Sunday, October 10, 2021

Having Fun Yet? - Postal History Sunday

I took a look at the calendar and, much to my surprise, it was Saturday already!  One day until Postal History Sunday!  So, what does the farmer do when he finds himself a day away from Postal History Sunday and he has yet to start on the current week's offering?

Well, one option, of course, is to panic.  But, I rejected that idea because the whole point is to enjoy sharing something with others and to learn something new.  So, my direction for this week's post became clear.  I'm going to have a little fun - and I hope you enjoy some of what I present too.

Things that Catch the Eye

If you are not a postal historian, you may find yourself wondering exactly what it is about the envelopes and wrappers I collect that attracts my attention.  Even if you ARE a postal historian, you may wonder why I choose to collect what I do.  And, I know people who read these blogs often wonder how I select the items that show up here.

One thing all sighted people can appreciate and understand would be visual appeal.  If it looks good or if it stands out in some fashion visually - it becomes a candidate for collecting and sharing.

The envelope above has outstanding visual appeal.  It is clean.  It is in excellent condition.  The hand writing is attractive.  The stamp is in excellent condition.  And it stands out because most envelopes are not colored all in black except for the address panel.

This piece was mailed in the early 1900s when the letter rate was 2 cents per ounce, yet there is a one cent stamp applied and it was apparently treated as having proper postage for it to be delivered.  The next clue is that the postmark shows it was mailed in Boston and the address panel IS Boston.  So, this was a local letter.  Sometimes local letters had special rates - hmmmm.

Well, the local letter rate for towns and cities that did NOT have mail carriers was 1 cent per ounce, maybe that's it?  Well, sorry to pop my own bubble, but Boston clearly did have mail carriers - so the rate for local mail in Boston was still 2 cents.  This leaves us with the likelihood that this was some sort of printed matter - an advertisement, or a society announcement of some sort that did not include a private message.  As a piece of printed matter, it qualified for the special, lower, third-class mail rate.

Sadly, the contents are gone, so it is likely that I won't figure out why the envelope is all black, but it sure does stand out from most other postal history in my collection!

Here's another one that stands out for me because I do grow vegetables at the Genuine Faux Farm.  The illustration is bright and attractive, making it stand out in a crowd of old envelopes.  Yes, it has a small chunk out at the bottom right and a hole just under the 2 cent stamp.  But, be honest, did you notice those problems until I pointed them out?

This is where I remind myself that postal history is the study of items that were used in the mail.  The envelopes were opened, sometimes roughly, to get to the contents.  Recipients were not concerned about some silly farmer 100 years later who finds joy in old envelopes and pieces of paper.

Instead, mail pieces were a resource to be used.  It was common practice for businesses and individuals to keep envelopes as a part of their transaction records.  Did you notice the pin in the first cover?

I have seen paper filing systems where the envelope and the contents were fastened together with a pin, with paper clips, and, of course, with staples.  I just found it fascinating that this particular envelope was freed from the items it had been attached to - but the pin was left with the envelope when it was made available to collectors.  And, I have no desire to remove it because it is more interesting this way to me!

The punch hole in the second cover is probably a filing artifact as well.  Multiple envelopes with their contents could be threaded with a string or wire in a drawer or cabinet.  If done in such a way where the hole did not go through the contents, a person could find an envelope on the string, remove the contents to view the required record and then put them back when done.  You could think of the envelope as a miniature filing folder.

Can I say for certain that this is exactly how each of these particular envelopes were treated?  Of course not.  But, I can say that I have seen each of these filing methods in person.  It's called putting 2 and 2 together.  Usually you get four.  But, sometimes you get five for extremely large values of two!

Things That Puzzle Me

I am also one of those odd people that enjoys a bit of a puzzle.  Now, before I get too far into this, we need to recognize that some things can be a puzzle for me and a simple answer for you (and vice versa).  In any event, I like learning new things and exploring within the realm of postal history.  So, here are a couple of examples:

This item was mailed in August of 1862 from Napoli (Italy) to Rome (Papal States).  It is a folded letter that bears three postage stamps from the Two Sicilies for a total of 5 grani in postage.  The big black scrawl in the middle of the envelope is the amount of postage due in Rome expressed in bajocchi.

***We interrupt this program for an explanation ***

Ok.  Wait a minute.  Perhaps we should recognize that you might not know what I mean by a grani or a bajocchi.

The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies operated with a monetary system based on the ducat, which could be divided into 100 grani. The Papal States were based on a scudo that was made of 100 bajocchi.  Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Italy - they used the Lira, which was equal to 100 centesimi.  It is important to remember that these currencies were not equivalent to each other, so one ducat was NOT the same as one scudo or one lira.  What did I say last week about monetary systems potentially giving a person a headache?

***and back to our scheduled program ***

Initially, this piece of postal history might be confusing to a person because, in our world, Napoli (Naples) and Rome are both in Italy.  So, if 5 grana was the correct rate for internal letter mail in Italy, you would think there wouldn't be any postage due, wouldn't you?

But, in 1862, Rome and the surrounding territory was independent from the rest of Italy.  In fact, the rest of Italy was still in the process of forming the Kingdom of Italy.  Southern Italy was a bit slower to adopt the Kingdom's postal and monetary systems, hence the continued use of their own stamps and the grana for the monetary unit instead of centesimi.

So, the point is - this was a piece of foreign letter mail.  Rome was a destination outside of the Two Sicilies and thus, the Kingdom of Italy, so it required MORE than internal postage.  But, because the Papal State had no agreement with the Kingdom of Italy to allow mail to be prepaid, mail could only be paid to the border.  

I told you all of that so I could say this: Five grani paid the internal mail rate from Napoli to the border with the Papal State (at Isoletta).  The recipient had to pay 12 bajocchi to collect the letter in Rome.

