Postal history is the study of
postal systems and how they operate and, or, the collecting of covers and associated material illustrating historical episodes of postal systems. The term is attributed to Robson Lowe, a professional philatelist, stamp dealerand stamp auctioneer, who made the first organised study of the subject in the 1930s and described philatelists as "students of science", but postal historians as "students of humanity". [cite book | first=Vivien J. | last=Sussex | year=1988 | title=Introducing Postal History | chapter=1 | pages=p. 5| publisher=British Philatelic Trust in conjunction with The Postal History Society, London ]
A collecting speciality
Postal history has become a philatelic collecting speciality in its own right. Whereas philately is concerned with the study of the stamps "per se", including the technical aspects of stamp production and distribution, philatelic postal history refers to stamps as historical documents; similarly re postmarks,
postcards, envelopes and the letters they contain. Postal history can include the study of postal rates, postal policy, postal administration, political effects on postal systems, postal surveillance and the consequences of politics, business, and culture on postal systems; basically anything to do with the function of the collection, transportation and delivery of
The philatelic-based definition of the term developed as the discipline developed. Philatelic students discovered that understanding and authentication of stamps depended on knowing why postal authorities issued particular stamps, where they were used and how. For instance, a stamp apparently used before any other stamp of its type could be proved a forgery if it was
postmarked at a location known not to have received any stamps until a later date.
Much information is still not known about the workings of postal systems, and millions of old covers have survived, constituting a rich field of "artifacts" for analysis.
Possible areas of study
In studying or collecting any postal history subject some overlap is inevitable because it is impossible to separate the different areas that affect the mail from one another; transportation, rates, geography and subject are all intertwined, but the emphasis remains different depending on the chosen topic. The postal history topics described below are some of the better known and popular topics.
Geographical based studies
* Regional studies are typically based on a geographical area, such as countries of origin, native districts, cities, towns or villages, places associated with family roots, or workplaces. In the past collectors usually based their studies on "mail from," but "mail to" and "mail through" a place expand the postal service story because outgoing mail mainly shows marking associated with the areas of study while incoming mail tells a much broader story and are now more likely to be included. It is best to select a topic to study that is broad enough because narrow geographical boundaries will likely bring frustration due to the lack of material available. Examples are: "Postal History of
Brunn1638-1875", [http://www.japhila.cz/hof/0003/index0003a.htm] and "Private and Foreign Post Offices in St. Thomas". [http://www.scc-online.org/MemberExhibits/StThomasPOs/index.htm]
* Postal routes are alternate geographical based study areas that provide great variety due to the many places and services available along a route. For instance; a study of the
Thurn and Taxisroute from Antwerpto Florencevia Mantuawould include much of the early postal history of Western Europe and the "Postal History of the First Transcontinental Railroad" [http://www.cprr.org/Museum/Ephemera/Postal.html] can show a good range of stamps, stationery, and associated marking across 3,000 miles that started in 1869.
erafor a geographical based study can add dimension depending on the services available or the changes that took place. The period should seek to tell a complete story and not limit the chosen topic.
Transportation based studies
Aerophilatelyspecialises in the study of airmail. Philatelists observe the development of Crash covers, Imperial AirwaysEmpire route mail to Australiaand South Africa, CAM (Contract Air Mail) or FAM (Foreign Air Mail) routes to and from the United Statesare a few topics. [ [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/airmails_20001030/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Linns.com "Airmail collecting can take you anywhere"] (retrieved 24 February 2007)]
Balloon mailwas employed during the Siege of Paris[ [http://www.arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=1&cmd=1&mode=&tid=2029986 "Siege of Paris Mail"] (retrieved 24 February 2007) Smithsonian National Postal Museum] to get mail out of the city during the Franco-Prussian Warin 1870. Balloons can be both manned and unmanned but balloon mail is not a common form of mail transport.
* Maritime mail is a theme that offers a wide variety of possibilities. [ [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/paquebot_20041213/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Linns.com "Paquebot mail begins at sea, postmarked on land"] (retrieved 24 February 2007)] Study of a particular
shipping linelike, Cunard, P & O, Danubesteamers, South American packets or American steamboatmail are a few options as are; Ship Letter marks, mail between a mother country and its coloniesor mail between two countries separated by seas or oceans. Many ships applied their own endorsements so collecting examples of all ships of a particular shipping line can be aspired to. Maiden voyages and wreck covers are very desirable. Maritime mail rates changed frequently and occasionally varied for different shipping lines over the same route that could be due to treatychanges or arguments between countries that involved retaliatory rates. Naval mail can also fall in the Military mail category and are also known to apply identifying endorsements or postmarks.
Railway mailrefers to mail carried partly, or fully, by rail transportfrom its inception in 1830 between Liverpool and Manchester in the UK until its decline in the late 20th century that include Railway letter stamped mail, TPO and RPO [ [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/railway_103006/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Linns.com "Processing mail in transit: the Railway Mail Service and railway post offices"] (retrieved 24 February 2007)] handstamps, instructional handstamps or manuscript notations, or even the First Transcontinental Railroad(also mentioned as a geographic study above).
Rocket mailis the delivery of mail by rocketor missileand is a specialised collecting area of aerophilately called Astrophilately. One of the early famous rocketeers was Stephen Smith, a Secretary of the Indian Airmail Society, who launched 270 rockets between 1934 and 1944 of which 80 contained mail. [ [http://www.philatel2.com/jubilee/id313.htm Stamps of King George V Silver Jubilee - Stephen Smith] (retrieved 24 February 2007)] Other topics for consideration are: USPS rocket mail from 1936 or 1959 launches, Russian submarine launched rocket mail, or reusable launch vehicle mail.
