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Umbria: Tre Secoli di Storia Postale [Umbria: Three Centuries of Postal History] by Paolo Marcarelli, published in 2016 by Fondazione proPosta, Rome; perfect bound, 8” x 12” (A4), 194 pages, replete with illustrations, many in colour.
There are a number of us who can claim that postal history ‘for better or for worse’ was ‘love at first sight’: an encounter that changed the course of our life. When we consider how many lives are wasted on trivial pursuits, especially in our internet era, we may be considered a bit extravagant by some ignoramus, but to all effects we are blessed and very, very lucky.
By the same token, as we all know, our first love is never forgotten and this is undoubtedly what happened to the author of this fascinating book. It all started in 1987 at the University of Perugia where he presented his doctoral thesis centetring on the postal history of Umbria; renowned Roman postal historian Mario Gallenga publicly praised the thesis suggesting to publish it without delay. Although Dr. Marcarelli did not pursue an academic career, his interest for the postal history of his region never relented as he pursued new research as well as the acquisition of letters and collectables relating to his favoured theme.
As pointed out in his preface to Marcarelli’s book, learned postal historian Clemente Fedele, explains that this book focuses on a postal geography of Perugia and Umbria that due to its peripheral location is still able to convey starting points of great interest. The region was a major transit traversed by the Via Flaminia which was the major north-south postal artery of the Papal posts linking Rome to Bologna and beyond via the Marche region.
In his narration the author tells us about the early 1300s presence in Perugia of merchant couriers, and the existence of an ‘Ufficio delle Bollette’ at Gubbio in 1384. Similar offices existed in other Italian states and their main task was to examine all letters brought into the state or sent outside of it; officers had the right to examine and censor the letters if deemed necessary; however, so far, there is no evidence that the Ufficio executed or facilitated mail delivery on a regular basis.
As we move into the 1400s we find the Venetian couriers on the route from Rome to Bologna and Venice, later modified to follow the Foligno, Ancona and Ravenna route, and tweaked again in 1508 to include a transit through Gubbio and Assisi. In the course of time the papal posts took direct control of mail conveyance to destinations outside the Pope’s states.
In the 1700s the preeminence of the Via Flaminia as a major postal highway continued to benefit the post offices of Umbria, including Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto and Terni, to name a few.
In 1789 the French descended on Italy bringing innovations and progress even on the postal front; nevertheless all the achievements came at a price as the French stole works of art all over the region and used couriers to deliver them to the other side of the Alps. The author does not mince words when he says that “Napoleon is a conqueror, he is not an emancipator, he does not free Italy, he conquers it.” Although the innovations introduced by the French were not always great,nonetheless, their implementation was systematic and uniform, even though at times slow paced. When the old regime was restored it could not deny that some positive reforms had been introduced by the French. In this vein the postal regulations issued at the end of 1815 contained an unprecedented 206 sections addressing every administrative and operational aspect of the Papal posts.
The chapters dealing with the postal history of Umbria from 1815 to the 1860 arrival of the Piedmontese forces and the ensuing plebiscite sanctioning the annexation to what was soon to become the Kingdom of Italy are well knitted with very detailed information on postal developments such as the introduction of a telegraphic service which played its part in the liberation of the region.
The volume ends with very informative chapters on the mailcoach service, the postal highways, the post horse, postilions, couriers, cholera and mail disinfection, and the changing locations of the General Post Office of Perugia.
The bibliography is extensive; the 553 footnotes are very useful, and the author knows how to keep the reader’s attention with a good and balanced blend of history and postal history. The illustrations are captivating and the book is well produced and rather inexpensive. If you collect Papal States postal history this is a “must have” volume.
Reviewed by Giorgio Migliavacca


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