Franco-Prussian mixed postage 1870-1874
On 28 January 1871, the day of the armistice signed between Otto von Bismark for the German states and Jules Favre for France, the German armies occupied all or part of 30 French départements.
Letter mailed on 8 February 1871 in CAMBRAI (free zone) for ST QUENTIN (occupied zone). The postmen in ST QUENTIN have applied a 2 décimes tax.
Extract from Monthly Bulletin no. 27 of September 1870.
The Armistice was signed on 28 January 1871. Article 15 of this agreement stated that: "A postal service for unsealed letters will be organised between Paris and the departments via the Versailles headquarters".
With regard to this article, an agreement between Germain Rampont (Director General of the Post Office) and Joseph Rosshirt (Postal Administrator in the occupied territories) stated in its first article that: "Simple letters from Paris to French territory occupied by German troops, and vice versa, will be subject to a tax of 40 centimes. Each of the contracting parties will collect 20 centimes, so that no accounting will be made for the exchange of these letters. For letters weighing more than 10 grams, the tax will be established according to the French progression of franked letters. Letters in question will be delivered to the German Office in Versailles, sorted by department".
In addition to the French stamps covering the French port, and provided they could be obtained, the public had the option of franking letters in full with occupation stamps covering the German port. In parallel with this agreement, the tax on letters circulating between the occupied and free zones (outside Paris) to be charge on recipients remained fixed at 30 centimes (service order of 28 January 1871).
On 27 February 1871, the Moniteur universel published a public notice dated 25 February announcing the restoration of postal traffic between occupied and unoccupied departments. The taxation of letters was identical to that for letters between Paris and the occupied departments published almost a month earlier: "Letters from occupied departments to non-occupied departments, and vice versa, will be subject to a charge of 20 centimes per single letter, which must always be paid by the addressee".
On 10 March 1871, a postal agreement (valid from 24 March) between Rampon and von Stephan enabled the French postal administration to take over the postal service in the occupied departments. The mixed port therefore ceased to exist in these departments, but postal relations with the "ceded" territories of Alsace and Lorraine continued.
On 23 March, Albert Miessner, Director General of the STRASBOURG Post Office, published notice 167 imposing a 30 c tax in Alsace-Lorraine, payable by the addressee on all correspondence from France.
Extract from notice no. 167 published in the Verordnungen und Amtliche Nachrichten für Elsass-Lothringen.
On 24 July, Director Miessner published a new notice announcing that from 1 August, the tax charged to addressees of letters from France would be set at 20 centimes.
Avis n° 261 publié dans les Verordnungen und Amtliche Nachrichten für Elsass-Lothringen.
Since October 1870, the postal administration of the North German Confederation (Norddeutsche Postverwaltung) had based the management of postal activity in the occupied territories on 3 entities:
- General Postal Directorate for Alsace (Oberpostdirektion für Elsass), which had been based in Strasbourg since 4 October;
- General Postal Directorate for Lorraine (Oberpostdirektion für deutsch Lothringen), first in NANCY from 6 October, then in METZ from 31 October 1870;
- Postal Administration for Occupied Territories (Administration der Posten in den besetzten französischen Gebieten), first in NANCY on 24 August 1870, then in REIMS from 6 October 1870.
The reason why these 3 administrations were set up was that, from the beginning, the Germans wanted to annex Alsace and Lorraine and therefore set up a lasting administration there. Circular no. 73 of 13 October 1870 in the official journal of the North German Confederation post office refers to an order issued by Wilhelm I on 12 September: "In response to your report of the 12th of this month, I authorise that the postal system in the area of the General Government of German Alsace and Lorraine be immediately and definitively organised by the Postal Administration of the Confederation of Northern Germany, and that for this purpose two general postal directorates be created, as well as the provisional postal administration in the other occupied French territories on the basis of existing institutions".
In addition, on 6 September (circular no. 64), the Post Office of the North German Confederation announced the issue of occupation stamps with a value in centimes (incorrectly called Alsace-Lorraine stamps by collectors). These stamps had already been printed since the beginning of August.
On 24 March 1871, the postal service returned to French administration in all departments except Bas Rhin, Haut Rhin and Moselle, and part of Vosges and Meurthe, which were annexed by Germany (annexation ratified by the Treaty of Frankfurt signed on 10 May 1871).
Throughout the war, postal relations between the belligerents were maintained, which may come as a surprise in today's world. They were no longer direct, but were still possible via countries that had not taken part in the conflict, such as Switzerland, Belgium and Great Britain, for example.
Nevertheless, it has to be said that between the start of the war and the armistice, the flow of mail between the free zone and the occupied zone was very low. In fact, business mail had practically come to a halt due to the lack of possible commercial exchanges between the 2 zones, leaving only personal mail.
Letter franked at 25 c (tariff of 01/09/1871) for MUNSTER. Tax "20" applied at MULHOUSE.
Letter franked at 25 c (tariff of 01/09/1871) for COLMAR. Tax "2" Groschen applied in MULHOUSE.
Letter from LAPOUTROIE (SCHNIERLACH) for LILLE franked at 2 groschen in with german stamps. Tax "25" centimes applied by the railway poste office AVRICOURT-PARIS.
A large number of French and German tax stamps can be found throughout the period of the mixed postage.
Since the declaration of war, France and Germany had maintained postal relations without a postal convention. On 12 February 1872, an agreement was finally signed that came into force on 25 May. The mixed port system came to an end.
Letter franked at 40 c in accordance with the Franco-German convention of 1872 for SCHILTIGHEIM.
Map of occupied French territories on 28 January 1871.
Black line: limit of the advance of the German armies
Yellow line: annexed territories.
