Preserving your mail in Old India

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Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

Correspondents in India in earlier days seem to have approached sending their letters in a state of abject fear that they'd be interfered with, or wouldn't get through at all. Some time ago, I half promised to do a thread on the different ways people used to preserve their mail from predators.

First, there was the fear that your stamp would be purloined. I don't know if the servant removed the stamp from this cover on the way to the Bara Bazar in Calcutta

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but that brown stain over the back flap is pretty suggestive ...

One of the commonest ways, particularly among the British population, to prevent this was to write 'Stamped' across the stamps, or at least onto the cover. These images I have borrowed with the kind permission of ottawamike (though it was all so long ago, he's probably forgotten about it :D )

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This was supposed to stop the servants or post office staff from stealing. Some of the 'Natives' adopted the expedient as well

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(There's also something going on under that heavy RMS killer, but I can't quite make it out.)

And a slightly more elaborate version, to the same merchant in Calcutta

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with the joins of the envelopes also marked.
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

Others were satisfied with a mark tieing the stamp to the cover:

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The idea took off in Jammu & Kashmir

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and was elaborated on

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before ultimately reaching slightly silly heights

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

Another expedient, common across Northern India, was to invoke the Curse of Chitor on the thief:

From Frits Staal's The Stamps of Jammu & Kashmir, pp124-125:
'Envelopes even more than single stamps are often marked with scribbles, lines, dots, or other symbols that are supposed to prevent them from being taken away or opened by unauthorized outsiders. A similar practice adopted by Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir, Indore, Jaipur, and so on is to write: //74// at the beginning of the address to insure safe delivery of the letter. ... Professor Bruce Pray has drawn my attention to a story translated from the Hindi in Linguistic Survey of India, vol. VI, pp48-49 about the miraculous powers of song. The singer Tan-sen sang with such force that all the lamps at the court of Emperor Akbar lit themselves, and Tan-sen himself burst into flames and fell down dead. Earlier, he had warned that if such a thing would happen, he could be brought to life only by Queen Kamla of Chittaur. The Emperor therefore attacked Chittaur and a terrible battle ensued. Seventy-four and a half maunds (one maund being equal to approximately 80 lbs.) of sacred threads were collected from the corpses of the slain. Queen Kamla was taken prisoner, and when ordered to sing, she sang with such force that her soul burst its way through her skull and went to heaven, leaving the audience with their mouths open in astonishment. The number 74½ is still written on letters as the strongest of seals, for "the sin of the slaughter of Chittaur" is thereby incurred by all who violate the letter.'

Here is a fairly modest version, disappearing off the top left-hand line of the address on this cover from Bundi

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And here it is again, somewhat larger, from Jaipur:

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But some people are never satisfied, or maybe the contents were more valuable. The writer of this cover from Jaipur

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obviously was a belt-and-braces man :D

Curiously, I haven't seen any of these anti-theft devices on covers from the Southern Indian States, Cochin and Travancore. Does anyone have any examples? Indeed, examples from other countries?
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by huanga »

Thanks tonymac. The written script was always one of those puzzles that you put to one side meaning to find the answer one day, but never quite get around to it! You have just answered it your usual explicit way.

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Huanga.

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

Yes, Huanga: nice examples of 'Stamped's.
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by opkedia52 »

Tony misssed one major point-people used to send letters bearing postage so that it reached the destination safely-because unpaid letters were accounted for in postal system to recover dues.

This method was prevalent in modern India till very recently.If you ask sender why did he send unpaid letter,he will surely reply that it is to ensure safe transit.

In my childhood I remember postman asking for money for "Bairang Dak".

I never figured out the meaning of Bairang until later in life I came across term "Bearing" in postal history and then I could figure out the term.

If you go through postal history covers I am sure Bearing letters would match paid letters in quantity.

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

I do have a few Bearing covers, like this

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but the trouble is: How do I know if the stamps were omitted deliberately or accidentally? I must say, this one does have a deliberate look about it :D
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by aethelwulf »

tonymacg wrote:before ultimately reaching slightly silly heights

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Maybe someone had too much idle time at the PO? If that's the case, any Indian equivalent to US fancy cancels (the "Waterbury running chicken" being most famous).

This one is rather nice really. The overall effect of the stamp is that of a carpet (I avoid saying 'Persian rug' in this case :lol:), with the manuscript lines being the tassle fringe.

Now if the person applying the lines had done curly squiggles, that would surely summon the army officer from Monty Python's 'And Now for Something Completely Different', saying "alright that's enough of that, started out as a good idea and just got silly." :lol:
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by Global Administrator »

What do the words "Bairang Dak" translate as?

