Monday, May 31, 2021

Frost Blanket

 Just last Wednesday, we shared on our blog all of the "Farm Progress" that we had made with the help of many others.  And now we remind everyone of the perilous line we often walk as we do our best to make the right decisions about how - and when - we do certain farming tasks.

 Generally speaking we were past our "last frost date" for our area, which typically gives us the "green light" for planting more sensitive crops into the ground.  If you take the link in the prior sentence, it will show you the typical last and first frost dates where the odds of a frost at that point reach a 10% chance mark.  The closest location to our farm is New Hampton, which shows April 29 as still having a 50% chance of a frost in that period and May 9th reaches the 10% mark.

Our history at the farm tells us we do not match up with that and we normally accept May 20 as being pretty safe.  For comparison, Waterloo hits the 10% mark on May 12, Mason City on May 14 and Decorah at May 23.  From those dates, the frost chance continues to go down - of course - until we reach September.

This explains why we had frost at the Genuine Faux Farm on May 29th.


The set up was actually classic.  Full moon within days of the event.  A rainy and windy system where the temperatures have trouble getting out of the 40s all day, but stay in the 40s at night because of the cloud cover.  Then, the clearing starts in the evening, just an hour or so before sunset and wind doesn't die down until then too....  Once the skies clear, the temperatures plummet and the frost forms in the wee hours of the morning.  We see this pattern nearly every Fall - but we are most unfamiliar with it in the Spring (thank goodness!).

The issue for us this year?  Well, we were actually doing pretty well with getting things in the ground this Spring.  We moved Valhalla, which exposed green beans, snow peas, potatoes and other crops to the elements.  We put in about 1100 row feet of cucumbers and melons.  And, we slapped in shorter rows of winter squash, pumpkins and summer squash.

Typically, peas would be fine - except they were really flowering - and getting hit with frost would certainly cut into that production.  The green beans would probably be finished.  The potatoes would get singed and set back a little, but would likely bounce back.  All of the vine crops would probably be finished since they are still seedlings at this point.  

In short - not a good thing.

So we did what neither of us really wanted to do, get the row covers out and do our best to protect all of the sensitive crops.  We had just received about 1.3 inches of rain, so things were muddy - and there was still a bit of a breeze.  In short, this was not a picnic. If you've every walked in mud before, you know how you "get taller" as more and more mud adheres to your footwear.  You also know how much harder it gets to move with every step.

And, we're doing all of this when we're actually ready to wind down for the day - this has been especially true for Rob since the surgery.  But, we had to wind-up so we could get this done.

The next day, I went out with the camera to document things as I started to uncover.  The temps were hitting the upper 40s by this time, so most of the frost had melted.  Although, there was still some on the clover in a shaded area (see below).

The row covers were extremely wet and my pants got soaked after removing just one section of row cover.  After some of that work, I decided it might be better to leave things out to dry a bit more (that didn't work - more later).  I also noted, with some amount of disgust, that the local deer thought our row covers were fascinating.  They walked all over the covers we put over the cucumbers in the Eastfarthing (our East fields).

Looks like we're going to have to do more with deer control this year.

Thus far, it looks like most of the crops we covered will be fine.  There was some evidence of burning on some of the beans where there were holes in the cover.  We consider this proof that we would have had NO crop if we hadn't got the covers out.  There were some minor issues in the peas as well.

The cucurbit rows where we had hoops fared better than those that did not.  There were sections of the cucumbers that we're not sure if they will grow through their issues.  And, there were cucumbers that were crushed by deer walking on them (and the cover).  There were some plants, such as sunflowers and zinnias, that we had seeded and did not cover.  They were not looking as happy as we would like, but I think most will recover.

We'll wait and see.  If they don't - we'll till them in and try again I guess.

In the end, we uncovered our crops and took the row covers to grassy areas to finish drying before we could roll them up.  I think that was mid-afternoon before we could really consider doing that.

So, that's the fine line we often walk with our farming.  We know that some of the wettest weeks of the year at our farm typically run from the 3rd week of May until the 3rd week of June.  At least that has been the case since about 2008.  This makes our planting windows extremely tricky.

We have to find soil conditions dry enough to prep and plant.  But, we have to gauge the likelihood that we might be putting certain crops in too early and risk a frost.  We made a judgement call that we needed to put as much in the ground as we could before this last rain.  After all, it will probably be several more days before it will be dry enough to plant again.... which means we are suddenly in June and time grows short.

Maybe it will work out.  Maybe it won't.  But, I still think it was the right call for the circumstances of the year.  I can live with that.

Here's to some fresh snow peas in the coming week - I'll take that as a reward!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Unforgotten - Postal History Sunday

Welcome once again to Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!  

This week, in honor of Memorial Day in the United States, I will break with tradition and not tell you how to pack your troubles away so you can enjoy a few moments reading this blog.  Instead, I'm going to be presumptuous and tell you to push your own personal troubles out of the way so you can ponder what it means for individuals to die in military service for their country (it does not matter which country) or for people to be injured, displaced, and terrorized by war.

But, even as we ponder, I hope we can also learn something new and still enjoy as we explore the postal history hobby.


Many postal historians explore the process of mail delivery during periods of conflict.  My own interests often do not focus on wartime postal history.  However, I recognize that these are periods of time where I can study how postal services worked to adapt as they attempted to solve problems brought about by strife between nations and peoples. I also understand that conflicts often serve as milestones for change that are reflected in postal history.  Therefore, it is important that I have an awareness of these events.

By now, you also know that I like a piece of postal history that leads me to a good story.  When it comes to stories, wartime can provide numerous compelling plot lines that feature normal, every day people - rather than the rich and famous. 

At the time this letter was mailed, the cost of mailing to a foreign destination from the United States was 5 cents for every ounce in weight.  A five cent stamp from a series known as the "Overrun Countries" was applied to pay the postage required.

A Letter to a Relative in the Armed Forces

H. Edgar French, of New Castle, Indiana, wrote a letter to Flight Sergeant Geoffrey French of the Royal Australian Air Force.  He posted this letter on March 14, 1944.  I have not determined how Edgar and Geoffrey might have been related, but it seems clear that they must have been.  There were no contents with this envelope, so who knows what Edgar wrote about?  It could have been stories about a favorite niece or reports on the family's Victory Garden.   That's something I'll never know.

Like so many people at that time, he wanted to advertise his support for the Allied Forces and used an envelope that showed a patriotic design (known as a cachet) that heralded the Lease-Lend Act in the United States.  A label now covers that design, but I was able to uncover it so I could scan it and share it with you here.

The Lease-Lend Act is more commonly referenced as the Lend-Lease Act (but who's quibbling?).  This legislation provided President Roosevelt with the authority to send materials, such as food, supplies, and weapons to Europe without breaking the United States' neutral stance.  The legislation went into effect on October 23, 1941 about a month and a half before the attack at Pearl Harbor and the end of that neutrality.

