

Even if you can't see it, there is a marking there that is the number "25."  This marking was applied in Chile.  But, how did I know that?  And, why am I not certain the postage rate for this letter was 34 cents?  For that matter, what year was this letter sent?  Ah... puzzles can be so much fun!

What was the "25" for?

I'm going to start with another envelope that does not present so much of a mystery for me. This one was sent from New London, Connecticut in 1867.  The recipient was a Captain Hinckley and his ship must have been the barque "Fannie."  His mail was also sent to Messrs Alsop & Co, which would have been the most common location for United States ship captains or US citizens to have their mail sent if they were visiting Chile.

And there is a big, bold '25" right in the middle of the cover!  As I mentioned before, the marking was applied in Chile and the slant of the numeral "5" was normal for this marking.  Unfortunately, it is also pretty common for it to be very lightly applied, so it can easily be missed.

Foreign mail to Chile could only be pre-paid to the point of entry into the country.  Chile charged an incoming foreign mail fee equivalent to 5 centavos (July 1853 to December 29, 1874).  In addition to the incoming mail fee, incoming mail required two times the domestic internal rate (10 centavos) for a total charge of 25 centavos collected from the recipient at the point of delivery.

How did mail get to Chile?

Mail for South America that had an origin in the eastern half of the United States would typically go to the exchange office in New York City.  From there, it would take a steamship owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (often called the Aspinwall Line) to Chagres.  Chagres was located on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Panama Isthmus and was often referred to as Aspinwall at the time this letter was sent.  Mail would then cross the Isthmus and board a British steamship at Panama City.

The British steamships were run by the Pacific Steamship Navigation Company (PSNC) and they made stops along the west coast of South America.  There were stops in Ecuador, Peru, and, finally, Chile.

The second cover shown above has a black, circular marking that was put on the cover in Panama City by the British postal clerks.  This particular cover was handed over to the British agents on February 19, according to that postmark.  A typical steamship schedule by PSNC would have this letter arriving in Valparaiso at or around March 9.

On average, it might take nine or ten days to get from New York City to Panama City and another seventeen or twenty days to get to Valparaiso.  If you would like to learn a bit more about the route from the east cost to the west coast via Panama, there are numerous sources you could try.  Among them might be John Kemble's 1938 paper titled The Panama Route to the Pacific Coast: 1848-1869.  Or if you want something contemporary to this period, you can read Isthmus of Panama: History of the Panama Railroad and of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company by Fessenden Otis, published in 1867.

How much did it cost to mail a letter to Chile?

The only postage rate for mail from the US to Chile during the 1860s was a 34 cents per half ounce rate that was in effect from December of 1856 until early February of 1870.  And since I concentrate the most on the 1860s, that is what I am most familiar with.  The 34-cent rate was broken down into two parts: 10 cents to cover the US postage and 24 cents for the British carriage from Panama City to Chile.

But the price governments were willing to pay steamship companies to carry the mail was declining in the 1860s and early 1870s.  As a result, the British reduced their own postage rates to destinations on the west coast of South America by 6 pence (equivalent to 12 US cents), making this change effective on January 1, 1870.  They would not pass on those savings to US postal customers until February 15, 1870.  As of that moment, the US only had to pay 12 cents, instead of 24 cents, to the British, and they were able to lower the postage rate for US customers from 34 cents to 22 cents (Feb 15, 1870 - June 1875).

Answers to the puzzle

So, we return to our first cover so we can provide what I think is the most probable explanation for this particular letter!

A postal customer in Elmira, New York went to their post office and gave this letter to the clerk, probably paying that clerk 34 cents to pay the, then current, postage for a letter to Chile.  The clerk or the postal customer put 34 cents worth of postage stamps (a 10 cent and a 24 cent) on the envelope and the clerk dutifully postmarked the letter and cancelled the stamps so they could not be used again.

The letter was then put in a mailbag so it would go to the foreign mail exchange office in New York City. The docket "via Panama" told people at the exchange office that the letter should get on a steamship to go to Panama, rather than overland to San Francisco and then down to Chile.  The PMSC steamship named the Henry Chauncey was due to leave New York's harbour on February 5th.  So, as long as the letter got to the New York foreign mail office in time, all should be well.  

