Imagine that your troubles are the weeds in your vegetable plots (sadly we can picture that all too well). Then, add to that picture all of your good friends and family members and pretend that they are all able to help you weed your vegetables. If you do not have many friends or family members, just think of a horde of willing, able and friendly volunteers. Sick them on the task of weeding those troubles out of your tasty veggies and viola! Your troubles are gone!
With an introduction like that, I suspect it must be time for Postal History Sunday!
Just three weeks ago, we offered a Postal History Sunday titled To and Fro. That issue covered mail that traveled between the United States and France and the United Kingdom. I received some good feedback on that one from both those who are postal historians as well as those who are not. So, let's give that idea another go with mail between the United States and Rome in the 1860s!
If you are wondering why I seem to keep coming back to the topic of mail that crosses the Atlantic Ocean in the 1860s, there is a perfectly good explanation for it. At least I think there is. I put it here somewhere...
Well, let me just get on with the topic at hand and maybe I'll find it for the end of the blog!
Mail To and From the Papal State
Rome, and the surrounding territory known as
the Patrimony of St Peter (or Latium), resisted joining
the Kingdom of Italy that had formed under the leadership of Sardinia
beginning in 1859. The map below can give you a picture of the
territory that was still held by the Papacy after 1859 until 1870 (territory in
What this little piece of history means for you and I as we look at mail going to Rome is that the Papal State had its own mail service, issuing its own stamps. The Papal State had no postal agreement with the United States.
So, what does that mean for a person who wants to send a letter from Boston to Rome? Something like the folded letter shown above that was mailed in mid-April of 1862 from Boston to Rome.
If two postal systems did not have a negotiated postal convention that outlined how mail could be exchanged between them, they would have to look for intermediary postal systems to help them do just that. Typically (but not always), the two postal systems would have a treaty with some third-party postal system in common. Italy and the United States each had their own agreements with France. This made it possible to use France's postal service as the intermediary.
As a point
of information, the British, Prussian, Bremen and Hamburg mails could
also serve as an intermediary between Rome and the U.S. in 1862, but
most of the mail was carried via France.
The treaty between France and the United States (established in 1857) set the rate of postage at 15 cents per quarter ounce of weight for mail from the US to France. Article VIII of the postal treaty between these two nations mentions that each country would serve as an intermediary for mail beyond their borders (if you wish to see the actual text of the treaty, it is here). This would allow the sender to prepay the entire required postage to get between the US and Rome.
The rate was 27 cents per quarter ounce and it was a valid rate from April of 1857 through December of 1870.
This letter was put in a mailbag to go to France at Boston's exchange office and is dated April 15th. The mailbag was sent to New York so it could board the trans-Atlantic steamship named Niagara for departure the next day. The Niagara dropped the mailbag off at Queenstown (Ireland) on April 27. From there it went by train to Kingston (Ireland), it crossed the Irish Sea to Holyhead and then it went through London and crossed the English Channel to France at Calais.
The letter was finally taken out of the mailbag somewhere in France on April 29 (see the black circular marking above) on its way to Marseilles. At that point, it took another steamship that arrived at Civitavecchia (near Rome). We know it took a ship from Marseilles to Civitavecchia because the Rome marking on the back reads "via di mare" (by the sea).
The Rome post office, but the ink slash in black ink across the envelope to indicate that it recognized postage for the letter had been paid. The recipient would have to pay nothing more to collect the letter.
So, now that we are in Rome, let's see if we can't travel back the way we came!
you see above is an envelope that was mailed in Rome in March of 1861 -
destined for New York City. The stamps were issued by the Papal State
and used the bajocco (plural is bajocchi) as the currency unit. The
stamp issue is commonly referred to as the Papal Keys issue. These keys
represent the keys of heaven given to St. Peter that had the power of
"binding and loosing," one made of gold and the other of silver. Their
appearance on the postage stamps were simply an affirmation of the
The postage required in Rome to prepay a letter to the United States was 32 bajocchi per 7.5 grams (roughly 1/4 ounce) and this rate was effective from January 1, 1858 through August 30, 1866.
Compare that to the rate period for the United States and their 27 cent rate to Rome (April 1857 through December 1869). Yes, they are different, which probably requires some sort of explanation.
What we need to remember is that France is an intermediary country in this case. They have an agreement with the United States that sets the terms for how they will carry mail to Italy and the Papal State. Unless the US and France agreed to do something different, there was not going to be a change in the postal rate during that time for mail going from the US to Rome.
On the other hand, the agreement between France and the Papal State could change, even if the agreement with the United States did not. In fact, even more than that changed! Rome and the surrounding area actually adopted the use of the Italian Lira as its currency, so the bajocco was no longer the measure for postage in Rome. This is, of course, a simplification because there was certainly a transition period. But, maybe that sort of discussion can be its own Postal History Sunday some day?
The markings on the front can be read, even if it takes a bit of concentration to do so.
The black, circular marking is a Rome marking for March 23, 1861, which indicates the date when the letter entered the mail in Rome. The black diamond shaped grid is the obliterating cancel that was used to make it difficult for someone to re-use the postage stamps.
The red, double-circled marking shows us the next step of this letter's journey. It went via ship from Civitavecchia to Marseilles, arriving there on March 27. The words at the top of that marking read "E. Pont" or état pontifical. A marking on the back shows us the next step of the journey.
This marking was applied on the train that ran from Paris to Calais (March 27). From there, this letter went across the English Channel and reverses the journey of the previous letter. It appears that it boarded the Edinburgh on March 28 at Queenstown (Ireland) and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to New York, arriving on April 8.
If you want to see a larger version of the map, feel free to click on the image to view it. This gives you a visual representation of some of the routes via France to Italy at the time these letters traveled from place to place.
Now that we have returned from our travels to and from Rome, I think I found the explanation as to why I seem to keep landing on the 1860s period. Ok, it doesn't explain everything, but it is an early Postal History Sunday that gives some explanation as to why I collect and research some of the areas I do!
Aren't I sneaky, I just might get you to read (or re-read) another PHS all in one sitting. Alas for you!
Thank you again for joining me as I explore things that I enjoy. Hopefully you learned something new - I know I did!
Responses to Questions
I have received a few questions that feel like they deserve a few quick answers, so I thought I'd use this area to answer a couple of them. Perhaps they will lead to future Postal History Sundays, or maybe they won't. We'll see!
Where do you get the pictures of these old pieces of mail?
Believe it or not, most everything I show in my Postal History Sunday blog posts are in my own collection. So, these are scans of the actual items. If I am borrowing an image from somewhere else I try to remember to give credit as appropriate.
Having an actual item in hand is a wonderful motivator for my curiosity.
How do you find these things (old letters)?
Just like so many things in the world, it takes a while to figure out where to look. It turns out there are people who specialize in selling these sorts of things including dealers, auction houses, etc. Some of the online sales sites even have sections set aside for stamps and postal history. In fact, there are even shows/conventions where people go to buy/sell/trade and show this kind of thing.
Like so many hobbies or activities, there is a complete sub-culture that surrounds it.
How long have you been doing Postal History Sunday?
Believe it or not, I will celebrate one year of doing PHS in August of this year. This project started initially as a way to reach out to others in our isolation with the pandemic. It will continue as long as I feel motivated to keep writing them.Have a great day! And keep the questions coming!