Leon Reusille, a forgotten postal history pioneer
By: Calvet M. Hahn

Mar 1 , 2003

This month, the NY Collectors Club announced that this year’s Lichtenstein award is going to a deserving student of the transatlantic mails, Richard Winter. Thus it is serendipitously appropriate that my seminar this past month was on a long overlooked pioneer in the same field, Leon Reusille. Attendees at the seminar were shown the notebooks in which Reusille listed off the voyages of the steamer lines across the Atlantic and the covers carried on the voyages, including some mail sailings not covered in the Winter book and a few cases where the postmarks differed from the newspaper listings of arrivals.

Also shown were source documents used by Reusille to develop his transatlantic data and correspondence from Bonsor and letters to Ashbrook, Hargest, Tracy Simpson and others along with a 2-inch thick file of notes and unpublished material. As a bonus for one member expected to attend, William Coles’ notebooks on depreciated currency, particularly his pages on the depreciated currency markings of Philadelphia, were also brought.

It was particularly noted that Reusille sought out first (maiden), unusual, and last voyages of both the steamship lines and the sailing packets. This also meant early wreck covers of which he had several not recorded in Adrian Hopkins wreck cover book although he had been in correspondence with that gentleman. Mr. Reusille was in process of creating a similar work to the revised 5-volume Bonsor North Atlantic Seaway work only focused on the sailing packets rather than the steamers. He was only able to complete a few chapters before ill health overtook his efforts.

The Leon Reusille Story
© Calvet M. Hahn 2003

One of the key New Jersey pioneers in modern postal history as compared with cover collecting and accumulation was the late Leon Reusille (born March 26, 1890, died August 23, 1980), a lawyer from Red Bank, N.J. A collector from an early age, he began, at least by the 1930s, to specialize in transatlantic mails as did fellow New Jerseyites William C. Coles, Jr. (depreciated currency markings), Frank A. Hollowbush (sailing packets), W. C. Peterman, and Gerald Neufield.

Reusille was the pioneer of the New Jersey group, which resembled the circle of transatlantic collectors that surrounded George Hargest, Lester Downing, Maurice Blake and Mel Schuh in the Boston area. At the time transatlantic covers, stampless or not bearing high value adhesives sold for well under a dollar each, many were 5¢.

Mr. Reussille had other interests. For example his interest in New Jersey locals and carriers is marked by the correspondence with the late Elliott Perry that is in the possession of John Halstead today. Another of Leon’s interests was in registry covers. Here he was one of the three leading collectors in America along with Barbara Mueller and Donald MacGregor (whose collection was sold by Pat Herst January 30, 1963). The sale of Leon’s registry studies took place in 1967 as seen in figure 1. Typical of his type of interest are figures 2 and 3, the earliest recorded use of the word ‘Registry’ or its abbreviation ‘Reg.’.

In addition to his transatlantic studies, Reusille also researched coastal ships such as the 1813 Fulton, figure 4, and the Connecticut of 1818, early iron screw canal boats such as the Robert Stockton (later the New Jersey), which was the first iron hull screw steamer to cross the Atlantic, before being used to haul barges on the Delaware canal and the four canal steamboats built by for the Delaware and Raritan Canal Co., beginning in 1842 figure 5 and the flat bottomed Durham boats introduced circa 1809 for service in the St. Lawrence and western waters, figure 6.

As noted British postal historian R. M. Willcocks stated in 1975 there were only nine serious students of postal history in the UK prior to 1920. There were just as few students collecting transatlantic covers in the 1930s. During the years when Leon collected transatlantic mails, there was no rate book. The seminal Hargest volume was first published in 1972 with no acknowledgement of Reusille’s contribution. It has generally been superceded by the later Starnes work. There was also no record of transatlantic sailings of the various steamship lines (we now have the Hubbard/Winter 1988 book North Atlantic Mail Sailings 1840-1875), although Walter Hubbard began publishing some sailing data as early and 1963.