Why the mixed postage?
As postal agreements no longer applied between the belligerent states, there was no longer any compensation at the end of the year and each administration (French and German) recovered part of the postage directly from the sender or recipient.
Setting up and using the mixed postage.
The aim of setting up a postal administration for the occupied territories in Nancy, headed by Joseph Rosshirt, was to re-establish a postal service that had ceased to exist. This service had to be profitable and rely on the supposed cooperation of the French civil servants still present. It also relied on the possibility of postal exchanges between the free and occupied zones.
However, from the beginning, the French civil servants who remained refused to cooperate with the Germans.
On 27 August 1870, Heinrich von Stephan, Director General of the Post Office of the North German Confederation, proposed a compromise to Edouard Vandal, his French counterpart in Paris:
" Dear Mr Director General,
Post offices located in French territory occupied by German armies often receive correspondence bound for France.
I have the honour of informing you that the N° 10 Cologne-Verviers railway post office will deliver this correspondence to the French exchange offices without tax (compulsory franking having been decreed for these items).
I would like to propose to you, Mr. Director General, that correspondence originating in France and bound for French territories occupied by German armies be treated in the same way [...]".
This proposal, although very interesting for users and facilitating the processing of correspondence, implied for the French Administration the validity of a foreign postal administration on its own territory (even if occupied). As we shall see later, it was also based on the validity of frankings with occupation stamps being delivered for the entire inland postage to the addressee. This last point was in fact not very clearly expressed. In von Stephan's mind, the 20 centimes postage with occupation stamps covered the entire French inland postage (occupied zone + free zone) up to the addressee.
The French administration was aware very early on (before the letter of 27 August) of the wishes of the German postal administration. It could not accept this situation and on 8 September issued a service order reproduced in Monthly Bulletin no. 27 of September 1870, in which it was stipulated that letters from occupied territories were to be considered as unfranked and taxed at 30 centimes unless they bore French stamps.
On 10 September 1870, Vandal replied to von Stephan:
"Mr Director General,
I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of 27 August in which you inform me of the measures taken by your Administration to ensure the routing of correspondence collected in the departments occupied by the German armies and bound for the rest of France.
I am giving orders that in the opposite direction, correspondence bound for the departments in question is to be delivered without tax or account to the raylway post office no. 10 [...]".
Clearly, although the French postal authorities were prepared to exchange correspondence, they refused to accept the validity of occupation stamps for the entire inland postage to the addressee.
The mixed postage can therefore be considered to have been in place on the French side from 8 September 1870.
The Germans must have been surprised. Von Stephan wrote to Rosshirt (Head of the Postal Administration for Occupied Territories) on 19 September asking him to proceed in the same way as the French:
"GHQ, Meaux, 19 September,
According to the attached extract from the Journal des Débats of 11th September, your attention will be drawn to the fact that France taxes all letters arriving from the occupied parts of the country for delivery to the French postal administration at the 30 centime rate for letters without postage - irrespective of the fact that they have already been franked by the senders at 20 centimes when delivered to the post office. In view of these factors, it would seem appropriate for us to follow the same procedure in the opposite direction. Consequently, I am instructing you to charge from now on a tax of 30 centimes per single weight on all letters which reach us from the French postal administration zone for addressees in occupied French territories, regardless of the franking which took place in France when they were handed over to the addressees.
Civil post offices and field post offices, of which you are aware, will receive the corresponding instructions as soon as possible - with reference to the contrary instruction already given orally by me to some of them [...]".
Extract from the Journal des Débats of 11 September 1870.
Von Stephan had therefore thought that the French would completely accept his proposal.
For his part, Rosshirt had Circular No. 10 of the Postal Administration for Occupied Territories published on October 3:
"According to a notice published in French newspapers, the French postal administration charges letters addressed to it from occupied territories through German post offices at the rate for unfranked letters at 30 centimes when delivered to the addressee. It makes no difference whether the letters have already been sufficiently franked by the sender or not. With this in mind, it is hereby decreed that post offices operating in occupied French territories will charge a tax of 30 centimes per single weight of 10 grammes on delivery to addressees for all letters received from the French postal administration area regardess of any franking carried out at the place of deposit".
3 October was therefore the date on which the mixed postage system was introduced on the German side.
In practice, the 30 centime tax was applied very differently. A tax of 2 decimes (20 centimes) was very often applied, although the reasons for this are unknown.
Letter mailed on 30 April 1871 at CAMBRAI for ARS SUR MOSELLE franked at at 20 c.
Tax at 30 centimes paid by the addressee. The tax stamp "30" was applied by the METZ post office.
From MAUBEUGE to VILLERUPT, 16 July 1871. The letter passed through METZ, where it was stamped "30".
The letter was misdirected, as VILLERUPT, occupied by the Germans, was returned to France with the Treaty of Frankfurt in May 1871. The "30" tax was therefore cancelled on arrival.
LE CATEAU, 10 August 1871. Letter for ARS SUR MOSELLE. Tax "20" applied at METZ.
Letter mailed at RAISMES on 31 August 1871 for ENGIS SUR MEUSE which was misdirected and transited via METZ (tax "20") even though ENGIS is a Belgian commune.
As the 20 c franking was insufficient for Belgium, the letter was taxed at 3 decimes.
Tax "20" on a letter to MULHOUSE. This tax stamp was used in MULHOUSE.
Letter dated 21 February 1872 from LILLE to SARREGUEMINES.
Tax "2" Groschen applied in METZ on 22 February.
When the inland tariff was changed on 1 September 1871, the tax to be charged in the territories annexed by Germany remained unchanged. However, the tax on letters from these territories collected in France rose from 20 to 25 centimes.