This particular envelope was printed by a company called Advertisers Press which operated out of Des Moines, Iowa.  Apparently, they printed a series called "Victory Envelopes" for public consumption.  For those who have interest, there are people who study the myriad designs and printers who created patriotic envelopes during World War II.  From what I have heard, the definitive book on the subject was written by Lawrence Sherman and would be a useful acquisition for those who would like to pursue the subject further.

A "Merry Chase" Cover

Some time ago, I showed an item in a postal history discussion group that traveled to many places before catching up to the recipient.  My description was that the the letter went on a "Merry Chase."  Several people found that amusing and it has encouraged me to use that term any time I find an item that had fairly complex travels to get where it needed to go.

First - to England

The first address for this item was to England, but that address has been crossed out and then covered up by a label that has only been partially removed.  In itself, this is not a surprise since most Allied military personnel in the European theater likely had a mailing address in England from which their mail would be forwarded to their active duty location.

The England location is also not surprising because the Royal Australian Air Force was largely under the control of the Royal Air Force (British).  So, while Flight Sergeant French was a R.A.A.F. member, he was part of an R.A.F. squadron. 

Next - to Italy

The removed label likely held information on the first target for forwarding and it is possible the pencil notations at the bottom could also provide clues.  But that may not matter because we do know that Flight Sergeant French was part of the 104th RAF Squadron, which was stationed in Foggia, Italy from December 30, 1943 to October 31, 1945.  So, it makes sense that the letter was forwarded on to Foggia.

I could leave it at that, but I want to point out to you that going from England to Italy was not a simple matter.  There was a war on in 1944.

The territory in red would have been areas controlled by the Allies and blue would have been Axis control.  Mail from England to southern Italy would have had to go the long way around to get to where it was going!  I am sure specialists in World War II mail would be able to tell me (and you) how the letter likely got where it was going.  But, I am not that specialist!  If you are, feel free to let me know what you know about it.

The next obvious pieces of postal information that I can readily decipher are on the back of the envelope.

The first postmark reads: Field Post Office 217 - May 12, 1944

We can take a guess that this might be the Field Post Office in Foggia for the British forces.  There are numerous sources that track this sort of information, but I was not able to locate one that provided me with information to confirm that this was located in Foggia.


And now back to England 

It is my guess that the label shown above was affixed giving instructions that this letter should be returned to the sender at the British Field Post Office (note that this is an R.A.F. form, not R.A.A.F.).   At a guess, this was sent on to the R.A.F. (British) Air Ministry Instructions in England who THEN sent it on to the Australian Airboard (administrative arm of the R.A.A.F).

Why was it forwarded?  French's plane had gone down on April 17.  Sadly, he was no longer available to read letters addressed to him.  The report of his demise can be found later in the blog.

A long trip to Melbourne, Australia

Now, the Australian Air Force postal service had to find a way to get the letter back to the writer.

The second marking reads: R.A.A.F. Base P.O.N. 15 July 21, 1944  M.E.

Here's where I find myself out of my element.  I am sure those who study military mail could decipher more of this than I can.

This is the step in the process where I think the purple handstamp that reads: Return to Sender on Australian Airboard Instructions R Silvester Commanding Officer was applied.  The Australian Airboard was the administrative arm of the Royal Australian Air Force and was located in Melbourne, Australia at the time.  So I will conclude, unless proven otherwise, that this marking was applied in Melbourne.

Sadly, I cannot tell you if the letter sat in Australia for months before being forwarded on or if it got part way before it stalled at some out of the way location.  There are no markings to record those travels.

Back to the beginning - Indiana, USA 

The final marking on the back reads: Feb 9, 1945 H.E.F.

This would be a handstamp applied by Mr. H. Edgar French.  We can assume he received the letter he had written almost eleven months earlier and the "Merry Chase" ends. 

Indiana to England to Italy to England to Australia to Indiana.  A Merry Chase indeed.

Five of Six Crew Members Lost

What must it be like to be notified that a family member is lost in war?  This letter did not return to Mr. French until February of 1945, so I can guess that he had already been notified by family that Geoffrey's plane had ditched in the ocean near Corsica and that he was among the five crew members that were lost.  Perhaps his family was just getting over the initial grief - and then this letter comes back in the mail to haunt them.

The RAAF Aviation History Museum provides a summary of the action that took the life of Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Charles French.  The original work to compile this information by Alan Storr can be found here.

In honor of the Flight Sergeant and all others who have served and are no longer with us, I take the liberty of quoting that site for the content regarding his loss:

Service No: 422484
Born: Ryde NSW, 27 July 1917
Enlisted in the RAAF: 22 May 1942
Unit: No. 104 Squadron (RAF)
Died: Air Operations: (No. 104 Squadron Wellington aircraft LN928), off Corsica, 17 April 1944, Aged 26 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Albert Edgar and Elizabeth Ida French, of Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia.

At 2307 hours on 16 April 1944 Wellington LN928 took off from Foggia aerodrome to attack a target at Leghorn, Italy. The following messages were received from the aircraft: 0130 hours- Landing at Borgo with engine trouble; 0206 hours – preparing to ditch, and 0209 hours – now ditching at position 42.20N 009.57E. The position was in the sea near Corsica. When the aircraft ditched, Flying Officer Gilleland was forced out of the escape hatch by the inrush of water. No other survivors were seen. He reached a dinghy and later saw a light being shone upside of the dinghy. He was rescued when a Catalina was sighted and attracted that afternoon. It was later recorded that the 5 missing members had lost their lives at sea.

The crew members of LN928 were:

Sergeant Ronald Adams (1047206) (RAFVR) (Wireless Operator Air)
Flying Officer Leslie Albert Denison (418224) (Navigator Bomb Aimer)
Sergeant William Fox (1586899) (RAFVR) (Navigator)
Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Charles French (422484) (Navigator Bomb Aimer)
Flying Officer William Campbell Gilleland (421900) (Pilot) Rescued, Discharged from the RAAF: 11 July 1945
Warrant Officer William Barry Ryan (413446) (Air Gunner)

Above is a Vickers Wellington aircraft (bomber) that would have been similar to the one Geoffrey French served on.  Image taken from the wikipedia open source photos pages.


Thank you for joining me again for another Postal History Sunday.  May we learn from the lessons of the past so we might avoid making the same mistakes - and people like Geoffrey Charles French could live beyond the age of 26.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Approaching Limits

A common theme in the life of the Genuine Faux Farmers - both Rob and Tammy - is that we are ambitious, we expect a great deal out of ourselves, and our "to do" lists are typically far longer than we have time to accomplish everything in....

Little things.  Things that, by themselves, really shouldn't take too much time or effort, just don't get done and then they become larger things in our heads.  Things like putting the reducer in the beehive at the left.

For those who don't see it or understand - look at the openings at the bottom of each hive.  The one on the left goes the whole width of the hive.  The one on the right has been reduced to a few inches in width.  The concept is to give the bees a smaller area to defend against critters that might want to invade.

