At the Internet pages of the French auction house Lugdunum Philatélie I noticed the above fantastic letter. The letter was posted in Paris on October 7th, 1870 its destination being Denmark: Mrs. R. Valentin, Amagertorv 27, København. It was posted by the son of the addressee. I presume that at the time he was attached to the family business in Paris, Valintin & Frankfurter, 4 Passage Violet, Paris. Anyhow, that is how the return address, which can be seen on the front of the letter, reads. The letter is franked with two Napoleon III stamps (with a laurel wreath), the 20c blue and the 30c brown, in all 50c which sufficed as postage for Denmark according to the red box mark PD on the front, " Payé à Destination".
What makes this letter very special is, however, that it left Paris in a pile of letters placed in a balloon. This fact emerges clearly from the letter front: "par Ballon libre". I am not a collector of French postal history and therefore it is with a certain reservation that I reproduce the following information (in other words do consult my source of information): As I understand it there were two kinds of balloons, manned balloons and un-manned balloons. Whether a letter was sent by the one or the other, can in certain cases be determined by the front of the pre-printed correspondence cards, which were very quickly put on the marked by private firms. If it said "par Ballon libre" the balloon was un-manned, if it said "par Ballon monté" it was a manned balloon. Out of the in all 67 balloons 55 were manned. The postage, the weight and size permitted, varied according to the type of balloon employed. That the manned type was soon preferred to the un-manned is self-evident.
Our letter was sent by an un-manned balloon on October 7th, 1870. In all three balloons were despatched that very day, out of which at least one was manned namely the balloon with the name of the famous George Sand. Another was called Armand Barbe and the third either had no name or was called Piper No 1. They landed in the non occupied areas of France and the letters were handed in by the finder at a near by Post Office for further attention. Of course the finder received a neat compensation for the trouble caused and a reward.
The contents of the letter sound the following:
My dear Mother
I confirm my letters from last week. We are still under siege, but have the best of hopes; the Prussians die outside Paris! I am in good health and I hope the same is the case for you, my dear Mother, and that all the family is in good health. My very best wishes to all of you, your affectionate son
If we did not already know here is the explanation why the mail leaving Paris was shipped by balloons. The French-Prussian war rages and Paris is under siege. The war was declared by France on July 19th, 1870 and ended by the signing of an armistice agreement on January 28th, 1871.
To those collectors who look for more information about this period or about the postal history of France dating 1848 – 1878 I would recommend to turn to a beautifully illustrated book published this year by Michéle Chauvet and Jean-Francois Brun.
Mr. Brun informs that an estimated two to three million letters were shipped out of Paris by balloon during the siege most of them to destinations in France itself. How many balloon mail letters exist with Denmark as their final destination I do not know? I have been told about the existence of one other letter so maybe there are indeed two of them.