Friday, December 7, 2018

Letter Mail: Switzerland and Italy

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 letter mail between Switzerland and Italy.
First Published: April 16, 2018
Re-Published: Dec 7, 2018
Last edited: Dec 7, 2018

Organization of this Post
  • Postal Arrangements
  • Switzerland to Italy Prepaid Rates
  • Italy to Switzerland Prepaid Rates
  • Border Crossings and Exchange Offices
  • Other Interesting Stuff
  • Resources
* -Postal Arrangements: Switzerland and Italy
Both of these countries went through processes of unification in the mid-19th century (Swiss Confederation 1848, Kingdom of Italy began the process in 1859).  As should be expected, postal arrangements were much more complex prior to the point of unification.  The postal conventions of Sardinia were the precursors for the agreements entered into by the Kingdom of Italy (established 1860/61). This post will not deal with pre-unification postal rates unless it has to do with Sardinia.

Swiss-Sardinian Convention of 1851
This agreement applied to Sardinia and was made available to various Italian States as follows:
  • Tuscany: Dec 1, 1859
  • Parma & Modena: Sep 1859
  • Two Sicilies: 1861 (guessing Oct 1)
  • Lombardy: Sep 1859
A couple of the Italian states did not participate in this convention, but they did in the following agreement.
  • Venetia: Oct 1866 *
  • Papal States: Oct 1870 **
*After Lombardy was lost by Austria in 1859, mail from Venetia to/from Switzerland may transit Sardinian/Italian territory.
** In 1860, all but regions closest to Rome were incorporated into the newly forming Kingdom of Italy.  The Marches, Romagne and Umbria became subject to this convention around that time.

The Swiss-Italian Convention of 1862
This may be the first postal convention negotiated by the Kingdom of Italy after its formation.

Article 11 sets the postage rates for prepaid and unpaid letter mail
 *-Switzerland to Italy Prepaid Letter Mail Rates
The Alps were a very real obstacle when it came to communications between Switzerland and Italy.  It would make little sense to send all mail from one country to another to one or two exchange offices and let the receiving country figure out delivery.  After all, sometimes the best (and maybe only) way to get to certain destinations would be taking a pass that crossed the border.  Perhaps just as important is the recognition that southern Switzerland had a significant percentage of people who identified as Italian.  Discounted border rates reflect these aspects of the relationship between these two countries at the time.

Prepaid Letter Rates - Switzerland to Italy
Effective Date Rate Unit
Aug 1, 1851- border (a) 20 rappen 7.5 grams
Aug 1, 1851 40 rappen 7.5 grams
Dec  , 1859 - border (b) 10 rappen 7.5 grams
Jul 1, 1862 - border (c) 10 centimes/rappen 10 grams
Jul 1, 1862 30 centimes/rappen 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) - for origin and destination where each is within 45 km of the border
(b) - for origin and destination no more than 35 km distant from each other
(c) - for origin and destination no more than 45 km from corresponding exchange office

note: (a) and (b) were, as far as I can tell, concurrent rates beginning in Dec 1859.  (b) simply provided a deeper discount in postage for items mailed from a much shorter distance to the destination.

30 centimes per 10 grams : Jul 1, 1862 - Dec 31, 1875
This is one of the easiest foreign destinations and rate combinations to find (at least in the US) for Switzerland.  In addition, there tend to be a decent set of markings that can help us track the route taken by the mail.  Since these aren't hard to find and the price is fairly inexpensive, it is likely I can explore the various routes under this rate in more detail than some of the other rates or country border combinations.

via Geneva and Mt Cenis
Geneve Jul 23 1863
     via Savoy (France) and Mt Cenis
Da Susa A Torino Jul 24 63
Milano Jul 25 63

Geneva is actually the hub for several border crossings into France and the "Border Crossings" section below in this post discusses this and provides a link to another post that contains more details.  The 1862 convention clearly states that transit via the French post was allowed between the two countries without additional postage.

Article 7 of the 1862 Convention
via Splugen and Como
Horgen Apr 24 1867
Chur Apr 24 67 (verso)
? Apr 24 67 (verso - unclear Swiss marking)
Como A Milano Apr 26 (verso)
Milano Apr 26 67 (verso)
Genova Apr 26 67 (verso)
In general, it seems as if items with a Chur marking or a Chur-St Gallen rail marking were destined for the Splugen Pass and Lake Como during the late 1850's into the early 1870's.  As the St Gotthard Pass railway was developed, mail would more likely be diverted through central rather than eastern Switzerland unless the origin of the piece of mail was in the eastern portion of Switzerland.