If you still don't see what I'm talking about, just seize onto the explanation that a smaller opening is easier to defend and leave it at that.

The reducer is just a small piece of wood that gets pushed into the larger opening.  The trick is, you don't really want to do it when the hive is active.  This is an early morning or late evening task.  But, our mornings are usually filled with numerous chores.  Our evenings also have chores... and much less energy.

And, to be perfectly honest, we tried to put one in last night and found that they were cut just a little long.  So, the task got a bit more complicated... and we were tired.  So, we left it for tomorrow.

Or the next day.

Temperatures have been predicted to be unseasonably low Friday night with possible patchy frost.  Now we feel less happy about having gotten all of these cucumbers planted.  Will we be able to cover these plants to protect them?  It really depends on when the winds calm.  If they calm too late, I suspect we'll just hope we get lucky.


Because our limits get reached a bit sooner than they might have other months of May.

I think I fully realized today (Thursday) that both of us are still operating with limits on our energy and ability to function that are still lower than usual.  Why?  Because both of us are still recovering from surgery.

Tammy had to carry a heavy burden for many days, taking care of all of the chores and all of the animals.  Trying to do what she had to do for Wartburg.  And, being a "Guardian Dragon" for her partner (that would be me).  There was understandable worry, fear, and frustration and it took its toll.  It only makes sense that she might still be trying to recover lost sleep and find some mental and physical balance that was lost.

I, of course, am still healing.  That means that I get tired more quickly than I think is right for the amount of effort I put into things.  I sat down this evening with the idea that I could knock off a couple of "smallish" tasks that required some concentration.  I was motivated to do them.  But, my brain refused to concentrate on them.  So - I decided to finish this blog post and hope that it makes sense tomorrow (Friday) when people read it.

Let me explain just a little more.  This tired is a special kind of tired that people who have had similar surgeries might understand.  The brain just kind of ... refuses... to do more.  In a little bit, it will just flip a switch and I'll be asleep.  That's pretty odd for me, as I am typically a light sleeper and it usually takes a while to wind down so I can sleep.

I pushed fairly hard to do some physical farm things when the weather was nicer.  But, Thursday's rain allowed me to do indoor work and my body was telling me that I had pushed it a little.  

First, let me assure you - this was nothing serious.  I stayed well within safe limits, but I did push myself within those well-established limits.  This was just my body saying that, "Hey.  You did actually expend some energy and move around and use some muscles (in a good way) and thank you for doing that.  Since I am also trying to heal you up, could you slow down a little and let me do that work now?  Then you can be up and moving again tomorrow."

It's all good.  But, I guess I'll just have to move a few items from today's "Very Ambitious Plan" (VAP) to tomorrow's VAP.  

That's normal.  So, recovery is progressing nicely.

Have a nice day and upcoming weekend everyone!  Now, I will follow the advice of the Sandman... and go take a night-long nap!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Farm Progress

 I finally got the gumption to go out with the camera today and then nearly forgot I had it with me.  Of course, once I realized I had it and started taking pictures, the battery ran out of juice.  Sometimes that's just how it goes.  But, I did get enough to take everyone on a little bit of a tour of the accomplishments of the last week or so.

Our recent flurry of activity started before the 16th, but I do think that's about the time I was able to participate a bit more fully than I had been.  Our good friends from Blue Gate Farm came up and helped us get Valhalla moved from the East to the West growing position.  Moving the high tunnel is a pretty decent task that has many steps, so it always feels good once the process is completed.

You can actually see a couple of accomplishments if you look at the picture above.  Valhalla in its new spot AND the field to its right has been prepped for planting.  The area closest to the building is 75% planted and has even been cultivated once.  The swale in the middle is getting some decent clover established at the West end at least.  And we ran a few rows of sweet corn to the right of the swale.  

This is more sweet corn than we need - but we figure the extra sweet corn is Rob's opportunity to learn how to use a new piece of cultivating equipment!  (more on that on a later date)

When we moved Valhalla we uncovered some crops that we had started INSIDE the building.  They are now OUTSIDE the building - which was by design. The snow peas are really getting going with the flowers and the potatoes and green beans are way ahead of where crops like these would normally be on May 25.  The lettuce at right looks pretty good too!  Let's just say we're feeling pretty good about how we are handling the high tunnels this year so far.

Unfortunately, as I looked back West when I trotted on out to Valhalla, I recognized some clouds that were a little less encouraging from my perspective.  What we really do not need is hail, now that we've uncovered these wonderful looking crops.  

The inside of Valhalla in its new position is now 80% planted.  We've got four rows of bell peppers (Napoleon Sweet) that we are growing for seed (Seed Savers).  At the far left are a row of tomatoes.  And, there are a couple rows of crops that we've seeded... so needless to say, you can't see plants now.... be patient, they'll show up eventually!

Our good friend, Mark Quee, from Scattergood Friends School came up and helped us prepare the ground and repair the roll up side on the left side.  It was really good having a chance to touch base with him AND we managed to get some things done we really wanted done.  It's hard not to be pleased by things like that!

Once the high tunnel was moved, we changed our focus to moving the broiler chickens into their portable buildings and onto pasture.  Tammy and her sister Brenda (also our good friend) pretty much handled this task.  There wasn't much more I could do than drive the tractor and pull the buildings into place.  

The process is essentially to place the buildings, catch the chickens in the brooder room and put them into crates and then move those crates to the buildings and let the birds out.  Sounds simple until you realize you need to bring out feeders and waterers...and food and water.  And, oh yeah... we need to set up the electric fences and the solar chargers so we can protect the birds.

Since that time we've moved the buildings every other day - that process is for another day.

Then, there are the bees.

We have had one active hive for several weeks now (at right above) which we were able to acquire soon after we realized all three of our previous hives had collapsed over the Winter.  We had two more on order and we had to pick them up sometime last week.  

That meant a nice long drive to Mt Vernon for Tammy and then some quality time in the bee suit setting them up.  One went in the same location as the first hive.

The second hive is in a new location by some of our apples in the orchard area.  We like this location right now, but we're trying to figure out if we'll need to do something more during the Winter months for this location.  I think we have time to work on dealing with that...

But, we all know how things sneak up on you when you work a farm!

Are you getting tired of this update yet?  Well, if you need a break, that's fine.  Go use the restroom or get something to drink.  I'll wait....

Ok.  Time's up!

So, the plot you see above is called "Middle Earth" on our farm.  We planted some sunflowers and corn earlier and had some germination issues with those.  So, in the past week, we tilled most of that under to try again.  We also planted a row of pumpkins, watermelons and winter squash (and a few flowers).  There are borage seedlings at the right too.  We've even managed to cultivate this field once are replant the corn and sunflowers. 

We're hopeful that this field will turn out the way we want it to.