The foreign exchange clerk in New York put a "24" marking on the envelope, just like they had been doing for every letter to Chile since 1856.  And then they realized that it was too late to get this letter to the Henry Chauncey, it left the Port of New York without this item.

The next steamer scheduled to leave New York City for Chagres was the Alaska on February 21, six days after the postage rate was to change from 34 to 22 cents.  And, once that happened, the amount of postage to be passed from the US Post Office to the British would only be 12 cents.

So, at some point, the clerks in the New York Foreign Mail Office used this waffle grid to cover up the old "24" credit markings and they replaced it with the "12."

Why?  Well, they didn't want to send the British any more money than the postal agreement was asking for, and this letter did not sail on a British ship until AFTER the rate had changed.

So, my final answer is summarized as follows:

  • The letter was mailed when the rate was 34 cents per half ounce.
  • The New York exchange office marked it as a letter mailed at the 34 cent rate by putting a "24" on the cover.
  • It arrived in New York too late for the ship departing on Feb 5
  • The rate changed to 22 cents
  • The New York exchange office marked it as a letter mailed at the 22 cent rate by covering the "24" and putting a "12" on the cover
  • The letter traveled on the Alaska to Chagres at the Isthmus, leaving February 21
  • Probable arrival in Valparaiso after March 20

That's my story and I am sticking to it!

Outstanding questions

At this point, I do not have actual departure or arrival dates of the Henry Chauncey or the Alaska.  I also do not have the departure/arrival dates of the PSNC ship that left Panama for South America.  So, if anyone has information on those, I would be grateful.  Otherwise, it will simply wait until I have time to dig a bit more.

Also, I am willing to hear any arguments that might indicate that my conclusions are wrong - though I don't think I am.  However, it makes it pretty hard to learn if I won't entertain the possibility that I am in error in the first place.

Bonus Material

Let's go back to the second envelope I featured for a couple of interesting tidbits that you might enjoy!

While I was unable to find much on Capt Hinckley or the barque (bark) Fannie, I was able to locate some information about one person who handled this letter on behalf of the good captain.  

This letter was initially sent to Alsop & Co in Valparaiso, but they sent that letter on to W.E. Billinghurst in Iquique, which was in Peru at the time this letter was sent (1867).  We can assume this letter caught up to Capt Hinckley there since there doesn't appear to any more travels recorded on this envelope.  

Mr. Billinghurst was listed as a shipping agent for Lloyd's in Iquique during the 1860s and was, like many who worked as a shipping agent, also the representative for many other concerns. Anyone involved in trade, especially of Chilean saltpeter, had likely heard of him.  So, it might not be surprising to hear that his demise was specifically noted in newspapers throughout the world.

I found an article in the Brisbane Courier of Oct 13, 1868 (page 3) that explains the fate of Mr. Billinghurst (about 15 months after handling this letter).  An extremely large earthquake, estimated today as having been somewhere from 8.5 to 9.3 on the Richter Scale, was centered around Arica, north of Iquique.  This would place it among the most violent earthquakes recorded.  That earthquate caused tsunamis that impacted many of the ports to the south, including Iquique.

Brisbane Courier, Oct 13, 1868 p.3

If you have interest in reading about the severe earthquake activity in South America during 1868, here is a contemporary report from Harper's Monthly from 1869 that might give some insight.

Iquique, despite being located in a desert region, was a port of prominence because that desert had strong deposits of sodium nitrate (Chilean saltpeter) - used for fertilizers.  Prior to the late 1860s, the Chinchan islands off the coast of northern Peru had been mined for guano that could be exported worldwide as a fertilizer.  With those deposits rapidly being depleted, attention was shifting southward to the Atacama desert - and to Iquique - as the primary port of departure for ships laden with Chilean saltpeter as a fertilizer product.  In 1867, nearly 116,000 tons of saltpeter were exported by Peru. This amount declined the following year, likely due, in part, to the earthquakes.*

If you would like to learn more of the Atacama desert, I did come across a book by Isaiah Bowman titled Desert Trails of the Atacama, published in 1924.  I started reading parts of it and then realized I needed to finish this Postal History Sunday post!  At the very least, I put the link here so I can look at it in the future if I would like!

