The Postal History of the Universal Postal Union: 
The Postal Card (Worldwide) 1869-1974

By James Peter Gough RDP FRPSL

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A two volume book on the postal card, from its very beginnings to its virtual end in the 1970's, this provides a postal history of the evolution of “when, what and why” of postal cards and how they related to each other in sequences of time worldwide vis-a-vis philosophical approaches, rules, regulations and rates.

James Peter Gough RDP FRPSL

This book is primarily a philatelic history – but also a social history – of the postal card, from its very beginnings to its virtual end in the 1970s. Born of social necessity before the ages of the telephone, internet, mobile phones and text messaging, the postal card filled an important social need for a fast, direct means of communications without formalities. This utility for messaging was made possible when post offices typically provided up to five mail deliveries per day.
The genius of the invention caught imaginations across Europe so quickly that other countries started to plan its duplication even before the first postal cards were jointly issued (in slightly different designs) in Austria and Hungary on the same day, 1 October 1869.

When copying the simple idea, many other countries’ post offices felt the need to experiment with its design concept, its pricing (letter rate vs. discounted rate), its limitations of use and its priority of delivery (1st vs. 2nd class).
Many of these differences were ironed out at the Congress of Berne in 1874 when the new Postal Union adopted postal cards as a mandatory service to be offered by all members – even though some founding members had yet to issue their own first postal cards.
After Berne’74, the subsequent congresses of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), continued to tinker for decades with postal card rules and requirements.
While the UPU had been the biggest sponsor of the postal card concept in the 19th century, the UPU was one of the first to foresee its decline in use by the public.
By 1974 (the UPU’s 100th anniversary), the UPU authorised members to discontinue the postal card completely, and not just as its own class of mail. This book then is the 100 year story of the postal card.

James Peter Gough (“Jamie”) has collected stamps since 1960. By 1966, he was asking the “why” about stamps and their uses in his first stamp exhibit. His curiosity (encouraged by world-renowned mentors in Annapolis, MD, and London) launched his lifetime pursuit of postal history, which he has done since 1970.

Jamie has three national titles in philatelic exhibiting: the Youth title in 1973 and two USA Champion-of-Champions (1992, 2013). Internationally, he has three Grand Prix’s: FIP Grand Prix d’Honneur at Paris 1999, FEPA Grand Prix at London 2015 and FIAF Grand Prix at Los Angeles in 2008.

Jamie was elected in 2000 to the Académie de Philatélie (France) and invited to sign the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists (“RDP”) in 2012.

In his career, he worked for the World Bank as well as Merrill Lynch at the height of their global influence. He went from Wall Street to Main Street when he moved to California in 1984, advising banks around the world, first through his own firm and afterwards at Deloitte & Touche.
Jamie founded a bank in 2002, which sold in 2016 to a much larger bank in Seattle.

Jamie has also raced bicycles and played polo (horse version … to which he hopes to return shortly). He attended school in Spain and the Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia. He holds a BA from George Washington University in foreign affairs, an MBA and post-grad studies in hedging.

While the search for knowledge is always stimulating, he often states that philately is really a social activity. After all, when one has done all that research and has found an item of great interest, it needs to be shared with others. Hence this book …

Contents Volume 1



Direct Contributors

Contributors through Introductions

Terminology & Framework for Understanding

Postal Card vs Postcard


Survival and Succession of Rules, Regulations & Rates

When Convention Documents Are Missing Rules

Start and End Dates

Currency of the Postal Union

Member vs Non-Member Designations

Subordinate Member

Corresponding Member

Congress vs Special Conference

Signatory vs Non-Signatory Designations (Only Applicable to Members)