Reussille pioneered in collecting freight money covers and corresponded with Frank Staff whose 1956 work Transatlantic Mail was the first to discuss the subject. He also corresponded with N. R. P. Bonsor whose 1955 North Atlantic Seaway study of the various shipping lines and the ships they used was expanded to a 5-volume work in 1975. Bonsor, J. H. Isherwood and others were publishing notes on various transatlantic ships in the English publication Sea Breezes in the late 1950s and early 1860s.

Alan Robertson’s important History of the Ship Letters of the British Isles had just been published in late 1955 while Raymond Salles 8-volume La Poste Maritime Française did not begin publication until late 1962. Howard Robinson’s survey book Carrying British Mails Overseas first appeared in 1964. R. Kirk’s studies of the P&O line and the sailings to Africa and the Far East did not begin to appear until the 1980s. On the American side C. C. Cutler had published his work on the clipper ships, Greyhounds of the Sea, in 1930 and his more important (for postal historians) Queens of the Western Ocean in 1961. Robert G. Albion had published the Rise of New York Port (1815-1860) in 1939 and Square-Riggers On Schedule in 1965. Eric Heyl had published Early American Steamers prior to 1955.

America challenged the British sea packet supremacy with the Black Ball packets in 1818. Reusille recorded these and the other sailing packet line sailings and covers. With the introduction of regular steam service across the Atlantic following the successful trips of the Sirius and Great Western, the steamship operators had the brilliant idea of a separate 25¢ charge for carrying letters this speedily and instituted the freight money concept with the earliest cover being dated 5/12/38. The faster sail packets followed suit and began to charge 12½¢. The British postoffice would have none of it; the American and Canadian postmasters agreed to collect the charges when the letters were mailed. The British cancelled the Canadian arrangement December 4, 1840 when they learned of it. The U.S. collected freight money as late as September 1847.

Reusille was the major student in this field, collecting original documents of the Canadian agreements with Abraham Bell’s line as well as numerous covers. At the time of the sale all the lots were grouped by New England Stamp acting for Charless Hahn, who later wrote up Reusille’s notes, winning a gold medal for his Chronicle article without any acknowledgement that the research was entirely Reusille’s. In handling the accounting for freight money collection on the covers, Baltimore tended to make the charges separately on covers, as did the Canadian and most U.S. offices, while Philadelphia combined the two into one postal rate. New York did not mark the covers.

While a little work had been done on reprisal, retaliatory, restored and treaty rates, Leon was a pioneer in collecting them and putting the ships and rates together. He first published articles on it at least by 1958 and drew Hargest’s attention to correspondence regarding the 1848 treaty from Hunter Miller’s 5-volume Treaty book in a letter of May 19, 1960. (In a July 6, 1957 letter he also drew Ashbrook’s attention to this work and discussed the restored rate period sailings; this was also the source for Starnes rate studies.) In a February 26, 1963 letter to Hargest he reported, and offered, a complete list of sailings of 1838-1840 and a fairly good chronological list of all steamer sailings from both sides of the Atlantic through 1853. He relied upon Maginnis’s work of 1892 (pgs. 27-29) for the Cunard 1849 sailings. This letter also noted his attraction to maiden voyages, last voyages and noted trips such as those on the Cunarder predecessor, the Unicorn, one of the more romantic steamers.

In the discussion of the events leading up to the U.S./British treaty of 1848, Reusille obtained official records of the treaties and then went out to locate the earliest and latest covers for each period-reprisal, retaliatory, restored and treaty. He reported to Hargest that there were no covers from the Ocean Mail line during the restored rate period. He also made extensive lists of covers during each period as seen in his notebooks, and his unpublished write-up of the subject is, in my opinion, much easier to follow than that in Hargest.

An example of the unusual uses sought out by Reusille is this cover, figure 7, that went via the Cunarder Acadia, with its straightline ‘pr Acadia’ applied by the Ward forwarder firm of Boston.

Figures 7, 8

Figure 9

Figures 10, 11

Figures 12, 13

Figures 14, 15

Figures 16, 17