Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sneaky Clues - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday!  If you've been here before, you know what to do.  If you haven't - we're glad you decided to visit. 

Grab a favorite beverage, making sure to keep it away from the keyboard or the paper objects I will be sharing today.  Settle into a comfy chair and kick off the tight shoes.  If your brain is occupied by things that are less than positive, put them aside for a time while I share something I enjoy.  

And maybe.  Just maybe.  We'll all learn something new!


I find postal history to be enjoyable in part because I also happen to enjoy puzzles.  The process of looking for the clues on an old piece of mail to figure out as much of the story that surrounds it is where I get much of my enjoyment from the hobby.

Like any type of puzzle, whether it is Crosswords, Sudoku, or some other puzzle of your choice, there are strategies that can be learned over time.  As you are exposed to more puzzles, your experience grows, giving you a broader range of possibilities for seeking solutions.  The same holds true for me as I explore postal history.  Over time, I have learned to look for a broader range of clues that can help me solve each "puzzle."

Today, I thought I'd show a few sneaky clues that, once you see them, seem pretty easy.  But, if you don't know to look for them, they are easy to overlook.

Weight, Weight - Don't Tell Me

Pardon me for using the play on words to reference the NPR news quiz.  But, it got into my head and the only way to get rid of it was to actually use it.  Now it is stuck in YOUR head and we can deal with the discomfort together!

The first item I wanted to share with you today is a folded letter from Mettet, Belgium that was mailed in December of 1854 to Charleroy, also in Belgium.

So, this is a domestic letter that shows two 20 centime stamps that were used to pay the postage (a total of 40 centimes).  The question is - why was 40 centimes needed to mail this letter?

Belgium's internal rate structure from July 1, 1849 to October 31, 1868 was fairly complex.  It maintained both a distance component and a weight component to determine the cost of postage for any given item.  Any letter that had to travel 30 km or more would have to follow one rate table and local letters (less than 30km distance) would follow another.

The weight component was not a linear progression either.  The base rate was for mail weighing no more than 10 grams.  That would cover the majority of letter mail.  The next rate level was for mail that weighed over 10 grams and no more than 20 grams.  The third rate level was for mail that weighed more than 20 grams and no more than 60 grams.

So, what are the clues that we can use to figure out the rate for the folded letter shown above?

Clue #1: 40 centimes in postage paid appears to have covered the cost

The stamps have their cancellation markings and there are no markings on the cover that tell us more money is owed by the recipient.  That means the postage rate was 40 centimes OR less.  After all, a postal service only cares if you don't pay enough.  If you want to pay too much, that's your business.

Clue #2:  How far apart are Mettet and Charleroy?

It turns out that they are roughly 24 km distant from each other.  This tells us that this was a "local" letter.  So, if we know that a local letter required 40 centimes for an item weighing more than 20 grams and no more than 60 grams, we have (mostly) solved the problem!  

We cannot eliminate the possibility that this was an overpayment for either the first or second rate levels.  But, the simplest solution is to say that the postage paid the third rate level for a local letter.

Clue #3 A weight is referenced in a docket:

Located at the top center of this piece of mail is a scrawl that actually reads "25 Gms."  It is likely a weight written by the postal clerk.  And, as it turns out, 25 grams is between 20 and 60 grams.  So, this letter was mailed at the third rate level for a local letter, which required 40 centimes in postage.

I could have come to the likely correct conclusion with either the distance or the weight docket, but there are times when one clue is not enough.  And, even if one IS enough, it can be helpful to have corroboration between clues.  If they contradicted each other, we would have a bit more of a puzzle on our hands - and it could be one that is not solvable.


Here is another piece of letter mail from 1858.  This cover originated in Bruges, Belgium and was sent to Dublin, Ireland.   The two postage stamps total 80 centimes in postage paid to mail this letter.

The postage rate between these two locations was simple: 40 centimes per 15 grams (effective Oct 1, 1857 - July 31, 1865).  So, the simple conclusion is that this paid the postage for a double weight letter (something over 15 grams and up to 30 grams).

Well, we can tell you that this letter and its contents weighed 16 grams according to the docket we can find just above and to the left of the Bruges postmark.  

Unlike the first instance, this one is much easier to read and identify.  In fact, it was this cover (and one other) that taught me to look just in case this clue is a part of a postal history item.  Most mail does not bear a docket or marking that indicates the weight of the letter.  But, when it does, it can provide valuable information.

Eights are Wild

I thought this folded lettersheet mailed in 1853 from Switzerland (Chaux-de-fonds) to Paris (France) would be a logical next step.  See if you can figure this one out without me giving you the answer.

This was an unpaid letter (no postage stamps), so the recipient would be expected to pay that postage in order to receive the letter.  And the rate was 40 centimes per 7.5 grams in weight.

There are actually three numerical markings on this particular item.  You probably recognize the two "8's" - but the squiggle at the lower right (looks like a lower case "n") is actually a "4."

The "4" has been crossed off (notice the two lines going through it) because the receiving postmaster must have determined that the letter weighed too much.  They put the larger "8" in the middle indicating that the recipient must pay 8 decimes (80 centimes) to receive the letter.  In case you didn't remember, the French preferred to do their accounting in decimes (1 decime = 10 centimes) and you can think of a decime as a dime, if that helps you.

Initially, I did not understand the purpose of the 2nd "8" at the top left.  Maybe the postmaster just wanted everyone to understand "Hey!  I really meant 8 decimes, not 4 decimes.  See!  I put it here twice!"  But, even more likely is that the smaller "8" is the weight of the letter - 8 grams.  They just did not bother putting the weight unit with it this time.

By putting the weight on the letter, I suspect they felt it would serve as an explanation as to why they rejected the first 4 decimes rating.  The recipient, on the other hand, probably did not need or want to know that the weight was over by just a half gram.  If anything, they were probably just annoyed that they had to pay twice as much for this particular letter. 

Not Just an 1850s Thing

Below is a letter mailed from the Netherlands to England in 1914.  World War I was actively engaged at the time, so most mail between nations would go through censors.  After the censor read the letter and removed anything they didn't feel should be included, they would reseal the letter with some sort of seal or tape (like the pink you see in the cover below).

This letter carries 37 1/2 Dutch cents in postage.  At the top left, you can see the weight "44 grams" written in pencil.  I wonder why that is there?

Well, I'm going to work backwards first.  The fee to send registered mail from Holland to England was 12 1/2 cents.  So, that explains the two stamps at the top right that total 12 1/2 cents in postage.  That leaves us with 25 cents in postage paid by the blue stamp at lower left.

The letter rate for mail from the Netherlands to England was as follows:
    1st 20 grams: 12 ½ cents
    each additional 20 grams: 7 ½ cts 

So, possible rates that are close to 25 cents would be 20 cents OR 27 1/2 cents.

If the letter weighed 44 grams, then the postage rate should have been 27 1/2 cents.  

So, why isn't there something that shows this letter did not have enough postage?   Well, according to UPU (Universal Postal Union) regulation, this item was to be delivered without charge to the recipient and a report was to be filed regarding the short paid postage.  Do we have evidence that this is exactly what happened?  Not really.  But, this is the explanation that fits best.

