Thursday, 28 April 2022

Costly kilometres - express distance fee 1930


Expresse post
1930 letter from Amsterdam Central Station to Groenouwe Villa south of Loenen op de Veluwe. Correct rate of 12c + 10c express fee (22c) and 16c distance fee in postage dues.

On January 1st 1871 a new postal service was introduced in the Netherlands: domestic express mail. In densely populated Holland it was deemed useful by the precursor of the P.T.T. to introduce this express service. Although there were 8 or even 10 regular mail deliveries in the big cities each day, most towns and especially villages saw only one regular mail delivery. Therefore the express service could be particularly useful for persons who lived on the fringes of villages where the regular postman arrived late or at infrequent times. The express delivery times were established between 7 AM and 10:30 PM in 1913 but I doubt if a postman would risk a late night mail run in wintry conditions back then...

It was stipulated that express covers, postcards and parcels had absolute priority over ordinary mail once the mailbag (or dêpeche) had arrived at the local post office. There the office clerks went through the mail and sorted the express pieces from the bulk mail. This process wasn't allowed to take longer than 15 minutes before the postman would start his express mail run.  

The domestic express fee was set at 15c until March 1921 when it was raised to 40c. Subsequently the fee was gradually reduced to 10c in February 1928. When an express cover or postcard had to be delivered outside the PO's delivery zone (a hypothetical 2½ km ring or a 15 minutes walk) an extra 15c fee for each additional 15 minutes walk was added to the express fee from April 1892 onwards. This incremental 15c distance fee was replaced by a fixed 15c distance fee in September 1938. 

The regular express fee had to be paid by the sender with ordinary postage stamps, the distance fee however could only be established at the arrival post office and therefore had to be paid by the addressee by means of postage dues. The 2 covers to Groenouwe villa in this post explain how this process actually worked. It should be noted though that the distance fee often deviates from the stipulated 15c - in this case the distance fee was apparently set at 16c for whatever reason... 

Underrated cover from Blaricum 13-8-1930 posted at 2 PM sent by express mail to Groenouwe Villa south of Loenen op de Veluwe (arrival 8 PM the same day). The ordinary rate of 12c +10c express fee was not met since only 18c (deficiency of 4c) was used. Therefore the cover was taxed (2x 4c = 8c tax). The distance fee to Groenouwe was 16c which corresponds to the previous letter. 16c + 8c makes up the total of 24c of postage dues on this cover. A real study case!

The enormous Groenouwe Villa was converted to a hotel in the 1930s and renamed Hotel Zilven.  Here the hotel is shown in its prime surrounded by the Veluwe forest. Read more about the villa and its subsequent hotel here.

Location of Groenouwe villa south of Loenen - situated only 2,5 km south of the village center yet in splendid isolation - hence the distance fee.

The ruins of Groenouwe after the fatal fire of 1945.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Iron Rhine: from sand track to mud fight

Vlodrop Station
Signal House at Vlodrop along the Iron Rhine railway near the German border in the 1930s. The area surrounding Vlodrop has been declared a national park in 1990 which resulted in the closure of the railway.

To this day, needless disputes between nation states stand in the way of closer European cooperation. At a time when Europe should have a democratic response ready to destructive dictatorships and pandemics, stupid trifles such as border disputes ensure that the EU remains ineffective and, more importantly, indecisive when it comes to foreign policy and rapid action. Even closely cooperating states such as Belgium and the Netherlands deal with disputes which date back centuries. One example is the Iron Rhine, a railway which has fallen into disuse since the late 1980s and which once formed an important trade artery between Antwerp and the Ruhr area.

In the treaty of London of 1839, in which the actual division between the Netherlands and Belgium is recorded, both parties agreed that Belgium should reserve the right to establish a direct connection between Antwerp and Prussia through Dutch Limburg. During the ten years that Dutch Limburg fell under Belgian rule, the economy of Belgium had increasingly focused on the strong Prussian economy of the Ruhr area. The stipulation that eastern Limburg would become part of the Netherlands could mean a death blow for the port of Antwerp. A solution was therefore found in a connection in the form of either a new canal to be dug or a railway line to be built. Just as the right of way will continue to generate court cases for landowners, the international variant of it will also cause friction between two states.

IJzeren Rijn
Route of the Iron Rhine between Antwerp and Mönchengladbach and thereby crossing the Netherlands

The route of the to be established connection between Antwerp and Prussia already became a point of contention in the 1860s. Belgium saw the benefit of building a railway at the point where Dutch Limburg is narrowest: at Echt. The Netherlands tried to change the route to Northern Limburg. I believe that the interests of the regional economy played a major role in this. Although a railway line had already been built between Maastricht and Venlo in 1865, an East-West connection was still missing in North Limburg. Weert could thus be added to the Dutch rail network by means of a rail project – an this would partly be financed by Belgium. In the end it was decided to build a route from Hamont in Belgium via Budel, Weert and Roermond to Mönchengladbach. Instead of 15 km of track over Dutch territory, the final length of the route was almost 30 km! The Dutch concession was granted in 1873 to the Belgian Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Nord de la Belgique. This concession would expire after 99 years in 1973. In 1879 the route was ready.

IJzeren Rijn
Route of the Iron Rhine in the Netherlands with Roermond right of the centre.

