Notes from the Past

U.S. Postal Agency in Shanghai

Most U.S. collectors are aware of the U.S. stamps which were overprinted:

Shanghai

China

Scott lists these as K1-K18.  The history of the Shanghai Agency is quite interesting.

China was an important trading destination at the time of the American evolution.  Trade was centered around the port of Canton under the control of the British East India Company.  In 1784-85 the American ship Empress of Asia made the first round trip in the China trade.  The adventure was highly successful.  Interestingly, the first American consul anywhere was appointed to Canton in 1786.

After the Opium War of 1840, the British won, through the Treaty of Nanking, the island of Hong Kong and forced the opening of Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo, and Shanghai, in addition to Canton, to foreign trade.  An American consul was appointed to Amoy in 1844.  Aggressive American traders became important in the China trade with their clipper ships.

Another provision of the treaty was a concession of 5362 acres to the British in Shanghai.  In 1847, the French won by treaty a concession of 356 acres in Shanghai.  An American settlement (not really a concession) grew up around the American consulate established in Shanghai in 1847.  The American settlement had commercial advantage since it was downstream and beside the first anchorage encountered by arriving vessels.  Trade flourished.

Mail remained under British control with mail from the United States passing through the post office in Hong Kong.  Mail was both expensive and unreliable.  It was not until 1865 that the United States Post Office was authorized to provide mail service to the Orient.  A contract was awarded the Pacific Mail Steamship Company on August 28, 1865.  The company was to build four steamships to meet Post Office specifications and to be in operation by January 1, 1867.  The route was to run from San Francisco to Shanghai via Kanagawa (Yokohama), Japan.  Postal agents were appointed in both Kanagawa and Shanghai.  This mail route provides another interesting era of mail transport and markings.

A 10¢ rate was established for mail from the United States to the orient.  In 1878, U.P.U. rates were applied and the rate to the orient became 5¢.  In 1903, United States domestic mail rates were made applicable to mail to or from the postal agency in Shanghai.  While other nations had overprinted their stamps for use in their post offices abroad, it wasn't until 1919 that the United States took the step for reasons unknown.  The definitive stamps of 1917-1919 were used with overprints at twice the value of the stamp being overprinted.  Overprint values ranged from 2¢ to $2.  A special delivery stamp was overprinted but not put into use.

The stamps were short lived.  The U.S. Postal Agency in Shanghai was closed on December 31, 1922, and was declared discontinued after it had completely closed its affairs on January 31, 1924.  The stamps were on sale at the Philatelic Agency for a short time after the closure in 1922.

Posted September 17, 2000

Editor's Note:  The material above comes from "United States Postal Agency Shanghai, China" by Harvey Bounds included in The Stamp Specialist Mahogany Book published in 1947 by H. L. Lindquist.

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