As a side note, take a look at the address panel on this envelope - "To W.T. Wilson Stamp Dealer"

Yes, this was a piece of mail to an individual who sold postage stamps to philatelists (people who collect and study postage stamps).  That, by itself, could explain a few things - and perhaps that will be worth its own Postal History Sunday someday!

And Other Numbers

Below is another letter from the same era.  This one was mailed from New York in 1919 to Norway.

The postage rate for most foreign mail at the time was 5 cents per ounce.  Each additional ounce required 3 cents more in postage.  This was effective from Oct 1, 1907 until Sep 30, 1953 (that is a very long time for a rate to stay the same!).

Apparently, this letter weighed more than one ounce, but not more than two ounces.  Eight cents in postage were applied and a blue "8" was written on the front of the envelope.  This time it seems apparent that this was the amount of postage required.  

If you have mailed a batch of things recently and there were people waiting, you may have had a postal clerk calculate the amount of postage needed and then write the amount on each item.  You would pay the total and they would apply the postage later based on the total written there once the line of waiting customers was gone.  It isn't hard to guess that this may have been exactly what happened here.

As is the case for each of the items I shared today, this letter has more to the story.  The destination was initially in Christiania (now Oslo) and the letter was forwarded by the Grand Hotel to Goteborg.  Is it possible that the blue "8" had something to do with that part of the letter's journey?

Yes, it is.  But, if it is, I have not yet figured out how it would fit.  So, until I get to the point where I find out otherwise, I'll stick with my current story.

After all, I am still learning - which is another of the things that appeal to me about this hobby.


And there you have it - another Postal History Sunday in the books!  I hope you enjoyed this little foray into a hobby I enjoy and I hope you also learned something new in the process. 

Quick Responses to Questions

I had an additional question asked since last Sunday and I thought I'd do a short answer at the end of this PHS as well.

Who is your audience?  Are you writing for people who are already postal historians or are you trying to get people to join the hobby?

My primary answer is that I am writing these Postal History Sunday blogs for anyone who reads them and finds them enjoyable.  I am aware of several people who have indicated that they like these blogs, but they do not intend to join the ranks of the hobbyist.  I am also aware of others who are respected postal historians and philatelists that have also enjoyed some of these posts too.

In the end, I like to write things to facilitate learning - both mine and yours.  And, I like to put nuggets in each post that might appeal to all sorts of people.

An individual who likes postal history, but is at the stage of learning I was at a few years ago might have an "AHA!" moment as they finally find out what some of those numbers are on something they have in their collection.

Meanwhile, someone else will say, "Wow, I didn't know people could send mail prepaid or unpaid - that's different!"

An advanced postal historian might appreciate seeing the effective dates for a particular rate period or details about how a particular rate was calculated.

And others just like the ride.

Whatever your reason, I hope you enjoyed this entry and I hope to see you again next week.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Storms Brewing

Just over a week ago, we woke up knowing that meteorologists were concerned about a strong possibility for severe weather on July 14.  And, because we do have crops in our plots and we have poultry and we have high tunnels... we were concerned too.

That's just how it is when you do outdoor things.  You automatically become more concerned about the weather.  And, if you are a grower, you also become a bit of a weather watcher.  After all, if we can get even a little bit of warning as to what is coming next, we might be able to make a few adjustments that can make a difference.

Fairly early on the 14th we noticed a dark line to the west and we both felt there was going to be some rough weather associated with it.  We get things settled in for a storm and still had some time before it rolled in the rest of the way.  So, I got the camera out.  

It is tempting for me to tell you that I wanted to record the storm.  Which I did to some extent.  But, the real purpose was to catch a couple of our growing plots at their peak.

I knew that once these clouds rolled through, they would no longer have the same visual appeal that they had at that moment.

That's another thing that people who do what we do get used to.  How things look and how you feel about your crops can change as quickly as the weather.

Middle Earth is a smaller growing plot that is aptly named because it is near the center of our farm.  We started growing here for several reasons.  We ran poultry on the grass in this area for several years in a row, so the fertility is good.  It is also further from the borders we share with corn and soybean fields.

This year, Middle Earth has sunflowers on one side (the left) and three rows of sweet corn next to the sunflowers.  We planted pumpkins, buttercup squash and a few watermelons in the row next to the sweet corn.  Borage is on the right side of the plot.

At the time I took these photos is was 100 to 120 feet of goodness.  Everything was looking pretty darned good.  There was lots of pollinator activity and evidence of plenty of fruits setting.

As I took a few more pictures and moved to the other end of Middle Earth, I looked back to see how the storm was progressing.  As you can see above, it was only getting darker (and closer).  As I told Tammy, this storm actually made everything darker than it was the night before at 9:30PM.

And, to my eye it appeared to be getting stronger.  But, it was approaching slowly, so I was thinking it would likely have heavy rain and possibly hail rather than a heavy wind when it moved through.

I turned and looked at Freyr Field to the east of Middle Earth.  This plot was looking really good too.

Once again, a wall of sunflowers is at the left.  The zinnias were just starting to bloom seriously and the butternut squash were covering the ground quite well.  Borage provided us with some additional pollinator habitat on the other side.

These are both successful fields, in my opinion.  And, just as a review, I believe a successful field is a field I want to be in.  There is some diversity in plant life.  The crops are healthy specimens for the things I am trying to grow.  There aren't many weeds to be seen in the picture either. 

After the storm blew through that morning, I took another walk to the same areas.  There were some sunflowers that were leaning, as was some of the corn.  The borage no longer looked as nice as they had, with most of the plants laying down.  But, the squash and watermelons were fine.

All in all, both fields still look pretty good, but my critical eye is no longer as pleased with them as I was before the storms rolled through.

Still, there isn't much to complain about here.  The flowers are mostly still up and blooming.  The vegetable production will not be adversely affected.  And, unlike some others to our south, we did not have to deal with tornadoes and storm clean-up.

Later in the day, round two of severe weather found its way to our neck of the woods.  We saw it coming and got things prepped again.  Then we watched local news and the weather radar.  At one point, the radar showed what could be a textbook "hook echo" that often results in a tornado warning (a radar indicated storm).  

The storm tracks had that cell shown in the picture above tracking our way.  The Genuine Faux Farm was in the bull's eye as far as we could tell.  

So, we prepped ourselves for some time in the basement.

It turned out that the rotation in this storm went straight east instead of northeast, so we were spared the brunt of it all.  But, sadly, others we know took a direct hit.  

Overall, the 2021 growing season has been pretty calm, with very little severe weather threat.  After last year's derecho, that's not a bad thing.  But, July 14 was a difficult day for many.

On the flip side, we're still in a drought for our area, despite the rain that came with the storms.  Our farm did receive 1.7" of welcome rain, so it is difficult to complain about it.  But, the weeds sure did take off after that!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Water is Fine

There are hazardous waters and then there are dangerous waters.

I tend to think that a thing is hazardous when it has elements that bring about the potential for danger.  But, with the right training, skill set and planning, hazards can be avoided or overcome, despite the fact that one might say the situation is hazardous.  On the other hand, things become dangerous when you combine hazard with negligence, naivete or exhaustion.

We were entering dangerous waters at the farm in 2018.

I'd like to think that it had less to do with negligence or naivete, but rather exhaustion that came about as a result of a wide range of things.  Yes, it was a very difficult growing year with truly exceptional rainfall levels (we did set a rainfall record for the year, for the Fall and for several months).  But, it was also difficult for many other reasons that we will not go into here.  Tammy and I realized we were wearing down, but I do not think we were fully aware of exactly how much.

