Stampless Covers

For thousands of years before the introduction of the postage stamp in 1840, postal service existed on several levels. Originally, postal service was a private contractual affair-a merchant or a friend was traveling to another place and took your letters along. Later, private companies entered the market and provided service between locations that had a need for regular communication. The Roman Catholic church had an internal communication system-a post if you will- throughout its 2000 year history. This was needed to keep central control over the various dioceses.
            It is only in the last 400 years that governments have gotten into the letter carrying business. In the earliest phases, governments would provide carriage between set points. Getting the letters to and from those points was the responsibility of the sender and recipient. A favorite story is how whaling vessels in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would stop when passing each other so that those going away from home could give letters to those going towards home. Remember, in the era before electronic communication, letters were the only way that people ever heard from loved ones or business correspondents. There was no way of knowing what happened anywhere in the world until a letter or newspaper carried from there told you. If the recent Japanese earthquake had occurred in 1600 (during the period of Japan’s self imposed isolation from the world), it is very possible that people outside of Japan would have only known about it when historians looked at the records years later. Marco Polo’s father left on a trading trip before Marco was born and didn’t return until he was a teenager. During that time Mrs Polo had no idea when or if her husband would ever return or whether he was alive or dead. Talk about uncertainty. We get anxious when the person we text makes us wait thirty seconds for a response. Pictured with this post is a prestamped envelope bearing the kind of markings covers have in the prestamped period. This is an 1842 cover from Brazil to London marked “ship letter” and with a London receiving marking (Brazil issued its first stamps in 1843).

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