This particular cover is a favorite of mine thus far.  It is clean with excellent markings.  That gives me plenty of clues to work with during the process of uncovering the story of its travels.  And, it simply is a nice item to look at.  As far as I know, it is not terribly special from a stamp or destination standpoint, and the route was surely traveled plenty during this period.

Border Rate: 10 centimes per 10 grams : Jul 1, 1862 - Dec 31, 1875

via Splugen and Como

Splugen Oct 10, 1865

Chiavenna Oct 10 (verso)

Splugen is located just north of the border and Chiavenna is just south of the pass.  Chiavenna apparently could be referenced in many ways depending on language.  Clavenna, Ciavena, Kleven, or, in this case, Clafen (if I am reading this correctly).
Article 12 of the 1862 covers border mail
Article 3 of the 1862 Convention

 This particular item actually highlights an exception provided for in Article 3 of the 1862 convention.  While much of the territory traveled to deliver the above item from Splugen (Switzerland) to Chiavenna (Italy) was in Italy, it was the Swiss mails that was responsible for carrying the mail to and from Chiavenna.
Responsibility, at this point in time, was primarily financial as each postal entity was able to establish contracts for the carriage of mail.

*-Italy to Switzerland Prepaid Letter Mail Rates
The postal agreements between Switzerland, France and the Kingdom of Sardinia/Italy are relatively simple when it comes to the monetary and weight systems beginning in the 1850's.  An Italian centesimi is equivalent to a Swiss rappen is equivalent to a French centime.  All three used grams as the unit of measure.  This makes the table below somewhat redundant.  However, if I wish to go back in time to prior agreements when Italy (and Switzerland) were not unified, things would become more complex.  So, I put this here should I wish to expand the date range forward.

Prepaid Letter Rates - Italy to Switzerland
Effective Date Rate Unit
Aug 1, 1851- border (a) 20 centesimi 7.5 grams
Aug 1, 1851 40 centesimi 7.5 grams
Dec  , 1859 - border (b) 10 centesimi 7.5 grams
Jul 1, 1862 - border (c) 10 centesimi 10 grams
Jul 1, 1862 30 centesimi 10 grams
Jan 1, 1876 (GPU) 30 centesimi 15 grams
May 1, 1878 (UPU) 25 centesimi 15 grams
Oct 1, 1907 (UPU) 25 ctsm / 15 ctsm 15 g / add'l 15 g
(a) - for origin and destination where each is within 45 km of the border
(b) - for origin and destination no more than 35 km distant from each other
(c) - for origin and destination no more than 45 km from corresponding exchange office

note: (a) and (b) were, as far as I can tell, concurrent rates beginning in Dec 1859.  (b) simply provided a deeper discount in postage for items mailed from a much shorter distance to the destination.

30 centesimi per 10 grams : Jul 1, 1862 - Dec 31, 1875

via Como and Gotthard

Padova Nov 9 1870
Milano Staz Nov 10 70 (verso)
Milano-Como Ambulant Nov 10 70 (verso)
St Gotthard Pass carriage road
Burgdorf Nov 12 70 (verso)

What makes me think this went via Gotthard versus the Splugen Pass?  First, Burgdorf is located in the Canton of Bern, to the West of the St Gotthard Pass route that connects up with rail lines in Luzern (see 2nd map below).  Second, there is no indication of a rail marking in the Chur-St Gallen area.  Construction of the rail line via St Gotthard Pass was not to begin until 1872.  But, some period maps seem to indicate rail expansion along this route on either side of the pass that would shorten the period of time this item was in a carriage.  I find the two day transit from Como to Burgdorf to be somewhat surprising.  But, it would not have been faster via Splugen.

Border Rate: 20 centesimi per 7.5 grams : Aug 1, 1851 - Jun 30, 1862

 Border Mail Rate - Each location under 45 km from the shared border.

Milano Feb 16, 1860
P.D. (paid to destination)
Magadino Feb 17, 1860 (verso)

It seems that border mail throughout Western Europe is a fairly common specialist endeavor.  As such, it is unlikely that I will often pick up a border mail item if it is properly described and priced with a premium.  This item was, in fact, labeled as a domestic use.  Given the population distribution in Magadino (largely Italian in 1860), it might as well have been the case.

This item is a true Sardinian use rather than the use of a Sardinian adhesive for mail from the Kingdom of Italy.  I am not certain whether mail between Milan and Magadino had a preferred route.  It seems it could have taken train to Arona and a lake steamer on Maggiore, arriving at Magadino.  There are also indications of a stage route on period maps to the east shore of the lake. According to Article 3 of the 1862 convention, the Maggiore Lake Steamers would have been contracted by the Italian government.