I am grateful that the two of us recognized that we needed to recharge and I am even more grateful that we had the unique opportunity (with the help of many others) to take the unprecedented (for us) step of taking four weeks off from the farm and our everyday lives.  We are fully aware that not everyone has this sort of opportunity, but rather than apologize for how lucky we are, we will simply say 'thank you' and assure everyone we are doing our best to leave the dangerous waters so we can navigate the hazardous waters.

We have been able to do a fair amount of hiking, photo taking, reading, talking and even some creative writing.  We can share some of the writing and photo taking here and we hope you enjoy some of it at least.

Here's to sailing successfully through the hazardous waters. 


You may notice that I am trying to get back to periodically selecting a "Throwback" post on Thursdays.  These are blog or newsletter pieces I have written in the past that I think are currently applicable OR I think people might enjoy seeing them again.  

In this case, I was reflecting on some of our "big choices" in the past few years to step back a bit with our farming.  We DO still farm.  But, it is different.  And, I have to admit that the trip we took in January of 2019 allowed us to take the deep breath and consider what directions we needed to take.

We were sailing hazardous waters and we were tired enough that they had become dangerous.  

Do we still sail in harzardous waters?  Of course we do.  But, we're always on the lookout for danger and we have some skill and some experience to help us to avoid that. 

Once again - here's to sailing successfully through hazardous waters - may you all find the waters that are best for you and yours. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Clover, Sunflowers and Mulberries

The "lawn" looks pretty ragged in places if you are used to a perfectly trimmed and manicured grass surface.  But, that is usually on purpose at our farm.  Usually.

Well, if the lawn mower has an issue, there might be another reason.  

I know we have mentioned it before, but we do try to rotate letting areas that have some strong red clover presence grow while the clover is in peak bloom.  It has little to do with our wanting things to look nice (though I do like clover flowers) and more to do with providing food for some of our pollinator workers.

A Black Swallowtail illustrated for us exactly how happy it was that we allow clover to bloom at the Genuine Faux Farm by posing for a farmer who had a camera.

If you need a "better" reason than we like to support wild pollinators and other critters on our farm with clover, I suppose you might understand if you saw how happy our honey bees are to have all of the clover here - that should help with honey production.  But, why does it always have to be an economic reason or for a direct benefit to us?  

I doesn't, actually.  Yet, it still feels, for some odd reason, that we have to justify some of the things we do.  In my mind this is backwards.  I think those who feel they need to have a monocrop lawn that gets mowed every week in a cross-hatch pattern need to come up with a better justification for all of the effort and chemicals they put into that whole process of killing every other plant other than one precious grass variety (which is probably not native to the area and it likely needs special treatment that nature won't provide).

I'm trying to keep the bee and butterfly populations healthy and you are.... ?

I understand what it means to want to make the place you live look nice.  But, who are you trying to make it look nice for?   Do you actually enjoy your lawn?  After all, it is your home - it should look nice to you.  It really doesn't matter what a passer-by who maybe sees your lawn once in their life might think.

If you do like the perfect single-grass type lawn and really enjoy the process of making it happen, then maybe you have your reason.  If you just think you have to do it because...  well, just because... then you don't have a reason.  Either way, we can agree to disagree if you feel strongly about the topic.

We grow sunflowers at the farm.  

In fact, this season, we have more row feet of sunflowers than I think we've had any other season.  They went in at just the right time and they're looking pretty good right now.  And, happily, they didn't all get flattened in the storms we had about ten days ago.

We both like the way they look and they seem to have the power to make us smile a little inside as we take a look at them.  On a rare occasion you might also see us smile on the outside too when we approach these flowers in full bloom.

We noticed a different type of bee covered in sunflower pollen a few days ago.  Nearly every open sunflower bloom had at least one of these bees on them, sometimes a flower would have two or three bees.  These were not our honey bees (those were off visiting the clover and the zinnias).  But, these wild bees were still quite welcome.  

Maybe we'll save some of these seeds and see what sort of sunflowers come back.  There are many varieties out there, so I am sure we'll get some sort of cross-pollinated flower.  But, it might be fun just to see what happens.

The small birds love our rows of sunflowers.  In fact, one row of sunflowers is next to sweet corn, which is next to winter squash... which is next to borage.  There is some bird activity there.  But, it's the sunflower, zinnia, winter squash, borage mix that really gets the activity.  Already, the Goldfinches are telling us they are looking forward to a Winter feast of sunflower seeds that we will leave for them.

Our farm also has a number of mulberry trees/bushes.  Like most Iowa farms, we don't have to plant mulberries - they just show up.  Some folks call them 'junk' trees and expend a great deal of energy in eradicating them.  

Us?  Well, we don't mind them.  But, we also do not stop ourselves from removing one if a mulberry wants to grow somewhere we don't want it... like near the foundation of a building.  Otherwise, they provide habitat and food for the wildlife.  For that matter, we can eat the berries too if we wish.  In fact, we had been known to harvest them some years for our CSA members.

This year has been a bit strange for mulberries.  We had an early batch of fruit and now we are having a second flush.  Apparently, the roller-coaster temperatures encouraged two blooms and some of the first bloom got pollinated and did not drop with the cold cycle.  I don't think we've seen that particular thing happen on our farm before.

I have noticed that the Orioles seem to appreciate our mulberries and it isn't surprising to find a Catbird or the Brown Thrashers hanging around them.  Part of me actually wishes a mulberry would plant itself near our hen pasture.  I suspect the hens might enjoy picking up some of the berries as they hit the ground.

There you have it - musings for Wednesday!  Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


The call of the Meadowlark in the distance is a forgotten melody that once played at every mile marker and every tenth fence post on Iowa rural roads.  The county and gravel roads no longer feature their sweet voice, but the echoes of their song still haunt the hills by Korsen Cabin.

It is no small thing when the farmers actually take an opportunity to leave the farm behind for a couple of days. This is especially true in July.  There are hens, henlets, broiler chickens, turkeys and (of course) cats on the farm that require at least some of our care and attention.  There are crops that need harvesting and crops that need irrigating and the weeds grow three feet taller when you turn your back on them for a moment.

So, when the farmers leave the farm at this time of year, it is normally brief and it normally has something to do with a specific event.  

The brief, two-night stay at Korsen Cabin on Seed Savers property was truly an aberration.  One that required a number of things to line up to make it possible.  

The turkeys and second batch of broilers are not yet out on pasture - they are still in the brooder (to be moved out this week).  That means only the hens and henlets are on pasture.  The bird chores are about as simple as they are going to be until the broilers go to the park in early September and the turkeys in late October.

The garlic was pulled in last week and got hung up prior to our departure.  And, we were lucky to have two volunteers at the farm prior to our departure to learn the ropes so they could take care of things for a couple of days.  Thanks Brenda and Nicole!

We were able to listen to an eaglet crying for its parents to feed it (they were clearly trying to get it to start fending for itself).  We saw all sorts of birds, bats, butterflies, deer and.. cows.  There were some wildflowers and a variety of trees, including the old pines near the cabin.  We could hear Canoe Creek burbling at moments when everything else was still or when we strolled down closer to its banks.

