Friday, December 4, 2020

Letter Mail: Papal States of Italy

The postal history of Italy during the process of unification is either a headache or a pleasure depending on my mood.  If I am looking for an opportunity to work with nice neat boxes and categories, this isn't it.  On the other hand, if I take a long view that I enjoy complex puzzles and learning different histories in ways that go beyond the surface description, I can't ask for much better.

The other thing that appeals to me about postal history of the Roman States is the simple fact that I never thought I would even see these stamps, much less be the caretaker for postal artifacts bearing them.  As a youth, at least one, if not two, of these designs would show up in albums or other philatelic publications.  It turns out that some of the more "common" examples of postal history bearing these stamps are quite affordable and readily available if you are so inclined.  Nonetheless, I still get a bit of a thrill looking at these because I do still have the 'kid' in me that is surprised to be looking at them in person!

Monetary System:

1 scudo = 100 bajocchi
As of July 1866
1 baj = 5 centesimi (Kingdom currency)

"Distances" in the Papal States
The postal reforms put in place by Cardinal Tosti in 1844 broke the Papal States into three "distances" (you can think of them as districts or regions).  Postal historians, such as Mentaschi and Matha seem to prefer the term "distances," so I will adhere to that for consistency.
  • 1st Distance: Umbria and Lazio/Latium
  • 2nd Distance: the Marches
  • 3rd Distance: Romagna

From the perspective of the Papal State postal system, Romagne was always the "3rd Distance," just as Umbria and Lazio was the "1st Distance."  These were the labels that could be used to determine postal rates.  Of course, these distances were numbered in a way that considered Rome the center - so it was, obviously, in the 1st Distance.

Rayons in Umbria and Lazio/Latium

The 1st Distance was further broken down into three rays (or rayons or directions).  I prefer to use the word rayons as it is consistent with the term also used in Swiss, Belgian, Dutch and German postal history.  Essentially a rayon is a method of assigning a distance component to the postage required for a mailing.  The 1st rayon was closest to the Marches and Romagne, so it would be the shortest travel to get to either of the other "distances" in the Papal States.

To understand a little better why these rayons were designated as they are here, view the amended map below that shows some of the major cities and the major transportation routes.

It should be no surprise that nearly all roads led to Rome.  This, perhaps also explains the term "direction" to identify the rayons in Lazio and Umbria (the 1st Distance) if you consider the transportation options leaving Rome.  It also makes sense that mail from Ancona in the Marches would cost less if it could stop in the first rayon at Feligno, than it would if it had to go to Rome and then Viterbo (3rd rayon).

Postal Departments
The Papal postal services were divided into smaller postal departments.  The line map here was derived from a period Stieler Atlas as the source (ca 1850).  A person should not consider these maps definitive as they are merely derived from a mapmakers rendering of regions that may not reflect how the postal services defined their postal departments.  I suspect there exist postal documents that clearly delineate these postal administrations and I hope to find them eventually.  However, for the purposes of my limited collection, these maps are sufficient.

One exception that I note from Mentaschi's book is the inclusion of Tivoli in the 3rd rayon to the southeast.  However, most maps put Tivoli in the Roman district.  I am fairly certain that Mentaschi has read enough of the primary postal documents to know when the postal districts might diverge from the mapped districts.

Internal Letter Rate within a Papal Distance

Effective rate period:  Mentaschi cites the issue date of the Roman State postage stamps (January 1, 1852) and mentions the 1844 Tosti reforms.  As of this moment, I have NOT dug further to determine if the rates actually changed at the point of stamp issue or if they are a continuation of Tosti with no modifications.  Unfortunately, the various resources at my disposal all seem to provide different start dates for the internal rates - so I will again go with Mentaschi's dates as I understand them.

The end date for rates have more to do with the political changes leading up to and as a result of the War of 1859 and the Italian Risorgimento (unification).  For the most part, we'll just say things change in 1859 and address the specifics if I should happen to find material that highlight the transitional period to the Kindgom of Italy.