*Greenhill & Miller, Peruvian Government and the Nitrate Trade, 1873-1879, Journal Latin American Studies, pages 110-111

Iquique 1865 by Mariano Felipe Paz Soldan from wikimedia commons


And there you have it!  Another Postal History Sunday in the books! I hope you enjoyed this journey and that maybe you learned something new.  

Thank you for joining me.  Have a great remainder of your day and a fine week to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Like a Fly to a Bug Zapper - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday, featured weekly on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you take this link, you can view every edition of Postal History Sunday, starting with this one (the most recent always shows up at the top).

This week we're going to give myself a bit of a breather.  And before you get too worried, that doesn't mean there won't be a Postal History Sunday.  What it means is that I am giving myself permission to not dig as deep into things as I often do.  Instead, I am going to answer a question that came to me from three different people in three different forums.  Of course, they did not ask in exactly the same way, but I kind of liked how Majid Hosseini asked it, so I will quote here:

"Considering your varied topical interests, I wish you did a post some day about what makes you interested in a cover."

Ok!  Let's have a little fun with this question and maybe learn something new while we are at it.

The Training Ground

When I started paying attention to postal history, I was pretty overwhelmed by all that was out there.  So, I made a choice to find a filter so I could focus on a smaller area.  Initially, my filter was postal history that had stamps from the 1861 United States postage series.  But, it became apparent that this was too broad and I narrowed it to postal history featuring just the 24-cent stamp of this series.

The majority of the mail using that particular stamp was sent from the United States to the United Kingdom to pay the 24 cent rate for simple letters weighing no more than 1/2 ounce. So, if I was reading books, or looking at catalogues - trying to view examples of this stamp on covers - I would find lots of things that looked kind of like the cover shown below.

These covers typically featured a single 24-cent stamp.  There was typically a town postmark and cancellation showing where the letter was mailed from, a red circular marking from an exchange office (like New York) and often a receiving exchange marking for London.  That was a typical 24 cent cover to England.  And, once I saw enough covers that looked like this, I was able to train my eye to see hints that things were different.

That brings me around to the cover I showed first in this blog - and I'll show it again here.

This folded letter was actually described as another 24 cent cover to England because it has a single 24 cent stamp.  But, because my eye had been trained to look for this sort of thing, I noted some differences right away.  The first thing that told me the description was wrong was the word "Franco" in blue that is down and to the left of the stamp.

That was enough of a difference that I was encouraged to investigate. 

Mailed from New York City in November of 1867, this letter was destined for Venice, which had been incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy after the war with Austria in 1866.  The route for this letter went through Bremen, which was part of the North German Confederation in 1867.  But the United States was still operating under a mail convention it had negotiated with Bremen.

It just happened that there was a 24 cent postage rate for mail from the United States to Italy for a very short period of time (from February to December of 1867).  This postage rate was only effective for mail sent via the city of Bremen and their mail services.  As a matter of fact, there are only a few existing covers out there that show this rate, so the fact that I found one masquerading as a cover to the United Kingdom is pretty neat - if you ask me.

But, I found it because I had become very familiar with what was normal.  And, it was NOT normal to see the word "Franco" on a cover with a single 24-cent stamp.  That was all it took to clue me in on the fact that I might want to pay more attention.

Jumping off to related areas

Once I became comfortable with mail from the US to the UK in the 1860s, it wasn't all that hard to figure out how mail that went the other direction worked.  It took much less time to figure out what "normal" would look like for simple letters traveling from places like London and Liverpool to various destinations in the states.  

In fact, it would look a lot like the cover shown above, with one exception - there would be only ONE green, 1-shilling stamp on the cover because 24 cents was equal to 1 shilling.  The red "paid" marking was pretty normal, and so was the red "5 cents" marking.  But, my brain was alerted to the fact that there was a red "5," which would tell me this was a simple letter that should cost ONLY ONE shilling.  

