For new friends of old Austrian letters

This was written as a series of articles for the English-speaking readers of "Austria" by Hubert Jungwirth of PKMI, Tirol. The primary translation was by Hans Smith F.C.I.I. with further input from Henry Pollak; the Editor is most grateful to both of them as well as to the original author. The original title is "Altbrief", which is used with the special meaning of "a letter written before 1 June 1850". All Altbriefe are "old letters" but not all old or indeed stampless letters are Altbriefe! Lombardy-Venetia is not covered. The Imperial Court is given a capital C; a judicial court is not. "Asides" in italics are editorial footnotes to the printed article.


This series has been prompted by the wide scatter of old stampless letters, gathering dust as they slumber, with their mysterious scribbled figures and their despairing owners. The need for this series is not due to any lack of literature on Austrian pre-philately and postal history up to the appearance of stamps, but is due to the fact that the existing literature has been written by and solely for specialist pre-philatelic collectors and researchers. This is all too mysterious and complex for the layman with his eleven old letters from four different crown-lands. At best, he can look up in a catalogue how rare the handstamps on his letters are - if indeed they bear any handstamps at all. The purpose of this series is to provide a simple introduction to Austrian pre-philately, certainly going beyond the ‘points’ valuations in the postmarks catalogues, but avoiding confusing specialist areas and contributing only towards the essential basic knowledge needed to make the greater part of old letters comprehensible. Nor do the illustrations show tantalising rarities; they are simply typical covers. The aim of this discourse is to encourage and cajole the possessors of these old letters to look and see what they have and to experience the joys of understanding, decoding, demystifying and discovering them. The contents of this series apply only to the Austrian Royal and Imperial Letter Post, formed in 1722, and end with the introduction of postage stamps on 1 June 1850.

A warning for specialists – this series contains no new knowledge about old Austrian letters and is not therefore intended for the advanced pre-philatelist nor for the postal historian.


  1. From sender to recipient
  2. How were old letters carried?
  3. The problem with old handwriting
  4. Part-paid system from 1722 to 1817
  5. Letters paid at destination from 1817 after the introduction of letterboxes
  6. The new Austrian charges from 1842
  7. Registered mail
  8. Return receipts
  9. Free Franks
  10. The Border pre-paid system for letters sent abroad
  11. Letters from neighbouring countries
  12. Transit letters to Austria
  13. The first uniform charge

Back to Austrian Stamps homepage

1. From sender to recipient

Most old letters are folded "entires", the tucked-in parts of which were generally closed with a wax or paper seal. They were made of hand-made paper which was gradually replaced by fine machine paper only from the 1800s. Envelopes were rare at the time, because their weight increased the postal charge for the letter. Only when letters are carefully unfolded do they fully reveal their contents, so that they show who wrote what to whom and when. These facts can be very valuable for accurately interpreting a letter. Conversely, empty wrappers, of the kind that used to contain letters from courts, do not tell the letter’s full story.

Collectors attach particular importance to the appearance of a letter, above all to the artistically executed address. Amongst the oldest of these beauties are "Schnörkelbriefe", the elaborate ornamented covers of the baroque period, but more recent letters with coloured postmarks and company cachets, on suitably pigmented letter paper where possible, also have their admirers. Clearly-struck seals on the back similarly add to their beauty. On closer scrutiny, letters show traces of different hands. The most obvious hand, of course, is that of the writer of the letter, who will generally also have written the address. Of particular use in postal history, and valued, is an indication of the place of origin, if it lay outside the postal district of despatch, or references by the sender concerning postal treatment of the letter, such as an indication of the post route.

Registered letter

The illustration above is a registered letter, 2nd weight step, despatch cancel ZOLKIEW/19. APR. It was sent from Jagönny in 1842. On the back is a 4kr. registration fee pre-paid by the sender; on the front is 28kr. postage paid by the recipient and the very precise routing indication:

To the esteemed court office at Kauth, Klatau District, in Bohemia. Via Zolkiew / " Lemberg / " Ollmütz / " Prague / Klentsch last post.