It seems that I have much of this one figured out, except for this.  I still have not quite figured out how Rome decided on the amount due.  Ah!  A puzzle that keeps on giving.

And then, there are puzzles that I have yet to make much headway on.  

I do pretty well with Northern Italy, but when it comes to Southern Italy, I am afraid I am still a bit lost.  Above is an item mailed from Venezia to Napoli (uh oh, there's Naples again!) in 1856.  At the time this letter was mailed, the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia was under Austria's control.  The Papal States actually included all of central Italy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies encompassed the south.

There was no agreement between Austria and the Two Sicilies for the exchange of mail.  And any mail between the two would have to go through the Papal States if it was to use ground transportation.  Apparently, this one DID go through the Papal States.  The marking on the back that reads "Transito per lo Stato Pontif"  translates roughly to "transit via the Pontifical States."  It is my belief that this marking was placed on the letter at Ferrara, a city on the border between the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia and the Papal States at the time.

The real puzzle for me comes with figuring out how the postage due is calculated, once again.  The Two Sicilies determined postage by the number of sheets of paper that were in a letter, as compared to Austria and the Papal States that were using the weight of a letter to determine postage in 1856.  One day, I'll crack the code.  But, for now, I'm just working on the puzzle as I find time and inspiration (anyone out there have a pointer for me on this one?).

Things Where I Recognize Something Others Don't

How does a person, such as myself, manage to play in a sandbox where the cost to play can easily be higher than what I can afford to pay?  The simple answer is - it's not simple, you have to substitute capital with knowledge AND you have to accept that you cannot do everything you might want to do.

But, over time, knowledge will pay off.

Here is an envelope mailed from the United States in 1867. It bears a 24 cent stamp and a 3 cent stamp, for a total of 27 cents in postage.  The cover itself is not particularly pretty.  The markings are not as clear as I would like.  But, it had a 24 cent stamp on it, which always encourages me to look more.  It was in combination with a 3 cent stamp, which usually tells me this would be a letter to Belgium.  And, if it was to Belgium, I would probably pass. 

Here is what caught my attention next.

It was the way the letter "V" in "Via" was written.  I had seen this style of writing in Dutch internal letters of the period in Holland.  The numeral "5" in red also reminded me of some of the credit and due markings found there.


So, this letter was to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The 27 cent rate to prepay the postage from the US to Holland was available from July of 1866 to December of 1867, and it apparently was not used often.  There was, at the point I noticed this item, exactly one other example of this rate known to me.  Could there be more?  Of course.  But, I have enough knowledge to know there won't be many.

Now - watch this - pride goeth before the fall.  Now that I put this out there, someone will show twenty examples of this sort of item and they'll ALL look better than mine.  But, until that happens, I'll stick by my story.  Building up your knowledge and knowing what to look for is the best way to find interesting and enjoyable pieces of postal history.

Things That Tell A Story

Of course, I also love finding things that have the promise of a good story behind them.

Things like this one!

Ok.  It's also a puzzle.  But, the real fun will be in telling a "merry chase" story, as can be evidenced by the back.

There is so much here, that this particular piece of letter mail will merit its own Postal History Sunday.  But, a very brief explanation is that the 1866 envelope shown above was sent from the United States to Bremen via the mail convention between the two postal services.  The initial destination was Heilbronn in Wurttemburg using the 15 cent per half ounce rate.  The 24 cent stamp obviously overpays that amount.  Clearly, the addressee was no longer in Heilbronn and a merry chase ensues!

Another item that is begging me to research and tell it story is shown below:

This is a 1945 letter that had to work to find Private Agee.  This also is a likely qualifier for a merry chase.  But, because of the military connection at the end of World War II, there are potentially many other story lines that might be uncovered.

Then there is this folded letter, mailed from France to Newcastle, England in 1867.  So, why is the name "Cowen" ringing a bell for me here?  For some unknown reason, I remember reading or hearing about the "Blaydon Brick."  As a result, when I noticed this business letter involving the Cowen family's brickmaking, it intrigued me.  Once again, I suspect we'll hear more about this one in a future Postal History Sunday.

Did I Learn Something New Today?

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me what I learned that was new after writing that post for the week.  I can't remember what I gave for an answer, but I thought I would share a "something new" I learned as I researched and wrote today's post.

If you will recall, this envelope was initially addressed to Heilbronn.  For some reason, I was familiar with the location, but I could not think why that might be.  It turns out that my first exposure to it might be through a Sherlock Holmes movie where the villain Moriarty gains control of a munitions factory in that area. It is possible that the fictional Meinhard Munitions in the Holmes movie was loosely based off of the company founded by Franz Mauser in 1812.

As a bonus, it turns out that Napoleon used Heilbronn as an early munitions depot in the early 1800s.

Looking Ahead

Well, that certainly was fun to do!  I hope you enjoyed it and maybe you even learned something new.

As some have noted, Postal History Sunday posts can often be a bit more than a quick moment or two of research and writing.  There are times when I have more energy and time for it, and others when I do not.  Hence the reason I actually have a dozen or more posts in varying stages of development just so things are ready for the alignment of both the time and the energy!

Coming up in the not so distant future:

  • A look at a piece of mail sent during the Cariboo Gold Rush in the 1860s
  • Another merry chase that starts in north Africa and lands in Italy.
  • A survey of the shipping companies that took mail across the Atlantic in the 1860s
  • And we'll take a foray into mail with connections to education
  • We'll even have a PHS dedicated to fertilizer.... take that how you will.
  • And, yes, we may even get the Blaydon Brick post done someday!

Thank you again for joining me.  I hope you have a fine rest of your day and an excellent week to come.

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