Philippines 1775 - 1878

Mail Routes and Other Postal History


By Geoffrey Lewis











I am pleased to share my exhibit of Philippines Postal History with other collectors on the IPPS website. Here is the story of my journey to form this collection. This story has two parts.  Firstly, I will share with you how I built up this collection, but the collection is not an end in itself.  The second part of the story is the continuation of the journey. By using the knowledge I gained on the Philippines, I have managed to build up many other worldwide postal history collections.

Part 1.  Building this Collection

I have always been a stamp collector, at least from when I turned six years old. I collected stamps from countries all over the world, collecting one of each without being too worried about varieties.

In 1975 I met Lolita in Sydney, who had migrated from the Philippines to Australia as a teacher in 1973, and we married soon after.  I started collecting the stamps of the Philippines across the Republic, Japanese, American and Spanish periods.  It was a great way to learn the history of this fascinating country.

In 1982, I exhibited for the first time. This comprised of only stamp issues from the Spanish through to the Republic periods. A good friend told me to start collecting covers, saying “the best time to start collecting postal history is yesterday”. Each time I exhibited, there was a higher percentage of covers, and the ending date of the exhibit moved earlier. Eventually, the exhibit was entirely postal history of the Spanish Period up to 1878, when the Philippines joined the UPU.

From about 1990, I concentrated on the postal history of the Spanish period. The other major collectors at this time included Mario Que (Philippines), Antonio Cuesta (Spain), Fritz-Walter Lange (Philippines and Germany) and Kenneth Clark (UK). I personally met all of them and we got on well, as we shared a common passion.

Competition for any Spanish Philippine cover was intense for about 7 or 8 years. I found it almost impossible to buy any cover with spectacular stamps or markings. I concentrated on analysing covers with less spectacular appearances, so that I could recognise differences in rates and routes. I learnt a lot about the maritime rates and markings used by Spain, Britain, France and the United States.

That is why the focus of my exhibit is on the routes of mail from the Philippines. There is also a strong emphasis on the postal rates found on these covers.

Part 2.  The Journey after the Philippines

By studying and collecting Philippines postal history, I had built up considerable worldwide postal history knowledge. One area was the knowledge of worldwide postal routes, and the other was about the maritime postal systems of the four great countries: Spain, Britain, France and the United States.

Find another country to collect: Cuba

I wanted to find another country to collect. It had to be a country with extensive mail sent by ship. There had to be lots of maritime mail before 1850. It would be good if ships of several countries carried mail from this country.

I considered every country in the world. The winner was Cuba. There were considerable similarities with the Philippines. Both had been Spanish colonies until the same time (1898), and then were administered by the United States. The routes from Cuba to Europe were much simpler, but there were so many more covers available to choose from.

Expand to a “More Important” Country

Anyone who has ever collected Philippines or Cuba knows that they are very important, with a lot of philatelic interest. However, I sensed that people outside the Spanish world, instinctively look down on these places as unimportant.

What is an important country for postal history? In my opinion, it is a country which had a lot of international commercial activity and shipping services in the period between 1800 and 1850, the era when the worldwide postal services were being developed. Under this definition, I believe the four most important postal history countries are Britain, France, Spain and the United States. In 2005, I made a speech announcing my ambitious goal to form gold-medal postal history exhibits of those four countries, and I estimated that would take 20 years to develop.

Stampless Mail Entering Spain

By collecting and studying mail to Spain from the Philippines and Cuba, I had learnt a lot about the Spanish postal system. From 1779, the Spanish postal rates on incoming mail, depended on the country (or colony) of origin. If a letter reached Spain, and did not have a clear identifying postmark, the Spanish entry post office applied a mark to indicate its origin. The Spanish destination post office could then calculate the postage fee, which also depended on the weight. For its time, this was quite an efficient postal system.

I had to search for letters from all parts of the Spanish empire. Mail from some colonies, such as Mexico, was easy to find. However, there are some colonies from which I have never seen a letter to Spain. For mail from Western Europe to Spain, there were many variations. It has been a challenge to find letters to Spain from most other countries.

In my Philippines exhibit, you will see some letters from the Belletti correspondence from Manila to Rome, many of which went via Spain. I definitely wanted to include these, so I used the title “Stampless Mail entering Spain” rather than “Incoming Mail to Spain”.

I was very proud to have this exhibit published by Corinphila in their prestigious Edition d’Or series of important collections (Volume XIV in 2009). I was the first person from an English-speaking country to be so honoured.

New Orleans

I had learnt quite a lot about United States postal history by collecting Philippines and then Cuba. I felt the best United States. postal history collection to form, would be one about the postal history of a port city. I considered all the major ports, and felt that New York, Boston and New Orleans had the most interesting postal history. I chose New Orleans for several reasons: its connection with Havana; it had a history involving Spain and France; and the development of the United States westward and inland. Also, I expected less competition as there were fewer philatelists living in that city who might want to collect the postal history of their own town.

I decided to restrict myself to stampless mail. I believe that when most philatelists look at a nice cover with classic stamps, they tend to look at the rarity and condition of the stamps, and ignore the postal history aspects. I also decided to include letters addressed to or travelling via New Orleans, if they could help illustrate the story of the New Orleans postal system.

My exhibit won a Large Gold medal at the New York 2016 Exhibition. This was the first time that someone outside the United States had won a Large Gold for a United States postal history subject at an FIP exhibition held in the United States.

The 1836 Anglo-French Postal Convention

Britain and France were the two most powerful countries in the world, both economically and politically. Many letters from all over the world were carried by British or French ships. They each had their own postal system. This convention allowed the two countries to collect postage on behalf of each other.

There were more British ships visiting Manila than French ships. If someone wanted to write to France, it was tempting to send the letter by a British ship. Before the 1836 Anglo-French Postal Convention, the letter had to be mailed to someone in Britain, who would pay the postage to Britain. This person then paid a second postage fee to send it to France. Under the Postal Convention, the letter would be addressed to France. When it arrived in Britain, the Post Office would just write on the letter how much France owed Britain. The French addressee paid a postage charge, which included the amount that France owed Britain.

This accounting change made it so much easier for anybody in the world, not just the Philippines, to mail letters internationally. It was just amazing that no philatelist had ever seriously studied this extremely important postal development. One possible explanation is that most postal historians focus on handstamps, and the few handstamp markings associated with this agreement are not rare. British philatelists were always focused on the issue of the first postage stamps in 1840, and ignored the importance of an accountancy agreement with France.

I wrote a book on this subject, which was published in 2015 by the Royal Philatelic Society London.

A New Postal History Challenge

By 2013, all five postal history exhibits had won Large Gold medals at FIP exhibitions. Thus, I had far exceeded my goal stated in 2005 to obtain Gold medals within 20 years.

In 2019, I commenced a new challenge to form a worldwide postal history exhibit. The title is “Mail routes in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, plus the routes between the oceans.” The Philippines is probably more important to this subject than any other smaller country, because its mail illustrates the routes across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.


Geoffrey Lewis
September 5, 2020





Compiled by Nigel Gooding


September 2020


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