Sunday, 4 May 2008

The old letter and it’s seals

Collecting pre-philatelic letters and covers will sooner or later force you to take a good look at the sometimes beautiful wax seals on the back side. I cannot help wondering whether with the help of these seals more information could be retrieved about the sender of the letter and the date of the letter especially when the letter has no sender and no date or no full date ís indicated anywhere on the letter be it inside or outside.

In 1949 an Austrian Baron named Anton Kumpf Mikuli (1879-1968) published a thin book entitled „Der Brief als kulturgeschichtliches Studien- und Sammelobjekt“ (the Letter as an Item for Cultural History Studies and Collecting). This booklet is said to be the basic work on “the letter” and a must for all collectors of classic letters and covers.

The book is a joy to read provided of course that you know some German. It touches in a very thorough way on all subjects that relate to the letter like paper, its watermarks, script, titles and addresses, censorship, postmarks and even the topic of humor and letters and pictures on letters just to mention some of the headings.

Kumpf Mikuli presents the reader with a simple but most intriguing definition of the thrust a letter. "A letter is basically a message to somebody who is absent. If the receiver replies you have a correspondence.”

As you can understand the book itself merits a post of its own, but for now I limit myself to the topic of the wax seal.

Kumpf Mikuli writes about The Sealing of Letters. The seal originally was made of a special kind of soil which in the middle of the 16th century was replaced by wax later to be replaced by the wax seal which was widely used in the 17th and 18 centuries. Around 1700 the first wafers were introduced into which vignettes were pressed. Seal labels are seen already in the second half of the 18th century. Most wax seals were red but black wax seals are not that scarce since they were used on mourning letters. At certain times and in certain countries the colour of the seal was attached to rank: Red for the better off people and yellow for the less fortunate.

The symbol in the seal – which is supposed to be the core topic or rather question of this post – could be initials, names, images, portraits and cotes of arms. Kumpf Mikuli states in this context that the letter seals represent a special branch of the study of heraldry and genealogy.

Here is an easy targit because you can read the text around the symbols: "Hamburg Police Authority". But what do the symbols signify?

I am (only) a stamp collector and a philatelist. I need help from a heraldryst or genealogist.

I'll now show you more of my the seals which all have a connection to Schleswig-Holstein except for the red one in the center which belongs to a cover sent from Roskilde in Denmark to Schleswig Holstein. I would very much like to know more about them. What do they represent? What do the individual symbols represent. For instance the standing horse? The fox or is it a kind of long dog? The coat of arms. Just press the image and you will have a larger one on your screen.

And finally a black one with the text: Royal Rendsburg County House. Again there are symbols and does the colour signify death or mourning? Or was it just the colour of the day?

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Fandt ét - søger et anden!

På denne blog efterlyste jeg i november 2007 et dansk grænseportobrev frankeret med 4skilling tofarvet. Det kunne f.eks. være sendt fra Kolding til Haderslev, dvs. mellem byer beliggende på hver sin side men stadig tæt på Kongeå grænsen.

Kommer bjerget ikke til Jeppe så må Jeppe komme til bjerget, sagde Ludvig Holberg. I hvert fald lykkedes det mig for nylig at udfylde hullet i min samling med dette brev:

Brevet er sendt

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Concept of a Newspaper Wrapper

What is a Newspaper Wrapper? Everybody seem to know! But if you have to define a Newspaper Wrapper using words, you end up with the problem of defining an elephant. When you see them, you know them, but describing them precisely and in a non-ambigious way is difficult.

Not wanting to turn this post into a linguistic, philosophical discussion, I will now mention some of the characteristics that I think normally cling to a Newspaper Wrapper:

  • Paper suited to be wrapped around a newspaper or similar object like a band.

  • Open in both sides.

  • Stationery, produced by postal authorities or privately manufactured from a plain piece of paper.

  • Pre-printed postage stamp/postage stamp/pre-philatelic payment.

  • Special cheap postal rate.

    But then, what about the label like pieces of paper stuck on the content? Like this one:

    What about a wrapper the content of which is printed on its inside? Like invitation or stock exchange data. What about the old cross-bands?

    Of course as a collector you decide yourselves what to include in or exclude from your collection. If you want to exhibit your collection this however will be some of the issues that you have to clarify and to draw your red lines.

    What do you think of this description of a Newspaper Wrapper? Come and debate with me.