"Klentsch last post" means that Klentsch was the last postal office; the addressee would either have to call and collect their mail, or make a private arrangement with the post clerk to have it delivered, paying the messenger for this service.

The next piece of evidence on our letters was added by the postal clerks. The postmark, if the post office possessed one, was struck at the office of posting. The letter was then usually taxed with the postal charge, originally in red crayon, later in ink. Other notes by the postmaster are very desirable, especially the Franko ("post-paid"), registration, exempt postage, origin and route markings.

Double-weight official letter

This is a double-weight official letter from the Hoch und Deutschmeister Regiment; written in Milan on 1.2.1836 – Vienna 8.2.1836 – Präs. Klosterneuburg 8.2.1836. Many people have written on it as it travelled!

Fortunately, handstamps and markings by the transit post offices were also recorded when letters were unpacked from the pouch on a post route and re-packaged in the pouch for another route.

The markings of the receiving office usually consist of an early datestamp or a more recent place/day stamp on the back of the letters. But charge corrections, forwarding and return markings may have been added and make covers more interesting. Now and again additional charges also appear for Messenger Services, applicable to carriage between the destination post office and the addressee.

The most frequent of these is the "2" in red ink for the Klosterneuburg messenger.

The recipient’s marking of the arrival date of the letters on the back also deserves attention, because it indicates the time spent on the way. On many official letters, the date of receipt appears after a manuscript "Präs." (i.e. presentation to the postal clerk). Business letters in particular often include a comment on the back concerning the place and date of posting, with "empf " (i.e. "received on ….") underneath and beneath that often also "beantw..." (i.e. "answered on …").

The months were often abbreviated with Roman figures: 7bre = September, 8bre = October, 9ber = November, Xbr = December. "Hornung" is sometimes found; it means February.

Top of page

2. How were old letters carried?

An important distinction is that between messenger letters, Fahrpost, and the horseback post (i.e. letter post).

Pure messenger letters were taken from the sender to a recipient not on the post routes by private messengers, judicial messengers, or messengers appointed in the service of other authorities. They do not usually bear typical postal markings such as handstamps or charges. Nonetheless, they may enrich a Heimatsammlung (that is, a place-specific postal and social collection; most of these are of the collector’s or his ancestors’ birthplace).

Messenger letter

This letter dates to 1813 and was carried for only a couple of "Stunde". [Aside: A "Stunde", literally "hour", is often used to mean the distance a person could be reasonably expected to walk in an hour, ie about 2½ miles]. It shows no characteristics at all of a posted letter: no place of posting, no official marking, no tax marking, no route, no destination post office, and the back is blank. This is a messenger letter, which at no point entered the official Austrian Postal system.

Letters that are marked on the front "Durch Güte!" were carried by a trusted person without charge.

The Fahrpost, which was administered independently of the letter-post, carried persons, goods, valuables and money, and therefore also money letters and the letters which accompanied parcels. Money letters usually have their contents marked at the bottom left of the front, e.g. taxed 5 fl. 20 kr., and usually 5 wax seals on the back. Parcel letters generally include a marking concerning the freight to which they referred, e.g. "with a box".

The letter-post was responsible for ordinary and registered letters. Since letters were originally carried in pouches (i.e. postbags) by mounted postilions it was also called the courier post. When the total weight of all the letters was too heavy, two-wheeled chaises were used with a trunk for the letters and a simple box for the postilion. From 1835, mail coaches, the so-called Mallé Post, were used that not only carried persons but were also permitted to take the letter post in the "boot".

Letter-post letters, on which most pre-philatelic collectors and postmark catalogues concentrate, can in turn be divided into various groups.

Fully taxed letters will much more readily tell a complete story, extending from the sender through the postal processing to the recipient. Many of these covers come from commercial firms’ correspondence. Rarest of all are private letters from small places distant from the office of posting, which in turn were sent to similarly remote small offices.

Top of page

3. The problem with old handwriting

The major obstacle when dealing with old letters are the old scripts. A specimen ABC and a sample text of the old orthography (i.e. the old German school script) does not help a great deal, because letters were often written in such different, individually marked styles that ultimately only perseverance and practice ensure success.