Yet, here it was with 2 shillings in payment.  It turned out that the explanation was on the back.

The Liverpool marking has the abbreviation "F.R.H." at the bottom, which stands for Floating Row House.  Liverpool had a special post office on the wharf for ships leaving to carry mail across the Atlantic Ocean.  A person who was too late to get the letter to the regular post office could pay an extra shilling to get their letter on the ship almost to the point of departure by coming to the Floating Row House.

And that explains the extra shilling.  But, it was my recognition that the "5 cents" and two 1-shilling stamps wasn't a normal pairing that clued me into researching this item more.

Looking for more explanations

This whole time, my main collection and interest has remained with the 1861 24-cent postal history.  But, I am driven to understand those items in my collection as fully as I am able to.  So, when I find something else that might help explain more of the story, it attracts my attention.

For example, the 1867 business letter sent from Marseilles, France to Genoa, Italy provided me with a foothold to better understand how letters might travel between France and Italy.  The key this time is the marking at the top right that reads "Francia via di mare," which would translate to "France, via the sea."  This marking was applied to indicate that the letter was placed on a coaster steamer in Marseille and taken off at Genoa.

Then there is this 1862 folded letter mailed from Boston to Rome.  It bears 27 cents in postage (including the 24 cent stamp) that properly paid the 27 cent rate for a letter mailed via France to Rome.  The marking below shows us that the letter was received on April 5.

If you do not know what you are looking for, the words in the bottom curved panel of this marking read "via di mare."  Now that you've seen it with the letter from Marseille to Genoa (or now that I've pointed it out to you), it is easier to try to decipher it here.  But, imagine that you had not seen these two covers in this order.  Would you be able to decipher what that bottom panel said?

Well, in my case, I was happy enough to be able to decipher the date of arrival.  And, for quite some time, that's as far as my understanding went.  Then, I realized at some point that mail to Rome probably had to be taken by ship, because Rome was not getting along all that well with the rest of Italy.  

THEN I saw that letter from Marseille to Genoa with the words "via di mare" and it all clicked.

This explains some of the items that attract my interest - they represent a way to better understand MORE of the mail processes that the 24-cent covers would have used as they went to, or through, Europe.

But, something else happened along the way as I was looking for more in-depth knowledge.

Something new to explore

I started to realize that I now knew enough about mails in the 1860s that I actually had just enough to not be completely lost if I looked at European mail during that period.  In fact, I was able to make at least some inroads for items dated from the 1850s to the 1870s.  

Let's be honest with ourselves here.  It can be pretty difficult to really enjoy the learning process when you have NO IDEA where you should start, right?  Sure, some of our most important and critical learning events in our lives are the most traumatic.  But, I'm not doing this because I want to be traumatized.  I want to learn and I want to allow myself to enjoy learning.

That means it makes sense to continue to build off of the areas where I already have some foundation to reach from.

Shown above is a letter that was mailed in Torino on July 26, 1863 - and the destination was also in Torino.  A five centesimi stamp pays the local postage rate of the time for the Kingdom of Italy.  But here's where it starts to get a bit odd.  The fancy letterhead, shown below, tells us that the sender, Giuseppe Bonetti, was located in Cremona.  If this were mailed in Cremona, it would not qualify as a local letter.

This is where experience in reading dockets for items in the 24-cent 1861 collection comes in handy.  It tells me that information could be found if you read such things and we have one that looks like this at the top left of the cover.  And it simply says "favore."

This likely explains things more fully.  This letter was taken to Torino for Giuseppe Bonetti by someone other than the Italian postal services.  Perhaps he had a business acquaintance who was on their way to Turin (Torino) and they were willing to take a letter or two with them and drop them at the local post office, saving Giuseppe a little bit of postage.  Maybe Giuseppe even paid a little bit of money for this person to carry a few letters to Turin for him, but it was likely less cost than it would have been to mail it in Cremona.

Things that hint at a story to tell

Of course, as I explore more and more things, I have gotten a bit better at recognizing things that might have a story to tell, such as this May, 1944, registered letter that was returned to the sender because it must have had some content the US mail censor was disinclined to allow to leave the country.

