Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mail to Britain (and Beyond) in the 1860's

Earlier in the month, I highlighted a sixteen page exhibit called Genuinely Farming in our blog.  Genuinely Farming went on to win the Most Enjoyable Award at the Philatelic Digital Rendezvous this Fall.  This was the second year of that event.  Last year was the first iteration and there were a large number of interesting and enjoyable exhibits being shared at PDR 16.

Since these exhibits are purely digital files, it was possible for me to take a subset of my larger showing of postal history and pare it down for the 2016 event.  As a result, I put together an exhibit that focused on items bearing the 24 cent stamp of that time on mail that went to (and through) the British Mail system in the 1860's.

Please note: you can see a slightly larger version of these pages by clicking on them.  OR you could go to PDR 16 and view the entire 16 page exhibit and any other exhibit there that gets your interest.

I can claim to have been a stamp collector since the age of three, when my mother would give me pretty stamps off of the mail.  I would proceed to glue them into a little notebook and then draw (mostly carefully) around them.  Needless to say, that's not the recommended method for preserving stamps.  But, it got (and kept) my interest.

At a later point in time, I was fortunate enough to see some of these 24 cent stamps up close and found the fine engraving to be pleasing.  Some time after that, I had an opportunity to purchase an envelope that had used this stamp to properly convey mail to England in the 1860's.  Since then, I have been hooked on this theme.

Yes, it is a little nuts.  But, hey - you are reading this, which means you are used to it by now!  You've got to be a little nuts to farm like we do too.  No surprises here!

The cool thing about postal history is that you can get a window into a different time and place.  You can dig as deep or as shallow as you want into the back story.  For example, all three envelopes (known as "covers" to postal historians) shown above were delivered to an intermediate recipient who then forwarded the mail to a new address.

The top item was sent to Brown,Shipley and Co in Liverpool.  The sender was apparently aware that Mrs. R.W.Leigh would have left forwarding instructions Brown and Shipley.  Many companies existed (like Brown and Shipley) where travelers could maintain an account for expenses and mail holding or mail forwarding services.  The red one-penny British stamp pays postage from Liverpool to Leamington.

What we need to remember is that mail from the United States to England would take about 9-12 days to arrive (assuming a northeast US origin).  So, a reply would not be received for 20 days at best.  There was not a really good way to contact people about new mailing addresses and locations as a person moved throughout Europe.  On the other hand, mail could travel through Europe in as little as one day.  So, it made sense to have a location for a temporary address while a person moved around the continent.

Another aspect about mail in the 1860's that might seem foreign to us today is the concept that each country had to have agreements (known as a postal conventions) that outlined how mail would be exchanged between the two countries.  These conventions set the postage rates, the routes the mails would be allowed to take between the two nations and numerous other details.  In the case above, we see an example of a rule that might seem pretty harsh to all of us today.  The letter was underpaid by 24 cents.  Since it was underpaid, the convention stated that the letter should be treated as COMPLETELY UNPAID and the recipient would have to pay the full postage due.

In this case, that amount would be four schillings (see the black '4' on the envelope), which was the equivalent to 96 cents at that time.  I have, in fact, written about this particular item once before and it can be found on this post from 2012.

If you do visit the PDR 16 site and view the whole 16 page exhibit, I will remind you that the descriptions in the exhibit are not terribly detailed.  It's a function of the audience it was intended for - but never fear - I like to answer questions and I am hoping to improve on that presentation in the future!

Now you have something more to look forward to.

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