For the beginner, easily readable addresses from the 19th century are recommended, because the proper arrival of letters required particular care from the writer. Reading the contents is not only more difficult, because they are often written in an awkward, tiny or sloppy hand, but also because they frequently use old linguistic expressions that are no longer necessarily understood by German speakers today. As a consolation, it should be noted that few Austrian collectors of old letters can to any extent "translate" letters written before 1800, let alone read them fluently.

[Aside: the author did not discuss letters written in languages other than German: I have met Czech, Polish, Italian, Hungarian and Yiddish; Latin is known; and the aristocracy would often address their letters in French!]

The next illustration is a typical letter…

Handwritten letter

A line-by-line transliteration follows. [Aside: The arbitrary breaks in words when the end of the line is reached, indicated by an '=' sign, are typical of Austrian orthography of this and later periods.]

Uiber neuerliches Ansuchen des vice. Corporalen Leopold
John giebt man sich die Ehre, eine löbliche Stifts=
herrschaft unter Beziehung auf die gefällige
Mittheilung vom 21ten July v. J. N- 4143. und in
Verfolg der diesseitigen Note vom 28ten Au=
gust 835 A 1369. um die Eröffnung zu ersu=
chen ob das großväterliche Erbvermögen
desselben und mit welchem Betrage bereits
von dem Comotau er Magistrate hereinge
bracht, dann auf welche Art es daselbst
fruchtbringend eloziert worden sey.
Mailand am 1ten Februar 836.

Which means: By recent request of Lance Corporal Leopold John, we have the honour to request of the esteemed canonic authority with reference to the kind notification of 21st July last year, ref. N.4143, and pursuant to our note of 28th August, 835 ref. A.1369, for disclosure whether his inheritance from his grandfather has already been recovered by the Municipal Authority of Comotau and in what amount, and in what manner it has been placed there so as to bear fruit. Milan, 1st February 1836.

Top of page

4. Part-paid system from 1722 to 1817

From nationalisation of the Austrian Postal Service in 1722 to 1817, charges for domestic letters were generally collected by the half-paid system. This meant the sender paying half the postage and the recipient paying the other half.

Asides: The extent of the Austrian postal service differed greatly in the course of the years. The Post in the Tirol, for example, was nationalised only in 1770; and during the Napoleonic period, southern parts of Austria belonged to the French Province of Illyria. Naturally, there were also the free-frank court and official letters and exceptions during certain charging periods. A completely different system applied to foreign mail.

The half-paid system made sense because it allowed the stringent letter charges to be shared by the sender and recipient and because the Post received the half-payment as an advance and the other half on completion of its service. However, this was complicated, because for every letter a payment had to be made at the posting office and again at the delivery office. The older the letter, the scarcer the postal traces on surviving letters, and the more mysterious the conditions under which the post was carried, and also the thinner the documentation. From around 1750, however, the first town marks, handwritten indications of the place of posting and relatively reliable charge marks in red crayon began to be used. Charge marks for part-payment on despatch and receipt were only very rarely specifically written. For the most part, the postmaster at the posting office did not write the part-payment received on the back of the letter but on the front, so that it also indicated the half that the postmaster at the delivery office had to collect.

Domestic charges for the area covered by the Imperial letter post up to 1817:

From 16 October 1722: 4kr. + 4kr. per ½ Loth; pre-paid letters could be sent between certain main post offices.

From 1 June 1750: 8 kr. per ½ Loth on posting or on receipt!

Aside: Mail both internal and foreign was supposed to be measured in the Zoll (ie Customs) Loth; one Zollpfund contained 30 Loth and weighed 500 gram, so 1 Zoll-Loth = 16.67 gram. However the Vienna Loth of 17.5 gram was often used instead. Either Loth is approximately ½ oz. imperial measure

Until the end of October 1751, the letter charge was based only on the weight. A further grading was now introduced according to distance. This distance charge made it necessary to indicate the place of posting, which the sender was required to write at the top right on the front of the cover.

