Local rates and rural postal service

Before 1830

Rural mail did not really exist before 1830, although it was possible to receive mail at home in a rural commune (outside the locality where the post office was located). This mail was generally delivered by messenger paid by the communes or prefectures. When these messengers delivered mail to private individuals (without any prejudice to the local authorities), they were paid by mutual agreement. Delivery costs were high for private individuals, as letters already had to bear the postage costs, to which was added the cost of home delivery. However, individuals still had the option of picking up their mail at the nearest post office. As a result, numerous letters were discarded because their addressees did not collect them. The number of letters discarded in this way could be estimated at 300,000 a year. [1]

On 1 August 1828, Charles Sapey, MP for Isère, published his “Opinion on the project to complete the postal service in France”. In it, he presented a plan for delivering mail at home every 2 days in towns without a post office.

The law on rural postal service inspired by Sapey's project was passed on 3 June 1829 and came into force on 1 April 1830.

1830 and after

From 1 April 1830, the government installed letterboxes in more than 35,000 communes where there was no post office. It also recruited 5,000 postmen to deliver and collect mail once every 2 days in these towns. Some of these 5,000 postmen were recruited from among the messengers. Earlier, in March 1830, the Post Office had also issued an Instruction on rural service for the use of post office employees.

Mail was delivered and collected in rural communities every 2 days until 1832. The law of 3 April 1832, § 47 stated that from 1 July 1832, rural postmen's rounds were to be daily. This law did not have an immediate effect, because in the Nord, for example, it was not until 1850 that every rural commune was delivered daily, i.e., 18 years after the law was passed.

Application of the local rate

Local postage rate is cheaper than territorial postage in 4 cases:

1st case : a letter circulating within the limits of the town where a post office is located (regardless of its classification),

2nd case : a letter circulating from the town where the post office is located to communes without a post office dependent on that office. The town where the post office is located, and the municipalities attached to that office, make up the rural district of a post office,

3rd case : a letter circulating between the rural district of a head post office and the rural district of one or several post office stations dependent on the head post office. 

At the time, a head post office could control one or more other post office stations.

The rural districts of post office stations under the head post office, as well as its own rural district, make a Postal District of a head post office.

These first 3 cases offer 18 possible routes for a letter with local postage.

4th case : a letter circulating between 2 head post offices as well as between their rural district. This last case is not very frequent, as there are only 19 cases where 2 provincial head post offices were subject to the introduction of a local rate for letters circulating between their rural district. This rate is called the joined head post offices (Recettes Réunies) rate. In the Nord, there are 2 cases:



These post offices were very close to each other, and the public did not really see why the territorial rate should apply instead of the local rate.

The introduction of the rural postal service generated a lot of expenditure, which had to be covered by additional revenue and a fixed tax.

This tax, known as the Additional Rural Decime, applied only once, even if the letter was collected in one rural locality and sent to another (Art. 10 of the Instruction of 1830).

The Additional Rural Decime ended on 1 January 1847 with the law of 3 July 1846.

From the outset, the vast majority of local correspondence was sent postage due. There was no point in franking a letter, as postage due and postage paid were identical. The same thing happened with territorial postage. The thinking at the time was that the Post Office would be obliged to deliver the letter (postage due) if it wanted to collect postage. The Post Office would make less effort if postage was paid in advance. Moreover, franking a letter meant going to the post office, which could be quite far away.

The introduction of the postage stamp changed nothing. On 1 July 1854, the Administration introduced a franking incentive for the territorial rate, but nothing was done for the local rate. The franking incentive consisted of making it cheaper to frank a letter, in other words to send it postage paid.
This incentive led to an increase in the number of franked letters, thereby boosting the Post Office's revenue.

However, most local letters were still sent postage due. On 1 January 1863, a franking incentive was introduced for the local rate. This too was a success, as the number of letters franked increased considerably. There were no major changes to the local rate after this date until 1 May 1878, when it was abolished.

The rural postal service in the Nord

The Nord is a densely populated department, but it was still very rural in the 19th century. The inhabitants of the countryside were relatively remote from the State. They knew little or nothing about what was happening in the rest of France or even in the Nord. The rural postman was an extension of the Administration; he brought the news and represented the State in his uniform. He therefore helped to reduce the isolation of the communes.

What is true for the Nord is even truer for the essentially rural departments. The local postal rate was closely linked to the rural postal service. However, the introduction of the rural postal service was not without its problems in the Nord. Indeed, when the authorities decided in 1832 to introduce daily postman's rounds, this was far from being a reality for many communes in the Nord. Daily postman's rounds were introduced for all the communes in the department around 1850, i.e., 18 years after the decision taken by the Post Office. In 1832, it seemed impossible to make daily rounds, as the number of post offices was too low. Added to this was the remoteness of many towns. Some post offices had rural districts of more than 30 municipalities. The postmen's rounds were not always the most logical. The small number of rural postmen meant that it was not uncommon for residents of some towns to receive their mail in the late afternoon.

Although it represented real progress for users, in many cases the rural service remained a headache for the authorities.

Finally, although the inhabitants of rural communities were very attached to this service, the fact remains that the number of local letters (from and to the same Postal District) was quite low in the Nord.

In fact, the 1847 statistical survey showed that for each inhabitant of this department, less than one local letter (0.3) was sent per year. This figure is obviously an extrapolation of the results of a 2-week survey (from 15 to 28 November 1847). Of these 2 weeks and the 42147 letters addressed to the communes of the Nord :

- 33686 were territorial letters ;

- 8461 were local letters.

The postal survey of 1847 provides us with a great deal of information both on the number of letters received or sent from each rural commune and on the location of the letterbox. In particular, we learn that the letterbox was not always attached to the town hall.

Need to learn more?

The books are few in number, but very comprehensive. They will enable you to make rapid progress on the subject:

- Histoire de la Poste en milieu rural: Marino CARNAVALE-MAUZAN. GENOBLE 1994

- Le port local de la lettre ordinaire en Province. Tome 1. 1800/1858 : Pascal CHOISY. Editions André RUPP. 16, avenue Robert Schuman 68100 MULHOUSE

- Contribution à l'étude de la poste en milieu rural dans le département du Nord : Paul STOPIN, 47 av. F. Mitterand 59494 PETITE FORET. 2000

- Les tarifs postaux français (Editions Brun et fils1989): ALEXANDRE, BARBEY, BRUN, DESARNAUD et JOANY (Editions Brun et fils 1989)

- Etre facteur dans le Nord (1830-1940) M. MARGUERIT, C. DA FONSECA. Comité pour l'Histoire de la Poste.

- Introduction à l'Histoire postale des origines à 1849.M. CHAUVET(Editions Brun et fils 2002)

- Introduction à l'Histoire postale de 1848 à 1878.M. CHAUVET(Editions Brun et fils 2002)

- Enquête postale de 1847. BNF Richelieu, Fond français 9787-10129.

- Instruction Générale sur le Service des Postes de 1832, Tomes 1,2,3. Réimpression société des amis du musée de la Poste.

- Instruction spéciale sur le service des Distributions de 1834. Réimpression société des amis du musée de la Poste.

- Instruction Générale sur le service des postes de 1856. BNF , Gallica.

- Instruction Générale sur le service des postes de 1868. BHPT(Paris) cote PB28

Pour aborder les tarifs postaux français sans forcément devoir consulter les règlements postaux: les tarifs postaux français de Jean-Louis Bourgouin.