Friday, November 13, 2020

On the Way to Mantova - Part I

The city of Mantova (Mantua) has captured my imagination enough to encourage me to pick up items addressed to that location more than any other Italian city.  Today's postal history item is an envelope mailed from Espalion, France to Mantova in 1855.

This is part of a series of posts:


The Address Panel

An interesting thing about letter mail is that there can be a very wide variety of what is written on the front of a piece of mail.  The combination of language differences and handwriting differences can certainly make interpreting what is there a bit more difficult.  The address panel above reads as follows:

"Italie  Monsieur Monsieur L Sartoretti avocat  A' Mantoue  Royaume Lombardo Venitieu, par Clermont Lyon et Turin"

There is a wealth of information here - as well as some interesting points of discussion.

"Italie" and "Royaume Lombardo Venitieu"

Even though Lombardy and Venetia were under the control of Austria, people clearly still identified these regions as part of Italy.  In fact, the region of Lombardy and Venetia was semi-autonomous and was identified as a "kingdom" (royaume) though it was under the control of Austria's emperor Franz Josef I from 1849 to 1859 (and 1866 for Venetia).

The borders shown above in a current day map seem to be largely consistent with what was known as Lombardy in 1855.  You will notice Mantua (Mantova) in the southeast portion of Lombardy.

"Monsieur Monsieur L Sartoretti avocat"

I have noticed the double honorific "Monsieur" on many business letters in Europe during this period.  While I have not been able to verify this (in part because I don't have enough motivation to hunt it down), this could be a bit like saying "Honored Sir, Mr. L Sartoretti."  This double honorific does not seem to be consistently applied during the 1850s and 1860s and it seems to decline in use as mail services become more available to a larger portion of the population.

Mr. Louis Sartoretti was a lawyer (avocat) in Mantova who apparently kept his correspondences, which was normal as these served as records for his business.  At some point in time, the covers from these records were made available to collectors since I have not one, but two envelopes that had been sent to him in the 1850s.

"par Clermont Lyon et Turin"

Not only was there addressing information to show the postal services who the letter was to and where they were located, the writer even included directions as to how they intended the letter to travel.  Let's see how that worked out!

"A' Mantoue"

I was introduced to this city as "Mantua" which is the Latin or Lombard name.  So, to those of us in the US, it would be "at Mantua."  The Italian language references it as "Mantova" and the French - "Mantoue."  A similar pattern can be seen for the Italian city of Padova/Padua/Padoue.   

How it Got There

The markings on this cover are as follows:

Espalion Nov 19, 1855 (front)
“Royaume Lombardo Venetia, par Clermont Lyon et Turin”
     1197 in diamond
Clermont-Ferrand Nov 20 (verso)
Clermont A Paris Nov 20 (verso)
Lyon Nov 21 (verso)
Lyon A Marseille Nov 21 (verso)
Marseille Nov 22 (verso) (exchange office)

     PD in box
Mantova Nov 27 (verso) (exchange office)

It seems that the routing indicated by the writer was followed - at least as far as going through Clermont and Lyon are concerned.  There is no marking to confirm Turin, but, that would have been the most common route after crossing the Alps for a destination in Lombardy from southern France (Marseille).  So, it is highly likely the entire route was followed as suggested.

Another option, of course, would be to travel next to the sea and go up from Genoa to Turin.  But, there is no evidence that can support that on the letter.  Typically directives were followed (via Turin/Torino) if they were given and the implication of the Turin directive was to cross via at Besancon.

So, let's take a look at where these marking say the letter traveled.  To see a larger version, click on the map.

At the time this letter was written, there was no rail service in or near Espalion.  However, there WAS a rail terminus in Clermont-Ferrand that connected to one of the very rare rail lines that did not go only to Paris.  France was rapidly developing a 'star configuration' of rail lines with Paris at the center.  Often, if someone wanted to travel from west to east in southern France, they were often left with only the option to go via Paris!

This letter likely traveled by mail coach to Clermont-Ferrand, where they had a brand new train station, courtesy of completion of the rail line from Gannet from the north.  One has to wonder if there was some amount of excitement that this option for mail now existed that might have caused the writer to be so explicit in these routing directions.

The letter was able to travel by train from Clermont-Ferrand to Lyon and then by train to Marseille.  From Marseille, it was back to the mail coach to go northeast to Gap and to cross the alps until meeting up with a railway spur west of Turin.