In terms of postal history the Iron Rhine railway has not overtly been spoiled with postal markings. Nevertheless there existed TPO (travelling post offices) on board trains which ran Roermond/Vlodrop v.v. and Budel/Roermond v.v. which used their own postmarks. Several stations along the route will also have had their own baggage office markers. It should be pointed out though that the share of domestic passengers on the route sections Budel-Weert and Roermond-Vlodrop was small. The Iron Rhine was mainly used for freight transport and international passenger trains. 

The border crossing between Belgium and the Netherlands near the town of Hamont is really curious from a postal history point of view. As early as 1810, in the middle of the wild Brabant moorland, there was already a border office where mail travelling to France was marked with the three-line Hollande/Par/Hammont marker. The choice of the Iron Rhine route therefore does not seem entirely coincidental. But why was this medieval town surrounded by peat and bracken a border office in the first place?

Hollande Par Hammont
Entire letter from Haarlem to Francomont near Vervier in French occupied Belgium (13-2-1810). The Marque d'entrée which reads Hollande/Par/Hammont was applied in Hamont close to Budel.

Since the Peace of Münster in 1648, the medieval town of Hamont had grown into an international hub for postal traffic. Mail from the Republic found the quickest way to the garrison of Maastricht and cities such as Liège, Aachen and beyond by crossing the border at Hamont. The central exchange point in the Netherlands being Alphen aan de Rijn where mail from several cities was collected before being forwarded to the south. Private initiatives were the basis of postal traffic in those days, but the strong economy of the Republic ensured a steady influx of correspondence. From 1667, postilions even carried out night trips to Maastricht. From about 1750 these private enterprises were gradually transferred to the States (State Post). The ride Alphen-Hamont and beyond was also maintained. 

In the Napoleonic period a postal treaty was concluded between the puppet Kingdom of Holland and the French Empire in 1808. Hamont and nearby Achel remained two important customs points en route to France. The Décret Impérial came into effect on 1 August 1809 and would eventually remain in effect until 1 April 1811. This in spite of the incorporation of the Kingdom of Holland into the French Empire in 1810 and the subsequent applicable declaration of all French laws and regulations. For the territory of the former kingdom, therefore, nothing changed until April 1 1811. The 1809 Décret Impérial stipulated that the Kingdom of Holland would be divided into 3 rayons or districts for the sake of a more unified rate calculation. This division surely had some benefits, but rate calculation remained a somewhat cumbersome practice. Four official border crossing points were created. One at Hamont and the Hollande/Par/Hammont border marker was created for outgoing mail. There was no Dutch equivalent for this marker. Incoming mail would incidentally be marked with a red crayon capital M (for Middelburg), B (for Breda) etc.  Because the Hollande/Par/Hammont marker was only in use until the expiration of the postal treaty on the 1st of April 1811, strikes are quite rare.

Hamont kaart
Hamont and surroundings during the time of the reunited Netherlands (1815-1830)

In contrast to the route of the Iron Rhine, which is oriented east-west, the previous postal route was north-south. A substantial difference. In this light, the two routes have only one common denominator: that both traverse Hamont. In recent years there has been much talk about a possible reactivation of the Iron Rhine with a view to international commuter transport and the active promotion of public transport in the context of climate laws. A first step has already been taken: the electrification of the still existing passenger line Mol-Hamont in Belgium. The Netherlands had stipulated this condition in order to realise the reopening of the Iron Rhine. One of the arguments with which the line was closed in the 1980s was the endangered fauna in the Mijnweg national park near Vlodrop, which was threatened by the diesel fumes of the freight trains. 

Vlodrop station
The disused stretch of railway at Vlodrop in 2007

Reopening can only take place if the route is fully electrified. But even now an important condition (the electrification of the Belgium stretch of railway) has been met, the reopening of the relatively short Hamont-Budel-Weert section of track is currently being derailed by the Dutch government. Prorail (the Dutch rail manager) estimates that the cost to reactivate and electrify the stretch would amount to a staggering 50 million euro's - which equals €5000 for every meter of track! The Flemish press now suspects that other interests are at play: if the section up to Weert is reopened, the reopening of the entire Iron Rhine will only be a matter of time. The port of Rotterdam has a lot to lose from this, as do Dutch rail carriers and therefore -  to continue this (railway) line of thought - Prorail as well. If (largely) green freight transport becomes faster and easier from the Ruhr area via Hamont to Antwerp, the Dutch state will suffer a loss of income. So the neoliberal spirit that (still) controls The Hague makes up enough arguments not to reopen the Iron Rhine for the time being e.g. the outrageous cost estimate. The result: an old-fashioned, vulgar border dispute  which is silently being fight out. The students and commuters living in East Flanders and for whom a direct rail link to Weert and from there to Eindhoven and beyond would be a great win, lose out on this political game. 

Let's hope that the old international post route through Hamont may inspire the Dutch state to put aside their nonsense arguments and old objections to solve this unhelpful obstacle for further EU cooperation.

A great Podcast on the recent mud fight over the Iron Rhine railway can be listened to here. Two journalist (Kato Poelmans and Timmie van Diepen) of the Flemish newspaper Het Belang van Limburg discuss the history and uncertain future of the line.  

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Netherlands New Guinea in 1956: how to move?

Used Change of Address Card sent from Sorong 3 on the 11th of July 1956 to Amsterdam. 

