Use of fraudulent postage stamp

Since the introduction of the postage stamp and throughout the 19th century, the Post Office has always been concerned about seeing postage stamps reused. At the time, the Post Office was answerable to the Ministry of Finance, so postal fraud could represent a major loss of revenue for the State. To counter this, the authorities introduced a range of technical measures (cancelling stamps, printing ink for cancelling, etc.) as well as a series of criminal measures, because at the time, postal fraud was considered a criminal offence. The numeral cancels made it easier to detect the re-use of a stamp that had already been cancelled. In fact, it was very easy to see whether the date stamp of the post office of departure matched the numeral cancel.

Anyone found guilty of reusing a postage stamp that had already been cancelled could be tried before a criminal court.

Here is an example. To support the documents presented, I have attached articles from the General Instruction on postal service of 1856. At the time, this was the "Bible" for postal agents.

The file does not include this sealed envelope model 1198, which is normal, as it is only intended to be kept temporarily.

At the same time, a notice of issue of a letter bearing a presumed fraudulent postage stamp (model 1197) was sent in duplicate to the Administration in Paris and to the Departmental Postal Inspector in LILLE.

At ORCHIES, the sealed envelope was received with all the precautions required by procedure:

Letter from VALENCIENNES to ORCHIES dated 24 June 1856. The postmen at VALENCIENNES noticed that the stamp bore traces of a previous cancellation and therefore marked it "taxée pour timbre ayant déjà servi" ("taxed for stamp already used”). The letter was then taxed as unfranked.

The letter was sent in a sealed envelope to the ORCHIES post office.

In this case, we are in a rather special situation, as we are dealing with a letter addressed to one person to be delivered to another. The Post Office has nevertheless taken this into account.

Mr Durez, a company courier by profession, agreed to come to the post office that very day. At the post office, he was expected to fill in a report.

The minutes are signed by the Director, the addressee (or their representative) and an assistant. This assistant must be sworn in and in all cases belong to the Postal Administration.

The minutes also tell us that the sender of the letter, Honorine Chopin, lived in VALENCIENNES.

The documents in the file were then sent to the postal inspector in the department where the letter originated.

This is where the postal procedure ends and the criminal procedure begins.

The Administration, through the Departmental postal Inspector, will lodge a complaint with the Imperial Prosecutor of the District of VALENCIENNES (of which VALENCIENNES is a part).

This complaint has been lodged using the attached document:

Honorine Chopin was summoned to and interviewed at the VALENCIENNES police station on 4 July 1856. She admitted writing the letter and franking it. However, she denied having used a stamp that had already been cancelled: "[...] but this stamp could not be cancelled. I had bought it with several others I had in my trunk. This was the last one I had left. I admit that I stepped on it one day when I was taking some papers out of my suitcase and it fell on the floor [...]".

A month after the letter was sent, Honorine Chopin appeared before the Valenciennes Magistrates' Court. The court found her guilty of using a postage stamp that had already been used, and ordered her to pay a fine of 7.25 francs and legal costs.

A notification letter was then sent to the addressee on 25 June, inviting him to go to the post office to identify the letter. The secrecy of correspondence is sacred. The Post Office could not open letters (except under certain conditions).

Moreover, this was an invitation, not a summons.