I didn't get a picture of the southwest plot where we put in summer squash and zucchini and cultivated the carrots and beets.  I almost forgot that task happened in the last ten days too!

Eden has gotten the royal treatment as well.  Five staff members from Practical Farmers of Iowa took a trip to the Genuine Faux Farm last Friday and provided willing hands to make numerous tasks just that much easier.  They also made sure I wasn't trying to lift too much too!

Sally, Liz, Alisha, Lydia and Michael provided us with good conversation and helped us complete a long list of tasks - even with wetter conditions limiting our options.  Once again, good friends (both old and new) made us feel as if we were valued.  It's pretty hard not to feel positive after all of this.

The edges of the high tunnel needed attention, both inside and out.  We cultivated all of the beds, put up fencing for the melons, cage the tomatoes and put up some poles for the tomatoes that will need trellising.  

It's looking really good now!  And, it is completely planted.  

Now, for some truth in advertising.  Yes, both farmers DID participate in the labor here.  Rob can effectively wield a wheel hoe or a trapezoid hoe and he can even run Barty, our tiller.  But, there is no way we get all of this done (including taking some old chicken buildings apart and organizing a couple of areas in our buildings) without the help.

Yesterday's tasks included desperately trying to get things put into the ground before the fields were made too wet once again.  Rob managed to get the broccoli and cauliflower in (the small green dots at the left) by himself.  The two 400 foot rows of cucumbers were completed with help from Kory and Daniel (and Tammy of course).  

These cucumbers are serving a double purpose.  We are growing A&C Pickling cucumber for Seed Savers AND we are using them for a PFI research trial.  They needed to get into the ground!

In the background, you can see the red roof of the 2nd broiler chicken building.  As we went out last night to close their door (after the storm rolled through) we were able to check on the new plants and they looked fine.  We appear to have dodged the hail and pounding rains - thank goodness!

Rob even ran the wheel hoe by the onions.

I know I missed a whole host of things and I hope I didn't miss anyone who lent a hand during this flurry.  If I did - call me on it.  It's my blog and I can fix it!

Have a great day everyone!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Doing Even Better Than Me

Some people see life as a perpetual competition.   I am not always sure who many of these people think they are competing against, but it is clear they want to win - some of them at any cost.

Then - there is me.  Believe it or not, I have a competitive streak.  But, I am sure you won't be surprised to hear that my idea of competition may not follow the text book description to the letter.  Sure, I played baseball, volleyball and fastpitch softball and I did my best to help my teams win.  Yes, I actually played competitive Ticket-to-Ride tournaments and I did my best to win games I was a part of.  I even put some of my postal history material into exhibits that compete against other exhibits.

Perhaps all of that fits the normal definition.  I lost my fair share of times and I've even had the privilege to be on the winning team every so often too.  Over time, I've learned to value the process of competition and the quality of the efforts of all participants.  I have discovered that you can win badly and lose well.

And I have also discovered that my best competition - the one I always strive to best - is me.

So, what, exactly, brought this line of thought on?

Tammy and I often talk about how teachers can help others to learn.  While I am no longer teaching formally as a college faculty person, I still have enough experience to be able to provide a potentially valuable ear and perhaps offer up a few useful ideas when Tammy needs it.

This got me thinking about how I might lead classes differently now than I did "then."  I am certain that there would be some rust that would need to be worked out.  But, after that, I recognize that I would modify a number of things in my teaching technique.  I am not saying I wasn't reasonably good in the past.  What I am saying is that I would like to think that my experiences in life and my desire to keep improving and learning would end up counting for something.

In short, I would expect to do even better than what I did before once I got back into the swing of things.

The question is - how can I tell if I am doing better?  

To be honest, my measures for how well I am doing are often not nearly as simple as scoring more points.  With the teaching example, I can think of numerous circumstances that I might like to have handled better.  I'd like to think that more experiences with more people in more circumstances could help me to handle things with more grace.  If we're thinking about farming, my key measurement has become my own personal satisfaction with how crops are progressing.  It's not really production numbers right now.  

Just like all of my other competition examples, I won't always "win" by exceeding my prior efforts.  But, I hope to offer quality efforts and I expect to put my heart into what I do.  When all is said and done, I'd like to be able to look at what I've done and honestly believe I "played a good game."


Bonus farmer update:

The recovery program continues at a good pace.  I have been able to do more and more activities on the farm each day.  For those who get nervous about that, I will assure you, once again, that I am being appropriately cautious and I am paying attention to what my body needs me to do.  I am not lifting full feed and water buckets (for example), but I can roll down a high tunnel side.  Tammy has been very good at accepting that there are some things I CAN do, therefore I tend to draw those tasks.

I do get tired much more quickly than I am used to - which is also part of the healing process.  And, I would still say that my concentration levels are no where near where they used to be.  But, perhaps that's just a myth in my own mind?  I guess I'll just have to work at doing better than me.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Don't Believe Everything You See - Postal History Sunday

It's time for Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!  Let's see what kinds of new things we can all learn while I share something I enjoy.

Before we get started, let's take a moment to put on some baseball cleats - preferably the steel cleats.  Please note, you should put these on AFTER you get outside.  Some who live in your home may not appreciate the damage those cleats might do to floors and carpeting.  Take your troubles and worries and throw them to the ground.  Then, take a few moments to thoroughly tenderize them by marching on them for a while with your cleats.  They rarely look as intimidating after that treatment.


This week, I wanted to accomplish two things.  First, I wanted to show everyone that postal history does NOT require that you collect mail from the 1800s.  It may prefer items from the 1850s to the 1870s - but many people find interesting things to explore that are much "newer" or "older" than that.  And second, I wanted to illustrate that sometimes what you see on a piece of mail can be misleading.

Well, I DID warn you that I was going to show something that was not all that old - especially compared to what I normally show here.

If you think this is a piece of "junk mail," you would be absolutely correct.  The contents are promoting a home equity credit line and the cover letter is dated "July, 1988."  If you'll recall, we had a Postal History Sunday last September that discussed reduced postage rates for printed matter in the 1800s.  Even then, post offices recognized the value of providing mail services to those who were interested in "mass mailings."  

Once we get into the 1980s, the US Postal Service provided many levels of discounts depending on how the sender organized the mail to be sent.  The piece of mail shown above would have qualified for the Third-Class Bulk/Quantity discount.  When this class of rates was first established in 1952, a mailer could qualify if they mailed 200 or more identical pieces of mail or 20 pounds of identical pieces in one mailing.  The weight amount had increased to 50 pounds by the time we reach 1988, but the 200 piece minimum still held true.

There were bulk rates for mailers who did not pre-sort any of their mail and there were lower rates for those who would sort the mail they were sending to make it easier for the postal service to get the mail sent on its way.   The item shown above used a sorting technique known as the "5-digit presort."  Essentially, the mailer put the envelopes in bundles of 10 or more with each item in that bundle having the same five-digit zip code.  Because this reduced some of the labor for the postal service, they qualified for a lower rate.

