Monday, April 16, 2018

Letter Mail: France and Belgium

The Project
Postal agreements prior to the General Postal Union/Universal Postal Union in 1875 were highly diverse, though they show increased uniformity over time from 1850 to 1875 in Europe.  This post focuses on mail between France and Belgium beginning with the 1847 postal convention between these nations.  Last edited: Nov 27, 2018

Organization of this Post
  • Postal Arrangements: France and Belgium
  • France to Belgium Prepaid Rates
  • Border Crossings
  • Belgium to France Prepaid Rates
  • Border Mail 
  • Belgium Frees Itself from the Netherlands
  • Resources and Links
  • Related Blog Posts
Postal Arrangements: France and Belgium from 1849

Rates between these two countries included a discounted rate for border communities and, beginning in 1858, higher rates for unpaid or short-paid mail.  Rates between France, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium become simpler as they worked their way towards the "Latin Monetary Unit" in 1865.  (Greece joined this group in 1868).

Postal Agreement of November 3, 1847
This agreement allowed payment to destination, payment to the border or payment by the recipient (sent unpaid).  It seems, at first glance, that Belgium was split into districts (rayons) similar to those found in Switzerland and/or Prussia to determine rates.  Also, the rate progression by weight was not a linear progression (similar to the domestic French rates in some ways).  Note that the first rate actually differs for the weight limit between Belgium (10 grammes) and France (7.5 grammes).  See Article 7 and 8 for details on this progression (shown below).  This agreement seems to set the tone for future agreements.

Convention of 1847
Article 7 & 8 Article 1 Articles 12-14
Rate Progession

Exchange Offices
Foreign Mail Routing
Click on the text image to see a larger version.

Exchange offices were initially set forth in this treaty, with most exchanging mail once per day and carrying local mail (such as Dunkerque and Furnes).  It is likely the number of mails changed over time into the 1860's just as the list of exchange office pairings, etc increased.

1847 Exchange Offices
3 mails per day 2 mails per day 1 mail per day
Lille - Tournai  Valenciennes - MIDI
Lille, Roubaix, Tourcoing - Courtrai, Gand, TPO L'Ouest
  • Paris - MIDI, TPO L'Ouest
  • Trelon - Chimay
  • Thionville - Arlon
  • Sedan - Bouillon
  • Roeray - Couvin
  • Montmedy - Virton
  • Maubauge - Mons
  • Longwy - Arlon
  • Givet - Dinant
  • Dunkerque - Furnes
  • Avesnes - Mons, Chimay
French offices are first in each pairing

Postal Agreement of 1849
Other than the exception of border communities, distance was no longer a part of the rate calculation.  I am guessing the rate was now a linear progression, though it would be nice to confirm this.  Oddly, I have not yet found the text of this convention.

Postal Agreements of 1857 and 1865
The 1857 convention clearly broke more ground than the 1865 convention, which cites the 1857 convention throughout.  The rate was reduced from 40 centimes to 30 centimes per 10 grams.   No changes were made to border mail in the 1865 convention, so 1857 processes still applied.

Conventions of 1858 and 1866
Article 1.4 - 1857
Rate Progression
Article 1.5 - 1857
Border Mail Rate
Article 1 - 1865
Rate Progression
Click on the text image to see a larger version.

Prepaid Letter Mail: France to Belgium

Prepaid Letter Rates - France to Belgium
Effective Date Rate Unit
Oct 1, 1849 40 centimes 7.5 grams (a)
Apr 1, 1858 40 centimes
10 grams
Jan 1, 1866 30 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1876 (GPU) 30 centimes 15 grams
May 1, 1878 (UPU) 25 centimes 15 grams
Oct 1, 1907 (UPU) 25 ctm / 15 ctm 15 g / add'l 15 g

(a) - rate increments for weight may not have been linear and would require a second table if that was the case.  Confirmation of this would be nice.

40 centimes per 10 grams: Apr 1, 1858- Dec 31, 1865
Tourcoing Crossing
Cambrai May 18, 1860
     593 in diamond grid
     PD in box
     Apres Le Depart
France par Tournay May 20

Cambrai is actually located Southwest of Valenciennes, yet this item appears to have gone to Lille and then Tournay given the "France par Tournay" marking.  One could make the argument that the Tournay destination resulted simply in a Tournay exchange marking.  The Apres Le Depart marking lends itself to the idea that the most likely route (Quievrain crossing) was not taken because the item was received after the train had left.

