History of Expertizing and Catalog Listings- Calvet Hahn

Nov 1 , 1999

    New Rate and Route Studies

Ocean mail studies were undergoing an explosion by the 1970s.  In December 1955, Alan Robertson had published a three-volume work History of the Ship Letters of the British Isles, N.R.P. Bonsor had published a single volume edition of his North Atlantic Seaway in the same year, now expanded to five volumes.   In 1962 Raymond Salles had begun publication of his award-winning La Poste Maritime Française, which was to grow to nine volumes. Beginning in 1976 Walter Hubbard began to publish sailing data on the various steamship lines that culminated in the 1988 U.S. Classics Society publication of North Atlantic Mail Sailings 1840-75 by him and Richard Winter.  In addition to the aforementioned Hargest book, Charles Starnes published in 1982 a major study of the postal conventions and official notices in United States Letter Rates to Foreign Destinations 1847 to GPU-UPU.  In England Captain Reginald Kirk in 1982 began publication of his series of sailings by the P&O and other lines to Africa, India, Australia and the Far East.  All of these are now basic texts for the understanding of U.s. ocean mails.  I had also written up the major transatlantic holding of Leon Reusille for auction in 1972-3, while several major other holdings of transatlantic mail had come to market before the Armitage cover was again examined.

In 1991, the Armitage cover again came up for expertization and Richard Winter developed a rate and route analysis, which was confirmed by Charles Starnes.  By this point almost every major student of foreign mails from the U.S.  had examined the Armitage cover.

Route Analysis

Winter correctly noted this cover left New York January 26, 1861 in the Inman line’s Edinburgh and arrived at Liverpool on February 7th and London the following day.  On page 54 of Captain Kirk’s P&O Lines to the Far East, it states the P & O’s Pera left Southampton on February 2nd, arriving at Alexandria, Egypt March 5, 1861, while the Indus left on February 4th and arrived February 19th at Alexandria.   This is the same day that the Fectis arrived, having left Marseilles on February 13th.  In light of these sailings, this letter had to have gone as directed ‘via Marseilles’ in order to be in Alexandria on the 19th, having arrived on the Fectis.

The P & O steamer Nemesis left Suez on the 21st of February reaching Galle, Ceylon on March 9th.  The next possible connection didn’t reach Galle until March 22nd.  The Nemesis was slated to go on to Calcutta, and we know it departed that city on April 11th, arriving back at Galle on April 18, 1861.  It is the one vessel that could deliver this cover in time for the Calcutta steam bearing arrival postmark on the back.  Summarizing, this data means the cover traveled on the Edinburgh, Fectis and Nemesis, which were the only vessels that fit the dated postal markings.

     Rate Analysis

The basic analytic problem of this cover has always revolved about rates and what the various experts understood about the.  Everyone who examined it agreed the letter was paid only to England and that it was unpaid from England to Calcutta.  Those who condemned the cover focused upon the lack of a record of a $1.32 rate to India in 1861 so that the excess postage over the prepaid-to-England rate was suspect.  There was disagreement about how to read the manuscript rate markings on the face and back.

The early analyses were done at a time when the U.S. Mail & Post Office Assistant was just becoming a popular source for rate studies along with the U.S. Postal Laws and Regulations.  Ashbrook used both.  In the U.S. Mail, the ‘East Indies’ notation showed only the British open mail rate, e.g. 21¢ via American packet. Having found this open mail East Indies rate, none of the early students seem to have looked into the second column where there was a rate to the ‘Indian Archipelago’ rate via French mail and a British mail rate via Marseilles of 39¢ and 45¢. Both Winter and Starnes note that the 1859 Postal Laws and Regulations had on page 79 an East Indies prepaid rate of 33¢ via Southampton and 39¢ and 45¢ via Marseilles, while on page, 80 the Indian archipelago rate via Marseilles of 39¢ and 45¢ is also noted.  Hargest also shows this Marseilles rate on page 204 of the first edition of his 1971 work.