Letter Rates within a Papal Distance

Rate Unit
within postal department    
1 bajocco           
6 denari (7.1 grams)
with adjacent postal dept    
2 bajocchi    
6 denari
with non-contiguous dept
3 bajocchi
6 denari
only in 1st Distance

between postal departments
that must go through Roman department
4 bajocchi
6 denari
enclaves in Neapolitan Kingdom

    treat as 3rd rayon in 1st distance

To clarify the rates, take a look at the postal departments in the Marches (the 2nd Distance - shown above).  Once again, these boundaries are approximations to the actual postal departments of the time.

If someone in Fermo wanted to mail a standard weight letter to someone else in Fermo, they would pay 1 bajocchi in postage.  That is a rate within the postal department or post office.

If someone in Fermo wanted to mail a standard weight letter to someone in Macerata or Ascoli, they would pay 2 bajocchi because the letter must be sent to an adjacent postal department.

If that same individual in Fermo wanted to send something to Ancona, Camerino or Urbino/Pesaro, they would have to pay 3 bajocchi because the postal departments are not contiguous (they do not share a border).

But, in all cases, the letter does not leave the Marches.

The exception to the rule was for non-contiguous postal departments in the 1st Distance.  If the letter had to travel via Rome, it cost an extra bajocchi (4 bajocchi per 6 denari).  This effectively removed the 3 baj rate possibility from postal departments such as Velletri since any non-contiguous postal department was going to require going through the Roman department.

Mail Between Romagne and the Marches

If everything were this simple, we would not have to write a blog to outline all of the postage rates in the Papal States.

The rate of letters between Romagne and the Marches (the 3rd and 2nd Distances) was 4 bajocchi for every 6 denari.

I am unaware of any exceptions for border mail at this time.

Letter Rate between the Marches & Romagne

Rate Unit
Between 2nd & 3rd Distances  
4 bajocchi 
6 denari  

Mail to and from Umbria and Lazio/Latium

Things get a bit more complicated when mail entered or left the 1st Distance from one of the other two distances.   However, there are a great many similarities to other agreements, such as the one between Sardinia and Austria that combined a distance calculation from each side of the border to determine the final rate.  In fact, if you consider the first rate in the table below, it is very similar to the 4 bajocchi rate between the Marches and Romagne.  In this case, it is simply mail between the Marches and Umbria.  As we move out of Umbria and into the other rayons, we add a bajocco per rayon.  If we have mail to or from Romagne, we add another bajocco. 

Letter Rates from/to First Distance

Rate Unit
between 1st Rayon & Marches    
4 bajocchi            
6 denari (7.1 grams)
between 2nd Rayon & Marches    
5 bajocchi    
6 denari
between 3rd Rayon & Marches
6 bajocchi
6 denari
between 1st Rayon & Romagne
5 bajocchi
6 denari
between 2nd Rayon & Romagne
6 bajocchi
6 denari
between 3rd Rayon & Romagne
7 bajocchi
6 denari

Examples of Letter Mail within a Postal Department (Local Letter)

Below is an example of a single sheet item mailed within its own postal administration. The item has been folded outward to show the back side where the 1 baj adhesive was placed and the "Jesi" marking struck to tie it to the lettersheet.  The "prices current" content is for the period dated July 16 to 31, 1854 and was sent out by the Jesi municipality on August 1.  The destination, Rosora, is also in Ancona province, approximately 25 km WSW of Jesi (also Iesi).  Ancona was a part of the Marches, bordering the Adriatic Sea.

Jesi to Rosora, Province of Ancona - 1 baj due

Unpaid letters were still franked with postage stamps - however, they were placed on the VERSO of the item in question.  The numeral "1" on the front indicated that 1 bajocco was due. 

What is unclear to me is that the item was sent FROM Jesi to Rosara, then it seems that the stamp was applied and marked at the point of postal origin.  Was the practice to put the adhesive on the back and expect payment at the destination for that stamp or something else?

San Ginesio to S. Elpidio via Macerata - 1 baj due?

