Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Steamer that Didn't - Postal History Sunday

It is time, once again, to put on the comfortable shoes or slippers, get a warm beverage to enjoy (but keep it away from the paper collectibles and the keyboard!) and learn something different - and maybe - new!  It's Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog.

Postal History Sundays started on the blog (in August 2020) when I took a moment and just shared some of what a person like me, who enjoys postal artifacts, likes to study.  I actually had two different ideas for today's post and I went with the one that felt the most fun to write at the time because this particular envelope, mailed in 1864 meets many of the criteria I shared in that first blog.

First of all - it's pretty clean and decent looking for something that is 156 years old - so that's a plus.  The markings are pretty clear and I can read each of them, which means I can piece the journey this letter took in the mail services.  And... it just so happens there is a story hidden within the details of this cover.  That makes it a winner in my book!

Mail from the United States to Prussia 1864

At the time this letter was written, Germany was a group of loosely connected states that were moving rapidly towards a more unified government in the 1860s.  As a postal historian, this holds a significance to me because there was more than one postal service to consider for mail being sent to various parts of what we would now identify as Germany.  That story is complex enough for multiple books on the subject, so I'll leave it at that for now.

Prussia negotiated a mail treaty with the United States in 1852 that arranged for mail to travel from the United States to Prussia via ships that would sail to Southampton (United Kingdom).  Mail would then be sent across the English Channel to Ostende, Belgium and run by rail to Aachen (Prussia).  The cost of mail sent via this agreement was initially 30 cents per half ounce of weight, but this was decreased to 28 cents by the time this letter was mailed.  

If you look carefully, there is a 24 cent stamp, a 3 cent stamp and a 1 cent stamp - effectively paying 28 cents in postage.

At the bottom left are the words: "via Prussian Closed Mail."  The whole idea of closed mail was that the mailbag this item rode in would NOT be opened once the United States sealed the bag until it arrived in Prussian territory.  Even though it saw time in the United Kingdom and Belgium, there will be no markings on this letter to tell us that.  We only know this is the case because that was the agreement between nations at the time.

Hey!  That's Too Long!

Someone in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania got this to the post office in time for the clerk there to mark the letter with an October 11 postmark.  The letter probably got to New York on October 12, which was too late to send the letter on the next sailing from Boston on October 12 - so they held on to it for the Saturday mail sailing from New York on October 15.  If only they could have seen the future - they would have mailed this letter just one day earlier!

The foreign mail clerk put the New York exchange marking with the October 15 date on the letter (in red) and put it in the mailbag - waiting until Saturday's departure.

And, now, we have a big gap in time before the letter is removed from the mailbag and it has a new marking put on it.

"Aachen 11 11 Franco" - red ink inside of a rectangle, top center of the envelope

This was put on the letter in the city of Aachen (Prussia), showing a date of November 11.  If you will recall "Franco" means Prussia recognized this item as "paid."

But - November 11?  That's almost a full month.  A normal time difference would be closer to two weeks.  What happened?

The Winds Did Blow

The ship leaving with the mails from New York that Saturday was the Saxonia, built in Scotland in 1857 and in service as a mail steamer for the Hamburg-American Line since 1858.  On its previous trip in August, it had crossed the Atlantic from New York to Southampton in eleven days.  In fact, most of its eastbound voyages took 11 or 12 days.  As they departed on the 15th of October, there was little reason to think this would be any different.

But, they didn't have radar and tropical storm forecasts in 1864.

At the time, Atlantic hurricanes were only recorded if there was landfall in a populated area or if there was ship damage to report when one was encountered at sea. Only five tropical storms were recorded in 1864, and one of them caught the Saxonia while at sea.

By the time a typical tropical storm gets to the northern sea lanes where ships like Saxonia sailed, it is probable that they would no longer be rated as a hurricane.  But, they still could cause significant damage.  

Image from: José Fernández-Partagás and Henry F. Diaz (1995a). A Reconstruction of Historical Tropical Cyclone Frequency in the Atlantic from Documentary and other Historical Sources 1851-1880 Part 1: 1851-1870. Boulder, Colorado: Climate Diagnostics Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved Dec 19, 2020.

The fifth recorded storm of the year was noted to be active from October 22 to October 24 and would have gone right into the path of the Saxonia, probably catching up to her as she steamed eastward.  The ship was damaged in the storm and limped into Southampton on December 10 and the Prussian Closed Mail bags were then taken across the English Channel by a channel steamer and to Ostende before getting to Aachen.

The passengers and mail bound for Hamburg were transferred to the Bavaria, another Hamburg-America Line steamship, arriving at Hamburg on November 11.  It would be interesting to find another postal artifact that went via Hamburg, rather than Aachen, but rode on the same ship!

And now you know how a 12 day voyage ended up taking 26 days to complete - another example of the things you can learn on a Postal History Sunday.

Thanks for joining me.  Have a great remainder of the weekend and a fine week.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your input! We appreciate hearing what you have to say.