There have not been many private companies through the years that have had a huge and important impact on the expansion of communication, neither in a specific country nor a region or worldwide. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the most important expansion of postal communication ever, not only in the major financial areas of Europe and North America, but also in and between most other areas on the globe. One of the key factors in this expansion was the founding of many new steamship companies, both private enterprises and those operated by different governments. These shipping companies and their shipping lines were such an important factor for the governments involved that many of them had governmental charters or contracts, or in other ways were subsidised by the governments.
When William Wheelwright already in the mid-1830s gave birth to the idea of a steamship company operating on the Pacific coast of South America, he could hardly have had in his mind that the company that followed was to receive a Royal Charter in 1840, the same year as the first ships were launched, and at the height of its success, in the 1870s, would be the largest private steamship company in the world. This company, The Pacific Steam Navigation Company, almost entirely controlled the postal operations between or from Chile, Peru, and Ecuador via Panama to the United States or Europe.
In this book, the author Michael JY Roberts, in detail describes the commercial history of the company in such depth that the reader can feel how the company was started, and operated by a struggling man with an enormous ambition, the founder William Wheelwright. After the introductory chapter about the commercial history of the company, the following eleven chapters and the appendices deals with all other aspects of the operation of the company, an impressive gathering of knowledge.
The second chapter describes the early postal history of the company with a sub-chapter dealing with the “VAPOR P” vessel markings, with censuses of all covers recorded by the author, and with several of them illustrated. One other sub-chapter describes the use of the numeral hand-stamps, contemporary with the stamp issue, this sub-chapter also includes a census of all recorded covers. The censuses provided are of great importance for both existing and future collectors of these markings.
The events during the preparation of the postage stamps by Perkins Bacon & Petch for the Pacific Steam Navigations is dealt with in chapter three. As a collector myself of these stamps, I am impressed how much information Michael has found about them, stamps that actually never were issued or used by the company, but where some were turned over to the Peruvian Government to be used in an official experiment. With this experiment; the stamps initially printed for the Steam Navigation Company, were in fact used as the first official stamps of Peru.
The following five chapters deals with the different routes and the expansion of new services. All the tables and cover illustrations clearly illustrates the descriptions of these very interesting milestones in the nineteenth century history of the company. Chapter nine and ten deals with the difficulties and necessary changes for the company that arise with the opening of the Panama Canal and the consequences of the war between 1914 and 1918, and ending with the transition into a Cruising Line company.
Another important issue for the company was the cargo services, described and illustrated in chapter eleven, where examples of freight circulars, bills of lading, and shipping contracts are included. The book concludes with chapters regarding the company publicity and “The End of an Era”. With separate appendices for a “Fleet List”, the “Postal Rates”, and “The Picture Post Cards of the PSNC”; I believe all areas of interest regarding the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and its history has been dealt with in this fantastic and very fascinating book. Thank you very much, Michael, for sharing all this knowledge with us.
The overall book is profusely illustrated with many postal or contemporary items, such as newspapers, advertisements, tickets, time tables, post cards and other items. All these illustrations clearly shows the broad spectrum of aspects and all facets of this important historical company that had such great impact on the postal activities during the second half of the nineteenth century. The book itself will be a necessity for all philatelists and postal historians, not only those collecting the area dealt with, but all other areas where the international shipping lines had a huge impact on the development of the postal communications.
Stockholm 30 March 2023
Jan Berg FRPSL