Sunday, November 27, 2022

Did Garibaldi Delay the Mail? - 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).

If this is your first time visiting, you are most welcome here!  If this is not your first time visiting, you know what to do already - get a favorite beverage, put on the fuzzy slippers, set your troubles aside and enjoy.  I attempt to write each Postal History Sunday in a way that is accessible to people who are both new to postal history and those who have enjoyed the hobby for some time.

This week, I wanted to share an ongoing project with everyone.

One of the first clues a postal historian has that something different than usual might have occurred is a date span that is longer than usual between the entry of the item in the mails and its reported delivery.  This item took 23 days to arrive at the destination post office.  Or, at least, it took that long before it was processed by that location.  This is as much as one week longer than usual, but easily 3-4 days late.

That may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things.  Yet it is enough for me to think there is a story here!

This item was mailed in Boston and exhibits an exchange office transit mark dated September 17.  The receiver marking on the reverse indicates that it arrived at the Rome office on Oct 10, 1867.  The envelope has an 1861 design 24-cent stamp and a 3 cent stamp affixed to the envelope apparently paying the 27 cent rate per 1/4 ounce via the French Mails to Rome.  

The Boston mark is a dark reddish-brown color that could be mistaken as black.  It is possible that the color has changed over time as it has aged, but I don't think it was ever a bright red.  The Boston marking clearly says that the postage is "paid" but the color to indicate an item as paid is red, whereas black is supposed to indicate an item is not paid.  The item must have been treated as unpaid or partially paid as there are two due amounts on the front.  The "27" was apparently recognized as an error and smudged, then crossed out.  The 23 remains for collection at delivery to Mr. Langdon Williams in Rome.

And here is what I can tell for certain about the route:

  • Boston Sep 17
  • New York Sep 18
  • Cunard Line steamship Persia
  • Queenstown (Ireland) Sep 27
  • London
  • Roma Oct 10

The normal route from London for this item in 1867 would have been via Marseilles, France, and via ship to Civitavecchia (seaport near Rome).  By late 1867, most mail to Italy other than the Papal State (which included Rome) would have gone via rail with entry at the Modane Tunnel.  However, with tension between Rome and the Kingdom of Italy and the favorable connections between the Papacy and France, the sea route would have been normal.

So, what's the problem?

For those of you who are reading and aren't collectors or explorers postal history on your own, it might seem as if I certainly know enough about this item already.  Even some folks who do work with postal history might say I've got it pretty well surrounded.  But I find this particular cover to be intriguing and well worth further exploring because it provides me with an interesting puzzle to work on.

Here are the questions I want to explore:

  1. Why did this letter take longer than usual to get to where it was going?
  2. What route did it take from London to Rome?
  3. Why did the Roman postal authorities decide that it was not fully paid, marking the envelope as requiring 23 bajocchi due on delivery?

Each of these questions may be related.  If I answer one, I may find that the answer leads to solutions for the other problems. 

Let's look at other letters to Rome

I am going to start with an item that was treated as fully paid by both the United States and the Papal State postal services.  It was also mailed from Boston, but in the year 1862.

1862 cover, Boston to Rome via French Mail at 27 cent per 1/4 ounce rate

While this item is five years prior to the cover in question, it still falls under the same postal arrangements as our first letter.  The Boston exchange marking is clearly red and clearly the same type of marking as our first cover.  It has the word "paid" under the date, which indicates the item was to be treated as paid by the receiving exchange office.  The black circular marking is a French Mail marking and the P.D. in a box also indicates that the item is paid.  The diagonal black line was the normal method the Roman postal clerks used to indicate that no postage was due on delivery.