We read books, conversed, played a game or two and listened as the Meadowlark snuck in a song or two in the background behind the host of other birds that were so much closer and much more gregarious.  Our Meadowlark friends were never close enough to us for their song to take center stage and we did not see the silhouette of their distinctive shape at any point during our stay.

It was almost as if their song was an echo of a time past - and we were allowed to hear the memory of their voice one more time.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

To and Fro II - Postal History Sunday

Imagine that your troubles are the weeds in your vegetable plots (sadly we can picture that all too well).  Then, add to that picture all of your good friends and family members and pretend that they are all able to help you weed your vegetables.  If you do not have many friends or family members, just think of a horde of willing, able and friendly volunteers.  Sick them on the task of weeding those troubles out of your tasty veggies and viola!  Your troubles are gone!

With an introduction like that, I suspect it must be time for Postal History Sunday!


Just three weeks ago, we offered a Postal History Sunday titled To and Fro.  That issue covered mail that traveled between the United States and France and the United Kingdom.  I received some good feedback on that one from both those who are postal historians as well as those who are not.  So, let's give that idea another go with mail between the United States and Rome in the 1860s!

If you are wondering why I seem to keep coming back to the topic of mail that crosses the Atlantic Ocean in the 1860s, there is a perfectly good explanation for it.  At least I think there is.  I put it here somewhere...

Well, let me just get on with the topic at hand and maybe I'll find it for the end of the blog!

Mail To and From the Papal State

Rome, and the surrounding territory known as the Patrimony of St Peter (or Latium), resisted 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 1859 until 1870 (territory in pink).

What this little piece of history means for you and I as we look at mail going to Rome is that the Papal State had its own mail service, issuing its own stamps.  The Papal State had no postal agreement with the United States.

So, what does that mean for a person who wants to send a letter from Boston to Rome? Something like the folded letter shown above that was mailed in mid-April of 1862 from Boston to Rome.

If two postal systems did not have a negotiated postal convention that outlined how mail could be exchanged between them, they would have to look for intermediary postal systems to help them do just that.  Typically (but not always), the two postal systems would have a treaty with some third-party postal system in common.  Italy and the United States each had their own agreements with France.  This made it possible to use France's postal service as the intermediary.  

As a point of information, the British, Prussian, Bremen and Hamburg mails could also serve as an intermediary between Rome and the U.S. in 1862, but most of the mail was carried via France.

The treaty between France and the United States (established in 1857) set the rate of postage at 15 cents per quarter ounce of weight for mail from the US to France.  Article VIII of the postal treaty between these two nations mentions that each country would serve as an intermediary for mail beyond their borders (if you wish to see the actual text of the treaty, it is here).  This would allow the sender to prepay the entire required postage to get between the US and Rome.

The rate was 27 cents per quarter ounce and it was a valid rate from April of 1857 through December of 1870.

This letter was put in a mailbag to go to France at Boston's exchange office and is dated April 15th.  The mailbag was sent to New York so it could board the trans-Atlantic steamship named Niagara for departure the next day.  The Niagara dropped the mailbag off at Queenstown (Ireland) on April 27.  From there it went by train to Kingston (Ireland), it crossed the Irish Sea to Holyhead and then it went through London and crossed the English Channel to France at Calais.

The letter was finally taken out of the mailbag somewhere in France on April 29 (see the black circular marking above) on its way to Marseilles.  At that point, it took another steamship that arrived at Civitavecchia (near Rome).  We know it took a ship from Marseilles to Civitavecchia because the Rome marking on the back reads "via di mare" (by the sea).

The Rome post office, but the ink slash in black ink across the envelope to indicate that it recognized postage for the letter had been paid.  The recipient would have to pay nothing more to collect the letter.

So, now that we are in Rome, let's see if we can't travel back the way we came!

What you see above is an envelope that was mailed in Rome in March of 1861 - destined for New York City.  The stamps were issued by the Papal State and used the bajocco (plural is bajocchi) as the currency unit.  The stamp issue is commonly referred to as the Papal Keys issue.  These keys represent the keys of heaven given to St. Peter that had the power of "binding and loosing," one made of gold and the other of silver.  Their appearance on the postage stamps were simply an affirmation of the papacy's authority.

The postage required in Rome to prepay a letter to the United States was 32 bajocchi per 7.5 grams (roughly 1/4 ounce) and this rate was effective from January 1, 1858 through August 30, 1866.

Compare that to the rate period for the United States and their 27 cent rate to Rome (April 1857 through December 1869).  Yes, they are different, which probably requires some sort of explanation.

What we need to remember is that France is an intermediary country in this case.  They have an agreement with the United States that sets the terms for how they will carry mail to Italy and the Papal State.  Unless the US and France agreed to do something different, there was not going to be a change in the postal rate during that time for mail going from the US to Rome.

On the other hand, the agreement between France and the Papal State could change, even if the agreement with the United States did not.  In fact, even more than that changed!  Rome and the surrounding area actually adopted the use of the Italian Lira as its currency, so the bajocco was no longer the measure for postage in Rome.  This is, of course, a simplification because there was certainly a transition period.  But, maybe that sort of discussion can be its own Postal History Sunday some day?

The markings on the front can be read, even if it takes a bit of concentration to do so.

The black, circular marking is a Rome marking for March 23, 1861, which indicates the date when the letter entered the mail in Rome.  The black diamond shaped grid is the obliterating cancel that was used to make it difficult for someone to re-use the postage stamps.

The red, double-circled marking shows us the next step of this letter's journey.  It went via ship from Civitavecchia to Marseilles, arriving there on March 27.  The words at the top of that marking read "E. Pont" or état pontifical.  A marking on the back shows us the next step of the journey.

This marking was applied on the train that ran from Paris to Calais (March 27).  From there, this letter went across the English Channel and reverses the journey of the previous letter.  It appears that it boarded the Edinburgh on March 28 at Queenstown (Ireland) and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to New York, arriving on April 8.

If you want to see a larger version of the map, feel free to click on the image to view it.  This gives you a visual representation of some of the routes via France to Italy at the time these letters traveled from place to place.

Now that we have returned from our travels to and from Rome, I think I found the explanation as to why I seem to keep landing on the 1860s period.  Ok, it doesn't explain everything, but it is an early Postal History Sunday that gives some explanation as to why I collect and research some of the areas I do!  

Aren't I sneaky, I just might get you to read (or re-read) another PHS all in one sitting.  Alas for you!


Thank you again for joining me as I explore things that I enjoy.  Hopefully you learned something new - I know I did!

Responses to Questions

I have received a few questions that feel like they deserve a few quick answers, so I thought I'd use this area to answer a couple of them.  Perhaps they will lead to future Postal History Sundays, or maybe they won't.  We'll see!

Where do you get the pictures of these old pieces of mail?

Believe it or not, most everything I show in my Postal History Sunday blog posts are in my own collection.  So, these are scans of the actual items.  If I am borrowing an image from somewhere else I try to remember to give credit as appropriate.

Having an actual item in hand is a wonderful motivator for my curiosity.

How do you find these things (old letters)?

Just like so many things in the world, it takes a while to figure out where to look.  It turns out there are people who specialize in selling these sorts of things including dealers, auction houses, etc.  Some of the online sales sites even have sections set aside for stamps and postal history.  In fact, there are even shows/conventions where people go to buy/sell/trade and show this kind of thing.

