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Post Offices of Europe 18th – 21st Century

A Comparative History


Muriel Le Roux and Sébastien Richez

The cursus publicus, established by the Roman Empire to connect all its conquered territories, may be considered to be the ancestor of all modern post offices. Therefore, mail service networks are part of an organization, dating from Antiquity, which is common to the entire European community.
From the 18th century onwards, the French mail service network may be divided into three successive phases. First, the consolidation of the transportation system that was being set up. Second, the development of the system’s ability to deal with increasing traffic (through broader human resources). Thirdly, the diversification of its operations and the development of its technical modernisation.
What was the situation in other European countries? Are there similarities and differences in how their networks were set up and organized? Finally, how did European Post Offices cooperate with each other in spite of their differences?
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Cost Economics of Carrying the Mail by Postal Services and Messageries in France (Mid-17th Century – Late 18th Century): Anne Conchon



The French word “poste” had several meanings in the dictionaries of the 17th and 18th centuries: it designated the place where couriers could change horses; it was a unit used to measure the distance between two postal houses (which varied according to the topography and difficulty of the route), and as such, it was the base for determining postal rates; and finally it signified the office where mail was dispatched and distributed. Likewise, the French term “courrier”1 was not originally associated with posted letters. Its first meaning referred to the rider engaged to carry mail on horseback before it was applied metonymically to the actual letters themselves that were transported by the rider. The breadth of accepted meanings of the term “poste,” like “courrier,” obliges us to recognize three parallel types of service – mail delivered by mounted riders (“la Poste aux chevaux”), mail consisting of correspondence (“la Poste aux lettres”) and mail and passenger transport (“les Messageries”) – that tightly overlapped and complemented each other in the service of transporting travelers and correspondence. Through a network of relay stations located at regular intervals on routes called “montées en poste” (postal gradients or “rises”), the “Poste aux chevaux” provided horses for the “Poste aux lettres”2 as well as to travelers who chose not to take public coaches. The “messageries” had their own relay stations, at least until the postal reform of 1775. After that date, postmasters were required to furnish horses to the stagecoach offices...

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