The back of this cover has a single Rome marking that reads "Roma via di Mare."  This tells me the cover traveled via the Mediterranean Sea to get from Marseilles to Rome.  So the route from London would be:

  • Boston April 15
  • New York April 16
  • Queenstown, Ireland April 27
  • London
  • Calais, France April 29
  • Paris
  • Marseilles, France
  • Civitavecchia, Papal States
  • Rome May 5

The trip took 20 days to reach its completion and it took eight days to get from Queenstown to Rome. 
 This is three days fewer than the cover in question.  By itself, a three day difference between two covers is probably not a big deal.  

But I do have more comparisons!

This 1865 item shows a Philadelphia exchange office marking, again in red.  The "18/1" in red pen also indicates that the item was paid and it tells the French how much of the 27 cents postage was to be sent to them from the U.S.  The "1" in the "18/1" indicates that the item was weighed a single rate letter (1/4 ounce or less).  Again, this envelope shows French mail markings, a PD in box AND the diagonal Roman marking indicating the item as having no postage due.

This one has a postmark on the back that reads Civitavecchia via di Mare - once again telling us it went via ship on the Mediterranean.  This letter only took 16 days to get to its destination in Rome and only SIX days from Queenstown.  This difference can likely be explained by the shipping schedule in Marseille.  Mail ships did not leave daily for Rome, so if an item arrived in Marseilles in between ship departures, the time would be a bit longer.  We just have to establish that our first letter is longer than normal instead of this letter being shorter than usual. 

And here is another item treated as paid.  This one is a double weight letter mailed in1862.  It only took 19 days from departure in the United to its arrival in Rome.  After looking at several other letters from the US to Rome, it seems 16 to 20 days would be the normal travel period.

So, how do all of these DIFFER from our first cover?

  1. All of them have French postal markings
  2. All of them have the diagonal slash that the Roman post office to show an item as paid
  3. All of them have a Rome or Civitavecchia marking that reads "via di Mare"

The last point may or may not be relevant because I have seen other covers to Rome that have French postal markings, are treated as paid, but have no marking that read "via di Mare."  So, we will discard that fact for the time being.  But maybe I will return to it in the future.

And here is an 1861 cover from Rome coming back the other direction to the United States!

This letter was prepaid 32 bajocchi, which was the correct amount in 1861 for a letter weighing no more than 6 denari (7.1 grams - a bit under 1/4 gram).  This letter took 16 days to get from origin to destination. It has French postal markings and was treated as paid on arrival in New York City.

This is where we get a clue that might help us.  In 1866, the postage rate from Rome to the US was reduced to 23 bajocchi from the 32 bajocchi found here.  This might explain the mistake in the rate since the change was fairly recent (about one year).  Though you would think it had been long enough for the postal clerks in Rome to be familiar with it.

Which reminds me, I should show you our first cover again so you can remember what we're trying to puzzle out.

So what might explain the postal rate question?

At this time, there was no treaty for mail to be directly exchanged between the United States and the Kingdom of Italy or the Papal States.  Instead, mail to Italy was serviced under postal agreements through other countries.  The French Mails were by far the most common service utilized to get U.S. letters to Italy at a rate of 27 cents per 1/4 ounce (7.5 grams). Other options, such as the Prussian Closed Mail or Hamburg/Bremen mails were also available.

I think it is safe to say that the "23" is a due marking for 23 bajocchi, which was the effective rate for mail from Rome to the United States per 6 denari (7.1 grams).  So we will file that away as a fact for this cover.

The only explanation I have for the "27" is that the clerk might have been thinking about an older rate (prior to 1853) that went via Britain.  In that case, the mail could not be paid to destination - it could only be paid to Britain.  In my mind, this is a weak explanation, but it is all I've got.

So, why did they charge this letter as if it had not been properly paid?  There are two possible explanations.  First, they found that the letter was overweight.  Remember, the Romans were probably weighing the letter in denari and six denari was only 7.1 grams.  The French would rate letters at 7.5 grams and the US at 1/4 ounce (7.08 grams).  Is it possible that the US clerk measured the letter in grams and allowed a letter over 7.1 grams to go at a single rate?

