Posts by Andre

    The Peninsular War, a letter from the besieged Cádiz

    Historical background

    We write the year 1807. Napoleon’s pact with Russia at Tilsit left him free to turn his attention toward Britain and to the two powers that remained friendly to Britain: Sweden and Portugal. Napoleon summoned the Portuguese to close their ports to the British to complete the Continental System which was designed to make economic war. When the Portuguese proved dilatory, Napoleon ordered General Junot to march with a force of 30,000 through Spain to Portugal. The Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil. Portugal and parts of northern Spain were conquered by the French army. The Spanish minister Godoy, who was known for his friendly policy toward Napoleon I., persuaded his king Charles IV to escape to South America but Charles was overthrown by the revolt of Aranjuez and abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand. Under the leadership of General Murat, French troops occupied Madrid. On May 5th, 1808 Napoleon forced Ferdinand to return the crown to his father, who gave it to Napoleon. Napoleon made his brother Joseph Bonaparte king of Spain and held Ferdinand in France for the duration of the war (he returned to Spain and the throne in March 1814). Patriotic Spain risen against the invader, and the war for Spanish independence (Peninsular War) had begun. Cádiz is situated on a narrow slice of land surrounded by the sea, was an important naval base and gave the Spanish and their British allies an ideal base for amphibious operations along the south coast of Spain. Following the occupation of Seville, the town became the Spanish seat of power. The French siege of Cádiz lasted from Feb. 5th, 1810 to Aug. 24th, 1812. The Battle of Salamanca (July 22th, 1812) eventually forced the French troops to retreat from Andalusia.

    The letter

    The letter I would like to introduce below is a business letter. He was written in Cádiz by the merchant Don Gerónimo Martínez García on Feb. 14th, 1810, nine days after the beginning of the siege and has a supplement at the end of the letter which was written on Feb. 20th. At this point of war nearly all of Spain was under the rule of Emperor Napoleon. The letter is addressed to Don Juan Lacoste in London and reached the recipient after 19 days.

    The disinfection

    Because of the sea trade with the Spanish colonies in America, the port of Cadiz was often plagued by yellow fever. At the beginning of the year 1810, however, no such epidemic became known. The letter arrived in England at Plymouth Dock (the name was changed to Devonport in 1824) and shows the typical discoloration that are the result from disinfection by splashing with vinegar. The treatment most likely took place at the Mother Bank quarantine station near Portsmouth. The slitting of letters was not common there until Sept. 11th, 1813. According to the quarantine act of 1805 (clause 45) ships to sail to the Mediterranean from any port of Britain have to „provide and take on board a proper quantity of materials and instruments for fumigation and immersion, and shall keep the same on board, to be used in the manner herein directed, upon return of such ship or vessel to any port or place in Great Britain.“ Therefore, it is theoretically possible that the disinfection took place on board of the ship.

    The letter from a postal point of view

    – The recipient had to pay 2/4d (two shillings and four pence) for this double letter. It was charged: a ship letter fee (carried by an Post Office Agent, rate of 1799) of 2x 4d and and an inland fee (Act of 1805) from Plymouth Dock (port of landing) to London of 2x 10d (distance between 170 and 230 miles).

    – The postmark “CADIZ” exist in different variants and it was used from 1779 to 1836. The variant used on the letter is known for the period from 1806 to 1811.

    – Initially the majority of ships accommodated at Plymouth Dock were naval vessels. Merchantmen sailed to and from the adjacent port of Plymouth. The oval ship letter handstamp of Plymouth Dock is known in black ink from 1800–1809 and in red ink from 1810–1814. Robertson noted in his book A History of the Ship Letters of the British Isles that the red version is usually found on letters comming from the Peninsular, and not infrequently on letters carried by naval vessels engaged in the campaigns of that time. The term SHIP LETTER shall means a letter transmitted by a vessel not under contract to the Post Office.


    Encyclopedia Britannica (historical background); Robertson, A.W. A History of the Ship Letters of the British Isles (quarantine in Britain and the ship letter handstamp of Plymouth Dock); Robinson, D. British Postal Rates (postal rates of Britain); Vandervelde, D. Pratique XXXV (Mother Bank quarantine station); Tizon, M. Prefilatelia Español (postmark of Cádiz)

    The letter was written in Mexiko (May 30th 1846) and sent with the brig "Aguila" from Havana to Spain. There is a manuscript "Por Cadiz" but the applied type of "YNDIAS" mark was not used in Cadiz.

    The "YNDIAS" mark was necessary to calculate the correct postage which was collected by the recipient. The type with the slooped "S" was used from 1839-1856 and is known from Santander, Vigo and Bilbao. This lead to the assumption that the brig had to perform quarantine in San Simon (Vigo) before the ship was allowed to travel to Cadiz. The letter was scratched twice with a sharp blade for fumigation.