Like so many hobbies or activities, there is a complete sub-culture that surrounds it.

How long have you been doing Postal History Sunday?

Believe it or not, I will celebrate one year of doing PHS in August of this year.  This project started initially as a way to reach out to others in our isolation with the pandemic.  It will continue as long as I feel motivated to keep writing them.  

Have a great day!  And keep the questions coming!

Friday, July 16, 2021

What We Ignore

You do this, I do this, we ALL do this.  Or should I say, we DON'T do this.  In general, we do NOT read labels.

Ok, the farmers at the Genuine Faux Farm may be exceptions to the rule because we've put ourselves in a position where reading labels has a bit more consequence than it might have been if our lives had gone another direction.  But, here we are, reading herbicide labels.  No, we have not decided to use herbicides on our farm - but that would have been the RIGHT reason for us to spend time reading an herbicide label.  That would have meant that we were researching a tool that we thought we might use on our farm.

I tend to read these labels for two reasons:

1. Our farm is susceptible to many of the chemicals that are applied to the neighboring row crop fields.  We aren't always entirely sure that applicators read these labels all that carefully - and if they do - they seem to ignore whatever is inconvenient for them to follow. (Perhaps this is not entirely fair.  There are applicators out there who take their job seriously, but from our perspective it doesn't seem like enough of them do).

2. It's part of Rob's job with Pesticide Action Network to have some awareness regarding these labels.

These chemicals are poisons and are dangerous if not managed correctly.  For that matter, some of them are dangerous even IF they are managed.

Warnings on the Atristar/Battlestar herbicide

Shown above is one of the chemicals that were recently used on a field near our farm in 2018.  It was applied with other chemicals on a day when the wind was strong and coming our direction.  That explains why I looked up the use label.

You can read about those details here.

I will grant you that most every household is likely to have containers with warning labels that show at least as strong a warning as this label does.  I will ALSO grant you that there are numerous things that occur in nature that are every bit as (and more) dangerous than this particular herbicide.  But, in turn, you must grant me the good grace to admit that we do not want to see anyone coated with this product.  Fair enough?  That gives us a place to start.

Environmental Hazards from the Battlestar label

One responsibility that comes with any tool is to use it in a way that it does its job without collateral damage.  

For example, many agricultural chemicals are known to cause problems if they enter the water system.  If you don't think this matters to you, consider this: 20% of Iowa's drinking water comes from surface water.  While much of the rest comes from various aquifers, they too can be impacted by chemical run-off.  If it is not enough for you that allowing run-off harms other living (but non-human) beings, then maybe knowing it can get into our drinking water would be enough to encourage a person to be careful with the application of this item.  

If it truly has to be all about you, then you are impacted if you like to boat, fish, swim and/or hike around Iowa's rivers and lakes.  But, it really should be enough to know that someone or something could be hurt to make you want to manage use of this chemical carefully.  I refuse to believe that many people willfully want to hurt others - though I know some people of that sort do exist.

Supposedly, it is against federal law to apply chemicals, such as Battlestar, in ways that go against the label requirements (see the first sentence under Directions for Use).  But, a law is nothing if there is no enforcement.  And, enforcement doesn't happen if people don't stand up and report when there are problems.  Frankly, I would rather not need to use enforcement because I'd like all applicators to take their job seriously and use these tools cautiously and well.  But, our experience tells us this isn't happening.

The other thing that everyone should notice is the 24 hour "do not enter" period for workers/humans.  This is called the Restricted Entry Interval (REI) on agricultural chemical labels.  If the chemical goes 'off-target' that increases the "Do Not Enter" zone to the drift area.  Applicators should be aware of who may be in the drift zone and they need to
  1. Cease application if they witness people in the spray zone
  2. Inform anyone who might enter the spray zone that they need to stay out and give them information about the chemicals used.
If it is hard to figure out whether or not there is a problem we want people to think of the "Loved Small Child Test."  If you are certain that little one you care for so much could be harmed if they are standing in a neighboring field, then all is well.  If you aren't so sure, don't risk it. 

The label says what should be common sense.  If the spray might go where it shouldn't, don't spray.  What else can I say about this?

Once again, the label is fairly clear.  Please note that the reference to wind speed in this is non-directional.  In other words, you just do NOT apply when the wind reaches these levels.  Prior to this, the labels indicate that if the wind is going in the DIRECTION of something that is sensitive, you should not spray.  But, once we get to 15 mph, you should NOT spray, period.  

Why is this, do you think?  Could it be the chemical producers are aware that some of the chemical could go a LONG way in winds 15 mph and higher?  Now it may not be about the neighbor - it's the neighbors next to those neighbors (and so on).

There is more to this puzzle than just the current crops in the ground.  Chemicals that are applied can impact future crops.  After all, Battlestar IS an herbicide.  It's purpose is to kill or prevent the germination of anything except the cash crop currently in the field.

So, what happens when the chemical goes where it isn't supposed to be?  Take a look at the numbers at the right.  These are the number of months before you plant a new crop of certain types.

We lost our peas in 2018 to a chemical application that included this chemical.  What options do we have to try to make something out of that space this year?  It looks like dry bean and snap bean are our choices.  Too late for potato (and they won't work in our rotation in that spot).  But, since the application occurred on June 29, we actually have to consider what we will plant next Spring.  It is possible there will be enough carryover residue that some seeds will have trouble germinating.

The labels include all sorts of nitty gritty, but not always details that will help if a crop that the product was never intended for is drifted on.  In this case, we can see that Battlestar could potentially be used in snap and dry beans.  Apparently, this can be applied as pre-planting/pre-emergent or after the beans reach a certain size.  The beans could display some damage that they should 'grow out of' according to the label.

But, you still have to consider the set back periods for every crop.  Snap beans can not be harvested until 30 days after application and dry beans are 45 days.  These numbers are extremely important to people such as ourselves when drift occurs.  They are also one of the reasons drift can be painful.

If my snap beans are only 15 days away from harvest and there is chemical drift from Battlestar on them, that means that 15 days of what should be the production period of my plants are now not safe to eat.  I cannot harvest these and sell them.  

Sure, I could sell them and pretend I didn't know.  But, if anyone gets sick, their insurance company will come to us for the money.  First, I don't want to make anyone ill.  Second, our farm certainly couldn't afford the results of illness due to sharing chemically fouled produce.

So, what do we do for 15 days of bean harvest?  Well, if we hope to harvest AFTER those 15 days, we have to keep the plants picked during those 15 days so they are encouraged to produce more beans.  And, of course, we would destroy the beans by composting.  We can't feed them to the chickens or other animals (note the additional information that you shouldn't let livestock forage on the plants).

Is that worth it?  Or should we plant new beans?  From a labor perspective, that's probably what we should do.  But, what do you do if you were counting on those beans in two weeks?

Why Did We Do This Post?

We believe part of the problem is that others do not understand exactly WHY chemical drift is a problem for farms like ours.  First and foremost, it is a FOOD SAFETY ISSUE.

Some might say, "hey, the leaves on your cucumbers had spots on them, but they look fine otherwise."  The implication is that we are over-reacting and that we should just continue as if nothing happened.  That's all fine until someone gets ill, I suppose.  But, you tell me, should we ignore it and give everyone cucumbers?

