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An 1880 parcel letter from Denmark to France with French Fiscals

The front of the parcel letter

I recently bought the above parcel letter from Denmark to France with French fiscals attached upon arrival to the destination. If you click here you can see a blow-up of the French fiscals.

Do you know, why the French fiscals are attached and what fees they paid?

Here are some background information that may help you in explaining the French fiscals. The auction house claimed that it is payment for Avis de Reception and extraordinary bulk size of parcel, but I am quite sure that they are at least partly wrong, since I cannot find evidence for payment of such fees in the postage. The parcel originates from a Grand Prix International exhibit sold recently, and was far from correctly described in the Grand Prix exhibit. I cannot remember the exact text, but in essence, it just says that the rate was 257 øre (Anyone can add the stamps together) without any explanation why (which I am 99% sure the owner did not know). With regards to the French fiscals, it was stated that the French fiscals paid for Avis de Reception and 'Voluminous' (=excessive bulk size of parcel). The Avis de Reception part may be correct. However, it is then very strange (and against the rules) that the cover is not clearly marked 'Avis de Reception' underlined in chalk. However, we are dealing with a very uncommon and largely unknown area. The excessive bulk size, I am 90% sure is wrong, since I can explain the 257 øre rate without it:

The rate of the parcel letter can be worked out only by using the original international parcel rates from 1887 preserved in the Danish Postal Museum (this is of course not perfect, since the parcel is from 1880, but this is the closest one can get). The parcel weighed somewhere between 0 and 10 pounds (= 0-5 kg) (the weight notation must be covered under the French fiscals) and was insured for 230 kroner (= 258.75 German Marks = 319.45 French Franchs).

When analysing this parcel, take note of the numbers in the lower left corner of the parcel letter.

On 01/04/1877, Denmark and Germany agreed to deliver parcels weighing 0-10 pounds at a fixed 72 øre rate independent of distances (This treaty served as a model for UPU, which introduced simple rates for parcels weighing 0-6 (later 0-10) pounds, so-called mail parcels, on 01/10/1881). This 72 øre rate also came into effect for parcels from Denmark to other countries transiting through Germany.

Thus, the Danish-German weight postage was 72 øre (27 øre to Denmark and 50 pf. to Germany). The Danish insurance fee was 8 øre per 200 kr, thus 16 øre. The French-Belgian postage for parcels sent to towns along the French Northern Railway Line, including Paris, via Belgium was a weight postage of 120 pf. for parcels up to 10 pounds OR an insurance postage of 180 pf. whichever was the higher. Thus the Belgian-French postage was 180 pf. Left is only the German insurance postage, which was 5 pf. per 300 marks, but minimum 10 pf. So, the total postage was (72+16) øre + (180+10) pf. The 190 pf. is converted to øre through an original conversion table: 100 pf. = 89 øre and 90 pf. = 80 øre. So, now the postage in øre can be calculated: 72 + 16 + 89 + 80 = 257 øre (note that this calculation is the second row of numbers from the lower left on the parcel letter). The first row of numbers are all in pf. 180 (the Belgian-French postage) + 10 (the German insurance postage) = 190 pf (which was then converted to 89 + 80 øre). To the 190 pf. is added 50 pf., which was the German share of the 72 øre Danish-German parcel rate. This adds up to 240 pf., which is the total postage to be paid by the Danish postal authorities to the foreign postal authorities. The large orange (and small blue) numbers 'fr 60/180' specifies that Germany will receive 60 pf. and France 180 pf. postage for delivering this parcel. Quite a challenging postage calculation for the postal clerk at the time.

Why do I write all of this? Because it gives some information about what the French fiscals may pay, and more importantly, what they are VERY unlikely to pay.

In relation to bulk size of parcel:
In Europe at the time there was special rates for parcels of excessive bulk size relative to weight. Such parcels were charged a 50% premium on all the weight parts of the rate, but not the on the insurance parts of the rate. From the above postage calculations, it is evident that no 50% weight postage premiums were charged, thus the Danish authorities did not consider it of excessive bulk size. In the parcel treaties of the time it says that it is at the sender's end that the decision of whether it is bulk size or not should be taken. Thus, I find it very unlikely that the French fiscals pay for excessive ('Voluminous') size of the parcel.

