Notes from the Past

Ship Letter

A letter carried by private ship, as distinct from a packet letter, carried either by a ship maintained by the government or by a privately owned ship operating under Post Office contract.  The carriage of ship letters was first regulated by an Act of 1660.  From the 1760s onward numerous ports in the United Kingdom and overseas used ship letter handstamps of various types on incoming mail.  These are keenly collected by specialists.  With the introduction of steamships and the growth of the mail contract system, the volume of ship letters began to decline by the middle of the nineteenth century.  Some of the handstamps however, were still in occasional use in the early part of the twentieth century.  India letters were a particular type of ship letter, brought in by the East India Company's ships under a special arrangement with that company introduced in 1815.  At certain ports distinctive India letter handstamps were applied.  These were necessary to distinguish such mail from other ship letters because the postal rates were different.  India letter handstamps went out of use when steamers began carrying the Indian mails under contract in the 1840s.
- R. J. Sutton 6th edition revised by K. W. Anthony
The Stamp Collector's Encyclopaedia
Published 1966
 Posted January 28, 2000

Index of 507 Notes from the Past

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