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by opkedia52 »

Global Administrator wrote:What do the words "Bairang Dak" translate as?
"Bairang" is distorted version of "Bearing" and "dak" is "post" in Hindi language.Bairang Dak meant Post bearing postal charges.Originally Bearing was used on Indian unpaid letters in early days i.e. 1850s-1860s.I haven't seen any latter use.But Mr.Tony can confirm that the term Bairing in Hindi was used on Barwani unpaid letters in 1920s-1930s also.I do have some covers in My Indore collection and I will post them tomorrow.

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

aethelwulf wrote: Maybe someone had too much idle time at the PO? If that's the case, any Indian equivalent to US fancy cancels (the "Waterbury running chicken" being most famous).

This one is rather nice really. The overall effect of the stamp is that of a carpet (I avoid saying 'Persian rug' in this case :lol:), with the manuscript lines being the tassle fringe.

Now if the person applying the lines had done curly squiggles, that would surely summon the army officer from Monty Python's 'And Now for Something Completely Different', saying "alright that's enough of that, started out as a good idea and just got silly." :lol:
Aethelwulf, I'm pretty sure the tassles were drawn by the sender. You can never be too careful! Who knows who might be tempted by the sight of a ½ Anna stamp sitting there invitingly untied on the back of an envelope.
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

opkedia52 wrote:
Global Administrator wrote:What do the words "Bairang Dak" translate as?
"Bairang" is distorted version of "Bearing" and "dak" is "post" in Hindi language.Bairang Dak meant Post bearing postal charges.Originally Bearing was used on Indian unpaid letters in early days i.e. 1850s-1860s.I haven't seen any latter use.But Mr.Tony can confirm that the term Bairing in Hindi was used on Barwani unpaid letters in 1920s-1930s also.I do have some covers in My Indore collection and I will post them tomorrow.

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Yes: here is an example, apparently applied in error to an official mail envelope from Barwani, to the left of the upper CDS. (Official mail should have travelled free.)

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This is a proof strike of (one of seven) 'Bearing' cachets in use in Barwani:

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And here is a Bearing cover from Jaipur:

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The ingot-shaped cachet translates as 'Bearing One Anna'. The adddress also begins with the '74½' curse.
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by GeeIdontKnow »

Brilliant Thread guys!

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

Actually, the use of 'Bearing' in India goes quite a way back. As I had my Robson Lowe out, I scanned these examples

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'Bg. Pg.' is an abbreviation for 'Bearing Postage'
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by HalfpennyYellow »

Is that why stamps of India (and later even Straits Settlements) were cancelled by ''chops'' as well as the post office cancellation?

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(I think the 8a has a ''Stamped'' mark)

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

First up, Matt, congratulations on reaching your 200 :!: I look forward to many, many more :D

Chops: I think they probably served a double purpose. The first was, as you say, as a security measure: bigger and better than just writing 'Stamped'. The second was as a bit of free publicity: showing the recipient how efficient (hopefully) your firm was.

And your 8 Anna certainly looks as if it had 'Stamped' written across it. Of course, 8 Annas was serious money to an underpaid servant or post office worker. If the basic letter rate ½ Anna was tempting, this would have been 16 times as tempting :D
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by opkedia52 »

Here are some examples of Bearing cancellations:

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The last cancellation shows UNPAID SORTING -clearly indicating that unpaid mail volume was significant at that time to warrant a separate sorting.

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by bsward »

Great thread Tony :) which has raised a couple of questions for me...

First though, my favourite 'stamped' example:

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Is the following a manuscript equivalent of cancelled?
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Is there any reason as to why the sender has written stamped on the following? I can't see how writing it, not on the stamps, would help protect the sender's stamps.

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Do you know when this practice stopped occuring? I have been unable to find any examples of stamped from beyond the start of EVII.

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by opkedia52 »

Some of my hand cancelled and pre cancelled stamps:

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The first scan shows pre cancellation by the user corporation.There are several other stamps with similiar pre cancellation in oval shape.There are many hand cancelled examples.

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

Ben, I don't know when the practice of writing 'Stamped' onto stamps, and then covers, ended. You'd think the authorities would have clamped down first on writing it onto stamps. Putting it on the cover might have seemed a second best to letter writers, and it would still have the advantage of warning would-be thieves.

The practice probably managed to dribble onto into the Edwardian era as the older letter-writers died off, and the younger generation saw no need for it. In its own way, comparable with the obsolete use of the old long 's' you sometimes see on 19th century covers.
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by stampingpaws »

On arrival at the Calcutta Post Office I was met by a small army of women and men who were sewing parcels into sheets of calico. Strange, I thought and marched on in with a small present for my mother in Australia. My nightmare began at window 21. My parcel which I had packed and taped up, was unwrapped and inspected. It was returned to me and I was told to go to window 22. Just next door but the queue was 20 people long. Eventually I reached the window and was served (would you beleive by the same person.) She inspected it all again and said "outside, sewing".

Now I went outside and was mobbed by small children pushing and pulling me to one of the people I saw on the way in. Twenty minutes lated my items were packed wrapped, sewn, and addressed using a pen with a nib and an ink pot. Just 10 rupees.