This letter is eighty years younger than most things I pay attention to for postal history, yet I still find it to be interesting.  Covers with potentially stories are the thing that make me feel like I am a fly attracted to a bug zapper.  I know that I am less familiar with mail during this time period and I am fully aware it will take me longer to work out the details that might be discoverable.  But, I can't help it.  I smell a story - and I am hopeful to unlock that story (and maybe share it here) someday.

As a matter of fact, one of this year's Postal History Sunday entries I am most proud of features this World War I period envelope.  This one was titled Friends in Need and it featured the Friends Ambulance Unit that was established in London to provide medical support in France and Belgium where fighting was heavy.

Overall, this letter is, as far as I can tell, fairly unremarkable for a registered letter sent from the United States to London in 1916.  The mail censorship was a fact of life for mail going between these two countries.  Registration of mail items was not at all uncommon.  

But, that hook to the Friends Ambulance Unit snuck its way into my brain and I just had to take a learning journey.

Personal connections

I am just like anyone else in that my attraction to some things are based mostly on some sort of personal connection I might have.  This 1923 letter from Germany to Muscatine, Iowa, is fairly nice looking and it illustrates a postal rate during the hyper-inflation period.   

But, the initial attraction to me was more personal than it was postal history.  First, Tammy's grandfather was a stamp accumulator and was proud of his German heritage. I still think of him when I look at postal history from this area.  Second, we have an Iowa connection - my home state.  And finally, the person from whom I purchased this item, for all of one dollar, was a kind soul who was continuing to attend small stamp shows in Iowa as a dealer of postage stamps (and a few covers).  He always made me feel welcome - so I think of him when I look at this item.

Fulfilling childhood wishes

I actually "started" collecting stamps very young, when Mom would cut stamps off of the mail and give them to me when I was three years old.  I remember gluing them into a little notebook and drawing around (and sometimes on... hey!  I was three!) them.  But, as I got old enough to learn how to handle stamps "properly" there were certain designs that caught my eye, like the 1913 Dutch issue of the time. 

Part of the attraction was that these were a different shape and there were many different values in the set.  So, it should be no surprise that I might like to acquire an item that represents a stamp issue I recall being fond of back then.

The envelope above has a pre-printed design with vegetables, so you can guess why a vegetable farmer, such as myself, might find a personal connection here as well.  But, when you add to it the fact that it shows a nice, clean example of the cheaper printed matter rate (Drukwerk), that makes it interesting for me.

Things that have curb appeal

When a piece of paper, like an old envelope or folded letter that went through the mail, still looks pretty new even though it might be fifty, eighty, or one hundred and fifty years old, it is bound to get my attention.  If the postal markings are clear and boldly struck and the hand writing is neat, I can't help but notice.  If the postage stamps have nice color and the edges of the envelope or paper are not tattered, why wouldn't I want to look at it a second or third time?

There are aesthetics when it comes to postal history.  And that might come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who do not do anything more with the hobby than read a Postal History Sunday now and again.  But, the odd thing about those aesthetics is that things do have to look their age - as long as they don't look TOO MUCH their age.

Although, sometimes, the ugly duckling finds a place in your heart.  Even if you wince a bit when you look at it.  I guess we need to remember that we all need love.  Maybe a tattered envelope that was mailed in 1865 from Indiana to Australia qualifies for some of that love?

A nutshell to simplify it all

Now that we have done all of that, I'll summarize my answer to Majid and others who were asking.

What makes me interested in a cover or piece of postal history?

Primarily three things:

  1. An item that helps me learn something new about postal history
  2. Something that gets me interested in a story
  3. Things that might help me recall the memory of a person, place or event

And now you're all saying, "Why didn't you say that in the first place?  Instead you just rambled on and I neglected to refill my mug with my favorite beverage."

Well, here's hoping you were in a comfortable chair and your fluffy, bunny slippers kept your feet toasty warm.  All is not lost, because your worries you put down to read Postal History Sunday were run through the wash machine with your extra socks.  If you're lucky, you aren't missing a sock this time.  Instead, it was your troubles that went missing.