A second item with similar characteristics is datelined (in the letter) as being written Aug 18, 1852 in San Ginesio (Province of Macerata).   The red San Ginesio marking confirms that it entered the postal service at that location. There is a Macerata August 19 marking on the front and the 1 baj adhesive is tied by a straight-line Macerata postmark.  The addressee appears to be in S. Elpidio which appears to be in the Province of Fermo, further supported by the "Fermo" notation at the bottom.

Address side of San Ginesio to S. Elpidio item

This item technically crossed to another province, so you could argue that it should have cost 2 bajocchi.  But, this is likely one of those times where the postal boundaries may not match the political boundaries.  Sant'Elpidio a Mare is located on the north side of the Tenne River and is extremely close to the political border between the Fermo and Macerata districts.  From a pure transportation perspective, it might have made more sense to include Sant'Elpidio with the Macerata postal department.

We do get another clue here with the cancellation of the stamp having a Macerata marking.  Once again, we have "1" bajocco due with the stamp on the reverse of the item.

prices current

Printed Matter Rates   

At this time, "printed papers" could be sent for a half bajocco per sheet or 1 bajocco per ounce if there were more than one sheet.  This rate applied for any distance within the Papal States.

The first item shown above is a "prices current," which listed prices for common commodities such as grains and meats.  A prices current list often qualified for printed matter rates.    In this case, only the price of wheat (grano) is shown, which makes me wonder if this was a version of the price guidelines the French provided for bakeries in the mid-1800s.

As is the case for things like drop letters and circulars in the United States, it is not always clear which rate is being applied to a given item if it qualifies both as a printed matter item and a local letter.  But, since it is a single sheet and it is sent within a postal department - we can assume it was sent as a local letter rate item.

Registered Mail

Registered mail costs were calculated by dividing the postage cost in half.  So, an item that required 6 bajocchi in postage would require 3 additional bajocchi to pay for the registration fee.  The handling of insurance for registered items depended on local regulations and procedures.  That sounds like an interesting area for a specialist to pursue - but not me!

Examples of Letter Mail from/to the First Distance 

3rd Distance to 2nd Rayon of 1st Distance

Romagna (3rd Distance) was about as far from Rome (1st Distance) as one could get in the Papal States.  What follows is an 1857 example of a letter sent from Cento (Province Ferrara in Romagna) via Bolgona (Province Bologna in Romagna) to Rome (Roman Province in Latium / Patrimony of St Peter).  

Rome was in the 2nd Rayon of the 1st Distance.  Cento was in the 3rd Distance. The rate per 6 denari was 6 bajocchi. 

6 baj rate from Romagna to Rome

The letter was treated as fully paid by the 6 baj stamp tied to the letter by a straight-line Cento marking in blue, matching the circular Cento marking dated June 22.  The item went from there to Bologna (June 22, 1857) and headed to Rome, where it arrived three days later according to the backstamp.  The Roma postal service indicated that an item was paid in full and no further postage was to be collected by placing a diagonal slash across the front of the piece of mail.

2nd Distance to 2nd Rayon of 1st Distance

The second item was mailed in Fermo (August 11) and bound for Rome (August 13) in 1855.  Ten baj were used to pre-pay this item from the Marches to the Patrimony.  Once again, a diagonal slash indicates that Rome considered the item paid in full.

Double 5 baj rate from the Marches to Rome

Rome resided in the 2nd Rayon of the 1st Distance.  Fermo was in the Marches or the 2nd Distance.  Therefore, a simple, single-rate letter would cost 5 bajocchi.  Apparently, this item had a weight that was greater than 6 denari and no more than 12 denari, so it was rated as a double weight letter.  Ten bajocchi prepaid the letter correctly for its successful travels.

Administrations in Romagne

For the sake of completeness, I include what I understand the postal administrations in Romagne to be in the 1850s.  As with the other maps, they may not perfectly reflect the actual areas covered by each office.