How would that be any more responsible than ignoring the label and spraying when drift is likely?

Second, and at least as important is that it is a PERSONAL SAFETY ISSUE.

These chemicals were not created with the intent that workers meander around in the fog of the spray without protective equipment on .  That should be doubly true for the family living on the edge of town in Janesville next to a soybean field.

And yet, we seem to feel that we don't need to take the application of these products seriously.  

So, tell me.  I had my left kidney removed because there was cancer in that internal organ.  Is it possible that the cause of this problem had something to do with my exposures to various agri-chemicals?  Well, there are too many variables to prove causality in my own case, of course.  

But, should I even have to think about this?  Not if we take human safety seriously.

That environment includes any surrounding crops, such as our peas and cucumbers.  It includes the waterways and natural areas (such as they are in this state).  It includes your garden and that beautiful "Love Lies Bleeding" plant that looked so good until...

While I still believe that we over-use chemicals in this world, I do tend to agree that the bigger issue is that we use them nonchalantly.  We didn't see anyone get violently ill immediately during/after the point of spray, so it must all be ok?

Well, it is not ok.  It's a theme I have been writing on periodically since 2012... and perhaps before that too.  And, I don't believe we've made any progress on the issue.  If anything, it feels like we have gotten more careless. 

Change is needed and we need everyone on board.  Let's make it happen before it is your child having a kidney removed and you find yourself wondering if maybe the chemicals they were exposed to might have contributed to the problem.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, the sun goes down.  And sometimes it paints a picture for us to enjoy.

Sometimes, it sneaks its way to the horizon behind a wall of clouds, letting a few rays of light make the announcement that the sun has done its job for this trip and that's all it has for us.

Then there are days where there are no clouds at all and the sun blazes its way through the evening hours until it looks like it might melt the ground or boil the ocean.

The end of a mid-January day in Duluth finds the sun diving for the shelter of the edge of the earth so it can hide its embarrassment that it did such a poor job warming the landscape this time around.

A day spent in the woods resulted in the sun playing hide and seek between the tree limbs until it finally found that sweet spot above the horizon but below the canopy so it could bathe the trail in light for a few short minutes.

But, on this day, the sun danced over the mountains and teased the clouds.  Its beams of light found ways to sneak back out to play even after the sun had finally gone to bed.  And, you could hear it chuckling in a self-satisfied way as it slowly pulled the sunbeams back into itself.  

And it finally sank into the West.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

It's Supposed to Be Hard

While I find myself occasionally using the phrase, "it really isn't all that hard"... I can also honestly say two things:

1. I have worked hard to remove that phrase (and others like it) from my repertoire over the years (but it still creeps in once in a while)

2. When someone needs encouragement, I try to tell them they can do it and the effort they put into it will be worth it.

A recent article in the Washington Post discussed the concept of being honest with children about the difficulty of math.  The basic idea being put forward here is that we do not help someone who is trying to learn math by telling them that it is "easy" or "not too hard."  After all, if you assure them that it is easy and they struggle with it, what conclusions are they going to draw?

It was supposed to be easy and I can't do it, therefore I must be stupid.  Or, I can't do that, something is wrong with me.  Should we be surprised that so many people claim to be "no good at math?"  

Well, with a set-up like that, what else are they supposed to conclude?

It's a bit like giving someone the walk-behind tiller in the picture above and telling them they need to till the entire field you see there.  As you tell them this is their task, you say something along the lines of "it's an easy job."

How would you feel if I did that to you?  Is it likely you'll just decide to go somewhere else and find another thing to do?  When I ask about it, what excuse might you give?  Something along the lines of "I'm not very good at tilling, sorry."

Yeah, I thought so.

I guess I had a reputation that my classes were "tough" wherever I taught.  That's definitely something I can live with, that's for certain.  

As a teacher I routinely told my students that they should expect these classes (especially the introductory classes) to be difficult.  I reminded them that they haven't done this before, and if it were easy to learn what you needed all on your own, then this class wouldn't be worth your time now, would it?  

Some were unhappy that I would make these classes so hard.  But, it wasn't me.  It was the subject that was posing the challenge.  My job was to assist in whatever ways I could in learning - that was MY job because I'd already been there and these tasks are easy (or easier) for me.  If anything I was pushing them forward INTO the subject at hand.  I wasn't letting them skirt the edges so they could just "get through the class."  I did my best to be there, giving a hand up when it was needed, pushing them in the right directions, answering questions - and I was always cheering for them.

Why?  Because I know that worthwhile learning is not easy.

And yet, I still hear the words "it's easy, all you have to do is..." escape my lips far too often.

What I am doing when I say that is just being lazy.  What I mean to say is that you should not be scared of what looks like a pile of rotten roofing material in front of your house.  Once you figure out the 'trick of it' the task will not seem as daunting as it does now.  Will it be hard?  Yes.  But, you'll get there, and I'm willing to help you with that.

Most of the time, "it's easy" is meant to encourage.  We offer the words "it's easy" from the other side of experience.  We've already tilled that field and cleaned up that pile of roofing ourselves.  We know some of the techniques and shortcuts.  We have some practice doing these things and we know how to use the tools that come with the job so it isn't so daunting.  

And maybe, you happened to be one of the lucky few who came to the learning with an advantage.  Perhaps you had an aptitude for this sort of thing.  Is it possible you had gotten lucky and learned about some tools somewhere else that you recognized could be used here too?  One of your parents used to do this all the time and would take you along to help once in a while? 

To us, it IS easy.

To them, it looks like an impossible task.

Well folks, it is NOT impossible.  But, the task of learning is difficult.  It's supposed to be hard, because you'll come out on the other side and find what you know after the struggle is worth it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Don't Be the Irritant

We all have our pet peeves - things that just bother us for a good reason or no reason at all.  And, many of us have a tendency to observe and even point out the bad habits we have seen in others.  It's almost a sickness of a sort - it's like we take a certain amount of glee in the fact that we can find fault with another individual.

Ok, that's not always true.  Sometimes there are things that people do that are very upsetting or extremely annoying.  There are times when another person can really push the buttons that can make another pretty unhappy and uncomfortable.  It can be bad enough to ruin someone's day.

I admit that there are attitudes and actions that can really make me angry, or depressed, or ... well, pick an unhappy emotion.  I am just as prone to this as anyone else in the room.... that includes you.  Yes, you! 

I fully realize that my negative response to something that bothers me only gives that action or that attitude even more power over me and how I go about living my life.  It would be tempting to tell myself that the best thing I could do would be to find a way to ignore these things that bother me so much.  The logic is that I would take away their power over me - probably a good thing.  And, this is something I can control.  I am in charge of my own response to what someone else does or says.

But, finding a way to ignore or avoid something is too simple and not a good enough answer, in my opinion - which explains why I get into trouble with myself so often.

I do agree that I can and should control my own reaction to things that bother me.  On the other hand, I do believe that there are times when ignoring and avoiding will not improve the situation any.  That's especially true when I suspect that the thing that annoys and bothers me may also be causing problems for other people too.

Many years ago, in a mathematics class far, far away, I had a student who would chew and smack their gum loudly through the entire class.  I did not care for it, but I could handle it.  On the other hand, I had some students that  COULD... NOT.... STAND.... IT!  These people would shoot murderous looks at the "gum smacker" and they eschewed the chewer whenever they had a chance.