The rate for a piece of mail using the Third-Class, Bulk Rate with 5-Digit Presort was 13.2 cents per piece of mail.  This rate was effective from April 3, 1988 to February 2, 1991.

Let's look at the stamp that was used to show that the postage was paid for this item.

The overprinted words "Bulk Rate" confirm for us that this was, indeed, a Third-Class, Bulk Rate item.  But, the stamp indicates that 10.1 cents were paid in postage.

That's not 13.2 cents!  What's up with that?

First off - the new 13.2 cent stamps were not released for use until July 19, 1988, that's more than a couple months after the new rate was put into effect.  So - the postal service didn't have stamps available with right postage amount on them for mailers to use even though the postage rate had changed.

Second, bulk mailers would often buy large stocks of the stamps needed for mass mailing.  Rather than "sticking" their customers with a bunch of postage that no longer worked, they would allow the use of the older stamps for the same rate during a grace period.  The period for the 10.1 cent Oil Wagon stamp lasted until October 9, 1988.  Bulk mailers would simply pay the postal service the difference after the postal increase and then they would be allowed to use up their old supplies during the grace period.

There you have it.  A 10.1 cent stamp that actually indicated that the mailer paid the 13.2 cents required.  You just can't believe everything you see when it comes to postal history.

Here's another example from the same mailer.  This time, the piece of mail was sent as a Third-Class, Bulk Rate, but it was sent under the rules for a "Basic Presort."  This rate was a bit more expensive because the mail was not sorted in bundles of 10 by the 5-digit Zip code.  

The contents showed that this was mailed in April of 1988, so it falls into the same rate period as the last item, but the rate for a "Basic Presort" was 16.7 cents.  Just like the last example, the new stamps were NOT available until July.  So, an old 12.5 cent stamp was used to show that the item was properly paid.

Let's go backwards in time 123 years to the year 1865 and we can look at a letter that originated in British Columbia, went through San Francisco and New York, and then went on its way to Liverpool, England.

Unlike the first two items, this is a piece of letter mail, not an item that qualified for a reduced rate.  Because the letter started its journey outside of the United States, the postage for British Columbia had to be paid.  Mail from the Cariboo Region (Williams Creek) to New Westminster cost 6 pence and an additional 3 pence was required to pay the foreign mail rate to San Francisco.  This 9 pence rate was assessed for every half ounce of weight and was effective from May 2, 1864 until December 31, 1865.

The pink stamps were the postage that was available for mailing in British Columbia.  If you look carefully you will see that their value is 2 pence & a half penny (2 1/2 pence).  So, the total postage paid looks like 7.5 pence.

That's not 9 pence!

Well, this situation was similar to the first two cases.  The rate had changed, but 3 pence stamps were not available.  So, the 2.5 pence stamps were pressed into service to indicate payment of 3 pence each.

The 24 cent stamp showed the US postage of 24 cents per 1/2 ounce for mail that would go from the United States to England.  At least in that case, the face value of the stamp was consistent with the amount of postage paid!

This piece of postal history is a wonderful item with a much bigger story.  Perhaps it will get its own Postal History Sunday later this year!


Thank you again for joining me for Postal History Sunday!  I hope you learned something new or - if you didn't learn something new, you enjoyed reading about things you already knew.  Whatever works!

Have a great remainder of the weekend and wonderful week to come. 


For those who might like to explore more.

The book U.S. Domestic Postal Rates, 1872-1999 (2nd edition) by Henry Beecher and Anthony Wawrukiewicz is an excellent resource for anyone looking for modern postal rates.  A third edition through the year 2011 is now available.

Steve Walske's fine work titled Postal Rates on Mail from British Columbia and Vancouver Island via the United States 1858 - 1870 and some direct assistance from Mr. Walske have helped me to undertand the last item in this post.  This article is hosted by the Western Cover Society.

If you would like to learn more about the Transportation Series of stamps, the National Postal Museum has a brief summary for each stamp issued for that design group.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Kindness Received

 I have always liked getting "real mail" and it is possible I enjoy sending real mail just as much.  But, with the trends toward email, social media and other electronic communications, mail delivered by the US Postal Service tends to be bills or advertisements.  Even I - the person who claims to like to send real mail - fail to do very well when it comes to sending things out.  Every so often I send a batch of things out, but probably not as often as I would like.

Apparently, Tammy let people know that I would like to get some real mail from people as I recovered from surgery.  And, boy, I have been loving getting the real mail!

Thank you!

I received one package that included envelopes and postcards that had been received and saved.  The first item shown at the left was among them.  It is a simple letter sent from Norway to the United States - a nice example of modern postal history.  I enjoyed digging through the pile.  Now I need to look again since I am a little less 'foggy.'

I have also been the beneficiary of a batch of postcards that include puns.  In fact, a number of the cards have also included some puns, jokes and words of advice.

One of my favorites is shown here.

"I know a guy who got into photographing salmon in different outfits.  He said he liked shooting fish in apparel."

A close second was "I have a new favorite word - 'drool' - it rolls right off the tongue."  That's not a pun, but it sure made me chuckle.  Belly-laughs are still off-limits for a little while yet.

I have been the recipient of some homemade cards and various commercially made cards.  Thus far, I have seen a couple of designs more than once.  What does it say when a chicken wearing sunglasses and slippers speaks to people as they look for something to send me?

Someone else sent me a crossword puzzle book - which I can now say that I have solved most of the puzzles in the book already.  They were just the perfect level for me to work even though I didn't feel my best.  It was nice to exercise the brain a bit, without having to fight too much.

Just prior to surgery I got a nice care package with some books to read and a book of puzzles.  The books were pretty easy reads - just what I needed and the puzzles run the gamut from easy to really hard.  Still working on that one.

My co-workers at PAN sent me a wonderful packet of picture of their pets encouraging me to rest and recover.  There were pictures of 'cloud therapy' and personal artwork and snow on a mountain... in Hawaii.  It felt good to have the people I work with send me healing messages.

And, of course, Tammy and I have sent mail to each other over the years.  We have two running traditions.  One is to re-use a card by sending to each other with a new message in it.  Some of our traditional favorites have no more space to write more.  Another trick is to send a letter with questions in it.  The recipient has to send it back with replies and they often will add some new questions to the list.

Yeah.  We could just talk to each other - and we do.  But, this is fun too.

I thought I'd share a few of the things I have received here, but there are several others that aren't shown.  Whether something you sent is here or not, please know that I have appreciated each and every piece of real mail.

Again, you have my thanks.

Now I've got a new task.  I've got to start SENDING some real mail.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Wanted: New Scheduler

It had been a dry year, with the drought monitor showing that our area was in a moderate drought as of May 11.  Our rain gauge had measured maybe a couple of inches for the entire year thus far (it doesn't measure snow moisture content).  We were preparing ourselves for a dry year (which still might be the case).

