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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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French Packet Boats. The Concession of Postal Routes to Private Navigation Companies 1835-1914: Marie-Françoise Berneron-Couvenhes



Maritime postal services were first established in the first third of the 19th century. The national government’s concern with providing regular maritime connections for the routing of correspondence became greater during the 18th century, at a time when France was desirous of creating close connections with its colonies, a period that coincided with great strides in its commercial relations. With the advent of steamer navigation, it became possible technically to construe regular maritime postal connections from the 1830s onwards. The question of how to manage these new networks arose at that time. The State had the choice of either organizing regular departures to specific destinations by signing contracts with private ship-owners or else putting the service under State supervision. In reality both approaches were used alternately. In this paper we propose to study the manner in which the State managed, first directly and then indirectly, these postal maritime services during the 19th century.

In 1835, the State created a postal network in the Mediterranean. In 1851 and thereafter, however, concessions definitively overtook state-supervised operations that had become too costly. The model the French government decided upon was inspired by foreign examples, Austrian and in particular British, among others. Private navigation companies, especially the “Messageries Maritimes”1 (for the sea transport of goods) in 1851 and the “Compagnie Générale Transatlantique”2 in 1861, received the concession of postal maritime services in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond Suez; more restricted services...

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