30 centimes per 10 grams - Jan 1, 1866- Dec 31, 1875
Tourcoing or Quievrain Crossing

Lille 25 Apr 68 
     PD in box
France MIDI I 26 Apr 68 (verso)
Bruxelles 26 Apr 68   (verso)
St Gilles . Bruxelles 26 Apr 68 (verso)

This item is interesting in that it has an origin at Lille, which is very near the border with Belgium.   I assume this took the Lille-Tournay crossing at Tourcoing but did not receive an exchange office marking until it arrived at MIDI station since the destination was near Bruxelles at St Gilles.  With a MIDI marking it seems we cannot always determine with complete certainty a border crossing location as it could very well, given the right rail schedule, have gone via Valenciennes and Quievrain. However, the simplest and most likely explanation would be the Tourcoing crossing with a significant number of mails being made up every day to go by this route.

Quievrain crossing
Arras June 13, 1867
     PD in box
France MIDI I  -  Jun 14, 1867
Gand 8M - Jun 14, 1867
     7 in circle
      - must be some sort of 
        carrier/delivery marking?

Arras is located west of the rail line split, so there was a choice between Tourcoing or Quievrain at this point.  My guess is that this hitched a ride aboard the mail train from Paris, which would indicate a trip through Valenciennes and the MIDI I exchange seems to support a Quievrain crossing.

It is possible that Gand/Ghent marked their mail with either a carrier number or some sort of distribution number since the "7 in circle" would seem to have similar qualities to markings found on some Italian mail.  It would be nice to confirm this.

Givet Crossing?

Reims Feb 10, 1868
Paris A Givet?? Feb 10 1868 (verso)
France Namur Feb 11 68 (verso)
Namur Feb 11, 1868

The combination of a Reims origin and a Namur exchange marking makes me believe that this may well have been a crossing in the Ardennes.  The rail line should have been complete by 1868, though I have yet to confirm this.  The real key here is what the ambulant marking on the back actually reads.  Sadly, the "Paris" portion isn't even certain.  The second town name is probably too blurred to ever figure out, but it is not impossible that this is "Givet".

Border Crossings
Tourcoing Crossing (Lille, Roubaix & Tourcoing with Courtray and Tournay): This crossing served local mails as well as mail from and funneled through Paris.  With significant mail train traffic already between Calais and Paris for mails from England as well as mails across the Atlantic, Lille was an obvious location to drop off mails intended to enter Belgium.

(Paris with Gand and TPO L'Ouest) These exchange offices also utilized the Tourcoing crossing.  With the increase in rail connections in Belgium as the 1860's progressed, it becomes less clear to me that the same route is always used.  In fact, given the emphasis Belgium placed on rail development, it is possible that they took full advantage of their scheduling and multiple connection possibilities.

(MIDI Station) It is unclear to me whether the MIDI station exchange markings indicate anything more than arrival/departure from that station.  It is possible that at some point, the presence of such a marking said something about the route (see below).

MIDI Station: I have observed several items leaving Belgium for Spain or Italy that exhibit a MIDI II marking that includes the destination country in the marking.  It is possible that the MIDI marking has no specific border crossing location.  Initially, the MIDI was located in Brussels as the station for the early line to Mons.  It was moved to St Gilles (just outside Brussels) in 1864 to handle the higher volume of traffic.  Incoming mail with MIDI markings probably show Brussels acting as the exchange office for incoming mail.  Mail exiting Belgium would likely leave via Mons for France, Spain and other such destinations.  But, clearly, items leaving the MIDI station could leave at any border (and thus enter from any border).  It is likely that finding original postal directives would clarify the regulations that were followed for this exchange office.

By the 1847 convention, the MIDI traveling rail office would exchange with Valenciennes and Paris offices.  Valenciennes was scheduled for two mails in 1847 (and was likely increased later).  However, the Paris exchange would seem to allow for MIDI markings that crossed elsewhere.

Quievrain Crossing (Valenciennes with Mons and MIDI Station): Mail entering France usually provides us with a clearer view as to the border crossing than mail entering Belgium - at least as far as my current understanding goes.  It is probable I am missing some facts that will clarify that direction as well.  Regardless, the Valenciennes exchange marking is fairly common for mail transiting Belgium to France.  I have also viewed an item showing Quievrain as the exchange office.

Erquelinnes crossingThis is the border crossing with the rail line that enters Mons from the south.  This crossing would seem to make the most sense for mails that transit Belgium between the Netherlands, Hannover and France. 