Not one of them actually approached the individual to say anything and none asked me to do something (as the instructor) about it.  However, since I was not entirely deaf and blind to what happened in my classroom, I did talk to this individual (carefully) about what they were doing.

They had NO idea they were even chewing loudly.  They simply did not hear it.

To make a long story less long.  We came up with a hand signal I could give them to let them know they were falling into their bad habit.  After a couple of weeks, there wasn't a problem...  Well...  for the most part it did get better.  It certainly wasn't perfect.

My point?  Ignoring something simply means you might be missing some way to make things better.

On the other hand, there are certainly times, places and people where you might not be able to make a difference.  So, I say again.  You can control your own response, even if you can't change what is bothering you.  If your response has to be removing yourself from the situation, so be it!  Just consider whether it really is the best response.

And, maybe we should take a look in the mirror and consider the things we do that might irritate others - and maybe work to NOT be the irritant that we often believe everyone ELSE to be.  We can control that too.  

We can also control how we react when someone confronts us with words we said that hurt them.  We can work to understand why they were hurtful and try to change what we say or the way we say them.

We can listen when someone tells us our actions have been frustrating, or annoying... or whatever.  And we can consider whether we can do anything about it.  We can at least take some part in trying to improve the situation.

Just a suggestion - don't be the irritant.  Maybe then, you can find a way to be less irritated yourself.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Whole Picture

One of the things I have always wanted to accomplish with our blog was to give an honest portrayal of what life is like on a small-scale, diversified farm.  I feel this is especially important because I have noticed that most small farms promote their products using light-hearted and positive themes.  The only time you see the negative is when a major disaster occurs.

You do not typically hear about the day to day challenges.  Why?  Well, I suspect most people do not want to buy brutal honesty and farmers like us know that.  We suspect you would rather see the smiling farmer holding out a bunch of carrots or some other product for you to enjoy.

Pictures like the one above, showing smiling volunteers holding tomatoes at our farm are what we (and so many other small farms) push out front to encourage buyers to continue to patronize us.  It's even better if you can show children.

Or, perhaps, baby animals

There is no dishonesty in showing any of these photos and then using them to promote the Genuine Faux Farm.  They were all taken here.  The smiles on the peoples' faces are not "photoshopped on."  Those are our turklets in the photo shown above.  These are real life moments.

And they do, in fact, show some of the truth that is our farm.  But when things like the dirty, cracked hands holding the turklets show up for public viewing, they are not the focus of the picture and most people will not even notice them.

But, like everything else in the world, smiling people, happy children and baby animals are only part of what makes up an honest and complete story.  That full story includes days when the farmers work hard while no one watches.  As they work, they deal with broken equipment, human error, pests, difficult weather, life and death, and dirty, cracked hands.

It's all part of the package.

Speaking of packages.  One of the unexpected "downers" we experienced recently was the arrival of our 250 broiler chicks on July 1st.  To set the stage, we planned to raise two sets of 250 broiler (meat) chickens this year.  The first batch was due to go to "the Park" on the night of July 1st and early morning of July 2.  We also received the second batch of chicks early on July 1st.  You can tell that it was going to be a long couple of days by that description.

When we went to pick them up, the postal worker said they were glad to see them go because the box "smelled."  Usually, they are just glad to see them go because they are "noisy."

Having a postal worker say the boxes smelled is NEVER a good thing to hear.

Yes, twenty-seven chicks had died in the box in transit to our farm, and others were weak and unlikely to survive.  This is part of the reality that we deal with as a part of what we do.  Not every baby animal is healthy.  And, each delivery of poultry, equipment, supplies and seeds to the farm brings promise and, sometimes, disappointment.

Later that same evening, as I was looking to put the hens away for the night, I noticed there was still a bird out by the feeder.  But, it looked kind of odd - mostly because it wasn't moving.  It turns out that this particular bird somehow got wedged into a corner of the feeder and it had effectively been strangled.  Just another reminder that accidents happen - sometimes a chicken makes a costly error.

As I walked by Middle Earth (one of our growing plots) on the way to close up Valhalla, I noticed a big puddle that shouldn't have been there.  Our irrigation sprung a nice leak that neither of us caught during the day.  It's not the end of the world, nor is it a horrible thing to fix.  Oh, and, by the way, we got some wire accidentally wrapped around the mower blade and the rot under the pass-through door on the truck barn has made it known that we need to fix it because the door won't close.   

This is just an illustration of how things can stack up quickly.

Then there is all of that time in between that is neither happy nor sad.  The moments that are not necessarily outstanding in any respect.  Sometimes it feels like a bit of a slog and other times there is comfort in the constancy of the work.  It's more the fact that it happens each and every day - because it just needs to get done.

This makes up the whole picture of what it is like to run a small-scale, diversified farm.  For every moment where I happily (and rapidly) harvest 30 pounds of quality lettuce and feel pride in our efforts, there are others where I drop a tray of seedlings or notice that the germination rate for another tray is very poor.  And for each of those positive and negative moments, there are all of those other instances where I put seed into trays, water seedling trays, transplant seedlings, irrigate lettuce and cultivate lettuce - just doing the things to help the lettuce to stay alive and grow.

The true picture of our farm and its farmers never was that single instant where Tammy or I smiled as we pulled out a beautiful head of Bunte Forellenschus (or two) for you and your family to enjoy.  Behind the smiles there exists a complex picture of failure, success, constancy and persistence.  Does that mean we aren't pleased that we can provide someone with healthy, quality food?  Of course not! 

Our smile might be as a result of a combination of things.  Relief that we have managed to bring this product successfully to its destination.  Pride in our efforts to produce something that looks and tastes good.  Genuine pleasure that someone is interested enough in what we have grown that they are arranging to purchase from us.  And the smile might also be one way to hide some of the things that aren't going so well at the farm at any given point in time.

The whole picture is never all that simple.  And that's part of the beauty of it all.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Digging In - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday!

Grab yourself a beverage of your choice, making sure that you keep it away from your keyboard or the paper collectibles!  Have a seat or stand up if that's what you prefer.  Push those troubles from your mind and take a few moments of your day learning something new.  Meanwhile, I will attempt to regale you with a story surrounding some postal history I enjoy.  

Perhaps, if we're all lucky enough, each of us will learn something new.


This week I felt like digging into a single postal history item in my collection.  To be perfectly open about this one, I've done work on this cover before - but I felt compelled to work with it a bit more.  This is not at all unusual.  Sometimes I just want to get the basics for an item down and I'll recognize that I could certainly do more with it later.  But, more often than not, I'll just run out of time and I leave the rest for later.  If I am lucky, I will have taken some notes so I don't have to start all over again!

Before I go much further, let me recognize that many who read Postal History Sunday are not postal historians. So, I should clarify what I mean when I use the word cover.

A cover is essentially anything that surrounds or holds the contents being mailed to the recipient.  You and I are most familiar with an envelope, which would qualify as a cover.  In 1859, envelopes were gaining popularity but, most covers were actually a sheet of paper that surrounded the letter contents.  Sometimes, the outer sheet included some of the letter content on the inside facing part of that sheet. 