Restricted Postal Unions

Consignee Letters

Admission vs Adherence

Specific Philatelic Terms Related to Postal Cards

Chapter 1 The Early lssuers of Postal Cards

1.1 First Introduction of the Concept

1.2 Austria-Hungary (1October1869)

1.3 The Postal Card Concept Spreads Internationally

1.4 The Formular Card - Requiring that a Stamp be Added

1.5 Different Philosophies on Pricing

1.6 The Early Issuers

1.7 Germany

1.8 German Occupied France (29 September 1870)

1.9 Luxembourg (1September1870)

1.10 Heligoland (23 July 1873)

1.11 France (23 September 1870)

1.12 Switzerland and the United Kingdom (Same Day: 1 October 1870)

1.13 The Netherlands and Belgium (Same Day: 1January1871)

1.14 Denmark (1April1871)

1.15 Sweden (1January1872)

1.16 Norway (1 January 1872)

1.17 Early Issuers Who Conformed to the Austrian Concept.

1.18 Pre-GPU - Other Early Issuers in Europe

1.19 Pre-GPU - Early Issuers Outside of Europe

1.20 Privately Issued Postcards

Chapter 2 Postal Cards to Foreign Destinations

2.1 International Exchange of Cards

2.2 Austria-Hungary (1October1869)

2.3 Germany

2.4 France (23 September 1870)

2.5 Switzerland (1October1870)

2.6 United Kingdom (1October1870)

2.7 The Netherlands (1 January 1871)

2.8 Belgium (1 January 1871)

2.9 Scandinavian Postal Union: Denmark, Norway and Sweden

2.10 Denmark (1April1871)

2.11 Sweden (1January1872)

2.12 Norway (1January1872)

2.13 Finland (1October1871)

2.14 Russia (1January1872)

2.15 United States of America (May 1873)

2.16 Pre-GPU - Other Early Issuers in Europe to Foreign Destinations .187

2.17 Early Issuers Outside of Europe

2.18 General Comments About Other Early Issuers Outside of Europe

2.19 Postal Cards Used as Printed Matter in International Mail

2.20 Privately Issued Postcards in International Mails

2.21 Postal Cards Used 'in' the Domestic Service of Other Countries

Chapter 3 Congress of Berne, 1874 Establishing a Single Postal Territory

3.1 First Order of Business for the Delegates - Mapping Classes of Mail and Auxiliary Postal Services

3.2 Postal Cards: A Required Class of Mail

3.3 The Published Rules & Regulations from Berne'74

3.4 Harmonised Approach to Pricing the Physical Card - Cost of the Card Was Included in Notional Rate of lmpressed Stamp

3.5 Methodology for Determining Rate: Half the Letter Rate

3.6 Optionality in Choosing Rates

3.7 Foreign Rate Postal Cards

3.8 Pre-GPU Foreign Rate Cards Extended to Use in GPU

3.9 Domestic Rate Chosen as GPU Base Rate - New Foreign Rate Chosen to Equal the Existing Domestic Rate

3.10 New Issue Foreign-Rate Postal Cards Prepared for GPU Day

3.11 Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom

3.12 First Postal Cards of Founding Members Issued After GPU Day - Issued to Comply With GPU Requirements

3.13 Where a Foreign Rate Postal Card Was Not Available

3.14 Initial Rules for Postal Cards

3.15 French Interim Period

3.16 Restricted Postal Unions

3.17 The Appearance of Overpayments

3.18 Frontier Mail

3.19 Maritime Surcharge Rate

3.20 Mixed Franking Within the GPU/UPU on Postal Cards

3.21 Postal Card Developments Among Non-GPU/UPU Members

Chapter 4 Conference of Berne, 1876 -Admitting the First New Members

4.1 The First 'Special Conference'

4.2 Divergence From Standards

4.3 Admission Process Changed After Berne'76 Meetings

4.4 Admission of New Members: Treaties of Adhesion

4.5 India Exemption Expanded

4.6 Transitional Rates

4.7 New Members' Postal Cards With Transitional Rates

4.9 Assessing International Postal Card Volume

4.10 Postal Card Development Among Non-Members

4.11 The Request for Specimens

4.12 Last Day of the "General Postal Union"

Chapter 5 Congress of Paris, 1878

5.1 Background

5.2 Equivalencies for Postage Rates Within the UPU

5.3 New Rules on Postal Cards for All Members

5.4 A Major Overhaul of UPU Rates

5.5 Miscellaneous Uses of Cards

5.6 Interim Period Between Congresses


Contents Volume2

UPU Special Convention On Reply-Paid Postal Cards Optional to all Members; Not Yet Required

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Operational Problems With "Foreign'' Response Cards

