Today in Postal History



Heligoland to United States

July 2, 1877

This postal card was sent from Heligoland (sometimes spelled Helgoland - see dateline), an island
of only one quarter square mile in the north sea off the mouth of the River Elbe.
Heligoland is about 30 km from the mainland.

Heligoland was Danish as a part of the Duchy of Holstein.
In 1807, it was captured by the British and kept after the Napoleonic wars.
Their interest was confirmed by the Treaty of Kiel on January 14, 1814.

Most of the population was German-speaking and from 1796
the postal service was operated by the Free City of Hamburg.

Helgoland became a resort and, until 1830, weekly voyages
were made to Cuxhaven on the mainland of Germany.
As steamships became more common, the service became more frequent.

When the Hanseatic cities joined the North German Confederation January 1, 1868,
the Hamburg-Heligoland mail obligations were transferred as well.
When the German Empire was formed in 1871, the mail responsibility transferred once again.
Also when the German Empire took over, German currency
replaced the Hamburg currency used previously.

In 1879, Heligoland joined the UPU.
The first stamps used were those of Hamburg in 1869.
Stamps for Heligoland were first issued in 1867.

Hey, there's something wrong here.
This was a British island!

The map reveals the reason for the close association of Heligoland with German institutions.
This was finally corrected when the island was ceded to Germany on June 18, 1890
(Gibbons says August 9; Scott just says 1890), in trade for some German interests in Zanzibar.
Heligoland has been part of Germany ever since.

Now, back to the postal card.
The card has an embossed indicia as was common with many European stamps during the era.
You can see the embossing mark on the back.
There are two Heligoland CDS.
I'm sure there was only one post office on this small island.

The destination was Cincinnati, Ohio.
This required uprating so a single copy of the 1875
5pf dark rose and dark green Victoria (SG 13) was added.
This stamp had provided the model for the indicia.
Unfortunately, the card was folded through the stamp.
(See what Gibbons has to say about this stamp on cover.)

Note that the stamp is denominated in both 3 farthings and 5 pfennigs.
I suspect that the farthings were a reminder that the island was British,
but the pfennigs were recognition of what was the practical coin of the realm.

The card got a binocular transit mark in New York City on July 18.
Normally, this cancel has a year date at the bottom between the two circles.
However, this strike appears not to have the year.

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