Until fairly recently there existed a specific type of postal stationary in the Netherlands: the so called Verhuiskaart or Change of address card in English. In the Netherlands it was introduced in the late 1910s as cheaper alternative for the ordinary letter card. Moving to another premises had always caused logistical problems for the PTT and the new and cheap preprinted Verhuiskaart might ease the service's workload. It certainly was a clever device to make people aware of a forthcoming change of address and it must have contributed to a smarter and streamlined postal service. In short: it benefited both the PTT and the users, a win-win game and therefore very Dutch. I'm not aware of foreign change of address cards, but I would be keen to know!

Of course verhuiskaarten were available in the Dutch colonies as well. In the DEI people and businesses used them frequently, since there was a large Dutch presence until the 1950s. It should be noted though that a Malaysian translation was printed below or beside the Dutch text from the introduction from 1909 onwards. So even literate natives and Asian traders might have used them. For the attentive reader: verhuiskaarten were indeed introduced in the DEI 10 years prior to their introduction in Holland.... In the West (as the expression goes) there was no need for change of address cards apparently. The literate population of Suriname and Curacao was very small when compared to the DEI. Hence you might be surprised - and rightly so - why the (still) very large, but almost unpopulated colony of Netherlands New Guinea introduced a verhuiskaart... Even in its heydays the colony counted less than 15.000 literate inhabitants which rarely moved.   

It remains to be seen which argument was used to introduce the verhuiskaart in NNG. It might be suggested that the Dutch 'settlers' from Java and Sumatra were familiar with the concept? The card appeared on the 1st of August 1950. The 3c rate was of course less than the standard 5c letter card rate.  

Reverse of the NNG verhuiskaart

By now it won't come as a surprise that this specific verhuiskaart is a very rare piece in used condition. Extremely rare even when it has been used within NNG. Only contemporary philatelists in New Guinea and the Netherlands seem to have been aware of its existence, so the majority of the used card known to us have been used and stored by philatelists. Unused it's no rarity at all, although only ca. 6400 ex. were ever printed according to Geuzendam.   

The card which serves as illustration to this article is a commercially used example which was sent to the Netherlands. Not as rare as inland use, but nevertheless very rare!! It sold for €600 (ex. buyer's premium ),- at Corinphila NL in 2016.

The NNGPM terrain near Sorong - buzzing with economic activity in the late 1940s 

Sorong in the extreme northwest of Papua is home to the country's profitable oil industry. In 1908 oil was discovered by Shell and in the 1930s the first well was drilled by the NNGPM the Nederlandsch Nieuw-Guinea Petroleum Maatschappij. The Sorong oil wells were one of the economical arguments used by the Dutch to maintain power in NNG after the Indonesian war of Independence. In the mid 1950s the industry was booming, but only a few years later the wells dried up to a large extent and Sorong dried up along with it. The oil company entered into liquidation and a real exodus took place in the early 1960s. It would take decades before the new oil companies would find new wells. Nowadays Sorong is Papua's major economical hub again.   

Concrete oil storage tankers being erected in Sorong harbour the late 1940s.
The island on the horizon, Sorong Doöm, used to be the administrative centre of Sorong 

Photo from 1938 which  - I think -  shows the same terrain as the NNGPM area earlier.
Copyright: KB -

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Into the heart of New Guinea - The Central New Guinea Expedition of 1920

New Guinea
Postcard sent from Pionierbivak in December 1920 via Manokwari (early January 1921) to France, before being redirected to Rome in March 1921.

When interest in the western part of New Guinea grew at the end of the 19th century, Batavia - modern Jakarta - was faced with an extensive topographical job to map this huge island. Traditionally, the sultan of the small island of Tidore controlled this area after the Sultanate had reached a 'thin' agreement with the VOC in 1660. This agreement stated that "The Papuan areas, or similar islands, all belong to the King of Tidore." The VOC  closed this deal with the Sultan of Tidore without having any basic knowledge of the enormous archipelago (approx. 19x times the size current area of ​​the Netherlands, more than 2x the size of Germany). Only a few journeys were endeavored by the VOC to ensure that no illegal clove growers were active in this vast area. When it turned out that this was not the case, indifference to New Guinea rose to a degree which bordered on contempt, and this remained to be the case in the centuries that followed.

At times, Batavia feared that other colonial powers might be interested in this unexplored country. That this was a well-founded fear is evident from the efforts of the British Captain John Hayes, who claimed New Guinea for Great Britain in 1793 and founded a small stockade fortress which he called Fort Coronation. It took its occupiers three years - until 1795 - to abandon. Later Manokwari was built on this spot.

Manokwari in 1920

Rather startled by this "surprise attack" by a British merchant and later in the 19th century by the Scramble for Africa, Batavia resolved to gradually colonize the area. It took until 1897 however before the colonial government decided to do so. In this year, two districts were formed: Northern New Guinea with Manokwari as capital and West and South New Guinea with Fakfak as capital. It was believed that the need for (limited) Dutch rule would also limit the unbridled power of the Tidorese sultan. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the monarch regularly held (illegal) slave raids in the Geelvinkbaai to obtain cheap manpower for his plantations.

In order to thoroughly explore the area, Batavia sent various military expeditions to the yet unknown heartland of New Guinea to colourize this white spot on the map. From 1903 scientific expeditions were also ventured. One of these scientific expeditions is known as the Central New Guinea Expedition of 1920, which aimed to reach the Wilhelmina Summit (now Puncak Trikora) in the central mountain range. In general, the scientific team also wanted to know which (unknown) peoples lived in the area between the so-called Meervlakte and the central ridge. In addition, five scientists focused on issues such as native flora, fauna, geology, etc.