Internal Letter Rates from January 1864 to 1870

At this time, all districts other than the Patrimony of Rome had become part of the Kingdom of Italy.  The letter rate within the Patrimony was simplified to:

  • letter in Rome: 1 bajocco
  • letter outside of Rome: 2 bajocchi

Mail to the Marches and Romagne became a bit more difficult because Rome refused to negotiate a postal agreement with the new Kingdom of Italy.  As a result, mail to these locations could only be paid to the border and the recipient would then have to pay for the remainder of the cost to get from that border to the destination.  A future post will explore that situation.

Below is an example of a letter sent within the Viterbo Province for the 2 baj rate.  The item in question is only a wrapper with the content page(s) removed prior to my acquisition.

2 baj rate for letter outside of Rome

A partial Viterbo postal marking dated November 6, 1864 is on the front and a nice Civitacastellana marking is on the verso (dated Nov 8, 1864).  The official marking reads "Governo Pontificio Segretoriagle della Provincia di Viterbo"  which indicates the letter is from the Papal Government official titled the Secretary of the Province of Viterbo.  Civitacastellano is about 40km Southeast from Viterbo, but the eventual destination was actually Southwest of Civitacastellano.  Castel Sant Elia is still a small commune (between 2000 and 3000 residents) and this wrapper likely held some sort of official correspondence.

2 baj rate East of Rome

The second example of the 2 baj rate is from the "Gonfaloniere" of the city of Ceprano, located on the border of Latium and the Neapolitan Provinces.  A Rome-Ceprano ambulant marking is dated the same (Sep 12, 1865) as the Ceprano marking on the front.  There is also a Frosinone backstamp, likely indicating this is where the item got off of the train heading towards Rome.  Ripi appears to be the intended destination (between Ceprano and Frosinone).

verso showing postmarks


Mentaschi, Mario -  Lire, Soldi, Crazie, Grana e Bajocchi (published by Vaccari in 2003).

     This book is in Italian with some translation to English at the chapter introductions.  This book expands on the exhibit with reasonable amounts of helpful text to explain political situations, rates and routes.

Vatican Philatelic Society
     It's a slow loading page for me at least.  There are some decent introductory materials there, but again it is not intended to have a focus for the period I am most interested in.  A Vatican area collector will probably enjoy the site.

Mario Mentaschi Exhibit
     The exhibit shown here appears to be a 1989 version.  

 Postal Tariffs of the Italian Area: 1850-1985 Colin Pilkington, ed. for Fil-Italia Handbooks, 1985
     While this book has what seems like solid information regarding rates from the General Postal Union on, it left me wondering about accuracy with earlier rates.  There seems to be more solid ground with the Kingdom of Italy rates starting in 1863, though it glosses entirely over any foreign rates prior to GPU/UPU.  The Italian State rate sections  suffer from over-simplification of the territories and timelines and the explanations for the internal rates of the Papal States are misleading.

Richard Frajola's "World" collection of postal history
     This is a thoroughly enjoyable exhibit showing material from 1840-1860 with a focus on internal letter rates.  As is true with most exhibits, there are cited dates, rates and routes, but the sources are not usually referenced. 

Additional resources to consider:

David D'Allessandris was kind enough to suggest additional resources:   

...explanation of rates published in English by Susan and Stephen Luster?  I think it was published in Mare Nostrum, the journal of the US branch of the Italy and Colonies Study Circle.  I think it agrees with the rates you list.  The full list of postal departments is in "Cancellations of the Papal States" by Alfonso Burgisser 

The Fil-Italia Interpretation:

  • Within the same administration:  1 baj per sheet
  • Between adjoining administrations: 2 baj per sheet
  • Administrations in same district, not adjoining: 3 baj per sheet 
  • Between adjoining districts: 4 baj per sheet
  • Non-adjoining districts (Romagna to Patrimony): 5 baj per sheet

Clearly, this is accurate in the first three lines (district as distance).

The fourth line is accurate for mail between Romagna and the Marches.

The final line fails to capture the reality of mail to and from the 1st Distance (Patrimony).  