But, the real issue currently?  I was beginning to hope that I would recover fast enough from surgery so we could get all of our crops in before things got too wet to plant again.  And, I really wanted to get everything in the ground BEFORE the buffalo gnats show up this year.

Because... you KNOW they'll show up.  They're a lot like a pimple right before a date with that special someone.  Or maybe they're like a pesky door-to-door salesperson who knows right when you sat down for dinner.

Wet weather during our prime planting time has been one of our biggest problems on our farm since we started.  This year, I really thought we had an agreement with Mother Nature.  Apparently, I did not read the fine print.  Or, perhaps I just need to hire someone else to do the scheduling of life and weather for me.  I'm apparently just not all that good at it.

We are currently half-way through the month of May and we sit at about half of our average rainfall for the month.  So, I really do not have a good case for complaining.  I know this. But, I still wanted to have a bunch of things IN the ground before the rains came.  Rain does far more good for those crops when they are planted - doesn't it?

And there you are - the annual farmer whine about wet fields when he wants to work in them.  I know you were all missing it.

I hope you feel better now.  Life is back to normal!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Recovery Falsehoods

There are certain lies that you tell yourself and that some people help perpetuate as you prepare for a major life event - such as a major surgery.  Lies like:

  • If we just push, we can get ahead of things so we won't have to dig out so much after the event.
  • You can rest and maybe distract yourself with enjoyable, quiet activities such as reading, etc during recovery.
  • The rest of the world will cut you some slack as you recover - kind of like the friend who stands patiently while you tie a shoestring.

I am now three weeks removed from surgery (can you believe that?) and I am pretty much done with the post-surgery fog.  I can move around pretty well, but I still have to limit my activities to avoid straining my torso - for all of the obvious reasons.  

As far as recovery goes, I think I am doing pretty well if you limit it to just the physical recovery.  But, I am also at the point in the recovery process where I am now fully aware of these facts:

  • There was no way we could get ahead of everything before the surgery - even if we did give it a valiant effort.
  • I wasn't really able to enjoy reading or most other quiet activities I enjoy for the first two weeks after surgery.  In fact, I would NOT call that period of time restful.  Instead, it was a lot of work. And, it mostly just exercised my tolerance for delayed gratification.  Now that I can read, etc, I have to get back to work.  So... never mind.
  • And no.  Most of the world kept on walking as I tied my shoe.  Now I'm trying to double-step to catch back up.

Am I really as upset as I sound as I write this blog?  

No.  Not really.  After all, I do believe that Tammy and I did about as well as we could have asked ourselves to be prepared for this.  Our lives are not a complete shambles at this point in time and we are accomplishing a number of things each day.  And, there has been all kinds of wonderful support sent our way.  

If there is one thing that concerns me, it is the amount of stress and strain this all has put on Tammy.  If you know us, this won't surprise you.  I'm typically more worried about her and she's usually more worried about me.  Let's just say that I am glad I have been able to take up more responsibilities each day to help lessen the load on her and leave it at that.

Yes, the broilers are out of the brooder room and now on pasture.  Yes, Valhalla got moved.  Yes, we've planted half of our onions in the field.  Yes, Eden is planted.  And, yes, I am starting to get some things done in the office too.

In the end, this is more an observation of how we, as humans, often obscure the truth from ourselves when it comes to potentially difficult things.  The real question I have for myself is what purpose this serves.  Does it allow us to face difficult things with a bit more optimism?  Is it a way to build up one's own courage?  Or is it just attempts to project how things are going to be in an uncertain future?

Probably all of the above in some way, shape or form.

There you have it - just some things I've been thinking.  It's a dangerous pastime you know.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Eden and Valhalla

People who have read the blog, gotten our farm emails, or have conversed with us may recognize that Eden and Valhalla are the names we have given each of our high tunnels at the farm.  I recognize that I don't always clarify what I am referring to anymore when I say "Eden" or "Valhalla" so I apologize if I left you sitting there feeling confused once or twice in the past.  I can't say it won't happen again...  But, I'll try to remember that not everyone lives in my world.

I recently received a great question regarding high tunnels that came in response to the recent move (two days ago) of Valhalla from its East position to its West position: "So the point of the high tunnel is to get crops started earlier than without one? And you move it to another section to repeat that process?"

The question was a great reminder to me that the whole reason for a high tunnel is not entirely transparent to the rest of the world.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if many who put up a high tunnel have a good reason as well!

A Brief GFF History

We put Eden up in 2010 (if you want to see some of the pictures you can go here and here).  After a little experience, the results were actually pretty encouraging.  In fact, this is where we learned that our snack tomatoes did exceptionally well under cover in Eden.  Our production in this building has consistently been good, with only a few exceptions.  Eden has been a 'happy place' on our farm for over a decade.

Valhalla was added to the farm in 2015.  The first year of production in that building was a bit rougher because of the conditions of the soil when we built it.  When you drive and pack down soil when it's wet, you can have difficulty working it and growing things later in the year.

Both buildings are two position, mobile, high tunnels.  The normal plan is to move each building once a year so we grow in each position for 12 months and we provide the ground opportunity to recover and avail itself of nature's filters when the building is off of a section. 

Eden is the "smaller building" at 30' by 72' in size.  Valhalla is a 96 foot long building, with the other dimensions being similar.  Since we had a few years of experience with Eden before we built Valhalla, we were able to address a few issues by adding ditches on each side and raising the soil surface inside the building with respect to the surrounding area.  There is also access to water in each position of Valhalla - not something we enjoy with Eden.  We have to pull hoses out to Eden when we want to irrigate.

Back to the Question

So, what exactly is the point for our farm to be using two mobile high tunnels as a part of our growing system?

1. Season Extension

This is the most commonly cited reason for high tunnel growing.  The protection afforded to crops has allowed us have spinach in March and lettuce in December.  We have had green beans and tomatoes in early November.  So - yes.  We can gain a little flexibility in what we grow effectively and have fresh produce for more months of the year.  We can also extend the harvest of some crops that bear fruits (such as peppers, tomatoes, beans).

2. Adjusting for Wet Years at GFF

One of our biggest problems at the Genuine Faux Farm since we started has been the number of heavy rains and overly wet months during our growing seasons.  A high tunnel allows us some measure of control for how wet things get.  Well - most of the time.  It's a moot point if the water table gets so high that it seeps into the building.

When the rest of the farm is wet, we can normally get work done inside the high tunnels.  If there are crops that really do poorly in wetter conditions, they tend to thrive in the high tunnels.  If you grow heirloom tomatoes you can make sure to harvest ripening fruit prior to irrigating.  That's not always a choice in the field - when it rains, it rains.

3. The dicamba issue

The increased use of dicamba has resulted in more cases of that chemical vaporizing and drifting after application.  Since 2016, when dicamba was approved for use in soybeans, we have watched some of our crops (such as peppers) suffer in the field, while their counterparts in the high tunnel perform as they have in the past.  It's almost enough to make me wish we could put up an invisible shield around our farm.