Double or Quadruple Rate?

Ashbrook and those following his analysis, always assumed this letter could only be a double rated, prepaid only to England as had not located the via Marseilles rates.  However it could have been an attempt to prepay a quadruple rate.  A quadruple rate via Southampton (4 x 33¢) equals the $1.32 postage actually found on the letter. A quadruple rate (1-1¼ ounce) letter sent via Marseilles, as the directional on this letter required, would have been $1.62, so that it would have been underpaid and all but the transatlantic postage ignored.  The U.S. would have been entitled to 84¢ out of the $1.32 postage received and kept it all so that the recipient had to pay postage from London onward.

Ashbrook originally read the British claim to India as 2/? And later as 2/4, alleging this was a double rate England to India cover.  Hargest and Schuh concluded the rate was 2/- (two shillings) and so read the rate on the face, while they read the rate on the back of 1 rupee, 8 annas and 9 pice as two shillings one pence with one rupee eight annas being equal to two shillings.  This was an incorrect analysis of the Indian currency.

A rupee contains 16 annas and an anna has 12 pice.  As of August 1, 1859, two annas converted into three pence.  This means two shillings equaled one rupee, one shilling was eight annas and eight pice was equal to one pence.  Consequently the total amount collected from the Indian recipient was equal to three shillings one pence with one extra pie left over.

According to the Indian Gazette of June 9, 1860, a sourced not used by any of the early students, the postal rate to America was reduced from a higher earlier rate to eleven pence (11d) or seven annas four pice per single letter.

Both the manuscript rate on the face and the postage due markings on the back make it clear this letter could not have been rated as a double unpaid letter from England to India.  All analyses that are based upon that assumption fall down on this point.  As both Winter and Starnes noted, there had to be more than 42¢ in postage stamps on the cover in order to prepay it to England.

As both the British claim for postage on the face and the rate collected on the back are inconsistent with a double rate, this cover had to be rated at a higher rate.  The two published higher rates were $1.62 via Marseilles and $1.32 via Southampton for a 1-1¼ ounce letter.  The British system did not accept triple rates.

The U.S. had a claim for only 84¢ on an over one-ounce letter, but kept all the postage.  Britain had a claim on the recipient for 78¢ or 3/3.  The Winter/Starnes analysis credit Calcutta with a 4d reduction as a colonial servicing rebatement (4 x 1d) leaving the 2/11 recorded on the cover’s face.

The only possible question with the Winter/Starnes rate analysis comes in connection with this giveback.  Table 2 on page 44 of Colonel D. R. Martin’s 1975 book Overseas Letter Postage From India 1854-1876 shows among its other rates, the 1-1¼ ounce rate in effect between January 29, 1857 and June 1, 1869 via Southampton as eight annas and via Marseilles as one rupee ten annas respectively..

On page 29, Colonel Martin noted that England had been charging internal postage both through the Atlantic packet rate charges and through the Indian packet rates.  A 2d Indian rate reduction was made effective February 1, 1859 from one shilling to eleven pence, with Indian recipients paying to the nearest practical amount above, or seven annas six pice.  This may have reflected the fact that Egypt took over carriage across Suez in 1858, with the rail line completed May 25, 2859 and a reduced subsidy for the P & O line then being put into effect.  As noted in the Indian Gazette of June 6, 1860, the rate was further dropped to eleven pence, or seven annas for pice.  By reducing its postage claims from 3/3 to 2/11, for this cover, England was forgoing one transit fee, equal to 4d on a letter of over one ounce.

The 1d single rate charge seen on Indian mails is not unique to that destination.  It is found on mails east of Suez from East Africa through India, Singapore and Hong Kong.  I don’t record it on West African, West Indian or circumnavigating the Cape mails.  While Martin suggests it is an England inland charge, specialists in other areas such as Hong Kong have attributed it to a local charge.  I am inclined to think it relates to Suez mail transits as it seems to apply to all letters so transiting, but have yet to find confirmation in the official records.