And that makes for a good day.  Thank you for joining me.  Have a good remainder of your day and a fine week to come.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Triple Threat - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday, featured weekly on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you take this link, you can view every edition of Postal History Sunday, starting with this one (the most recent always shows up at the top).

This week, we're going to take a look at pieces of mail that weighed more than the normal "simple letter" in the 1860s.  For our purposes, a simple letter was a piece of letter mail that weighed no more than the base weight (for example 1/2 ounce or 15 grams) set by a postal service to get that letter from point A to point B.  A simple letter was typically used as a starting point by a postal service to describe the postage required to send a letter.

For example, a simple letter from France to Belgium in 1861 cost 40 centimes as long as that letter did not weigh more than 10 grams.  And a simple letter from the US to the United Kingdom cost 24 cents  if it weighed a half ounce or less.

But what happens when that letter weighs more?

Why is this envelope so remarkable?

Above is an example of a letter that weighed more than a simple letter.  In this case, the item must have weighed more than one ounce and no more than 1 1/2 ounces.  The rate at the time was 24 cents per 1/2 ounce in weight.  So, this is a triple rate letter, requiring 24 cents x 3 in postage (72 cents).  Easy!  Right?

Well, yes it is.  And maybe that's why it is so remarkable.

But first, let's consider how much had to be in an envelope to make it this heavy.  A modern envelope with four to five sheets of standard printing paper would weigh about one ounce.  That means this envelope would have to have a bit more than that stuffed into it reach the weight that would require 72 cents in postage so it could be sent to London, England.

By itself, this letter is remarkable because it shows an example of heavier mail, which is certainly far less common for people to send than simple letters.  But, that's not the biggest reason that I appreciate this particular item.  And, before I tell you why, let's give you a bit more to think about first.

40 centimes per 10 grams : April 1, 1858 to December 31, 1865

The French kept the triple rate easy to figure

The French and the Belgians came to an agreement that the simple rate between their two countries would be 40 centimes for each 10 grams in weight (so anything over 20 grams and no more than 30 grams would be a triple rate).  And, shown above is a letter that weighed 25 grams - so it is a triple rate cover, requiring 120 centimes in postage to get from St Etienne, France to Roulers, Belgium.  

And, before you think my figuring out that this letter weighed 25 grams was magic, I show you this:

One of these days, everyone who reads Postal History Sunday is going to figure out all of my secrets and there will be no reason to read it - so I probably should stop sharing them!

Each of the orange French postage stamps on the envelope represent 40 centimes in postage and the red "PD" in the box indicates that the French post office saw this item as properly prepaid by those stamps.  This is about as easy as you can get when it comes to a triple rate.

80 centimes per 7.5 grams: April 1857 to December 31, 1869

And, just to show you that it wasn't just the Belgians that were okay with a simple rate progression when it came to the French - here is a triple rate letter from France to the United States in 1866.  This time around, we do not have a marking that tells us how heavy the letter was.  Instead, we have to infer that it was more than 15 grams and no more than 22.5 grams based on the postage applied and the fact that it appears to have been treated by the post office as properly paid.

There are three 80 centime French postage stamps on the envelope.  The red box with the "PD" shows up below them.  A nearby, red, circular marking from New York agrees that postage is paid.  And that neat little "9." in red indicates to me that nine US cents needed to be passed to the United States for their share of the expenses.  This is precisely three times the 3 cents owed for each 7.5 grams in weight.

If that last bit doesn't make sense to you, let me refer you to last week's Postal History Sunday.  That post covered mail from the US to France during this same time period.

7d per 1/2 ounce : January 1, 1868 - May 31, 1870

The British seemed reasonable too

Shown above is a letter mailed from London, England to London, Ontario, Canada, in October of 1869.  There are three postage stamps paying a total of 1 shilling, nine pence in postage.  There is no evidence that further postage was needed, so it seems this item was properly prepaid by the stamps.

