The British Post Office in Boston


On September 1, 1842 the "Boston" straight line marking shown below was proofed in the Postmarks of the Date Impressions Books Post Office Records of the British Post Office in London. Recorded usages date between November 30, 1842 and July 15, 1844 and all were carried by Cunard Line steamers departing from Boston. None of these show prepayment of packet rates and all were treated as postage due.

Although it is not known to whom the marking was sent, the logical recipient would have been T.W. Moore, the British Consul and Packet Agent in Boston at the time. The packet agent was responsible for supervising the receipt and dispatch of mail and official dispatches at Boston that were carried by Cunard Line steamers. Previously, British Post offices had been utilized at New Orleans and New York City and these offices collected postage for prepaid packet rates on RMS steamers.

All of the approximately 15 known usages of the Boston marking are on letters that passed through, or originated at, the British Consulate office in New York City. None show prepayment of the United States postage between New York and Boston. It has been speculated that the Boston marking was applied as a directional marking at New York. However, I believe that the marking was applied at Boston.

During the period of use of this Boston marking, the British agent was responsible for two types of mail; a regular mail bag as well as a "despatch bag" that contained official letters and documents that were permitted to be sent free. Mails sent between New York City and Boston were subject to a United States postal rate of 18 cents per sheet. I believe that letters were received at the British Consulate at New York City and were then sent under cover to the British Packet agent in Boston. Upon arrival of the packet at the United States post office, the agent in Boston would have paid the postal charges on the packet, at the reduced postal rate of 75 cents per ounce, rather than per sheet rate. The agent was required to keep track of all postage amounts paid so that he could be reimbursed from the government. As he had to keep a tally of such letters upon which he had to pay postage, it is only logical that he would have stamped them to indicate that he had accounted for them. The official "despatch letters" which were entitled to be carried free would not have required marking nor would the covers received directly at Boston.

November 30, 1842 letter from Grinnell, Minturn & Co. at New York addressed to Huth & Co. in London, carried by the Acadia that departed Boston on December 2 and arrived at Liverpool on December 16, 1842, London transit backstamp of the following day and "1/-" packet postage due, file folds, fine strike, the earliest reported usage

July 6, 1843 letter dated at New York City addressed to Paris, France, carried by the Hibernia that departed on July 16 and arrived in Liverpool on July 28, 1843, London transit backstamp of the following day, red "Colonies & Art 12" handstamp, French arrival postmark and manuscript 20 decimes due endorsement, light creases, very fine strike, the only reported example used to France

May 21, 1843 letter from New Orleans to Schmidt & Vogel in New York with blue postmark and manuscript "25" rate for carriage to New York, collected there and mailed at British Consulate to Huth & Co. in London, carried by the Caledonia that departed June 1 and arrived at Liverpool on June 13, 1843, London transit backstamp of the following day and "1/-" packet postage due, file fold, extremely fine strike, ex John Trowbridge, the only reported example that bears an American postmark


Richard Frajola (May 2009)