Postal history - the study of covers and postmarks to determine the history of postal service - is a fascinating area of philatelic specialization. But when did this fascination begin? Giorgio Migliavacca, in a contribution to The International Encylopaedic Dictionary of Philately, states that:
"The earliest postal history collections were formed at the beginning of the twentieth century when specialists began to show a moderate interest in postmarks, cancellations, postal rates, and handwritten postal symbols and/or rates."
Recent research has led me to conclude that postal history collections were formed prior to the dawn of the 20th century. The reason for this conclusion is derived from this brief remark in the February, 1893 issue of The Eastern Philatelist, a monthly magazine published in New Hampshire. The editor, Mr. F. H. Pinkham, in a review of contemporary publications, mentions that, "The P.M.C.U. is a paper devoted to the collection of postmarks, and is the official organ of the Postmark Collectors' Union. Published by Chas. A. Cook, Moreno, Cal., at 15 cents per year."
Given this, we can be reasonably certain that "a moderate interest in postmarks" existed at least as early as 1893. To what extent this interest in the collection of postmarks conformed to an interest in what we would today regard as postal history is unknown to me. It would be interesting, also, to ascertain the date at which the Postmark Collectors' Union was formed, and I would be happy to hear from anyone who has additional information on this subject.
My personal view is that an interest in collecting covers might have developed as early as an interest in collecting stamps did - perhaps even earlier, since covers obviously existed before stamps. Could this collecting interest be defined as "postal history?" It is a question of semantics. Are today's cover collectors collecting "postal history?" And, if not, what shall we call them?
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