6.3 Early Adoption of "Reply Card" Concept by Other Postal Administrations

6.4 Reactions at Paris'78 to the Reply-Paid Postal Card Concept

6.5 Creation of the "Special Convention"

6.6 Perspective on the Optional Period

6.7 Reply Cards Sent to "Non-Signatories" Before 1April1886.

6.8 Maritime Surcharges on Response Cards

6.9 Maintaining the India & Far East Surcharge

6.10 Cases of "Mixed" Franking

6.11 "Return'' of Reply Cards To Other than Member of Issuance

6.12 Unintended Uses of Response Cards

6.13 Extension of Reply Card Concept to Free Franks

6.14 Reply Cards Led to the Concept for Letter Cards

6.15 Lisbon 1885 - Letter Card Concept Creates.Interest.

6.16 Perspectives on Reply Card Scarcity

Chapter 7 Congress of Lisbon, 1885

7.1 Background

7.2 Official UPU Rates of Equivalencies for Member Currencies

7.3 Postage Due: Double Deficiency

7.4 Changes in the Required Inscriptions

7.5 Technical Physical Details for Postal Cards

7.6 Reply Paid Postal Cards

7.7 Permission for Privately Produced Postal Cards

7.8 Ail Members Must Accept Response Cards From Other Members

7.9 Between Congresses (From Lisbon'85 to Viennà91)

7.10 Within the British Empire: Members vs Non-Members

7.12 Developments Within the Australasian Colonies

7.13 Italian & Australasian Treaty

7.14 Intercolonial Postal Conference •

7.15 Non-Members in Southern Africa•

Chapter 8 Congress of Vienna, 1891

8.1 Paradigm Shift Before the Congress

8.2 Sorne General Rules Applicable to Postal Cards

8.3 UPU Rates of Equivalency

8.4 Responses to Eliminating Surcharge Rates

8.5 Postage Due Regulations Relevant to Postal Cards

8.6 Southern Africa Postal Card Changes

8.7 New Member "Transitional Rates,,

8.8 Auxiliary Services on Reply-Paid Postal Cards

8.9 General Technical Regulations Pertaining to Postal Cards

8.10 UPU Indicium Requirement Reaffirmed

8.11 Reply-Paid Postal Cards - Issuance Now Mandatory

8.12 Domestic Reply Cards in UPU Mails

8.13 Maritime Surcharge Postage on Reply Cards

8.14 Fraudulent Use of Response Cards

8.15 Specimens to UPU from Non-Members

Chapter 9 Congress of Washington

9.1 UPU Impact on International Affairs

9.2 Postage Due Specific to Postal Cards

9.3 General Section on Postal Cards (Article XV of the Regulations)

9.4 UPU Rates of Equivalency

9.5 Commemorative Postal Cards

9.5 Universal Rates

9.6 Between the Congresses: Washington'97 and Rome'06

Chapter 10 Congress of Rome, 1906

10.1 Overview

10.2 Divided Postcards, 1902-1907

10.3 Further Clarifications of Regulations Per EUnion Postale

10.4 UPU Rates of Equivalency

10.5 Wartime Measures

10.6 New Countries Appear on the Globe

10.7 After War Rate Increases

Chapter 11 The Denouement of Postal Cards 1920-1974

11.1 Overview

11.2 Congress of Madrid

11.3 The Congress of Stockholm

11.4 The Congress of London

11.5 The Congress of Cairo

11.6 The Congress of Buenos Aires

11. 7 Congress of Paris

11.8 Congress of Brussels

11.9 Congress of Ottawa

11.10 Congress of Vienna

11.11 Congress of Tokyo

11.12 Congress of Lausanne

Appendix 1 First Postal Card Issues of the World Chronological Order

Appendix 2 First Letter Card Issues of the World Alphabetical Order

Appendix 3 UPU Membership Dates Chronological Date Order

Appendix 4 UPU Membership Dates Alphabetical Order

Appendix 5 Table of Rates from Overseas Countries and Colonies To France- 1875 to 1920

Appendix 6 Foreign Currency Approximate British Equivalents

Appendix 7 The 200 Year Calendar Determining the Day of the Week




Official and Semi-Official Books and Documents


Private Correspondence and Email


Reviewed by Wayne Menuz 

I wrote the foreword in this book, but had not read its contents until I received the published version. It demolished my weekend plans, as I kept saying “just one more chapter”, and could not put it down until I had finished it, with just time off to eat and grab a bit of sleep (it’s almost a thousand pages). 
This new work differs from other postal stationery books which focus on technical aspects of postal cards and/or a country’s stationery history. It tells the background story of why post offices made many of their technical decisions (colour, card size, printed headings, indicium content, etc.); why many issued differently denominated foreign-rate cards and/or had regulations for diverse uprating by adhesive stamps at the same time; why some countries refused to accept cards sent from another UPU country; why post offices sometimes changed a card’s denomination to maintain its identical international rate; why some postal administrations who fiercely opposed issuing postal cards did so anyway; why . . OK, you get the idea. 

As noted in the book’s preface “The perspective in this book is the ‘postal history’ of the ‘when, what and why’ of postal cards, and how they may have related to each other in sequences of time worldwide. Postal cards had a profound impact on society, and so the social and operational perspective and influences are mentioned where they help to explain their raison d’etat: the reason ‘why’.” 

Though I have been a serious student of postal stationery for five decades, I had previously been only vaguely aware that the answers to most of the “why’s” have their origins with the UPU (initially called the General Postal Union). The UPU’s influence on postal cards was because they were not just a different type of postal stationery (physically), but designated by the UPU as a different class of mail. They had their own rules, regulations and rates. 
Several key points about the UPU are brought out which most philatelists, including me, either overlooked or were only vaguely aware of: 

  • All UPU member countries surrendered much of their sovereignty over international postal matters to the UPU. An astounding fact, considering the geo-political machinations in the 19th century. and today. 
  • Many rules and regulations are not found in each of the post-UPU Congress conventions, e.g. deletions of prior rules were not highlighted, but just omitted (“the silent death”); a number of rules were determined by members voting by mail between congresses; and effective compliance dates were often set in the future, but immediate compliance was occasionally permitted.  Philatelists need to be aware that the conventions are not all-encompassing. 
  • Each class of mail had its own UPU mandated ‘general union rate’ or ‘base rate’, regardless of currency exchange rates, within permitted rounding differences. Permitted ‘surcharges’ could sometimes be added to these base rates, adding to the complexity. 
  • Some member countries formed ‘restricted postal unions,’ or ‘mini-unions, that permitted lower than UPU rates (but never higher), for mail among themselves. Philatelists often are confounded by trying to use ‘UPU rates’ for such mail between two member countries which had such an agreement. 

