Sunday, 27 May 2012

Postal History - A 1943 Cover Tells It's Story

The Reason That I Love Postal History

The term "Postal History" was coined by the great Robson Lowe:

"Postal history is the study of postal systems and how they operate and, or, the study of postage stamps and covers and associated material illustrating historical episodes of postal systems"

That's quite a mouthful, that can be abbreviated to "what can this cover tell me?"

There is a belief that Postal History relates to very old material. I'd like to show that a relatively common cover from WWII can tell a fascinating story of it's travels and it's times

This is the cover. 

Posted from Halle in Germany to Bourges in Occupied France, on 13 June 1943. The addressee was Monsieur Poulain, the Assistant Director of the SNCAC, or Société Nationale de Construction Aéronautique du Centre. I have not yet been able to find biographical information on M. Poulain.

The cover shows the correct postage, 25pf for international postage, and 30pf for Registration, and carries a Halle Registration label alongside the French notation "Recommandé" (Registered).

SNCAC was a French aircraft manufacturer, created when three privately-owned aircraft manufacturers, Farman, Hanriot and Loire-Nieuport (all famous for their WWI aircraft), were nationalised in 1936.

The SNCAC at Bourges was placed under German control after the occupation of France in 1940, and by 1943 was producing the Siebel Si204 light transport plane for the Luftwaffe. Meanwhile, the Siebel factory in Halle in Germany was producing the Junkers Ju88 high-speed medium bomber under licence from Junkers, and did not have the capacity to produce both aircraft. Hence, the production of the (somewhat less important) transport aircraft was entrusted to the SNCAC.

So far, we know where the cover was posted, where it was sent, the method of postage, what the sender and recipient were working on and why. We also know that it would have contained something of importance to be Registered, rather than a "hello from Halle!" correspondence. 

All this from the front of a cover.

There's still more to tell. The circular "Ae" stamp in magenta is a German censor handstamp, so although the cover doesn't appear to have been opened and re-sealed, it was certainly handled by the censor. The "A" is an abbreviation for "Auslandprüfstelle", or "Foreign Censor Station". The "e" is the code letter for the Censor Station at Frankfurt. So now we know by which route the cover reached France.

This also suggests to us that, as the cover was from a French national (the notation "Recommandé" tells us that) to another French national, the cover required the intervention of a Censor. This despite the recipient being the Assistant Director of an armaments factory in occupied territory!

The reverse of the cover:

We can see that the sender is a French engineer, Dipl. Ingr. Girard. ("Dipl. Ingr." is a German abbreviation for "Certified Engineer"). I have been unable to find any biographical information about M. Girard.

The handstamped "8266" is yet to be identified, but I suspect that it is an individual censor's marking.

Even the envelope itself is of considerable interest, when the times and the circumstances are considered. It is clearly French stationery, as it carries a watermark (visible on the reverse) of "Balon" (Balloon). The watermark also includes an image of the Montgolfier balloon:

In 1783, the French Montgolfier brothers flew the world's first hot-air balloon.

I'm a romantic at heart (and I do love a good conspiracy theory). Was this use of French stationery, bearing a French image, a patriotic or nationalistic statement between the two correspondents that went unnoticed by the Censor?

We're fortunate to live in an age that allows us to source all of the information above without leaving our homes. 

If you haven't given Postal History a chance yet, or have been over-whelmed by the thought of the cost, I hope this little example will steer your course.


  1. I always find it fascinating seeing cover histories deciphered. Like reading a Sherlock Holmes story.


  2. The story would be complete with some biographical details, but I think that's a pipe-dream!