*-Border Crossings and Exchange Offices
There were numerous border crossings to facilitate local mail between Italy and Switzerland.  I suspect there may well be a significant scholarly work or two and several serious collectors who could put any discussion I might bring forth to shame on that topic.  However, it is fairly apparent that there were limited higher traffic border crossings that could reach the interiors of Switzerland and Italy. 

Main crossings between Switzerland and Italy (click to enlarge)
The map above is my own overlay on a German rail map of the 1860's.  I do not claim that these routes are completely accurate at this time, but they give some idea as to where the mails would have to go if origin and/or destination were not on the border.  These are also likely the routes taken by foreign mails that might transit Switzerland or Italy on their way to their destination.  A more detailed map with my own overlay is shown below as well.  I am a bit more certain of the routes shown there and they do show more detail.

Geneva Crossings
The discussion of the Geneva crossings in the France/Switzerland post probably give the insight I am looking for with respect to Italian/Swiss mails.  The map above shows the Geneva-Bellegarde crossing as heading to Mont Cenis.  However, I now think that the Geneva - St Julien crossing is more likely.  This isn't to say mail couldn't have traversed the route shown here.  But, I believe evidence shows the normal route was likely via St Julien.

Lago di Como to Splugen
More detail of main passes (click to enlarge)
Lake steamers on Como provided a reliable transportation service where land routes in the Alps did not.  The bulk of the mail from Italy could depart the train at Como (the city) and be placed on a lake steamer that would unload the mail for Switzerland at Colico (obviously the reverse order for mails form Switzerland to Italy).  Local mail could be loaded on lake steamers at other stops on the lake such as Varenna and Menaggio.

Lago di Maggiore
Arona would be the main Italian port on the southern end and Locarno or Magadino seem to be the northern Swiss ports.  From there, they would connect with the stage (and later rail) line to either the St Gotthard Pass or the Berhardin Pass.  I have seen evidence of international mail transiting Switzerland taking the Como lake steamers, but not Maggiore.  That is not to say something addressed to that area would not have gone that way.

Simplon Pass
This route seems easieest to explain with the established carriage route via Domod'ossola from Arona in Italy and Sion in Switzerland.  It would seem to primarily serve western Switzerland up to the Bern area and points east of Torino in Italy (Torino, Genoa etc would seem more likely to use Mt Cenis and entry around Geneva).  It is probably more a question as to the actual postal directions given for the routing of mail between the two countries.  Clearly, weather could change a routing if necessary.

 *-Other Interesting Stuff

Route Development
Time makes all of this discussion tricky - of course.  The rapid development of rail lines, improvements in roads and telegraph technologies means routes could change multiple times during a convention period.  Happily, there are many railroad enthusiasts that take great pride in uncovering rail development throughout the world.  It may take time to locate the resources, but I suspect I can develop a decent picture of routes over time.

The Italy - Austria - French Tug of War
Also pertinent to the discussion is the difficult relationship between Austria and Italy as well as the changing landscape as Italy went through the process of unification.  A very brief description of convention applicability occurs at the top of this post.  But, major conflicts during this period include the War of 1859, the Seven Weeks War in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Open Questions:
1. Would ANY mail leaving Geneva for Italy take another border crossing other than through Savoy?  Would schedules ever send it via the Simplon Pass at Domod'ossola?


Recueil officiel des lois et ordonnances de la Confédération suisse, Volume 3  Content includes material for the early 1850's for postal reform in Switzerland.

Recueil officiel des lois et ordonnances de la Confédération suisse, Volume 7

Below is a list of the Swiss postal conventions and the volume/page locations:

Matha, T and Mentaschi, M, Letter Mail From and To the Old Italian States: 1850-1870, Vaccari, 2008.
While the layout of this book took me a little bit to get used to, it provided some sound guidance for a number of Italian rates.  The area I tended to care about falls outside the scope of this book since they take postal agreements up to the point an Italian State was absorbed in the Kingdom of Italy.  But, focusing on Sardinian rates and reading between the lines for the rest can get you a long way. 

Postcards showing the Lago di Como lake steamers can be found on this site by Simplon.  According to this site, Lago di Como steamers that would have been in service during the 1850-1875 time period were the Unione, the Forza, the Vittoria, the Italia and the Lariano.  Several others began to appear in the early 1870's that I will not list here.




Railways and the Formation of the Italian State in the Nineteenth Century
By Albert Schram

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