Zeppelin mailis a popular topic for the mail carried on the German Zeppelin airships between 1908 [ [http://www.arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=1&cmd=1&mode=2&tid=2032883 Zeppelin & Airship Mail: Pioneer Period (1783-1918)] (retrieved 24 February 2007) Smithsonian National Postal Museum] and 1939. [ [http://www.arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=1&cmd=1&mode=2&tid=2040240 Zeppelin & Airship Mail: Developmental Period (1919-1945)] (retrieved 24 February 2007) Smithsonian National Postal Museum] Much mail exists because up to 12 tons was carried on each flight. Mail from within Germany and from the several trans-Atlantic flights are extant however mail from the famous Hindenburg disasterare very scarce.
ubject based studies
thumb|right|145px|1834_pre-adhesive mail with
Wittingenstraight-line town handstamp to Ebsdorf]
Express mailis an accelerated delivery service for which the customer pays a surcharge and receives faster delivery. "Haste Poste Haste" letters of the 17th century can be considered precursors of modern Express mail as was the Pony Expressmail. [ [http://www.arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=1&cmd=1&mode=&tid=2032344 Pony Express Mail] (retrieved 24 February 2007) Smithsonian National Postal Museum] The service for domestic mail is governed by a country's own postal administrationbut since 1998 the international accelerated delivery services are governed by the EMS Cooperative of the Universal Postal Union(UPU). Studies of domestic, or international express mail are possible as are studies of the Express mail rates.
Marcophilyis the study of postmarks, cancellation and postal markingsapplied by hand or machine. Though not strictly speaking a postal history topic can be collected as such. It offers vast areas to select a topic for study or collection as the marcopholist is more interested in the details, style and design of the markings than the reason why and where a letter was sent. Large cities that have many post offices offer great study opportunities due to the vast range of handstamps or machine cancellations in use over any time period.
Military mailis mail associated with any of the armed servicesor peacekeeping forces, or formed around any particular military campaign, like the Opium Wars, Spanish Civil War, World War Iand II, or even the recent conflicts in Afghanistanor Iraq. [ [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/militaryPH_20021014/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Linns.com "Give modern military postal history a try"] (retrieved 21 February 2007)] Many older letters, when available, provide insight into the conditions of the people involved.
Parcel postis perhaps the least collected, or studied, area of postal history due to the size of potential material much of which is never saved. From 1883Special labels were applied to parcels in Great Britain. International parcels handling tend to gather Customsevidence making for attractive material.
Postal censorship, both overtand covert, has been performed on mail long before the World Wars of the 20th century and can include both civil and military censorship. It has mainly taken place during times of conflict though has also been performed during other times like; periods of civil disorderor a state of emergency. An example of covertpostal censorship is the Cabinet noir.
* Postal rates are an extensive area of study that can be made by country, time period, [ [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/rates_20010716/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Linns.com "Short rate periods sometimes yield treasures"] (retrieved 24 February 2007)] or even currency. Stamp collectors may study the rates in effect during the time of issue of the postage stamps they collect thereby augmenting their collections.
Postal stationeryare mailable products, issued by postal authorities, such as a envelopes, letter sheets, post cards, lettercards, aerograms or wrappers, on which the amount of postage has usually been pre-printed with a stamp, or "indicium", at the rate required for a particular postal service. [ [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/postalstationery_20020114/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Linns.com "Postal stationery offers collecting variety"] (retrieved 24 February 2007)] Postal stationery is generally sold at post offices. Each stationery type can be an area of study in its own right but can also be studied by country or by time period.
Pre-adhesive mailalso called pre-stamp mail is mail used before the issuance of the Penny Blackand Two pence Bluestamps on 6 May, 1840in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and in other countries, mail used prior to the postal authority adopting their own adhesive labels. The material can range from court and government letters before official public mail services to distinctive town-marks worldwide.
* Prisoner-of-war mail can be a subcategory of either, or both, Military mail or Postal censorship.
Registered mailare often used to mail items, or documents, considered valuable and need a chain of custodythat provides more control than regular mail. The letters have their details recorded in a register to enable their location to be tracked and offer many distinctive handstamps. Many countries have issued special postal stationeryfor Registered mail expanding the possible areas being studied beyond regular registered letters. Earlier similar services were known as " Money Letters"
List of philatelic topics
Timeline of postal history
* [http://www.civilisations.ca/cpm/chrono/index_e.html The Canadian Museum of Civilization - Chronology of Canadian Postal History]
* [http://www.anpost.ie/AnPost/MainContent/About+An+Post/History+and+Heritage/ An Post History and Heritage]
* [http://www.ukphilately.org.uk/bpt/index.htm British Philatelic Trust]
* [http://www.postalheritage.org.uk British Postal Museum & Archive]
* [http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/blount/symposium.html Defining United States postal history] a
National Postal Museumsymposium
* [http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu National Postal Museum] USA
* [http://www.paphs.org/ Pennsylvania Postal History Society]
* [http://stampclubs.com/phs/ Postal History Society] Collecting Postal History
* [http://www.usps.com/postalhistory/welcome.htm United States Postal Service postal history page]
Linns.com "Refresher Courses"
* [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/postalhistory_19980803/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Cover collecting is a part of postal history]
* [http://www.linns.com/howto/refresher/human_090505/refreshercourse.asp?uID= Human interest enhances postal history]
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