Why not start a Postal History Collection?


Dec 22, 2013 Europe/London

Before the start of the 15th century, letters were used for communications and carried personally by messengers, mostly in the circles of the nobility and government. It was during this time when the modern Post Office that people know today started to bloom. Drafting and sending letters then was reserved to the elite and nobility since they were the ones who could compose and write letters. So if one takes a good look at the surviving letters from this period, it becomes apparant that most of these correspondences were done by merchants, clergy and nobility. No stamps or postal system were in place then, so charges for sending out letters were defined by distance and weight of these letters, with the recipient paying the charges.

Stamp Use Officially Formalized in 1840

Before the end of century, the first postmarks were made available and grew in popularity until the 18th century. The great thing about these hand stamps is that the city of origin is listed, thus it was easy to calculate the shipping fees. This was the prevailing system in Britain until a sweeping reform was introduced from 1839 to 1840. There were two important changes that were implemented thanks to actions made by the Parliament by Roland Hill.

1. A half ounce letter will be charged one penny regardless of distance travelled in Great Britain
2. Prepayment of letters was made possible through adhesive postage stamps, with the sender paying the cost of delivery. The idea of using stamps soon caught fire among many governments around the world. The cost of 1d for sending letters within England remained the same until World War II.

Through the years, an increasing number of people outside the government and nobility started sending out letters, notes and documents and some of these have survived until this time. This brought about the onset of stamp collecting. The popularity of collecting started two decades after the penny black was offered in 1840, and by the 1930's almost all aspects of the hobby have been researched and cataloged. Collectors also searched for other things to study aside from the usual postage stamps. Most enthusiasts started to look for postal markings and focused their attention on the hand stamps and other markings found on letters before the official release of stamps for letters in 1840. All these developments led to the development of Postal History - the art of studying the postage rates and usual routes taken by letters. With so many information and details available starting from the 18th century, the idea of covering Postal History means paying attention to the letters from different time periods.

Your Stamp Collection - How to begin?

With so many sources of information available, how do you start and become part of a league of stamp collectors? You need to decide on an anchor for your collection - will you focus on a limited topic or go all-out with a popular niche? For a start, it is best to start your collections focusing on your town or region. Most towns in Britain maintained their own postal offices at the turn of 18th century. If you are confident enough, you can expand to a county. Collecting also means paying attention to the envelopes. These items are also loaded with information and are themsrelves a piece of history!
Look for mails that were sent by different modes of transportation, whether by ship, air or rail. You can even incorporate military history in your collection since most military campaigns then involve the large-scale sending out of letters. You can also create a theme for your collection based on the routes used (think trans-Atlantic and Danube) or through express delivery or parcel services.
Let creativity be your friend when starting out your Postal History collecting adventure!