Pionierbivak on the Mamberamo river is located in the most northwards pointing tip of the main body of West New Guinea (excluding the large Bird's Head Peninsula to the west). 

The Central New Guinea Expedition started in late January 1920 after the entire crew had gathered in Manokwari. From there they sailed about 400 km east before they entered the mouth of the mighty Mamberamo river on the  2nd of February. A military expedition had already explored this river and its headwaters in 1914 and had established some camp sites. A fascinating account (in Dutch) of this military expedition is available online:

New Guinea, Pionierbivak
The bend in Mamberamo river near Pionierbivak

The main bivouac - called Pionierbivak (Pioneer Bivouac) - was situated along a strategic bend in the river. From the mouth of the Mamberamo it took several days to reach this place. From this "base camp" the Central New Guinea Expedition explored the dense flora and fauna of central  New Guinea. Besides, they encountered very friendly peoples near the central ridge. Not to be compared with the relentless headhunters around Merauke on the south coast!

Pionierbivak in 1920 

The journey of this postcard also starts in Pionierbivak. Although philatelic in nature, I am not aware of any other postal (value) item sent from Pionierbivak, let alone an item sent from another bivouac. The expedition maintained a regular freight link across the river and sea with Manokwari. The card was sent by the expedition's zoologist, Dr. W.C. van Heurn. W.C. van Heurn (1887-1972) was of noble descent and carried the title of Jonkheer (comparable with squire in English). His younger brother had studied zoology as well and was active in the Sultanate of Deli on Sumatra. W.C. van Heurn has been described by the famous biologist and author Stephen Gould as a "taxonomist's taxonomist". Van Heurn was a keen collector (and hoarder) of 'ordinary' (i.e. not rare) species such as the European Mole and Grove Snail. The Dutch Museum of Natural Science - Naturalis - still houses Van Heurn's collection in a wide variety of jars. Specialists often discovered new species in Van Heurn's diverse collection and no less than 38 species has been named after our author. 

Some members of the Central New Guinea Expedition in front of a shelter (possibly in Pionierbivak): Standing from left to right: zoologist W.C. van Heurn, Lieutenant J. Kooy, Lieutenant Drost, Botanist H.J. Lam; Sitting: Medical Officer H.J.T. Bijlmer and Controleur J. Jongejans.

The addressee was a Frenchman who often asked Van Heurn to send him cards. The postcard was probably written in early December 1920 but was not postmarked in Manokwari until  (1) 4 (?) January 1921. Upon arrival in France in March (?) 1921, the postcard was forwarded to Rome. 

The zoologist and writer of the postcard - W.C. van Heurn. This photograph was taken inside his hut in Pionierbivak. He probably wrote this very postcard at this desk.

The reverse side of the postcard with written 'Pionier-bivak' and Dec. 1920. The rather formal message was written in French. 

1st update: 7th of April 2021 - new photo, text additions Van Heurn

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Catching the 19:58 train from Hoogkarspel

1940 express delivery cover which was sent from Hoogkarspel to The Hague by semi-private
 train mail. Rate: 10c (letter over 20 g) + 10c express delivery fee + 10c railway fee.  

In 1924 the Dutch postal service (P.T.T.) came to an agreement with the railways which allowed any railway company who signed up to this agreement to run their own station to station express delivery service. This new semi-private postal service had speed and its regular time-table as a big advantage over the ordinary mail system. Especially small railway towns and villages which used to see a once-a-day collection profited from this service. Initially the agreement between the P.T.T. and the railways was limited to express delivery only. From 15 May 1927 onwards however ordinary postcards and letters were allowed as well.

Hoogkarspel stempel
10c railway stamp cancelled by a boxed N.S. Hoogkarspel railway postmark. To this day (May 2020) there doesn't exist a compendium or even a list of these boxed railway hand stamps (bagagebureaustempel).   

Of course the railways charged a fee to finance their new service. Customers had to buy a 10c railway stamp at the station on top of the ordinary (express) letter rate. The cover would be handed over to a railway clerk at the luggage office who would take care of the right train and who would give instructions to the conductor: where the piece should change trains etc. At the station closest to the destination the item would be handed over to the P.T.T. for the final leg. 

Hoogkarspel postzegel
4x 5c green Wilhelmina Van Konijnenburg 

The cover which serves as illustration to this blog was picked up by the N.S. at Hoogkarspel and travelled with train 374 (blue pencil mark) which departed at 19:58 that evening (20-8-1940). Although the Dutch queen and cabinet sought refuge in the U.K. after the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May of that year, people still used stamps with her portrait. Reichskommisar Seyss-Inquart declared them invalid however on 10-10-1940. The P.T.T. stamps and the additional 10c railway stamp were cancelled by a boxed N.S. Hoogkarspel railway hand stamp. The express delivery was highlighted by the red Exprès label (type 37 L). Unfortunately the cover didn't make it to The Hague the same day. The arrival date stamp on the reverse makes clear that the item reached the capital on Wednesday 21-8-1940 between 9 and 10 AM.

Hoogkarspel station
The old railway station of Hoogkarspel. Sadly this station was replaced in 1965.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

12 Flying Doves from Opperdoes

Envelope from Opperdoes to Höör in Sweden sent on the 16th of March 1937 and franked with 12 Leabeau Flying Doves!  