Mentaschi's Exhibit Interpretation:
Mentaschi's exhibit seems to indicate that price was based on 7.5 grams weight rather than by the sheet.  In reality, the weight was 7.1 grams (6 denari) which he makes clear in his book.  As a fellow exhibitor, I realize we sometimes make allowances for the audience.  Also, the exhibit is old enough in comparison to the book that changes could have been made as he learned more about his own subject.

Mentaschi sets the rate period starting January 1, 1852 (another generic source claims 1851).  The exhibit also mentions Cardinal Tosti's 1844 postal reform.

The exhibit led me to believe that each distance would have rayons in it, so there could have been rates much higher than 7 bajocchi - say for something from Ferrara to Civitavecchia.  So, while I could still calculate many rates correctly with that understanding, it would fail with a smaller subset.  Happily the book finally made it clear to me that the rayons only applied to the 1st Distance.

Looking at material in Richard Frajola's "World" collection of postal history, Frajola also cites the per sheet rate AND an Oct 1, 1852 start date.

I have viewed another exhibit that featured Papal States material and found their application of rates to be inconsistent, so I will not cite it here.


My first time posting on this topic was in January of 2018 - at the time I made it clear that I was only putting my notes in the post so I could have ready access to them.  I then republished in November/December of 2019, expressing my confusion with the differences in Fil-Italia and the Mentaschi exhibit.  Since then, I have acquired Mentaschi's book and a few more postal history examples (and viewed several others).  

I feel comfortable that the rendering is now fairly accurate and I will consult with some postal history acquaintances who have more expertise in the subject to be sure I've got it right.

Last Update: 12/12/2020

Open Questions

1. Weight versus by the sheet

I tend to believe Mentaschi's interpretation that mail was by the 6 denari weight increment - especially given the nature of mail being sealed with wax to prevent easy inspection.  But the exception of the 1 baj printed matter rate for single sheets indicates that the measurement by sheet was probably in force at some point in the Papal States.  This is further supported by Neapolitan and Sicilian rates that appear to have been rated by the sheet and half sheet.

I wonder if it is possible that the initial implementation of Tosti's reform was by the sheet in 1844 and changed in the early 50s?  This would be consistent with changes made by other postal systems.  It would also be consistent with the Papal States' agreement to be part of the Austrian/Italian Postal League in 1852, which calculated rates by a combination of weight and distance.

2. Effective Dates

I have three different effective start dates for the internal mail rate period and have yet to find a resource that clarifies this for me.  The end dates are specific to the region as control of Romagne, the Marches and Umbria transitioned from the Papacy to independent provisional governments and thence to Sardinian postal services and finally the Kingdom of Italy.  

Many of those dates exist in Mentaschi's book and, of course, many are not hard dates - with transition periods where things were in flux.  I'll hunt for more specific dates at the point it feels like it is worthwhile for me to do so - when I find an item closer to where knowing those dates is important.

3. Where were stamps applied and canceled when something was sent 'postage due?'

I have only seen examples for the 1 baj local rate where the 1 baj due is noted on the front and the 1 baj stamp is placed on the back.  It would be interesting to come to a full understanding of the process those sorts of letters went through.  How was payment received and how did the stamps reflect that process?

4. List of Postal Departments and Department boundaries

I suspect there exist plenty of government and postal documents that would answer this question for me.  My motivation to hunt it down probably would come from more examples like the Sant'Elpidio item in my collection.  

5. Detailed portrayal of rayons in 1st Distance

This is similar to the above question.  As long as items I encounter fit my current interpretation, there is little need to pursue this further unless I were writing a definitive piece.  Happily, my current understanding gives me sufficient detail to be able to recognize the exceptions for when it might not fit.  Once I encounter them, I can research with a specific target in mind.


  1. "These districts consisted of many administrations (I have read that there were 40 of them, but would like to confirm this. I would also like a list of these administrations or a map if possible. I suspect they may fall into similar provinces as shown in modern maps, but not exact.)"

    May I refer you to for a map and listing of administrative divisions of the Papal States.

  2. Many MANY thanks for that tip. This is a post I have been meaning to get back to for some time now and this may be exactly the motivation I need to do just that. Best,