From 1 November 1751:

Part-paidup to ½ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth2 Loth3 Loth4 Loth
Zone 13kr+3kr6kr+6kr8kr+8kr10kr+10 kr12kr+12 kr14kr+14 kr
Zone 24kr+4kr8kr+8kr10kr+10kr12kr+12 kr16kr+16 kr20kr+20 kr
Zone 34kr+4kr8kr+8kr12kr+12kr16kr+16 kr24kr+24 kr32kr+32 kr

From 1 January 1789: 4kr. + 4kr. per ½ Loth

From 1 November 1789: 4kr. + 4kr. or 8 kr. post paid per ½ Loth

From 1 August 1798: 6kr. + 6kr. or 12 kr. post paid per ½ Loth

From 15 November 1803: 8kr. + 8kr. or 16 kr. post paid per ½ Loth

From 1 November 1806: 12kr. + 12kr. or 24 kr. post paid per ½ Loth

From 1 October 1810:

Part-paidup to ½ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth2 Loth3 Loth
1 to 4 relay stations8kr+8kr16kr+16kr24kr+24kr32kr+32kr40kr+40kr
over 4 relay stations16kr+16kr32kr+32kr48kr+48kr64kr+64kr80kr+80kr

 From 15 March 1811:

Part-paidup to ½ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth2 Loth3 Loth4 Loth
1 to 4 relay stations4kr+4kr7kr+7kr10kr+10kr14kr+14kr18kr+18kr21kr+21kr
over 4 relay stations7kr+7 kr14kr+14kr21kr+21kr28kr+28 kr35kr+35kr42kr+42kr

The charges had now to be paid by Einlösungsscheinen (see here for a discussion on "Currencies in Austria and the Tirol") of a face value five times the value of the carriage fee.

From 1 February 1814:

Part-paidup to ½ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth2 Loth3 Loth4 Loth
1 to 4 relay stations4kr+4kr8kr+8kr12kr+12kr16kr+16kr20kr+20kr24kr+24kr
over 4 relay stations8kr+8 kr16kr+16kr24kr+24kr32kr+32kr40kr+40kr48kr+48kr

From 16 May 1815:

Part-paidup to ½ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth2 Loth3 Loth4 Loth
1 to 4 relay stations6kr+6kr12kr+12kr18kr+18kr24kr+24kr30kr+30kr36kr+36kr
over 4 relay stations12kr+12 kr24kr+24kr36kr+36kr48kr+48kr1fl+1fl1fl12kr + 1f12kr

Part-paid letter

Part-paid letter, 1st weight step, 2nd distance zone. Hainburg 19. 11. 1779 – Vienna – Stockerau – Horn – St. Bernhard 25. 11. 1779. Part-paid on despatch: 4 kr. by sender; part-paid on receipt: 4 kr. by recipient. The address is:

An den Wohl Edel und gestreng / H. H. Verwalter St. Bernhard / Iber Stockhrau / ps 25tr 9bris 779 / Horrn / a / St. Bernhardt

Which means: To the noble and respected administrator of St. Bernhard / via Stockerau / [Arrival date] 25 Nov. 1779 [via] Horn / to St. Bernhard

Additions for rare covers (+ = scarce; ++ = rare; +++ = very rare)

+Routing indications
+Taxed covers at higher weight steps, at least
+From/to small post towns
+Tax corrections
+Forwarded letters [Aside: "Nachsendebrief - the addressee had moved". I have not used "re-routed" as this has overtones of a different way of getting to the original address.]
++Taxed letters before 1750, at least
++Post-paid letters before 1817 according to age, at least
++Registered letters before 1817 according to age, at least
++Unusual postmaster markings
++To and from places without Post Offices
+++Letters paid at destination of 1750/1751
+++Tax marking in Kreuzer + Einlösungsscheinen

Top of page

5. Letters paid at destination from 1817 after the introduction of letterboxes

In 1817, boxes were erected in front of the post offices, and subsequently also at central locations in the cities, where unfranked domestic letters could be deposited. This brought an end to the part-payment system hitherto used in Austria. Senders were no longer tied to the opening times of post offices. Customers made plentiful use of the Post’s new service and dropped most domestic letters into the letterboxes unfranked so that until adhesive stamps were introduced in June 1850, there were far more unpaid letters than prepaid. Foreign letters, on the other hand, had to be handed in at the post office as in the past, because, as we know, the sender had to pay postage up to the frontier. Of course, letters could also be sent prepaid, for which the sender paid the charge.