I found this little gem in a philatelic webshop of which I thought that I had picked out the West Frisia items long ago. Apparently my previous searches didn't involve the the small village of 'Opperdoes'. 

Opperdoes is located just west of the city of Medemblik and is famous for its tasty potato- the so-called 'Opperdoezer Ronde'. In the 11th century the village was called 'Those' or 'Thosa' and later as 'Dosa' which refer to the mossy and moorlike ground. The prefix of 'Opper' (upper) was added later to mark the possible distinction between a 'upper' and 'lower' Does.

1935 map with Opperdoes in its centre and to its northeast the city of Medemblik.

Between 1887 and 1941 the village was served by a train. To this date the railway line has survived intact since it functions as a tourist steam railway nowadays.

The very Dutch sounding family names in the address (Leyden and Molenaar) made me wonder who moved to Höör (Sweden) in the 1920s or 1930s. The sender - a certain Mrs Blokker - didn't rang a bell. Besides, the names of Molenaar and Blokker sounds very catholic whilst Opperdoes was (and still is) a village with a very big majority of protestant inhabitants. So I did a small search online...

Announcement of engagement of  Cath. M. Molenaar of Twisk
 and Hjalmar Leyden of Höör Sweden. Schager Courant 29-7-1935   

Apparently Mrs Molenaar-Leyden was married to a Swedish man called Leyden! This man - Hjalmar Leyden - must have had Dutch ancestors since I don't think the name of Leyden originated in Sweden itself... They married in 1935 or 1936. I found another mention of Mrs Molenaar-Leyden in the same newspaper. She left for Sweden in September 1936:

People left: "... Molenaar, Catharina M., to Sweden, Höör"
Schager Courant 10-9-1936

What intrigues me the most about this envelope on a philatelic level is the excessive use of the 1c carmine/red (NVPH 170). The rate for a 20g envelope to Sweden in 1937 was fl. 0,12½ - so the cover was franked correctly. It might have something to do with another rate change in early 1937 - making the 1c red almost redundant. The simplest and most likely option though would be that Mrs Bakker couldn't find a 12½c stamp and used all her Flying Doves. A smart thing she did because this large unit of 1c stamps makes the cover very attractive - even when taking the annoying filing crease into consideration.

8x the 1927 1c carmine/red Lebeau 'Flying Dove' type tied by Opperdoes CDS

Location of Opperdoes (red arrow) in West Frisia and Holland

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Services rendered - Waterloo again

Letter sent to the Chancellor of the Military Order of William located in the Hague on the 12th of May 1832. A circular Amsterdam postmark in red has been used to date stamp the piece 

Pandemic or War?

When you're keeping up with the news on TV or read the papers the last couple of weeks I’m often left wondering if we are about to enter a new dawn of humanity or if we will rather see the end of it. The new corona virus COVID-19 has paralyzed the globalized world of which we’ve grown so fond in the last decades. The virus makes us feel vulnerable and small again. At least, that’s what I deduce from all the live coverage of the onslaught and the prospects of a global economic crisis which will dwarf the 1930s Depression. Yet, at the same time this absolute shelling of fearsome facts feels a bit obsolete. Out of all threats, a virus which attacks the homo sapiens is probably our most predictable enemy in our digital age. Although invisible and absolutely terrifying in the weeks after its first appearance, research and plain facts are already perfectly able to model and compute the growth rate, fatality rate, contamination rate etc.  An enemy which behaves itself as your most humble servant. An enemy which nevertheless increases exponentially when we take not enough heed. A difficult situation for sure but one which we could easily overcome by following simple rules and staying focused. If you think this COVID-19 pandemic is awful (fatality rate = < 1%) you should not even contemplate comparing it with the devastation destruction and randomness of war. The letter which I will discuss today reminds us of one. 

Contents of the letter (page I)

Begging letter

I stumbled upon a rather elegantly written letter which dates from 1832. I was intrigued by the almost calligraphic writing a couple of months ago but found it difficult to fold it open because of its unusual folding. Of course, the last thing I wanted was to ruin the paper. A week ago though the letter caught my attention again and this time I just had to open it. Its contents were rather cheerless. 


[in zwarte inkt] ? den 13 mei 1832 N28144

[in potlood] aan dit verzoek zal op de voorgestelde wijze niet kunnen worden voldaan

Amsterdam den 6e Mei 1832

Zijn Exellentie !

In afwachting dat UED mijn verzoek niet van de hand zal wijze zoo neeme ik de vrijheid mij langs dezen weg tot UED te begeven om de volgende reden namelijk! Ik ben door een zware ziekte in de behoefte van geld geraakt Alzoo heeft iemand mij zoo gunstig geweest om mij te helpen met ƒ34 waarvoor ik hem dan mij acte van Ridders Pensioen in pand moest geven ervoor [?] 5 centen van de gelden maar toen ik nu met dit laatste kwartaal kwam om te tekenen heeft diezelfde persoon de onheusheid gehad mijne acte aan een ander te verpanden en kan dus geen geld ontvangen dit is dan ook de reden als dat mijn acte de vita niet behoorlijkertijd daar is. In de hoop als dat UED mij na zoo goedgunstig belieft te zijn om mij een klein bewijs over te zenden opdat ik dan zelf persoonlijk zulks aan den weledele Bicker kan vertoonen om mij zelven te betalen dan blijf ik UED ten hoogsten verpligt en zal met die persoon een overeenkomst zien te treffen op een zegeltje om hem dan alle vierendeels jaars een zeker gedeelte van mijn pensioen aftestaan om niet mijn schuld te geraken en dan zoodan mijne acte terug te krijgen. 

