Postal History of the Italian Mail Steamers in the Mediterranean – 1818-1839 – Vol. I


Country: ITALY

Condition: Postal History of the Italian Mail Steamers in the Mediterranean – 1818-1839 – Vol. I

Item Id #: 13934

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Postal History of the Italian Mail Steamers in the Mediterranean – 1818-1839 – Vol. I *****************

Storia della Navigazione a Vapore e dei Servizi Postali sul Mediterraneo, Vol. I — 1818-1839, by Alessandro Arseni. Published 2013. Perfect bound 8 1/2” x 11 3/4”, card cover, 126 pages, in Italian; mostly colour and some black and white illustrations throughout, plus maps and charts. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the early 1800s the postal service of most countries was a state monopoly, nevertheless such a service was, in many instances, dependent on conveyance by sea using ships owned by private enterprises. Postal traffic was quite heavy in many of the various ports in the Mediterranean and to protect its monopoly, in due course, postal administrations entered into special arrangements and conventions with ship owners and ship lines.
Until 1892, when circular date stamps with the ship names were introduced in Italy, mention of the ship’s name may be deduced from the text of the missive or from handwritten endorsements on the address side of the letter. Such instances, while being sporadic, left much guess work for other letters that did not bear any reference to the ship that conveyed them.
The postal history of mail delivered by steamships in the Mediterranean has always been popular with European collectors and with Italian ones in particular. A pioneer of this facet of postal history, Umberto Del Bianco, in 1968, saw his Gli annulli marittimi italiani in uso anteriormente al 1891 published in Rome by a prominent philatelic publisher. His book was compiled and formatted as a catalogue of the various hand-stamps, postmarks, and cancellations found on Italian sea-mail up to 1891.
The actual postal history was often in the background and the postmarks and hand-stamps (and their market value) to the forefront. The book is still widely used and sought after by new generations of collectors. Then, between 1976 and 1982, a Milanese philatelic publisher published his three volumes titled II Lloyd Austriaco e gli Annullamenti marittimi dell’Austria e Ungheria. This opus, totalling 1,380 pages, remains a widely used reference. In 2006, his book on postal links between Genoa and South America (namely, Uruguay and Argentina), I servizi marittimi Italiani tra Genova e i porti dell’America Meridionale, was published by another philatelic publisher. What I must point out, though, is that Del Bianco — a very successful publisher in his own right — chose to rely on philatelic publishers. In addition to these important publications he also authored three volumes on the postal history of Lombardy-Venetia as well as a series of articles on mail delivery performed by steamship companies in Italy and in the Mediterranean.
Needless to say, a small army of sea-mail collectors was quickly assembled; this was not a typical Italian fad but a trend worldwide. In the meantime many collectors and collections have come and gone, yet almost half a century after Del Bianco’s first book sea-mail continues to fascinate scores of specialists.
A postal history veteran himself, Alessandro Arseni was caressed by the blindfolded goddess in 1990, when he was privileged enough to acquire a 20,000 letters archive of a Leghorn-based agent of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company as well as other merchant shipping lines. One can easily see why this dreamlike acquisition placed him on the driver’s seat.
Arseni was flooded with important documents and information. However, he soon realized that more research was required. The result is here for everyone to appreciate: the first in a series of volumes delving into the two decades between 1818 and 1839.
Volume I gives all the dates of departure and arrival of all steamships operating between 1824 and 1839, including their transits at ports such as Marseille, Genoa, Leghorn, Civitavecchia, and Naples.
This crucial information was gleaned from thousands of contemporary newspapers found in collections at public and university libraries throughout Italy. To further corroborate his data, the Author liaised with auctioneers and specialized collectors.
Finding a letter with the words “Via di Mare” (by sea) handwritten or hand-stamped on the address side has always evoked a romantic past as well as a million conjectures. Collectors of air mail or mail transported by train can easily spot the flight or the railway route of such mail, but when it comes to sea-mail the research is complex and intimidating. It is not sufficient to rely on the routing endorsements and the postmarks and hand-stamps found on a cover to tell the whole story.
In all fairness, these shortcomings have often highlighted the weakness of the old school of postal history collectors and scholars who are so focused on the cover or document that other crucial sources of information are overlooked or examined only on the surface.
To academics, this approach has placed a patina of implausibility on the “postal history” culture harboured in the philatelic world — in some cases to the point of casting doubts or ridiculing it. In fact, all too often, academia is on a track that ignores “postal history” bibliography especially when the articles and essays are not published in academia periodicals, while “postal historians” articles in quite a few instances lack in-depth research that would give greater significance to the subject matter. The reasons for such a predicament are varied, but they often boil down to the fact that a thorough research on primary sources in archives and libraries is time consuming; therefore the collector is quite content with the piecemeal information that surfaces here and there.
The Author of this book is all too aware of these issues and while giving prominence to the postal aspects he has directed his writing to other relevant aspects. In the process, his prime objective has been to enable the collector and scholar to identify the steamship that carried a certain piece of mail while presenting new and well researched information on postal rates, fees, postmarks, and administrative or private hand-stamps.
The book is well compiled with compact chapters on the Neapolitan, Tuscan, and Roman States steamship lines as well as their English and French counterparts and competitors. Special attention is paid to the lines that connected the larger islands such as Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily. Arseni’s well related presentation concludes with a most useful index of the many steamships involved. A comprehensive bibliography and an extremely handy perpetual calendar from 1800 to 1922 complete this volume.
This impressive book is replete with interesting illustrations of covers, hand-stamps, postmarks, steamships, charts and maps. The binding is solid, and the production is excellent. There is no doubt that this is a very useful monograph that will stand the test of time. It is highly recommended to the collector of the Italian area and the philatelist who wants to venture into something new and challengingly exciting.
Volume II is scheduled for this year and will cover the 1840-1850 decade. No date has been announced for the third volume but it has been disclosed that it will cover the routes to and from Alexandria, Tunis and South America. But that’s not all, more volumes will follow.
[Review by Giorgio Migliavacca]


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