    Have a nice day


    1. Saturday, 1 March 2008

      Denmark 1882/84: Small and large corner figures

      In 1882 Denmark responded to a call from the UPU to issue stamps in colors green, red and blue carrying the rates valid for printed matter to another UPU country, lettercard to another UPU country and a normal letter to another UPU country.

      A green 5 and a blue 20 øre stamp were issued and letter cards with the face value of a red 10 øre. The subject was the same. Coat of arms in a kind of Victorian style. In 1884 the green 5 and the blue 20 øre stamps were reissued in a slightly different design and a red 10 øre stamp was added to the series.

      To collectors of Danish stamps there is an important difference between the stamps issued in 1882 and 1884. The first have small corner figures and the second have large corner figures, the collectors are told by most catalogs.

      Many times I have seen stamps with large corner figures for sale presented as if they have small corner figures. It goes without saying that the first are the rarest and more expensive ones since they were printed in much smaller quantities than the later ones.
      Collectors and dealers are however to some extent excused when mixing up the the two designs. The name "small and large corner figures" points to a difference in design, but if you do not have both types in front of you, what do you do? The difference is there, but it is not for everybody to see, if you cannot compare. Besides small and large are relative terms.

      Luckily there are other differences which are much easier to detect than the diferent sizes of the figures. The most important one is absence of color in a band around the crown. If the color fills out the whole area around the crown it is the 1882 printing, the rarer one. If there is a clear white band or line following the shape of the upper part of the crown it is the 1884 issue. You can hardly miss it if you know where to look. I add a picture of the 1882 issue.

      Take a good look at your Victorian style Danish stamps and report to me if you have problems.

      By the way. The 10 øre red does in fact alsoexist with small corner figures. However this is the result of a conscious printing error. Some clichées were damaged when the 10 øre 1884 issue was printed. As replacement the printers used clichées used for the 1882 letter cards which had small corner figures.

      That means we are talking about isolated clichées in sheets with large corner figures. These 10 øre stamps with small corner figures are of course very rare indeed. Below I show a wonderful pair of 10 øre red: The left stamp is an isolated clichée with small corner figures, the right stamp a normal clichée with large corner figures.

      You see the difference in the corners as well as with regards to the white line around the upper part of the crown?

      Enjoy looking for the different types, including the rare isolated clichées.

      Monday, 21 January 2008

      France: The Calender of the Jacobins

      I have a collection entitled ” Chatou my village west of Paris”. Three old letters from the time of the French Revolution form part of my collection. I show them below. In many ways they are something special. First, however, I want to provide you with some background information which will make it easier to understand the (inside) dates of the letters.

      At the French revolutionary convention in October 1793 a new revolutionary calendar was approved. The calendar was implemented on September 22, 1793. It was decided to start counting from this same day, but from the previous year, 1792; the day of the decision to abolish the monarchy and the creation of the republic.

      The year was divided into 12 months of 30 days, which leaves us with a surplus of 5 days (6 days in leap years), which were placed at the end of the year. The surplus days were called ”sans-culottides” and would be national holidays. Every month consists of three weeks,”décades”. The last day in a week would be a day for resting. The months were grouped in 4 sets of three according to the seasons – autumn, winter, spring and summer. They are given natural names. The weekdays were called first day, second day, third day aso. till the tenth day. The Calender never became popular with the people and was abolished by Napoleon in year 12 (1804).

      Letter No. 1: As can be seen from all three letters one addressed each other ”citoyen” i.e. citizen in the name of equality.This is a postage due letter sent from Chatou to Pôntoise dated 14. Nivôse (snow) Year 5, i.e. 3rd of January 1797. The postage, 4 “décimes”, was paid to the letter carrier. The embossed postmark shows the towns name and the number 72, the ”department Seine et Oise”.

      Letter no. 2: This is a postage due letter sent from Chatou to Pôntoise dated 5. Ventôse (wind) year 6, i.e. 23rd February 1798. The postage, 5 “décimes”, was paid to the letter carrier. The red postmark shows the towns name and the number 72, the ”department Seine et Oise”. The colour of the postmark does not signify any special function, but the red one is rare.

      Letter No. 3: Finally a postage due letter sent from Chatou to Pôntoise dated 15. Ventôse (wind) year 7, i.e. 5th March 1799. The postage, 4 “décimes”, was paid to the letter carrier. The red postmark shows the towns name and number 72, the ”department Seine et Oise”.

      When you collect a French area as I do there is no way round the updating of a chapter of the history of France. But this certainly just adds to the adventure.

      The village of
      Chatou has its own homepage telling for instance the history of the place. The story of the Calendar of the Jacobins is told on many a fine site.