Jeumont crossing: The rail line that splits east just south of the Erquelinnes crossing enters Belgium at the French town of Jeumont.  This line would make sense for either closed mail transiting Belgium between France and Prussia OR mail destined for the eastern Belgian cities of Liege and Verviers.  Oddly, however, I have seen "Erquelines" markings for Prussian mail crossing Belgium to France.  So much for that theory.  Once again, I suspect the postal agreements and directives likely take train schedules into account and they were likely adjusted as train schedules were altered.  I have yet to see a Jeumont exchange marking.

Vireux-Molhain (Ardennes) crossing:   This 1861 map shows a rail line approaching the peninsula shaped area of France jutting into Belgium in the Ardennes.  The train route in Belgium was open in 1854 to Vireux - Molhain (in France), but there was apparently no adjoining French train by 1861?  The line out of Rheims should have been developed by the mid-1860's.

Givet (Ardennes) crossing:  Givet is located further north in the peninsula shaped protrusion of the French border into Belgium.  I have viewed a 1864 ambulatory rail marking for Givet, which seems to confirm completion of the Florennes to Givet line that was completed June 23, 1862.  It is unclear what the advantage would be to use this crossing UNLESS the origin or destination was in that area.  The higher mail and train volumes heading up to Lille would seem to favor those crossings.  The 1847 convention lists Givet as exchanging mail with Dinant, probably to address local mails via coach at that time.

Luxembourg crossing: As with the Givet crossing, I suspect this line was used for very specific subsets of destinations and origins. It would make sense that mail in the Alsace and Lorraine regions might use this route with the alternative being crossing at Strasbourg into Prussia and entering Belgium at Aachen.

Prepaid Letter Mail: Belgium to France
The rate table is essentially a duplicate to the France to Belgium rate table.  It is here to allow ease of reference in the post with examples of Belgian mail to France.

Letter Rates - Belgium to France 
Effective Date Rate Unit
Oct 1, 1849  40 centimes 7.5 grams
Apr 1, 1858  40 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1866  30 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1876 (GPU)  30 centimes 15 grams
May 1, 1878 (UPU)  25 centimes 15 grams
Oct 1, 1907 (UPU)  25 ctm / 15 ctm 15 g / add'l 15 g

40 centimes per 10 grams - 1858-1865
Valenciennes exchange

Anvers Feb 27 1861
Ambt du Midi No 1 Feb 27 (verso)
Belg Valenciennes Feb 28 1861
Paris Feb 28 1861 (verso)
The MIDI station combination with Valenciennes, crossing at Quievrain feels like it carried most mail that filtered through Paris on the French side and Bruxelles on the Belgian side.  This would be an interesting topic of study.

Oddly enough, once I started actively looking for Belgium to France items, they started to show up in multiple places.  It was very interesting to note that the prices being asked for material going from Belgium to France were typically much higher than items running the other way around.  This seemed to hold true regardless of the stamp issue being used for items dated in the 1850's and 1860's.  This item popped up at Chicagopex and was a similar price range with the French covers, so it found a home in my collection.

Border Mail

Border Letter Rates - France to Belgium**
Effective Date Rate Unit
Oct 1, 1849 20 centimes 7.5 grams
Apr 1, 1858 20 centimes 10 grams
Jan 1, 1866 20 centimes 10 grams

** for mail that crosses the border and distance is 30 km or less from origin post office to destination post office

The 1847 convention lists several exchange office pairings that are clearly for local mails:
Avesnes (France) with Mons (to its north) and Chimay (to its East)
Dunkerque with Furnes (on the Channel)
Givet with Dinant (Ardennes)
Longwy with Arlon (by Luxembourg)
Maubauge (between Avesnes and Mons) with Mons
Roeroy with Couvin (south Ardennes)
Sedan with Bouillon (southeast Belgium)
Thionville with Arlon (by Luxembourg)
Trelon with Chimay (south of Avesnes)

Of course, local mail exchanges could occur at Roubaix and Tourcoing.

If my relatively short foray into European mails in the 1850-1875 period is any indicator, much of the mail that traveled from France to Belgium seems to have originated in the "Nord."  At the very least, of the thirty or so items I have viewed, the furthest afield was Paris.  The rest were northeast of there.  This is not terribly surprising since most business correspondence actually did not travel all that far.  Even so, I have only seen three items that would qualify at the 'border mail' rate.  And, sadly for me, they were all properly identified and I was not willing to pay for the privilege of owning those items.

The following pieces of the convention illustrate the border mail regulations and provide a list of locations that would benefit from the special rate.

Eligible Border Locations - According to Convention
1849 1858 1866
convention effective Oct 1, 1849

Convention effective April 1, 1858
Convention effective Jan 1, 1866
Click on the text image to see a larger version.