In afwachting dat UED mij hierin als het u belieft wel zal te gemackd kom [?]

Zoo blijf ik met alle onderdanigheid

UED DW Dienaar

P. Lasance


[in black ink] ? 13 May 1832 N28144

[in pencil] 
this request cannot be complied with in the proposed manner

His Excellency !

Pending my request which I hope Your Right Honourable won’t deny, I take the opportunity to address Your Right Honourable because of the following matter. Due to a severe illness I’m in the need of money. Somebody was so kind to help me with a sum of ƒ34 for which I had to put my Soldiers Pension as collateral. However, in this last quarter, when I returned to this person to sign, it came to light he unfairly put my pension as collateral for another person which makes it impossible to receive any money. This is the reason why my certificate of life cannot duly arrive on time. Pending my hope that Your Right Honourable will send me some evidence after you have proven to be so auspicious, so that I can personally prove Mr Bicker to pay me, I will remain indebted to Your Right Honourable. I will try to reach an agreement with this person to cede him a certain part of my pension every quarter in order not to be in debt and to return my act. 

Pending that your honorable if you please will accommodate in this matter

I remain forever in your service, 

Your Right Honourable devoted servant

P. Lasance

Source of philatelic material

I've warned you: the contents picture a rather sobering message. Especially the apparent denial of the request (in pencil) made me feel sorry. Before we return to P. Lasance, I've to speak about prephilately first. How could historical documents end up in private collections? 

The academic approach to philately can only exist by plenty of material available for research. When looking for items which were sent pre-1900, you’ll come to realize that the material often originates from old archives (ranging from personal family documents to big firm archives). Sometimes these archives have been plundered for the sake of the philatelists – with hindsight a rather disgusting ‘side-effect' of the increasing popularity of the hobby –, but in most cases the material was acquired by dealers or auctions houses because the firm filed for bankruptcy or an archive would have to get rid of it anyway. In the latter case the archive deemed certain papers of insufficient interest to preserve for future generations. When interest in philately developed probably 100.000s of folded letters (or address sheets only) were saved and ended up in private hands. 

I think that this particular letter originates from a cleared archive. Somebody went through the files of the Kanselarij der Militaire Willemsorde (Military Order of William) because I could find dozens of other similar items online for sale: all addressed to general Janssens who functioned as chancellor of the order between its establishment in 1815 and his death in 1838. 

Contents of the letter (page II)

The life of P. Las(s)ance 

The poor bloke who wrote this letter had fallen gravely ill and is begging for a document which was denied by the chancellor of this Military Order of William. I took me some moments to realize that the man really hoped, begged almost, that his request which he had so carefully wrote, folded and sealed the letter would be honoured. It might have been his last resort. 

I already imagined how an old man, probably crippled at the time of writing, would spend his last days on this earth hoping for a miracle to happen since some rude person had taken advantage of his soldiers pension. Soldiers pension? Slowly some pieces of the jigsaw came together. P. Lasance was apparently entitled to be paid a soldiers pension and he asked the chancellor of some prestigious Dutch order for a certificate of life. He most certainly must have been a knight then. 

So I started my search. The Military Order of William was established by king Willem I in 1815 after the battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. The sole recipients of the decoration (4 ranks) fought in these battles. When P. Lasance begged for proof of his identity the year was 1832. Until that time the order had only been rewarded to generals, corporals, soldiers and so forth who fought in the Waterloo campaign and in a now almost completely forgotten colonial war on Java (Java war 1825-1830). This letter was therefore likely to have been written by a Waterloo veteran! What a find! 

Register entry of P. Lassance
Next stop was the website of the Dutch Ministry of Defence. I knew that they maintained a databank in which you could browse through all decorated soldiers of the Netherlands. I typed Lasance – no results. I typed La sance – no results. I typed La Saints – no results. You can imagine that I started to panic now – what if this bloke just tried to fool the chancellor? – based on the denied request this possibility looked more likely by the second. 

I tried several more combinations of letters – Lassance did it. What a relief. But what a sobering message – again. 

P. Lassance Military Order of William 4th Class Awarded on the 17th of August 1815 on grounds of services rendered in the Battle of Waterloo the 18th of June 1815 in his function as fusilier of the Infantry Battalion of the 13th line.

Birth: 1797
Death: April 10 1833

Less than a year after P. Lassance had his request denied he died. Even in 1833 it was quite uncommon that men died in their 30s after having survived childhood and in Lassance’s case even a terrible battle. I haven’t found details whether he died of the disease he wrote about in his letter or something else. No single file in the Amsterdam archives seems to refer to this particular P. Lassance (or Lasance), but I would like to be proven wrong someday. 

Back of the cover with an incomplete strike of the  circular 's-Gravenhage arrival mark. 


Apart from his last troublesome months and his year of birth we know nothing about P. Lassance other than his apparently remarkable services in the Battle of Waterloo. 30.000 Dutchmen fought there but only 1004 knighthoods were awarded. Alas the register doesn’t mention which remarkable feat led him to be decorated. His fought as a foot soldier in the 13th line (637 men) of the 2nd Brigade of the Netherlands 3rd division under command of general baron Chassé. His interventions at Waterloo came at a pivotal moment when Napoleon sent his imperial guard to attack British troops stationed in front of Chassé. Because Chassé acted quickly with a strong counterattack in response (1st brigade under command of colonel Detmers) Napoleons actions were rendered futile at this particular point in the battle. The coalition held their line. Unfortunately I haven’t found any details on the activities of the 2nd Brigade in which Lassance fought. The 13th line most likely supported the 1st Brigade which stood in the line of fire.