    The recipient had to pay 26 Reales for a letter up to 1,5 ounces from Cuba to Spain.


    Dear Bjoern,

    Thank you for showing this interesting letter! In my opinion the slit was done for disinfection but the lack of a cachet from the quarantine station makes it difficult to locate the place of disinfection - That's very pity.

    As far as I could find out there were no important epidemics at this time in Europe. The New York Times mentioned Cholera in Hungary in 1873. The Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence listed smallpox in Europe from 1870/75, which raged in Italy 1870/72. This does not really helps. All we can say is that the letter was not disinfected in Germany and that slitting mail was typically for Italy.

    Maybe someone else can contribute more information.

    Yours sincerely,


    The cachet "Geräuchert vom Contumaz-Amte / zu SEMLIN am ... (date)" of the quarantine station of Semlin is found on letters from 1832/33. There was also offered a letter of 1835 with this cachet at an auction but the date of the cachet was not clear visible so I'm not sure if 1835 is correct.

    I noticed that there exist variants of this cachet. These cachets differ, among other things, that no, some or all words are in italics.

    1)"Geräuchert vom Contumaz-Amte / zu SEMLIN am ... (date)" (1832, 1833)

    2)"Geräuchert vom Contumaz-Amte / zu SEMLIN am ... (date)" (1833)

    3)"Geräuchert vom Contumaz-Amte / zu SEMLIN am ... (date)" (1833)

    The attached photograph shows a letter written in Constantinople and sent to Triest with cachet "Geräuchert vom Contumaz-Amte / zu SEMLIN am 23. Nov. 1833".


    I'm interested to see further letters with this cachet.


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    Good news. I found photographs of the same seal in the book "Österreichische und ungarische Posteinrichtungen in den Donaufürstentümern 1782-1880" (Part 1, page 144) by Dr. G. Gmach. The seal was found on letters from Constantinople to Triest and Germany in 1822 and was used by the quarantine station of Schuppanek.

    Instructions what to do if there are pest-like diseases (Austria, first half of 1800)

    § 24 a

    Letters and parcels have to been decontaminated in fumigation boxes using a special powder (–> § 8.3)

    § 8.3

    The fumigation powder is a mixture of 1 part sulfur, 1 part saltpetre, 4 parts wheat bran. The powder will be sprinkled on glowing coals.




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    Dear Bjoern

    According to a sketch map of major European postal routes operating during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it will be possible that the letter was send via Florence , Trent, Innsbruck, Augsburg, Nuremberg to Hamburg.

    "The cities of Augsburg, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Leipzig and Hamburg, which were (except for Augsburg and later Cologne) not connected to the Imperial post, were connected by their own services. For example the Nuremberg courier connected the cities of Nuremberg and Hamburg and was the main communication line to the Hanseatic states of northern Germany." (source: European Postal Networks)



    Letter from Jassy (June 20th, 1853) via the Austrian border post office Czernowitz (June 22nd) via Krakau (June 26th) and from there in closed mail via Valenciennes to Paris (June 29th).

    Postmark of Paris with number "3" = via Valenciennes

    Postmark "AUTR. 2 VALnes" = from Austria via Valenciennes

    The letter was disinfected in Boian and has on back a hand written rastel-number.

    The recipient had to pay 16 décimes (postage for letter up to 7,5 g).

    A further letter from Constantinople (Sept. 10, 1816) to Spain (Madrid).

    The letter was put into the regular post in Paris but he has rastel punch holes which are not common for France or Spain. This lead to the assumption that the letter was disinfected in Rothenthurn.

    In 1816 new postal rates were proclaimed for letters from France to Spain:

    – letters with destination north of the Ebro river: 4 reales for letters up to 4 adarmes

    – letters with destination Andalucia or Baleares: 6 reales for letters up to 4 adarmes

    – letters to the rest of Spain: 5 reales for letters up to 4 adarmes

    On back of the letter there is a manuscript mark of "10" décimes, paid by the sender for the route from Paris up to the French/Spanish border (Perpignan).


    In the Filbase Hedy provided an article about the Rothenthurn cachets 1804-1816. In this article is mentioned that mail from Constantinople was disinfected in Rothenthurn in the following periods only:

    – Oct. 25th, 1791 to June 1792

    – 1794 to July 15th, 1800

    – Oct, 1806 to 1809

    – 1813 to 1821

    – 1822 to 1828


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    According to Meyer ("Disinfected Mail", page 67/68) main Type H was used from 1858 to 1860.

    The picture shows a letter from Constantinople (June 2nd, 1858) to Vienna. There are no rastel or slits.

    The postage is for a double weight letter:

    42 kr. (in red and in blue) = 2x 12 kr. Constantinople until the Austrian border + 2x 9 kr. CM for the delivery within Austria.