Belgium Frees Itself from the Netherlands
The Congress of Vienna (1815) essentially attached Belgium to the Netherlands.

ART. LXV. The ancient United Provinces of the Netherlands and the late Belgic provinces, both within the limits fixed by the following Article, shall form, together with the countries and territories designated in the same article, under the sovereignty of his Royal Highness the Prince of Orange-Nassau, sovereign prince of the United Provinces, the kingdom of the Netherlands, hereditary in the order of succession already established by the Act of the constitution of the said United Provinces. The title and the prerogatives of the royal dignity are recognised by all the Powers in the house of Orange-Nassau. [from General Treaty/Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, June 9, 1815 - note that this is actually before the Battle of Waterloo]

On October 4, 1830, Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands.  The current powers of Europe intervened and ratified this on January 10, 1831.  The final treaty signed on Oct 15, 1831 left Luxembourg with the Netherlands and recognized Belgium, but Netherlands refused to sign that treaty.  War persisted between the Netherlands and Belgium for eight more years.  A second treaty (Treaty of London - 1839) signed April 19, 1839 set the boundaries that would be in use when postage stamps began to see use.  These borders, interestingly enough, were fairly similar to those found in 1790.

Les Tarifs Postaux Francais: Entre 1848 et 1916 by Jean-Louis Bourgouin
     My "go to" site for determining French rates.  Data appears to be backed up by postal acts and agreements.

Duvergier,  Jean Baptiste, "Collection complete de lois, decrets, d'interets general ... par France"
  After a much appreciated suggestion by Laurent on the altpostgeschichte forum, I can now provide links to the French version of both the 1858 and 1866 convention documents.
1857: Is in volume 58
1865: Is in volume 65

Greuse (ed.), "Recueil des traites et conventions concernant le royaume du Belgique," 1850.
   Here we have the Belgian counterpart for treaty and convention texts.  Page 545 includes the 1847 version of exchange offices between France and Belgium.

General Treaty/Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, June 9, 1815
     Actual treaty text in English (language used for official documents was French - the language of diplomacy at that time).  It is located on WikiSource which is getting better at providing access to the text of original documents such as this.  It is instructive to read how this treaty set up Europe after the defeat of Napolean at Waterloo (which was not at all certain at the time of the Congress of Vienna).

LeBecque, Emmanuel, Histoire Postale du Nord, 2014
   Lebecque includes several portions of conventions and official postal acts that apply to his area of interest.  The three sections for border mail are included on his site and I have "shamelessly" taken them for the purpose of illustrating the border mail rate from the French perspective. 

Kevers, Paul - Belgian Rail Lines
    There is a great deal of work here identifying each spur and its development.  I am inclined to trust what appears to be a pure labor of love in the effort of accumulating this information, but I have not spent time confirming the dates shown there.  There is even an animation to show development of lines in Belgium to 1855.

Busschots, Bart - Belgian Railway History Project
   This takes it all to a new level.  Mr. Busschots gives credit to Mr. Kevers to get him going.  But, now he is using Google maps to try and identify the actual historical locations of the rail beds.  While I haven't had the time to download the software required, I may just find the time and bandwidth to do so just to see his work.

History of the Gare du Midi District
   For a site that is concerned about providing current information and status of the projects in this district, it certainly has a decent historical summary. 

von Adolphe Hochsteyn, Dictionnaire-postal de la Belgique, up to 1845.

Related Blog Posts


  1. Much of this work has already been done by Jean Bourgoin:

  2. Indeed, I agree Mr. Walske. :) You'll note a link to his site in the resources section. But, I often find it useful to reiterate/rephrase or otherwise reprise data in my own way to encourage my exploration of the subject. That - and my French is not all that good. So, if I can do a some translating for myself for later times when I just don't have the patience to work with the French...

    Jean Bourgouin's site is absolutely wonderful and I respect the work put into it! Thanks for confirming.

    1. Noted! I didn't mean to suggest that you were mis-using his work; I just wanted to save you time, since he has put so much into his website. I didn't notice that you listed him as a reference...

    2. I took it the way you intended it. Agreed, I do not need to duplicate his work. It is, instead, just a way for me to visualize the whole picture and explore what I think I want to know about it. I don't foresee doing this for every combination of rates since I don't see this as becoming a reference site nor do I think I'll feel like exploring every little option. France/Belgium and France/Netherlands seemed like a fairly well-contained template to see if it helped me with the process. It did - some. Appreciate any and all feedback as I see it all as a learning experience.