In relation to Avis de Reception:
Before 1892, Danish mail to foreign destinations with AR should have the Avis de Reception form attached to the parcel with thread, and the AR-fee should be paid by affixing a 8 øre stamp directly to the AR-form. Thus, the franking on the cover does not reveal whether a piece of mail was sent with AR. However, it says in the rules that any such letter should be clearly marked 'Avis de Reception'. Unless such a marking is hidden by the French fiscals, it is not found on the cover. Furthermore, the fee for Avis de Reception is normally paid only to the country of origin, not to the receiving country. However, I do not dare to rule this possibility out. If it has AR, it will be the earliest known Danish cover to a foreign destination with AR.

Now to the year of the parcel letter:
The auction catalogue states: 'Route: Kjøbenhavn 21/10 1880 - Hamburg 22/10 - Cöln a/m, Rhein 23/10'. This comes from transit cancellations on the back. Furthermore, the year are confirmed by the issuance dates of the specific printings of the 4 øre (printing 17) and 8 øre (printing 19) stamps (which was issued in >120 printings each and therefore usually used shortly after they were issued at least in Copenhagen) supports the year of 1880. More importantly, the parcel cannot be from 21/10/1881 due to a detail in the rate calculations found in the lower left corner of the parcel. On 01/10/1881 the UPU mail-parcel treaty came into effect. From that date the sharing of the 72 øre Danish-German postage changed on parcels on transit through German due to the newly UPU-introduced 50 centimes per country principle. Before 01/10/1881 Denmark's share was 27 øre and the German share was 50 pf., but this changed on 01/10/1881 to 36 øre to Denmark and 40 pf. to Germany (36 øre = 40 pf. = 50 centimes). Thus, had the parcel been sent on 21/10/1881, the total German share of the postage would have been 50 pf. instead of 60 pf. (remember the 10 pf. insurance postage). In conclusion, the parcel has to have been sent on 21/10/1880 (on 21/10/1879 all the stamps on the parcel letter had not been issued yet)!

So, the date, insurance amount, weight and postage calculations are now fixed. I hope this can help the explanation of the French fiscals.

With regards to the French fiscals, I have received the following information from Charles Verge:

"Quittance" stamps were receipts issued for (financial/monetary?) transactions. The rate was 10 centimes for private dealings and 25 centimes for those completed with the help of an accountant. These rates came into effect on December 1, 1871 as a result of a law passed on August 23, 1871. No 25 centimes "Quittance" stamps were printed until 1880 and when they were they also had the picture of Medusa in the middle similar to the 10 centimes stamp on the cover. "Dimension" stamps as that on the right of the cover were used to pay the 25 centimes rate until 1880.The "Dimension" stamp on the cover was issued inn 1872.

The cancellation on the fiscal stamps reads "Bon de réception (19)" in an oval. Loosely translated this reads "Receipt voucher" or "Receipt form". There are several of these handstamp and the wording is found in different shapes such as oblongs and hexagrams. The (19) is probably the accountant's number.

The cover raises several questions with me:

1. Because the fiscal stamps cover part of the writing, I can't tell you what was in the package as that part of the information is covered. Since it is addressed to a book seller it was likely a parcel containing books and could also have contained a bank draft, but I don't know. One way of finding our is lifting the fiscal stamps and seeing what is written under them.

2. The Yvert Tellier "Catalogue des Timbres fiscaux et socio-postaux de France" lists the 10¢ perforated 13½ "Quittance" stamp on the left as being issued in 1881 but you tell me the cover dates from 1880. The imperforate version of the stamp was issued in 1880. Could these be private perfs or can this be an early unrecorded usage.

3. The catalogue also mentions that "Dimension" stamps could be used to pay the fee until 1880. If it is an 1880 cover then it is a late usage.

4. By 1880 there might have been a 35 centimes rate but I don't know what it would cover.

PROBLEM SOLVED BY Mr. YVES DANAN OF FRANCE: The 25 centimes fiscal pays a set fee for customs handling of parcels arriving to France along the Northern railway with the fast trains. The 10 centimes receipt fiscal pays for a receipt for the customs paid. These fees had to be paid before a parcel could be delivered to the receiver and therefore are a part of the standard postal handling of pre-UPU parcels entering France.

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