The book is a history of the postal card, and double (reply) cards, plus letter cards, as told in the timeline of their greatest influencer – the UPU.  It starts with the pre-Union concepts and models of the postal card, through the Congresses from 1874, ending with Lausanne in 1974 and the official acknowledgement of the impending death of the international postal card. 

The book begins with “Terminology & Framework for Understanding,” necessary for comprehending the world of postal cards, and the world of the UPU, both of which have special nomenclature. The first chapter explains the concept ‘s evolution from the world’s first issues by Austria and Hungary on the same day in 1869, and those of other countries prior to the first Congress in 1874. Chapter 2, “Postal Cards to Foreign Destinations” examines how postal cards were handled in the international mails prior to 1874. 

Chapter 3 covers the 1874 Congress of Berne, which established a “Single Postal Territory” among its members (a small number of countries, but which included all the major economic powers). They agreed to introduce a novel class of mail, postal cards, and set regulations for their interchange among the member states. Chapter 4, the Conference of Berne 1876, discusses the admission of new member states, and the continuing evolution of special rules for postal cards. In Chapter 5 (the Congress of Paris 1878), the newly-named “Universal Postal Union” introduced a major rates overhaul, after setting the mandatory use of standard equivalencies of rates v. currency. 

The UPU Special Convention on Reply-Paid Postal Cards is covered in Chapter 6, which introduced the innovative concept of one country’s post office accepting the franking of another member’s reply card as valid for mailing. Throughout this, and all other narrative, Jamie provides historical and social context to the story, often with humorous twists, which makes the book so readable and enjoyable. 
Chapters 8-11 detail the changes made at each of the UPU Congresses, ending in the 1974 Congress of Lausanne, when the UPU rescinded the regulation that counties were obligated to issue postal cards for international use, though they were still required to accept them. 

The Appendices give a glimpse into the scope and depth of this book: First Postal Card Issues of the World (a chronological list of all past and current countries, with dates); First Letter Card Issues of the World (this type of stationery is also covered, as it derived from the postal card concept); UPU Membership Dates (in both chronological and alphabetical order; Table of Rates from Overseas Countries and Colonies to France - 1875 to 1920: Foreign Currency with approximate British equivalents in various years; a 200-Year Calendar, which is handy when determining the postal history of an item; Bibliography and Index. 
The book is laid out in a very user-friendly manner, including innumerable (and very useful) tables. Interspersed throughout there are blue text boxes entitled “Contextual Information” which provide auxiliary information for the main story line. The book, therefore, facilitates its reading as a narrative history story with lots of illustrations, which are mostly full-sized and crisp. 

Speaking of illustrations, most depict stunning examples of each subject, combining rarity, postal history importance, and sheer eye-appeal. Most are from Jamie’s collection, which is testament to his ability to put together top-tier material. Another notable feature of this book, both in terms of information presented and illustrated items, is that he reached out to experts worldwide. He commences the book with a list of 119 who contributed pictures, tables, or other tangible material. Even though he is widely known as a UPU expert with a large collection, his goal was to include all the important items of which he was aware, reaching out to current owners or those who could help him access them. 

One small disappointment was the use of now-obsolete philatelic terms, such as ‘Printed to Private Order’ rather than ‘Stamped to Order,’ and ‘Impressed Stamp’ (and similar phrases) rather than ‘Indicium’ and ‘Indicia.’ Jamie acknowledges this, but states that he chose to not use them as they have “not yet reached critical mass in use throughout the world of philately” and most non-English speaking countries do not use them. The use of the modern terms here may have prompted philately to abandon the obsolete ones. Since non-English speakers are reading a book in English, they can translate every word or phrase into whatever word or phrase their language uses as equivalent. 

This book is destined to become the standard reference for all postal card philatelists. Equally impressively, it sets the bar for philatelic publications on any subject. No matter which country’s postal cards or letter cards you collect, this book is essential. If you collect and/or exhibit international postal history, this book is essential. If you just want a fascinating historical story that flows smoothly, this book is engaging. 
Regardless of the reason, you will enjoy reading it, constantly saying (as I did) “Wow, I didn’t know that.” 

Sample pages (click one to enlarge)