Our featured item happens to be a folded lettersheet from Antwerp (Anvers), Belgium to St Etienne, France mailed in October of 1859. 

How It Got There

Markings on the cover:
Anvers Oct 14, 1859 - 9-10 S
partial marking on the back - unknown
PD in a box
Belg Amb Calais Oct 15, 1859 - E
Paris Oct 15, 1859 (on the back)

Mail between Belgium and France crossed the border at Tourcoing, Quievrain, Erquelinnes, Jeumont, Vireux-Molhain, Givet and Luxembourg.  There were, of course, other crossings for local mail between neighboring communities that happened to be on opposite sides of the border.  The crossings I mention above were for letters from and/or to destinations that were not border towns.

We can make educated guesses as to which border crossing was used if we look at the markings on the cover.  Mail between nations at this time were exchanged between designated post offices.  Aptly enough, these are called exchange offices and the markings they applied to pieces of mail are exchange office markings. (My!  Aren't we clever with our names?!)

The exchange office markings on this cover indicate where the mail was placed in mailbags in Belgium and where they were taken out of those mailbags in France.  Unfortunately, part of the reverse of this cover is missing.  There is evidence of a partial Belgian marking that would have given us the Belgian exchange office.  The French exchange office was the mail car (traveling or ambulant post office) on the train to Calais (Amb Calais).  This leads me to the conclusion that this item probably crossed the border at Tourcoing.

How did I know that?

This is where I pull out the postal historian "voodoo magic" that is really just a combination of experience (seeing several covers from this period between these countries) and knowledge of some of the official documents that directed the mail exchange process in 1859.  A little knowledge about the available rail lines at the time doesn't hurt either! 

There is additional information in some of these postmarks that have the potential for further decoding.  The 9-10S (9 to 10 PM) in the Anvers marking tells me when the train was due to depart.  The E in the Calais marking references the team of clerks working in the mail car of the night train running from Calais to Paris. Go Team E!  I wonder if they had their own cheer or chant or something?

How Much Did It Cost to Mail?

As of April 1, 1858, a flat rate of 40 centimes per 10 grams was established for prepaid mail from Belgium to France regardless of distance.  This rate was effective until December 31, 1865 after which the rate was reduced to 30 centimes.  If an item were sent unpaid, the cost would have been higher at 60 centimes due to be paid by the recipient.

 The "PD" marking indicates the letter was "payée à destiné," which translates to "paid to destination."

The obliterating cancellations were applied to prevent the re-use of the postage stamps by defacing them with ink.  In this case, the obliterators or cancels are a round circle of bars with a "4" in the center.  Many European countries assigned numerals in canceling devices to particular offices or towns/cities.  The "4" in Belgium was assigned to Antwerp during this time period.

Who Was This To?

As a person who sometimes looks at his, or other person's writing, from even a day or two prior and wonders "what does this say?" it is not so hard to understand why it might be difficult for me or anyone else to read the address panel on this cover.  

Apparently, this is to a Mr. Evrard.  And, after a bit of a struggle, I have concluded the rest of the address reads: "fungenieur des mines, gérant les houiller de la Chazotte." This tells us that Mr. Evrard was a mining engineer, managing the Chazotte coal mines near St Etienne, France.

The Chazotte coal mine and Mr. Evrard feature prominently together in the mid-1800s largely because Evrard's inventions for coal washing and agglomeration received significant attention at the time. My basic understanding is that agglomeration was the creation of pressed coal bricks or blocks.  Evrard's machine for creating these bricks is mentioned in this document reporting on the Paris Universal Exposition.  Some of the relevant text from that document is below (see resource 2).  You can click on the images to view them more closely if you wish.

Evrard's innovations were apparently not limited to the agglomeration process as his design for coal washing is also featured in another contemporary document.   Part of the idea of washing was to separate the coal from the pyrites, which are heavier than the coal.  One of the figures showing the design of his coal washing system is shown below (resource 3):

As a kindred problem-solver, I can appreciate the approaches used for solving these production problems, even if I do not pretend to fully understand the entire process or the qualities desired for coal at the time. 

Bonus Material

The mining region where the Chazotte mine was situated is shown in the map above to give an idea as to location.  This is of interest because a postal historian could find numerous covers (sometimes with letters) relating to coal mining in France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom from this period.  If this topic grabs your attention, you could pursue mining related items using the knowledge of where the coal fields were situated to help you.

This article just might provide an excellent rabbit hole regarding mining in the St Etienne (Loire) region (resource 4).  And, if you want to read about the formation of coal beds, including the one for the Chazotte mine, you can go here (resource 5). This is an illustration of how postal history is dangerous - you can find yourself reading and becoming at least mildly interested in things you never considered before.

A quick search resulted in the following scan from a document from 1843.  I do not own this item (nor will I, given the price). A person could own shares of Chazotte mines.  I wonder if Evrard's efforts at innovative machinery helped share prices or not?

I place the financial component front and center to remind us of what drove the exploitation of coal fields in the first place.  With the event of coal fired engines, the demand increased rapidly.  Prior to this coal was used for heating and smelting iron ore.  But now, trains, steamships and all sorts of other equipment (including Evrard's inventions) were using coal to provide power.

To close things out, I wanted to point out that it was not just the coal field that was exploited in the mining of coal.  This interesting summary regarding the Felling Collier Disaster in 1812 reminds us that mining was (and still is) a dangerous job (resource 6).  In this single disaster, ninety-two people died, ages 8 to 65.  In fact, the coal communities in Europe are still seeing the effects that the focus on coal created in the present day.  This interesting paper by Esposito and Abramson notes in the abstract that:

... former coal-mining regions are substantially poorer, with (at least) 10% smaller per-capita GDP than comparable regions in the same country that did not mine coal. We provide evidence that much of this lag is explained by lower levels of human capital accumulation and ...  result from the crystallization of negative attitudes towards education and lower future orientations in these regions.  (resource 1)

It's at this point that you and I look at each other and ask - "how did we get here?"

Oh. Yeah.  It was that silly piece of paper that carried a letter or business correspondence to a mining engineer in France.  Imagine that.


Thank you for joining me in today's journey!  This is one of those cases where I did not expect the Postal History Sunday blog to go as far as it ended up going.  I hope you enjoyed it, even if we did get a ways "into the weeds."

Have a great remainder of your day and I hope you have a great week to come!


1. Esposito, E., Abramson, S.F. The European coal curse. J Econ Growth 26, 77–112 (2021). 

2. Blake, W.P., ed. Reports of the United States Commissioners to the Paris Universal Exposition, vol V, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1870.

3. Byrne, O., ed. Spon's Dictionary of Engineering: Civil, Mechanical, Military and Navel with Technical Terms,  Vol III, E & F.N. Spon, London, 1870.

4. Barau, D, Les sources de l'histoire miniere aux Archives departementales de la Loire, vol 8, 2nd Semester 2008, pp 40-66.  Taken from on July 10, 2021.

5. Stevenson, J., The Formation of Coal Beds IV. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Jan-Apr 1913, Vol 52, No 208, pp 31-162.

6. The Industrial Revolution, coal mining, and the Felling Colliery Disaster from Letters and the Lamp: Davy, Stephenson, and the Miners' Safety Lamp, site developed as part of the Lancaster University Impact and Knowledge Exchange Award. viewed on July 10, 2021