Sunday, September 18, 2022

Oh, the Places You Can Go - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday, featured weekly on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you take this link, you can view every edition of Postal History Sunday, starting with this one (the most recent always shows up at the top).

The title of this week's entry might make you think of Dr. Seuss and the his final publication, Oh, The Places You'll Go - and that would be intentional on my part.  For that matter, if you are needing a little bit more Dr. Seuss in your life, the link I provided in the prior sentence goes to a Youtube reading of that particular book.  There's even an activity at the end!

Once you've had the chance to have Oh, The Places You'll Go read to you, maybe you'll remember to come back and finish reading this week's Postal History Sunday.  This week, I wanted to have a little fun and explore the places we can go (virtually) when we look at a piece of postal history.

You can go to Peru if you want to

I recognize that not everyone is willing or able to physically travel around the globe to visit the wonders that exist out there.  Yet, if we want, we can explore the world and its history virtually by looking at, studying, and researching pieces of postal history.  And, it's not even required that these pieces be expensive collector's items, though some certainly are.  An inexpensive item can capture your imagination and you can find yourself transported to a different time and a different place.

This first item was mailed in San Francisco on October 3, 1865 where it boarded a steamship to Panama.  From there, the letter took another steamship under British contract that made several stops on the South American coastline.  The postage rate for mail from the US to Peru was 22 cents per 1/2 ounce (Dec 1856 - Sep 1867), so the 24 cent stamp was clearly a convenience over-payment.  The red "12" at the top left indicates that 12 cents of the postage was due to the British for their efforts.

Actually, this particular cover allows us to travel back to a time when Peru, San Francisco and Italy intersected.  According to the paper referenced as "the Cerruti report" (1st page shown above), Nicola Larco was a prominent Italian in San Francisco beginning in 1849 - during the Gold Rush.  Larco was born in Genoa, Italy in 1818 and initially emigrated to Peru before coming to San Francisco.  For a period of almost two decades, Larco and Domenico Ghirardelli were the prominent leaders of the Italian community in San Francisco.  And, yes, I do mean the Ghirardelli that led to the present day chocolate company.

Wow, we went from saying we'd talk about Peru to chocolate all of a sudden.  It might be that kind of Postal History Sunday.  Who knows what places we will go with this next?  Not me! I'm just along for the ride that the stories take me on!

The Peru connection with Nicola Larco is fairly obvious if you look at the address, a business that must have been headed by a relative.  In fact, Larco served as the consul for Chile in San Francisco at this time.  It was not uncommon for a person with business connections to serve as a consul for another nation in larger cities.  For example, the US might have a foreign consul in cities like Cairo, Paris, and, yes, Lima to represent their business interests in those cities.

But, why did Larco go to Chile in the first place?  What sets up the scenario where he would be doing business with a relative that remained in Lima while he was based in San Francisco?  

Well, it turns out that there were centuries of connection between Peru and Italy, specifically Genoa, where Larco was born.  According to Fare l’America ou apprendre à y vivre ? L’immigration italienne au Pérou by Mario Pera:

The first Italians to arrive in Peru came with the Spanish army of conquest in the 16th century as a result of an alliance between the Kingdom of Spain and the Republic of Genoa. This is the reason why the first Italian immigrants to Peru came from Liguria (the region around Genoa), and predominantly from Genoa, birthplace of the expert sailors recruited by the Catholic Monarchs who captained the Spanish ships bound for America.

Well.  I could stop this Postal History Sunday right there because I just learned not one, but a few new things! But, I am still curious what other places we can go today.

You could ride a camel in the Sudan

I am hopeful that those who read this blog, but feel like postal history is a hobby beyond their reach, might reconsider as I share this next envelope sent from Sudan to the United States.  This particular item cost me a couple of dollars to purchase and I expect if I were to sell it that it would not get much more in return.  However, I have gotten a significant amount of entertainment and learning value out of it.

In fact, this February 7, 2021 PHS entry focuses on this particular cover - and I encourage you to read it if you want to learn more.  The cover was mailed in Khartoum in 1939 and went via Egypt to get to the United States.  The postage stamp design catches your imagination in a new way - perhaps even transporting you to that place along the Nile River where a postman might actually ride a camel to deliver the mail.

The story of the creation of this design, according to the Stanley Gibbons firm, was that the designer, Captain E.A. Stanton, saw the arrival of the regimental post via camel, instead of the normal riverboat delivery.  This inspired him to create this proposed design for the new stamps of Sudan to be used as the English asserted their control in that region. 

feel free to click on the map for a larger version

But, it isn't just the camels, it's the allure and history of the Nile River, which this cover likely traveled next to and probably ON during some of its voyage!

