This section of The Chronicle of the U.S. Classic Postal Issues is dedicated to mail sent to or coming from foreign countries before 1894. Prior to the first postal agreements with foreign governments in the mid-nineteenth century, letters going overseas could be prepaid only for their transit within the United States. Upon reaching the foreign destination, postage due was collected based on the postal laws of the arriving country or those through which the letters traveled. In 1847, the first of many bi-lateral postal agreements that the United States negotiated with European governments went into effect. Now letters could be fully paid to destination according to the agreement between the two countries.
Until 1875, when a number of countries agreed to a General Postal Union with common postal regulations for the movement of the mail between each of the member countries, United States mail to foreign destinations was governed by many separate and different postal agreements. As a result, numerous different rates and postal routes were available to send or to receive mail in the United States from other countries. For example, in 1860 it was possible to send a letter to India by seven different routes, with fees ranging from 5¢ to 72¢ for a single letter of 1/2 oz. For mail sent to most countries, multiple choices of rates and routing were available. Of course, these choices were not all ones where the mail was paid to its destination. Nevertheless, this wide range of possible choices suggests a very complex system for handling foreign mails.
Since July 1963, when The Chronicle first was published in a slick-paper format that allowed for high quality illustrations, the journal has had a section in each issue devoted to the foreign mails. For almost thirty years these articles have methodically addressed many aspects of the foreign mails in which research has been completed, allowing us to share this information with the Chronicle readers. The special markings associated with foreign mail, the rates of postage, steamships that carried the mails across the oceans, and often the markings and handling of the mail in foreign countries has been addressed in articles by many of the leading postal history students. A typical example of a letter to a foreign destination with the explanation that appeared in a recent Chronicle foreign mail section article will demonstrate the type of information available from this section.
In October of 1874, a treaty for the formation of a General Postal Union (GPU) was signed in Bern, Switzerland. Known as the First Bern Postal Convention, it called for the adoption of uniform postage rates and regulations for international correspondence. The GPU became effective on July 1, 1875. The GPU was later renamed the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1879.
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