But, since that is not an option, we move some of the more sensitive production into Eden and Valhalla.  We can't move everything in there, of course, so we have to make careful choices.  It's part of the reason why our high tunnel space could be considered the 'high rent district' on our farm.

4. Production

Typically, once we figure out a crop in the high tunnels, production numbers per square foot are much higher than they would be outdoors.  For example, it was common to get maybe 50 Jaune Flamme snack tomatoes per plant in a season when they were grown in the field.  In the high tunnel, it is common to get triple that number.  We have similar results for green beans (3 pounds per row foot vs 1 pound).

In some cases, such as carrots, we often struggle with field production on our farm but find they do ok in the high tunnels.  If the option is reliable crop vs likely crop failure, the choice could be pretty simple.

5. Cleaner crops

If plants are sheltered from heavy rains and winds, leaves tend to be subject to less tearing and bruising, plants break less often, fruit are damaged less often, and there isn't going to be a bunch of splashed on dirt and debris after a downpour.  From the perspective of harvesting and cleaning for sales, it is just a good deal easier for us.  When labor is one of your biggest issues, this can be a pretty big deal.

6. We still grow in the ground and we still work with nature

This is where the mobile buildings come in to play.  We are able to allow the soil an opportunity to rejuvenate itself when it is exposed to the elements.  This would not be true if we had a stationary building.  So, soil health remains one of our key premises for a healthy growing system.  We also do not expend extra energy with fans and supplemental heat.  We use venting, passive heat retention, and passive solar gain to do these jobs. 

I recognize that some growers might scoff and suggest we could squeeze even more out of these buildings - but I feel the rate of return would begin to diminish for us if we pushed further.  Sometimes enough is enough.

The Drawbacks

There are always drawbacks to any tool and any thing a farm might try to do.  If you don't see them, you aren't really looking or you are lying to yourself.

Obviously, buildings require maintenance.  The plastic has to be replaced every five to six years and I am not a fan of adding plastic to the landfill.  Now, we do try to re-use the old plastic.  But, it does eventually run out of uses and it does eventually end up in the landfill.  There is no recycling recourse available to us at this time.

But, replacing the plastic is not the only thing.  If you have high tunnels, you must be aware of the weather so you can shut them down if severe weather threatens and open them up again if the sun comes back out (or you'll bake your plants to death!).  Every time it hails or the wind howls, you wonder a little what you'll find when you go look at the buildings later.  The string on the roll up sides need replacing every so often and various things do wear out and need replacing over time.

They're tools/buildings.  They require attention.  That attention costs you time and money.  And, of course, they cost you money to put them up in the first place.  Which means you may also spend money on insurance in case they are destroyed in a storm.

And that's not the only thing.  I often wonder about the long-term costs for the health of our soil and the environment that surrounds it when I cover it with plastic.  We try to mitigate some of those costs by using the movable buildings.  We mitigate it further by not allowing ourselves to cover our entire farm in high tunnels.  But, I am fairly certain that plastic covered buildings are not as friendly to the environment as other options might be.  

Let me put it this way.  I refuse to fool myself into thinking that my farm is always in line with what is best with nature.  If I keep questioning, maybe I can eventually get as close to in line with nature as is possible.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And the final issue that comes to mind?  Once you invest in a high tunnel, your exit strategy for growing becomes a whole lot more complicated!  I've seen many similar structures as they simply become more ragged from neglect over a period of years.  It isn't so simple just to take them down and let the land return to what it was.  And it gets harder to convince yourself to cease growing entirely once those buildings are in place.


And there you go.  A long answer to a short question.  I hope it was of interest and maybe you learned something new?  Have a great remainder of the week!

Monday, May 17, 2021

Community Steps Up

In case you weren't paying attention, it is now the middle of May.  And, in case you are not a person who raises poultry and vegetables, let me tell you how important the middle of May is for a farm like ours.

And, now, let me tell you how hard it is to do some of those things when you have lifting restrictions and some endurance limitations as you recover from a surgery.

 To put it simply.  It's hard.

And yet, we're still making some forward progress because we are part of a community of people who care and people who have stepped up to help when we need it. 

For example, yesterday (Sunday) we were graced with the presence of our good friends from Blue Gate Farm, Jill and Sean.  And with their help, as well as the help of Tammy's sister, Brenda, we moved Valhalla from its East position to its West position for the growing season.  And we moved it pretty much right on schedule.

How cool is that?

For those who don't exactly know what I am talking about, I put together a blog post a couple years ago that showed the process of moving Valhalla.  Tammy and I have been able to move the building by ourselves (with the aid of Rosie, the tractor) in the past.  But, that's when I could do whatever lifting was necessary.  Yesterday, we added willing and skilled hands and we got it done.

Yes, I was annoyed that I couldn't just do things.  Yes, I was still pretty darned tired by the end of the day because there WERE things I COULD do.  I don't remember how many deep squats and lunges I have done this weekend because I need to use different muscles to get down to the ground for things.  But, by the time we get to the end of the next couple of weeks, I'll have buns of steel!  Or maybe I'll just have a sore butt.  Whichever.

And, yes, I am relieved and pleased that we got the building moved.  And I am grateful for the help.

This move means we'll soon be able to put in the bell peppers we're growing for a seed contract with Seed Savers.  The plants are ready to go and it is always a bit easier to deal with them once they are out of pots and in the ground.

Next up?  We need to get our first batch of broilers out of the brooder and onto pasture.  Piece of cake.  Right?

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Finding a Hook - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!  

Take those worries and soak them for a bit under the faucet.  Once they're good and wet, throw them into the freezer for a while until they are solid.  Then, drop them from a sufficient height or throw them hard against a block wall so they shatter and are no longer recognizable!  Why?  Well, won't you enjoy Postal History Sunday more if you aren't concentrating on those worries?

Sounds good to me!


This week I wanted to just have a little fun and show you some of the ways a postal history item appeals to me.  There is often some sort of hook that actually compels me to add it to my collection and that 'hook' is not always as easy to recognize as you might think.  In fact, sometimes the initial attraction for an item ends up being secondary when all is said and done.

One UGLY Chicken

I know I've shared this before in some sort of blog post, I just don't remember where or when.  After all, it does have a farming connection, which made it fair game earlier on for our farm blog.

The design on the envelope is terribly hard to ignore in this case because - well - that is ONE UGLY ROOSTER!  Nothing else was required at that point to entice me to add it to my postal history and farming collection.  The post mark is clear enough and the condition is fine.  So, yeah.  Good deal.

The odd thing about it was - there was more than one of these available (ugly chicken covers), so I had to select one.

