the signing of the Treaty of Berne and the formation of the General
Postal Union (GPU) in October 1874, individual countries had to make
their own arrangements between themselves for the handling and delivery
of mail coming from a foreign country. But on 1st July 1875 this
came to an end, at least as far as the GPU member countries were
concerned. All those who had signed the Treaty of Berne agreed to
charge the same rate of postage for mail sent to another country, each
member retaining all the postage paid to them, and to give the same
preference to both inland mail and that from other countries. The
basic overseas rate for letters was set at 25 Swiss centimes, or the
local currency equivalent. In the case of Great Britain
this was 2½d for letters weighing up to half an ounce, a rate
that remained the same for nearly 50 years.
One other postage rate agreed by
the GPU was that postcards sent to a foreign country would be charged
half the basic letter rate, or 12½ Swiss centimes. For
Great Britain this was 1¼d and new postcards were produced
specifically for this purpose [Figure 1].
No premium was allowed on the cost of foreign rate postcards and they
had to be sold for just 1¼d, unlike their inland counterparts
which had cost more than the basic ½d soon after they were first
introduced in 1870.
Figure 1. A 1¼d postcard used
to Delft, Holland on 3rd July 1877.
Although special postcards were
produced for sending overseas, there were no restrictions on using
inland postcards for this purpose providing they were printed with a
prepaid stamp (ie were postal stationery postcards) and if necessary
had additional adhesive stamps added to make up the correct postal
rate. However, in the early years of the foreign postcard it was
unusual for this to happen. There were never any stamps using the
farthing coin issued in Great Britain (ie ¼d or ¾d
stamps) and so it was impossible to make up an inland ½d
postcard to exactly 1¼d to match the price of the stamp on the
1875 foreign postcard. Anyone trying to use an inland postcard to
a foreign country was giving away a ¼d and also paying an
unnecessary premium for the postcard itself.
Figure 2. The 1875 issue ½d
inland postcard uprated to 1½d and used to Germany on 8th
Figure 3. An 1878 issue inland postcard
uprated with a Penny Red and used to Italy on 20th April that year.
The two postcards illustrated here [Figures 2 & 3] are nice examples
of this happening. Did the writers not realise that they had to
use a different value postcard on foreign mail to those they used
within the UK. Then when they took them to the local post office
they were told otherwise? Perhaps they did not have a 1¼d
postcard and could not get to the post office to buy one. Thus
they had to use an uprated inland postcard which they could pop into
the nearest pillar box. We’ll never know, but they have provided
us with a couple of interesting items.
In 1878 the GPU became the UPU (the
Universal Postal Union) and by this time many more countries had
joined. The 1¼d rate set in 1875 only lasted four years
and was replaced in April 1879 with new rates of 1d, 1½d and 2d
which were agreed between UPU members, depending on the postcard’s
destination. Never again would the farthing feature in a British
Notes on British
currency: In Great Britain in the middle of the 19th
century the penny (1d) was quite a valuable coin to many people who
only earned about ten shillings a week (equal to 120 pennies).
The penny was divided into two half pennies and these again were
divided into two farthings, making four farthings equal to one penny.
(This article is reproduced from
the November 2010 issue of The Postal Stationery Society Journal.)
Copyright 2003-13. All Rights Reserved
updated: 26 August 2013