Charges for domestic letters from 1 June 1817 to 31 July 1842:

 up to ½ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth2 Loth2 ½ Loth3 Loth
up to 3 relays2 kr4 kr6 kr8 kr10 kr12 kr
4 - 6 relays4 kr8 kr12 kr16 kr20 kr24 kr
7 – 9 relays6 kr12 kr18 kr24 kr30 kr36 kr
10–12 relays8 kr16 kr24 kr32 kr40 kr48 kr
13–15 relays10 kr20 kr30 kr40 kr50 kr1fl
16–18 relays12 kr24 kr36 kr48 kr1fl1fl 12 kr
over 18 relays14 kr28 kr42 kr56 kr1fl 10 kr1fl 24 kr

The registration fee was 4 Kreuzer Convention currency (Vienna currency). The charge was based on the Vienna Convention Currency (hereafter "VCC"), but up to 31 January 1818 could also be paid in the devalued old Vienna Currency (4kr. VCC = 12kr VC). In Lombardy-Venetia this charge took effect only on 1.7.1819 and up to 1823 was still levied in Centesimi (4kr. VCC = 20 Centesimi).

From 1833, main and branch post offices were supposed to use red ink for prepaid letters and black for post-paid letters. The smaller post office were to use black ink only. The letter charges were generally no longer written in red crayon but in black ink.

From 1.5.1838, at least the government (ie State-owned) post offices had postal markers showing the date and month and pre-paid and registration handstamps. However, these regulations were not always followed, especially in the non-governmental post offices, so that numerous discrepancies occur.

In 1817, new rules were introduced for charging domestic letters. The sending office was to write on the back of the letter the charges that the sender had paid, and on the front the charges that the recipient had to pay at the delivering post office.

Registered letter

The illustration above shows an unpaid letter with charge correction: Vienna 23.6.1827 – Innsbruck – Rovereto 28.6.1827. It was presumably taken from the letter box at the Vienna Post Office, received the Vienna town stamp, and was taxed as ½ Loth letter with 14 kr. post-payment. At the Rovereto Post Office it was re-weighed and designated a 1-Loth letter, consequently the Vienna charge was crossed out (this is the cascade of red Xs) and it was re-charged at 28 Kr. The correction was confirmed with the Rovereto local handstamp, and the arrival date nicely stamped on the back.

Additions for rare covers:

+Private letters in higher weight steps
+Pre-paid letters
+From or to small places without a post office
+Return letters
+Forwarded letters
+With routing indication
+Small sample or printed matter
++Confirmed charge correction
++Registered pre-paid or post-paid letters
+++Charged in old Vienna Currency

Top of page

6: The new Austrian charges from 1842

While other states had for a long time been fixing charges in grams and kilometres "as the crow flies", Austria lagged well behind until radical changes were at last introduced with the new charging system in 1842.

Austrian charges from 1 August 1842 to 28 February 1843:

Pre-paid or post-paidup to ½ Loth¾ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth2 Loth3 Loth
Local letters2Kr.2Kr.2Kr.2Kr.2Kr. 
Up to 10 German miles6Kr.9Kr.12Kr.18Kr.24Kr.30Kr.
over 10 G. miles12Kr.18Kr.24Kr.36Kr.48Kr.1fl

Only three distance zones were left. Local letters were carried within the delivery district of a post office. The tariff applied not only to domestic letters but also to outgoing foreign letters prepaid up to the border and to the Austrian charge from the border on incoming foreign letters . The registration charge, including a certificate of posting, was now 6 kr. The distance was measured in a straight line: 10 miles = 75.859 km. In most cases, this new tariff was altogether much simpler and the charges substantially lower.

The second distance zone was extended to 20 miles from 1.3.1843.

A distance zone of up to 10 miles came into effect on 1.6.1848, according to which a ½ Loth now cost only 3 kr., ¾ Loth 5kr., 1 Loth 6kr., 1½ Loth 9kr., etc.