Inside again with my parcel, and was directed to counter 31. By the way there were 68 counters all crowded with customers except for counter 31 which was enty and closed. Someone said lunch, wait. Eventually my parcel was weighed and the postage written on the calico wrapping, this time in red ink from an old fountain pen.

So far so good you might say. But where to buy the stamps. You guessed it, counter 68 at the far end. I arrived carrying my parcel and was immediately surrounded by more children. To date I cannot think what they wanted, perhaps to re-wrap my parcel, lick my stamps or steal my change.

I paid for the postage but no stamps were available, I had to take a small piece of paper to counter 21, where the same person smiled and handed over the stamps. I put them on the parcel and handed over the counter.

No No No Counter 68, Counter 68. So back to counter 68, waited in the same queue, got to the counter and handed my parcel over. The stamps were cancelled by what looked like a mini sledgehammer and my parcel started its journey to my mother by being thrown across the room .

Australia Post has a lot to learn. It took four people, a small child and 3 hours to post my parcel.

Hope you liked my story.
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by opkedia52 »

stampingpaws wrote:On arrival at the Calcutta Post Office I was met by a small army of women and men who were sewing parcels into sheets of calico. Strange, I thought and marched on in with a small present for my mother in Australia. My nightmare began at window 21. My parcel which I had packed and taped up, was unwrapped and inspected. It was returned to me and I was told to go to window 22. Just next door but the queue was 20 people long. Eventually I reached the window and was served (would you beleive by the same person.) She inspected it all again and said "outside, sewing".

Now I went outside and was mobbed by small children pushing and pulling me to one of the people I saw on the way in. Twenty minutes lated my items were packed wrapped, sewn, and addressed using a pen with a nib and an ink pot. Just 10 rupees.

Inside again with my parcel, and was directed to counter 31. By the way there were 68 counters all crowded with customers except for counter 31 which was enty and closed. Someone said lunch, wait. Eventually my parcel was weighed and the postage written on the calico wrapping, this time in red ink from an old fountain pen.

So far so good you might say. But where to buy the stamps. You guessed it, counter 68 at the far end. I arrived carrying my parcel and was immediately surrounded by more children. To date I cannot think what they wanted, perhaps to re-wrap my parcel, lick my stamps or steal my change.

I paid for the postage but no stamps were available, I had to take a small piece of paper to counter 21, where the same person smiled and handed over the stamps. I put them on the parcel and handed over the counter.

No No No Counter 68, Counter 68. So back to counter 68, waited in the same queue, got to the counter and handed my parcel over. The stamps were cancelled by what looked like a mini sledgehammer and my parcel started its journey to my mother by being thrown across the room .

Australia Post has a lot to learn. It took four people, a small child and 3 hours to post my parcel.

Hope you liked my story.
stampingpaws
Hi Mr.Stampingsawa-how old is your story.Now a days Indiapost has one window counters where e and never experienced everything can be done at one place.Indiapost also sell small,medium and large cardboard boxes .Also you donot have to buy stamps-the postage is paid by computer receipt at the counter .I frequently mail parcels to my daughter in USA and have never experienced such trauma.These facilities are available even at small places.
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by stampingpaws »

Hi there,

My travels through India with my first wife were adventurous, interesting and possibly the best time of my life. A total of over 10 trips to India, we bought a travel agency specialising in travel to the sub-continent and I wrote a guide book especially for young travellers.

Yes, you are right, My story is based on travels over 30 years ago. I yearn to return again to see both the old and most all the new, but unfortunately age and health are preventing it.

Best wishes
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by Szykney »

Cover I posted in "the Uglies" thread --

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by birder »

And the Nine Pies Bright Mauve

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

What would Vicky have said, if she'd known? :lol:
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

A nice variant on writing 'Stamped' across one's stamps:

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Write 'Registered' instead :D (SG 67 of India with SG 98 of Jammu & Kashmir)
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by Girish Vaidya »

Brilliant stuff Tony :D :D

Fascinating to read, you deserve a PhD (if you already don't have one :mrgreen: )

I wish I had one such cover :cry:

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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

Thanks - perhaps I should just appropriate a PhD, and start calling myself Doctor :lol:
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by tonymacg »

A correspondent in Jammu & Kashmir with obviously far too much time on their hands:

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These extreme efforts seem to be commonest from Jammu & Kashmir. Was stamp stealing more prevalent there, or am I missing something?
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Re: Preserving your mail in Old India

Post by HalfpennyYellow »

I know it's a bit off topic, but I saw the item below and it reminded me of this thread. This GB used in Malta 6d appeared on eBay today, and it's the first time I've seen a "Stamped" marking from Malta (actually I don't recall seeing such markings or chops from anywhere except for India, Ceylon and the Straits Settlements).
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https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/223724665183
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