This letter was carried by the steamship named "Russia," which was part of the Cunard Line - a British steamship line.  According to British rate tables found in an excellent book by Jane & Michael Moubray*, there were two possible rates.  One for letters carried on the Allen Line (a Canadian steamship line) and British ships that landed in the United States.  This letter was carried by the more expensive option (the British ships landing in the US - either New York or Boston).

A simple letter (weighing no more than a half ounce) was 7 pence.  So, at 7 pence per 1/2 ounce, the amount for a triple weight letter would be 21 pence, which converts to 1 shilling and 9 pence (12 pence per shilling).  

That wasn't hard either.

*British Letter Mail to Overseas Destinations: 1840 - 1875, Jane & Michael Moubray

3rd weight letter for internal letter in France, 1867

Or were they?

You had to know there must be something more going on here - especially if you've read Postal History Sunday before.  Shown above is a domestic (or internal) letter mailed from Paris, France to Bordeaux, France, in 1867.  The amount of postage is 80 centimes, but the rate of a simple letter was 20 centimes as long as it did not weigh more than 10 grams.

It would be tempting to say, without verifying anything, that this is a quadruple weight letter (20 centimes x 4) and have done with it, wouldn't it?  No.  Apparently the French expected more of their own people.  They, at least, should be able to figure out something that was a bit more complex.  Here is a look at the internal letter mail rates for France from 1849 to 1871.

Prepaid Internal Letter Rates for France

Date 1st Rate up to 2nd Rate up to 3rd Rate up to Additional Per
Jan 1, 1849 0,20 7.5g 0,40 15g 1,00 100g 1,00 100g
Jul 1, 1850 0,25 7.5g 0,50 15g 1,00 100g 1,00 100g
Jul 1, 1854 0,20 7.5g 0,40 15g 0,80 100g 0,80 100g
Jan 1, 1862 0,20 10g 0,40 20g 0,80 100g 0,80 100g
Sep 1, 1871 0,25 10g 0,40 20g 0,70 50g 0,50 50g

The rate table effective for the letter I am showing is in row 4.  The simple letter and the double weight letters are pretty easy and calculate as we might expect.  But, the third rate actually covers a much larger weight range.  Any letter weighing over 20 grams and no more than 100 grams (!) would qualify for this third rate at 80 centimes in postage.  Then, any 100 grams after that would cost another 80 centimes.

Ok, so the French can't always be trusted to do the easy calculation thing, but what about the British (and the American for that matter)?

The short answer is "no."

Here is another example of a letter from the US to England that bears three 24-cent stamps for 72 cents in postage.  This letter was mailed in 1864, and unlike the very first item I showed in this post, it was NOT accepted as being properly paid.  If you look, will notice a hand stamp at the right that says "short paid."  Also, the black coloration of the New York marking and the black coloring of the "20" marking are indicators that this was considered to be unpaid.  Think of these as signals to the British Post from the US Post Office that all was not well on the postage front.  

"Hey, you Brits!  The sender failed to pay enough for this, so you better collect.  And while you are at it, send us the 20 cents you owe us for this letter!"

The British Post proceeded to do that, collecting FOUR shillings (the squiggle in the middle).  One shilling was equal to 24 US cents, so they collected the equivalent of 96 cents.

The US and the United Kingdom made a treaty agreement that became effective in 1849 and remained effective until December of 1867.  That agreement set the simple letter rate as 24 cents for a letter weighing no more than 1/2 ounce.  A double weight letter would cost 48 cents and would weigh more than a half ounce and no more than one ounce.  But, from there it all changes!

Any letter over one ounce in weight would add 48 cents in postage for every additional ounce in weight!

And to add insult to injury, any letter that was not fully prepaid would be treated as....completely unpaid!

So, even though the sender might have thought their letter that weighed more than one ounce and no more than 1.5 ounces was properly paid, it was not.  Their 72 cents in postage stamps was completely useless and the US Post Office thanked them for the generous donation.  The British Post, on the other hand, came calling to the addressee at Horbling with their hands out, awaiting payment for the costs of this letter.  

All of that brings us back here.

The first letter I shared with you is dated Jun 12, 1866 and it clearly shows a properly paid triple rate that is 24 cents PER 1/2 ounce.  It would have weighed roughly the same as the cover that required the recipient to pay 4 shillings in postage (over 1 ounce no more than 1.5 ounces).