General D.H. Chassé portrayed by Jan Willem Pieneman in
1832 wearing his decorations of the Military Order of William

Click here to read more about the Battle of Waterloo.   

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Parcel label to Montenegro retrouvé

Pakketkaart naar Montenegro
Dutch parcel card attached to a can of butter sent to the Grand Hotel in Cetinje in May 1913.The parcel card is franked with 1x 1g and 1x 25c Wilhelmina Fur collar stamps. This was the correct rate for 1 parcel weighing up to 5 kg. For a single parcel/package weighing 2-5 kg to Montenegro you would have to pay ƒ1.25g between 1904 and 1914.  

In a previous post I described a Dutch parcel label which was sent to Montenegro in late 1913. Since Dutch parcel labels to odd destinations during this period remain scarce, I surely didn't expect that the piece above would turn up. I couldn't believe my eyes at first! Obviously, I had to buy the item to add to my growing collection of Dutch parcel labels sorted on destination.

It's highly likely more parcel labels to Montengro survived, since I guess the archives of the Montenegrin Post were sold/stolen at some moment in time. Parcel labels were (meant to be) stored by postal service after they had delivered the actual package(s).

The other parcel label in my collection is a bit more spectacular, as three packages were involved instead of one. Nevertheless, the one above is in a better shape as it is still complete (the coupon strip wasn't cut from the piece) and it looks 'cleaner' than the one below. Please compare the two items yourself.

Pakketkaart Montenegro
Dutch parcel card attached to three packages sent to Cetinje in November 1913, then the capital of Montenegro. The parcel card is franked with 3 x 1g, 50c and 25c Wilhelmina Fur collar. This was the correct rate for 3 parcels weighing up to 5 kg. For a single parcel/package weighing  2-5 kg to Montenegro you would have to pay ƒ1.25g between 1904 and 1914. So 3x 1.25 makes the correctly applied postage of 3.75g.          

Vouko Vouletich alias Vuko Vuletic

Vouko Vouletitch
Photograph of Vuko Vuletic

The parcel is addressed to Vouko Vouletitch. I did some initial Google searches on his name, but unfortunately found nothing. I changed his name to Vouko Vouletic but still my search was in vain. Apparently this man had been lost in the maze of history: probably his name ha donly survived in some old and dusty Montenegrin census record. 

O boy, I was wrong. 

Although my attempts to trace him were useless, one Greek paper mentioned him. The article concerns the diplomatic relations between Greece and Montenegro before its disputed annexation by Serbia in 1918. Vouletitch was mentioned in this paper as a Montenegrin businessman of considerable status, since he could claim 1000K from his government. Not your ordinary salesman type, but rather a wealthy entrepreneur.     

I contacted the Montenegrin library to ask for help. Who was this mysterious man? Within a day they replied by sending my a link to a report (in Serbian nonetheless), but they spelled his name as Vuko Vuletic. This spelling changed my search totally.

When googling on Vuko Vuletic you'll find that this man was in charge of the restaurant in the Lokanda Hotel. This was the first hotel to be established in Cetinje and therefore the sender probably referred to it as the 'Grand Hotel'. Mr Vuletic was head of the kitchen there since 1892. The hotel itself could accommodate 100 guests and services were provided in 6 languages (including English!). A severe earthquake ruined the historical building in 1979 upon which it was demolished. The hotel featured on a recent Montenegrin stamp (see below).

Montenegro stamp
''150 years hotel Lokanda in Cetinje" - Montenegrin stamp issued in 2014
To be continued...

Monday, 10 February 2020

Dutch field post from the Waterloo campaign

Quatre-bras, Napoleon
15-6-1815 Brain-le-Comte Field post entire with the very scarce postmark Genaal = Postkantoor te Velde written by Otto van Limburg Stirum, who served as aide-de-camp to Prince Willem of Orange during the Waterloo Campaign 

Throughout the Waterloo campaign of 1815 the allied forces maintained a semi-regular field post system in order to communicate efficiently with each other and the anxious home front. The prospect of Napoleon invading his lost territories (including The Low Countries), defeating Wellington and subsequently consolidating his rule in France sent shivers down the spines of many allied generals and the populace. A certain defeat of Napoleon couldn't be taken for granted.

Napoleon's return
Napoleon's return from Elba by Charles Auguste Guillaume Steuben 1818

Before we scrutinize the letter, we should embed its contents into the situation at the time. Napoleon returned from his exile on the small Italian isle of Elba on the 26th of February 1815 with a small personal guard of 600 men. On the 1st of March he reached France and he immediately marched on Paris. By that time the king of France, the unpopular Louis XVIII, still deemed it possible to stop him in his tracks. On the 14th of March however one of Louis’ generals, Michel Ney, joined his former emperor with 6000 men. Several days later Napoleon entered Paris and Louis had fled to Ghent.

PEP M360
The extremely rare Genaal = Postkantoor te Velde postmark which was used between May and June 1815 during the Waterloo Campaign. Only 4 examples are known to exist (PEPII p. 456).  

