PHILATELY: Postal History: Postal Mechanisation


This is a branch of modern postal history which is concerned with how the postal process is affected by use of machines. Because it demands a lot of data obtained from letters and other media which go through the posts it tends, mainly, to be philatelists / stamp collectors who switch to collecting the whole envelope, packet etc. who follow this interest. A UK society exists which is dedicated to the study of this topic called the Postal Mechanisation Study Circle, which issues a monthly Newsletter and a quarterly journal, has meetings and arranges visits to see equipment. There are also societies in Germany, France and Holland/Belgium which specialise in their own area but all the societies have a world-wide interest. I am also a member of my local philatelic society which caters for all aspects of the hobby.

So what data is obtained from these collected items? The earliest attempts to mechanise the posts were the development of machines to cancel ( deface ) stamps and to mark quality of service ( QOS ) information such as the date, time and place of handling. The famous earliest machine was developed by Pearson and Hill in 1857 but there have been hundreds since. As these machine postmarks were recognisably different from hand postmarks this immediately put information about the use of the machines onto the letters. Other landmarks were:

Most of these machines mark the mail in a recognisable way giving the collector something to search for and sort, giving the curious plenty to study, the cataloguer plent to list, the lover of puzzles plenty to unravel!.

Phosphor dot codes: My particular interest has been in the coding systems used to print a machine-readable address on letters especially by the British postal system over the years since the first indirect sorting system at Luton. Including this system there have been 5 different outward encoding systems used employing the 14 dot format plus an inward system. Recently a new system has been introduced which uses the same number values as the old system but a highly complex encoding using the four-state bar system. If anyone has any interest in this topic (somewhat arcane I admit) I have available a 200 page book BRITISH LETTER SORTING CODES covering a substantial range of the known data. Data is available (not in the book) on foreign coding systems but these are generally much simpler than the UK system and can be described in a few lines.

© 1998 Bob de Vekey Updated March 2002
Page design by Bob de Vekey.