Ride a Viking ship in Estonia

I prefer to focus on the pre-UPU period (before 1875) of postal history and I really pay the most attention to the 1860's.  That doesn't mean I won't appreciate other items - especially when there is an opportunity to learn something new and maybe take a virtual trip at the same time!

My postal history hobby has its roots in stamp collecting (philately) and I can be influenced by certain stamp designs that got my attention at an earlier point in my life.   The Viking ship issue of 1919-1920 from Estonia is one such stamp.  So, when I found this item being offered for less than my lunch was going to cost, I decided it was okay to take it home with me.

The issue with things like this is that I am not knowledgeable about the rates and routes for this area during the early 1900s.   However, I was fortunate to find a very useful website compiled by Sijtze Reurich that provides all of the Estonian rates for this period. 

image from the Nordic Estonia site

Before you visit this site, let me prepare you a bit.  It contains a LOT of raw postage rate data and represents a great deal of effort.  If you want to go there to just read and enjoy, this is not the site for you.  It IS the site for you if you are wondering specifically about postage rates that include a period of hyper-inflation - where postage rates were changing over a period of days, rather than years!  In short, this is very much a reference site - and a good one at that.

According to the tables I found there, this cover was a proper payment (10 marka) for a simple letter weighing no more than 20 grams (Apr 10, 1921 - Oct 31, 1922). 

Vikings are usually associated with the coastal regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland.  For that matter, I suspect many people simply think of coastal Norway as the place where the Vikings hopped on ships to do their plundering and pillaging of surrounding coastal regions.  Well, the Estonian Vikings play an important role in the history of the whole.

According to the Nordic Estonia site, the people from the largest Estonian island were known as Oeselians and were referred to in Norse Icelandic sagas as "vikings from Estonia" or  "Víkingr frá Esthland."  The piratica was a warship that featured a high prow with a dragon or snake head and a four-sided sail and is featured on the postage stamps used to pay the postage to mail this letter.

Ice in India

The places we can go and the things we will see might include visiting an ice house in, of all places, Calcutta, India, in 1861.  The folded letter shown above was mailed in Boston late January and arrived in London on February 6th.  It took another month to find its way to Calcutta.

The postage paid was five cents, represented by the brown postage stamp at top right and the remainder of the postage was paid by Caleb Ladd.  This is a case where the "open mail" provision of the United States / United Kingdom agreement was used.  The sender in the US only had to pay for the portion of the postage that was under the US Postal Office's control.  In this case, the letter entered the control of the British Post at the point it boarded the ship named "America" in Boston.  This meant Mr. Ladd had to pay the postage for all of the services from the point the letter boarded the boat in Boston to the point it was placed in his hand.  

engraving from the Graphic, Nov 1880

Caleb Ladd was the agent for the Tudor Ice Company from 1837 into the 1860s, when the ice trade reached its peak.  Ice was harvested from Massachusetts and shipped to India.  One of the first such ships sent by Tudor started with 180 tons of ice and arrived with only 100 tons (due to melting, of course), but the trip was still quite profitable.

This interesting article by David Dickason discusses some of the reasons for the decline of this trade in the late 1860s into the 1870s.  Among the causes was the a trend towards less severe winters in the areas where ice was being harvested.  Another direct contributor to this decline, cited by Dickason, was the introduction of technologies that could manufacture ice.  Why ship a bunch of blocks of ice when you have a piece of equipment that will make what you want? 

The decline was precipitous enough that the ice house referenced on this cover was dismantled in 1882, according to the Calcutta Review.

If you would like a more complete summary of ice houses in India, this link to the Heritage Lab might be of interest to you.


There you are!  A few examples of how postal history artifacts can lead us to interesting stories that have to do with the people, places and times that surrounds each item.  Certainly, the process of collecting ice from a lake not far from Boston and sending it to Calcutta is not necessary to discuss the postal history of the letter to India.  It doesn't really matter horribly much that we know anything about Estonian Vikings or camel riders in Khartoum or Genoans in Lima, Peru if we only want to look at the postal history aspects of the first three items.  We can still look at these pieces of old mail and learn about the postage rates, regulations and processes without these extra pieces of information.

But, when we do take the time to explore the stories outside and around postal history, we do two things:

  1. We add color, depth, and interest to each item.  Suddenly, a person does not have to be deeply interested in postage rates, or things like - "which ship did this sail on?" to be interested.  Instead, the postal details are a part of a larger, more interesting whole that can attract more people to the story.
  2. We provide evidence that can support our observations regarding the postal history particulars of a given item.  For example, it makes sense that the Peruvian consul in San Francisco might be willing to overpay the postage once in a while because it is a convenience. Because, surely one letter out of many is not going to be that much of a financial strain because it is a cost of doing business.

Oh, the places you can go when you pick up a piece of postal history and start to explore it.

Thank you for joining me for Postal History Sunday.  Have a good remainder of your day and a wonderful week to come!

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