I’ve come to the conclusion that as far as collecting goes age is relative. So many times at valuation days visitors remark that their stamp collections contain really old stamps, only for me to discover there is nothing which pre-dates the reigns of George VI or George V. Coins minted in the reign of Queen Victoria are often referred to as old, until it is pointed out that Roman coins, which are plentiful, date back approximately 2000 years. So what is old when one considers postal communication?
There was no official government run system of postal communication in this country until the seventeenth century, though several cities ran posts, including Bristol, which had a foot post to London as early as 1532. In the sixteenth century trade was buoyant both within this country and between here and the continent of Europe and the merchants needed to correspond. They established their own messenger service, called the Merchant Strangers’ Post, between 1514 and 1600, employing couriers between London and the continent. From the end of the sixteenth century, the Merchant Adventurers ran a courier service to and from the continent, and the efficient Thurn and Taxis Post, which had been efficiently functioning on the continent, was extended to London.
In the 1980s the auction house Robson Lowe held two auctions of late sixteenth century correspondence sent to the Corsini family, who were Florentine merchants resident in London. This archive was the only commercial correspondence addressed to the City of London known to have survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the condition of practically all of the entires was very good. The archive was sold and dispersed to collectors all around the world and now these secondary collections are coming onto the market. Our auction house was asked to offer more than 40 of these fascinating entires.
In 1599 a merchant was writing to the Corsinis in London, advising them of his purchase for them of 30 tons of lead at £7 12sh per ton. He addressed his entire “To his lovinge Frinde Mr. Phillipe Corsyny, merchante, deliver thes, in London". It was carried by messenger, on horseback, taking 3 days.
Bristol. 1599, 28th July, 1 page entire to Phillipo Corsini, from John Whitson, a famous merchant, who became Mayor and was elected to parliament 4 times, addressed "To his lovinge Frinde Mr. Phillipe Corsyny, merchante, deliver thes, in London". It was carried by messenger, on horseback, taking 3 days before there was any public postal service in Britain and is rare thus. The letter refers to a purchase of 30 tons of lead for £7-13-0 per ton. Only a handful of Bristol covers were found in the Corsini archive.
1594 entire, written by Bartholomew Corsini, addressed to Stefano Patti, in Venezia, bearing both a very rare Thurn & Taxis P.O. "Sh 8" postal rate and a matching "p[er] q[ues]ta da Collog[n]a" endorsement.
Perhaps the most important letters in this particular collection are 2 entires written by Bartholomew Corsini himself, one dated 1589 and the other 1594, both addressed to a Venetian merchant. In total, only 11 entires written by Bartholomew Corsini have been recorded and only 2 are known with postal markings. The 1594 entire bears the postal markings of the Thurn and Taxis Post, which was operating from Cologne to Venice and Corsini’s own couriers would have carried it as far as Cologne.
The postal system created by the sixteenth century merchants certainly appeared to be very efficient.
By Colin Such.