There was actually another hook for this item that is not obvious unless you know a little United States domestic mail rate history.  You might recall that I gave an overview for the postage rates in the United States in this Postal History Sunday a couple of weeks ago.  In that post, I presented this table:

 Letter Mail Rates in the United States

Effective Date
July 1, 1863
3 cents
half ounce    
October 1, 1883                  
2 cents
half ounce
July 1, 1885
2 cents           
November 2, 1917
3 cents
July 1, 1919
2 cents ounce
July 6, 1932                 
3 cents

Now, take a look at the postmark date - Oct 1, 1883.

This is the first day that the new 2 cents per half ounce rate was in effect.  How cool is that?  (Ok, it's really cool for a postal historian - maybe you're less excited about it.)  What is equally impressive is that this item was mailed with the correct 2 cents in postage.  Not everyone is prepared to send their mail at a new rate, but the Aultman and Taylor company was!  Of course, the postage rate went down, so there was a bit more incentive to get it right.

I wonder if they held on to some mail until October 1st so they could mail it all at the cheaper rate?

Oh - and there is a reason Aultman and Taylor used the ugly chicken as their trademark.  Their claim was that their threshers would result in fewer seed heads for grain crops being lost to the hay stack.  This poor fellow had been foraging and Aultman & Taylor created straw stack and not found much to nourish him.  Of course, if a competitor's thresher had been used, our fine rooster would look far healthier, but the farmer might not be as pleased with their yields.

Alas for the rooster!

Rome Finally Concedes

The next item is a piece of letter mail that was sent from Triest (then in Austria) to Rome, Italy.  The rate for mail from Austria to the Kingdom of Italy was 15 kreuzer per loth (effective : Oct 1, 1867 - Jun 30, 1875).  

In other words, it seems to be a pretty standard letter for the time period.  What attracted me to it?

The postmark dates have something to do with this one as well.  The letter was mailed on October 11, 1870 and it arrived in Rome on October 13.  

What you need to know is that Rome, and the surrounding territory known as the Patrimony of St Peter (or Latium), had continued to resist 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 1860 (territory in pink).

However, as we progress through the 1860s, there were increased concessions toward normalcy between the Papal territory and the Kingdom.  For example, the Papal State adopted the Italian Lira for currency.  However, the Pope still held his conviction that the Kingdom was a heretical usurpation of power from the Church. 

One of the few things keeping the Italians from taking control of Latium and Rome was the presence of French troops.  The French, having troubles of their own as they fought a losing battle against Prussia, withdrew their garrison from Rome in 1870.  The Kingdom of Italy moved in September to finally annex Rome and the surrounding territory in Latium (the Patrimony).  Despite a cautious advance by the Italians, Pope Pius IX refused to surrender and offered a weak defense at Rome on September 20 and there was some bloodshed.  

After a plebiscite vote on October 2 confirmed that the citizens wanted to join Italy, this area was annexed by decree on October 9, 1870.  The Pope, at this point, was left with only the Vatican under the Church's control (and it remains so to this day).

So, technically, up until the plebiscite on October 9, a letter from Austria to Rome was not technically to the Kingdom of Italy.  This letter nicely skirts right on the edge of an historic event - which makes it interesting to me.

What's With Those Stamps?

Here is a letter mailed from France to Belgium in 1871.  The postal rate for mail between these countries was 30 centimes per 10 grams (effective from Jan 1, 1866 - Dec 31, 1875).   The letter below was mailed from Lille, France to St Gilles by Brussels, Belgium and the postage was paid by a 10 centime and a 20 centime stamp.

What we know about the time period that this was mailed is that the Prussians were having very little difficulty in defeating the French.  By February 1, 1871 (the date this was mailed), the Siege of Paris had ended (January 28) and France had capitulated (isn't that a GREAT word?!).  So, I suppose you could say that, once again, I have an item that comes close to some important dates in history.  Except, I really don't think Lille and Brussels have that much to do with the specific date - so that's not what made it interesting to me.  

This time, it was the stamps.

Let me show you another letter mailed from France to Belgium to illustrate:

This letter was mailed in Paris in 1867 to Anvers (Antwerp), Belgium.  A single 30 centime stamp pays the same rate.  If you look closely at this stamp, you will see that it depicts Emperor Napoleon III, who had first been President (1848-52) and then declared Emperor (1853-1870).  Now take a look at the stamps on the first item:

Well.  That's not Napoleon III.  

In fact, this is a depiction of Ceres, a very non-political figure intended to symbolize prosperity.  As Paris was being surrounded in September of 1870, the rest of France was cut off from the supply of postage stamps printed there.  To make the story shorter, stamps based on the first French postage stamp design were printed in Bordeaux (southwest France).  Hence this issue of stamps is often referred to as the Bordeaux Issue (we can be so clever, can't we?).  These stamps were printed using lithography rather than the finer engraved printings of the earlier issues.

Once the siege was over, the Ceres design was continued, but they were printed in Paris using engraved plates, rather than lithography.  These stamps simply illustrate an adaptation required by extenuating circumstances - something postal historians also love to explore!

One More for the Fun of It

Of course, each of these stories could be told with more detail than I have here.  For example, some have studied the Bordeaux Issue in depth and would probably scoff at my overview here as being far too simplistic.  But, that's not the point of this post - the point is that I want to show you some of the less obvious things that might interest me in any given item.

Our bonus item is much newer than most things I show on Postal History Sunday.

This letter was mailed from Arlington, Virginia on September 30, 1936 and it was flown on the Air Ship Hindenburg to Germany - arriving in Frankfort on October 3.  The Hindenburg made this crossing from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Frankfurt in 58 hours and 2 minutes (about 2.5 days).  

At this time, the postage rate for mail carried by a zeppelin was 40 cents per 1/2 ounce in weight.  Clearly, this item must have been no more than a half ounce.  

By 1936, semi-rigid airships crossing the Atlantic were less newsworthy than they had been just six years earlier.  In the early 1930s, most mail flown on these zeppelins were primarily intended to be souvenirs!  One of our prior Postal History Sundays talks about one such flight to the Arctic Circle in 1931.  But, the novelty was fading in 1936 and the price of sending mail via airship was declining.  A postal historian can find more commercial mail that utilized these flights for the relatively speedy ocean crossing.  The fastest ship crossings at that time might take five days.

Of course, most of you know the Hindenburg for the disastrous landing at Lakehurst on May 6, 1937.  There are some surviving pieces of mail from that flight, but those are reserved for persons with far more dollars than I have.  So, I am satisfied with having this item where the "hook" is that it was, in fact, carried on the Hindenburg during one of its successful flights.  

And, I am good with that!


Thank you again for joining me for Postal History Sunday.  I hope you enjoyed this post and perhaps you learned something new.

I am always happy to receive feedback and corrections if I have not gotten all of my facts straight.  Sometimes, of course, I gloss over details in the interest of readability, but it is also quite possible I just didn't know something.  That's part of the joy of this whole process - even if you don't learn anything new, I always seem to!

Have a good remainder of the weekend and a fine week upcoming!