Five Days to Mantova

The trip to Mantova from Marseille seems to have taken a good bit of time, especially considering I have another letter from this correspondence in 1857 that covers the same distance in three days.  But, we have to remember that a great deal could change in a couple of years.  It is possible that some improvements in the roads or rail lines could have made that much difference.

On the other hand, we must also consider that this letter had to cross the Alps - in November.  There is always the possibility that weather had a hand in delaying the mail, especially in the mountains.  However, there is actually one more wildcard that might have influenced the travels through the Alps.

On November 23, 1855, there was a foreshock to a larger earthquake that would be in the Castellane vicinity.  The foreshock was strong enough to cause a major landslide and minor damage to dwellings in nearby towns.  The main tremor on December 12th did much more damage, but would have little to do with this letter as it was presumably in Monsieur Sartoretti's hands at that time.

Is it possible that this quake set travels back a day?  Or perhaps there was a bit of a snow storm that slowed the coaches as they made their way east?  Or, perhaps, the letter took the southern route via Nice, where there would be less railway but possibly calmer weather?

It is likely the coach had traveled well past the earthquake zone before mid-afternoon on the 23rd, so a delay because of the earthquake seems unlikely - though it would certainly be dramatic from the postal historian's point of view.  The directive to go via Turin also implies that the letter would travel via Besancon rather than taking the southern route via Nice - and then presumably to Turin.

In the end, it is unlikely that we will ever know for certain the actual route this letter took, nor is it likely that we can confirm that it was delayed by storm, earthquake or other issue. 

What it Cost to Mail

Some people might say that this cover is more attractive because it doesn't have just one stamp, but it has five postage stamps on it.  Others might argue that it is a little ugly because the stamps are placed on it a bit sloppily, with one of them folded over the top of the envelope.  I, on the other hand, appreciate it because it shows some realities of life in a smaller community (Espalion).

There are two commonalities for rural communities that apply even today with postal services.  First, the frequency that people will mail things to another country is much less than more populace areas and, second, post offices and postal patrons are less likely to have higher value stamps available.  After all, five 20 centime stamps DO add up to 1 franc, which is the amount of postage needed for this item to get it to Mantova!

As of July 1, 1851, the rate for mailing a piece of letter mail, weighing no more than 7.5 grams, to Mantova via Sardinia or Switzerland was 1 franc (100 centimes).  During the same period, mail from France to Lombardy that was taken via the German States would cost 1 franc and 20 centimes.  This would change to a flat rate of 60 centimes regardless of route per 10 grams on January 1, 1858.

Then there is the matter of the big, black pen "X" that spans the front of this cover.  This was the Mantovan post office's method of marking a letter as "paid."  When the carrier delivered the mail to Monsieur Sartoretti, they would know at a glance that the lawyer would have to pay nothing prior to receiving this letter.

I make the assumption that this letter was delivered.  Mantova was known to have several carrier distributions of the mail each day and the circle around the "1" marking is placed where a distribution number is often situated on this cover.  So, this would have been the first mail distribution of the day.

Exchange Offices

Exchange offices were post offices in each country that were identified as being able to exchange mail between those two nations.  Marseille and Mantova could exchange mail, which essentially means they would place the last marking on the letter prior to putting it into the mailbag (or other container), not to be opened until reaching the exchange office in the destination country.  

This essentially implies that the PD marking would have been stamped onto the letter in Marseille by the clerk that handled the foreign mail.  The bag, opened in Mantova, would be marked by the clerk there who handled the incoming foreign mail.

Open Questions:

  1. I do not yet know how the postage was split between France, Sardinia and Lombardy/Austria. *** This will be answered in the next post - at least from the Austrian perspective. ***
  2. It could be possible to find other letters from October to December of 1855 that traveled from Marseille to Mantova to determine if the five day travel was common or an aberration.

Un Saluto ai miei amici filatelici in Italia  

I could not help but notice that these two posts for Mantova has attracted the attention of some philatelists on the forum at Filatelia e Francobolli.  I apologize that I do not know much Italian, but I welcome you here.   If you have suggestions or corrections, feel free to make them and we will do our best to understand each other!

You might note that there have been a couple of edits in response to comments in the forum mentioned above.  First, you may notice a brief discussion regarding the Genoa route.  Second, you might notice that I have corrected the ordering of markings to show the likely application of the P.D. marking at the office of exchange (Marseille).  The application of the "X" would then be part of the Mantova processes of exchange. 

There was a third issue mentioned in that forum thread that I could not understand.  If someone is willing to clarify, I would love to discuss it. Grazie.

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