In the months before June the 15th both Napoleon and the allied forces mobilised for war. Eventually Napoleon succeeded in raising over 200,000 soldiers which formed his l’Armée du Nord. During the congress of Vienna the allied forced declared Napoleon an outlaw and subsequently the Seventh Coalition was formed to defeat him. Initially they thought they could invade France before Napoleon would even dare to start with any hostilities. They were wrong. In the early hours of June 15th Napoleon’s l’Armée du Nord crossed the river Sambre at Charleroi – the very day our letter was written.

Otto van Limburg Stirum (1789-1851) wrote this letter in 2 parts on the day the French commenced their hostilities. As one of the personal aide-de-camps to Prince Willem of the Netherlands, he reports his personal thoughts about the situation to his father Leopold. Leopold resided in Amsterdam at the time and had close contacts to King Willem I. He was part of the famous triumvirate which returned the banished Stadtholder-heir to the Netherlands after the withdrawal of French troops from the Low Countries in the 2nd part of 1813. Prince Willem the VI was proclaimed King Willem I of the Netherlands in November of 1813.

To reinforce the close bond between Leopold and King Willem, the king made Leopold’s son Otto aide-de-camp to his son Willem (who later became king Willem II) during the Waterloo campaign.

Because of his close ties to the Prince of Orange, Otto gives us first-hand insights into the very day Napoleon rushed into Belgium. He states that Napoleon, Jérôme and Murat have camped at Fontaine-l’Évêque near Charleroi, but that Le Prince (Prince of Orange) and the Duke of Wellington are still at a ball in Brussels. If the situation would worsen though he estimates that his Prince would return as soon as possible. He also ponders about military tactics which could be used, e.g. general Hill should replace the Dutch detachment in order to combat the French. A rather strange passage appears near the end of the actual letter: Otto seems to warn his father not to enrage the prince (Mais surtout gardez vous je vous prie de dire que vous tenez quelque chose de moi le Prince serait furieux). To be explained by an earlier letter between the two?

Napoleon, battle of Waterloo,
Detail of the letter 

In a postscript written that evening, Otto shares the latest information with his father. He appears to be a bit pessimistic about their chances. The Prince hasn't returned from Brussels yet and a French paper confirms the report that Napoleon and his army are making progress. According to the paper the last sighting of his l’Armée du Nord was done at Valenciennes, but the Allied Force knew that the French were at Charleroi already. Otto ends the letter by saying that it would probably take a while before they would see each other again.

The day after Otto wrote this historical document, he was severely injured during the battle of Quatre-Bras. The French troops misidentified him for the Prince of Orange due to his young age. They allegedly said: “tuons-le, c'est le Prince!”. He was left for dead on the battlefield but eventually recovered from his wounds.

Otto van Limburg Stirum (1789-1851)

On the 18th of June the Allied Force defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

In summary: this field post entire with a clear strike of the very rare Genaal = Postkantoor te Velde mark gives us a concise, but detailed and unique insight into the very upper levels of the Waterloo military campaign.

This letter will figure in Corinphila's April 2020 (Auction 244)

Transcript of the letter - by G. Vink

Braine le Comte le 15 juin 1815

Je m’emporte mon cher Père a vous communiquer en hate qu’en le moment le Prince vient de recevoir la nouvelle que les français ont commencés les hostilités du cote de CharleRoi. A Fontaine l’Eveque  Napoléon,  Jérome & Murat sont à l’armée.

Les Prussiens qui occupant la ligne celon l’ordre qu’ils en avoient prennent position dessus la Sambre. Sur le fameux champ de bataille de Fleurus bientôt prépare on va s’engage sérieusement, je ne doute pas on nous allons faire un mouvement, parfois nous illustrons ce fameux champ par une 3eme bataille a y [...]  de manière a le pousse jusqu’a Laon.

Le P[rince] qui a fait 18 heures ce matin est encore allé a Bruxelles, parler au Duc de Wellington. S’il y a quelque chose de sérieux, il reviendre encore ce soir, nous languissons tous de le voir rentrer d’après mon idée nous devrons être remplacés ici par le 2ond Corps du General Hill, pour pouvoir faire un mouvement vers la gauche a tomber les français dans le flanc s’ils osent s’aventurer s’il y a quelque chose de nouveau demain a que je puisse vous écrire je le serai.

Mais surtout gardez vous je vous prie de dire que vous tenez quelque chose de moi le Prince serait furieux. Adieu mon cher Père parfois vous apprendre quelque chose de moi par les Papiers ayez …. de rassurer ma femme s’il engage quelque chose de sérieux. Adieu je vous embrace tous tendrement a m dis votre fils affectionné


Le Soir P.S. Nos espérances sont plus ou moins réduit en fermé, le Prince ne revient p. Bruxelles, mais il a envoyé l’ordre de faire rentrer les trouppes dans leur cantonnements d’ou ils étaient sortés pour ressembler les brigades croyant que demain il y aurent quelque chose a faire. –
Les Papiers français que nous venons et voir affirment le départ de Nap: de Paris, et la marche de ses Corps d’Armée sur Charleville, Maubeuge et Valenciennes; Il me semble cependant que nous ne pouvons pas tandis de nous voir bientôt de près

Costly kilometres - express distance fee 1930

  1930 letter from Amsterdam Central Station to Groenouwe Villa south of Loenen op de Veluwe. Correct rate of 12c + 10c express fee (22c) an...