The first question is, of course, how do we know this one was treated as paid?  There are several clues, and I am betting you can see some of them - even if you don't know postal history.

  1. markings in red typically indicated that a letter was considered paid
  2. both the Boston and the London markings include the word "paid"
  3. the 57/3 marking in pencil is red and gives us confirming information

Yeah.  I think the word "paid" in two places is probably enough for most of us.  But, the "57/3" mark illustrates very clearly that this was considered a valid triple weight cover and NOT a mistake by the post office or overpayment by the sender.  The "3" was written by the clerk to indicate that this was a triple weight.  The "57" indicates to us that 57 cents were due to be sent to the British for their share of the expenses.  If this were a simple letter, that number would be a "19," like this simple letter.

But, our triple rate letter would require 19 cents x 3 = 57 cents.  Which confirms that the cover in question is a triple rate letter.

So, why was that first letter special?

It turns out that many postal agreements and rates through the early 1860s followed what was known as a "British Rate Progression," where there was a simple letter up to a half ounce, a double rate letter up to one ounce and then, every other rate progression would be by the ounce.  You can guess that people who got caught by the British Rate Progression were less than happy with it.  And, the British began changing from that rate structure to a simple rate progression.

On April 1, 1866, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to follow a simple rate structure that was 24 cents per 1/2 ounce.  This rate would only be effective from April 1, 1866 until December 31, 1867.  After that, the rate was reduced to 12 cents per 1/2 ounce.

And that, my friends, is why this envelope is so neat! It illustrates a major change in postal rates that was not the result of a new postal treaty.  And, it was also likely a relief to postal customers who wanted to mail heavier letters.

1 shilling per 1/2 ounce : April 1, 1866 - December 31, 1867

It went both ways too!

Here is a letter that left Liverpool, England, in August of 1867 and was sent to Houston, Texas, in the US.  This illustrates the same thing our first cover did, only going in the opposite direction.  The 24-cent rate per half ounce translates to one shilling (12 pence) per half ounce from the perspective of a person in England looking to send the letter.

This letter has two postage stamps, one representing 1 shilling in postage and the other 2 shillings, for a total of three shillings paid.  Once again, we have a paid marking in the circular, red New York marking at the left.  The red pencil "15" indicates that the British Post was aware that fifteen US cents (5 cents x 3) needed to be sent to cover the US portion of the expenses.

Is life simpler now?

I've had people remark to me that they are glad that postage rates aren't as complex now as they used to be (like the 1860s).  That got me to thinking.  What does a "triple rate" letter look like today - this very moment?

A simple letter from the US to the United Kingdom, if you sent it today, would cost you $1.40 to mail as long as it weighed no more than one ounce.  So, if we use a simple progression today, the cost for a triple rate letter (over 2 ounces and no more than 3 ounces), the cost would be $4.20.

So, I looked it up.  Is the cost for a triple weight letter $4.20? The United Kingdom belongs in "group 5."

from USPS site

Again, the answer is "no."  The cost would be $3.82.

The first ounce cost $1.40.  The second ounce is $1.22 cents and the third ounce is $1.20.  The maximum weight for a first class letter is 3.5 ounces - and that extra 1/2 ounce costs $1.22.

Ok.  Not simple.  And perhaps a good explanation as to why we rely so much on computers to do rate calculations for us today.  What escapes me is the rhyme or reason for rates this complexity.  I suppose I could probably speculate on the data that resulted in these amounts, but that might be a fun exercise for another time (and maybe another life).

Instead, we will stop there for this week, with gratitude for the postal workers who have to deal regularly with today's complex postage rate structures.

Thank you again for joining me for this edition of Postal History Sunday.  I appreciate all of the feedback, as well as the kind words that have been sent my way.  I hope you learned something new and enjoyed yourself, if only because you avoided doing some unpleasant task that I am afraid I will no longer distract you from doing!

Unless, of course, I can distract you with a silly story or thoughts about leaves.  Your call!

Have a fine rest of your day and an excellent week to come.