Anyway, if the Roman clerk felt the letter was overweight, they went ahead and charged only for the additional unpaid postage of 23 bajocchi.

The second explanation is that the absence of the expected French markings and a Boston marking that didn't look as red as they might normally see caused an inexperienced or overworked clerk treat it as unpaid.

And, of course, I suppose there are other possible explanations - including the odd chance that it did not travel through France.  But, then I would expect more markings from German, Swiss or Italian postal services.  And there are none.

So, I think I have the answer to the route question as well.  I believe it went via France, just like the other letters, but it somehow missed being processed properly by the French clerks.

Garibaldi and the Attack on Rome 

Prior to 1860, Italy was broken into several different states.  By 1867, most of Italy had been united as the Kingdom of Italy with only the Patrimony of St Peter, around Rome remaining outside of the Kingdom.  Giuseppe Garibaldi was well known as one of the primary agitators for the unification of all of Italy and he may figure prominently with respect to the delay of this letter. 

The news of the process of the unification of Italy and, in particular, the exploits of Garibaldi caught the imaginations of people world-wide.  Below are snippings from the Mercury - the Hobart, Tasmania newspaper of that time.  You may feel free to read the clippings presented or you can wait for the summary below.

Garibaldi was on record as being vehemently against the Papal State and the Catholic Church calling it the "shame and plague of Italy"  at a congress of European leaders in Geneva earlier in September.  He created a rather overt plan to march on Rome with 10,000 volunteers to coincide with an insurrection within the city.

These attempts to cause an insurrection and take over Rome failed in large part because the Kingdom of Italy did not support the effort.  In fact, they arrested Garibaldi himself to prevent his personal leadership of the "Garibaldians" mentioned in the newspaper.  

Of interest here is that the timing of these events would coincide with the normal delivery period of the piece of mail in question (it finally arrives on October 10 in Rome).  Is it possible that the uproar in and around Rome delayed the mail?  I think it entirely likely that it may have done so in some fashion.  The letter could have been physically delayed outside the city OR the postal clerks may have been distracted or prevented from duty.  This also brings us to the possibility that the people who processed this mail were not the normal clerks - which could explain some mistakes being made.

There is too much, let me sum up

So, let me remind you of the questions first!

  1. Why did this letter take longer than usual to get to where it was going?
  2. What route did it take from London to Rome?
  3. Why did the Roman postal authorities decide that it was not fully paid, marking the envelope as requiring 23 bajocchi due on delivery?

It is my theory that this letter was either delayed in its arrival OR it sat in the Roman post office waiting for someone to process the mail.  It seems to me that the uproar in Rome and the surrounding territory by Garibaldi's forces would have been sufficient to create problems for the timely delivery of mail.

I believe that the letter took the normal route that the 27 cents in postage paid for via France.  Most of my logic for this is that there is no evidence that it took another route via German mail options.

And finally, I favor the idea that the letter was rated as being more than 6 denari (7.1 grams) in weight.  The clerk, possibly inexperienced or under great pressure, opted to collect the postage for the unpaid second rate level, but recognized that one rate level was paid.  Another explanation runs a close second for me - and that's the idea that the inexperienced or harried postal clerk simply didn't see paid markings and figured it must be treated as unpaid.


And there you have it.  A puzzle that I continue to make progress on.  I shared this with you in hopes that each of you might have a bit more understanding about the questions I, as a postal historian, find myself digging into. There is no requirement that you should want to do this yourself, nor is it necessary for you to feel as if all of this exploration was interesting to you at all!  Instead, I am hopeful that you found some of it entertaining - even if the entertaining part was watching a vegetable and poultry farmer with Computer Science background pretend he can transport himself back to 1867 and read the minds of postal employees of the time.

Have a fine remainder of your day and great week to come!  I am grateful for each of you who provides me with encouragement, feedback and information and I give thanks for all who take the time to put on the fuzzy slippers and share a few moments of your day reading Postal History Sunday.