Finally, the 20-mile zone was extended to 30 miles from 1.4.1849.

The first Austrian stamps appeared on 1.6.1850.

Additions for rare covers:

+Private letters in higher weight steps
+Pre-paid letters
+Local letters
+From or to small places without a post office
+With direction indication
+Small sample or printed matter
+Return letters
+Forwarded letters
++Confirmed tax correction
++Registered prepaid or post-paid letters

Registered prepaid letter

Registered prepaid letter of the 1st weight step for more than 30 miles. Ober-Bobrau 19.3.1850 – Brünn 20.3.1850. Prepaid: 12 kr. letter charge + 6 kr. registration fee (on the back, underneath the arrival mark) making 18 kr. paid by the sender. The pre-payment crossed diagonals indicated that the recipient had to pay nothing. At a time when pre-payment handstamps did not yet exist, they were the most reliable indicator of prepaid domestic letters. The words "frei, frey, franco, frco, fro....." (i.e. ‘carriage paid’) generally appeared on the front of prepaid letters and the charge was still written on the back.

NB: Most Austrian pre-philatelic collectors collect only by the despatching postmarks and value their letters according to the Müller Catalogue. However, anyone delving deeper into postal history must observe many other criteria in addition to the handstamps and not value letters only by the postmark.

7. Registered mail

The oldest indication of registered mail are the letters "NB", the Latin abbreviation for nota bene meaning "note carefully". However, most old registered letters can be recognised by the red crayon grille - the "Registration Grid" - which looks like "mm" with one or more cross-bars.

A uniform registration fee of 6 kr. plus the letter charge was introduced at all Austrian post offices only from 1.1.1789.

From 1.2.1814, the registration charge was no longer paid by the sender alone but also by the recipient: 6 kr. + 6 kr.

From 16.5.1815, the registration charge was paid by the sender only, and was 12 kr.

From 1.6.1817, the registration charge paid by the sender was 4 Kr VCC.

From 1.8.1842, the sender had to pay 6 kr. but received the certificate of posting free of charge.

Registered prepaid letter

Registered prepaid letter, 3rd weight step, M. Budwitz (Müller 825a) to Vienna 26.1.1833. Top left: Registration grid in red crayon. Top right in ink: registration No. 76. Centre bottom in red crayon: 24 kr. letter charge; beneath it in red ink: 27 kr. from recipient including 3 kr. messenger fee. [On the back in red crayon is the 4 kr. registration charge paid by the sender; it is very faint!]

Top of page

8. Return receipts

Receipts are forms confirming posting or receipt of whatever was sent. Return receipts, i.e. confirmations of receipt for messenger letters, existed that had nothing to do with the Post. And receipts existed for the Fahrpost offices, which confirmed the posting of cash or goods and which had nothing to do with the letter post.

For the letter post, only receipts confirming the posting of registered letters and those with the sender’s confirmation of receipt of registered letters are interesting. Originally, the Postmasters had their own receipts printed locally for their post offices, and charged a uniform 2 kreuzer for them as from 1817, but they had nothing to do with the registration fee. Up to 1826, senders of registered letters could even write out the receipt themselves and so save the receipt fee. Return receipts were written by the post office of posting, sent off together with the letter, signed by the recipient and sent back to the sender. Only from 1.8.1842 was a certificate of posting automatically issued when a registered letter was posted, the cost being included in the registration fee of 6 kr.

Posting receipt

Posting receipt (locally-printed) No. 711 from Brünn dated 1828 for a registered letter to Herr von Königsbrunn in Troppau. The letter was a seventh step (ie 7 times ½ Loth) registered prepaid letter with certificate of posting and return receipt. The charges are itemised:
Post-paid 42 kr (for 3½ Loth over 8 relay stations)
Rekom. 4 kr registration fee
Recep. 14 kr (2 kr for the certificate of posting + 12 kr for the return receipt)
total 60 kr, ie 1 fl, paid by the sender

As with most return receipts, this should have said "Franco" [post prepaid]. However, even the Postal Regulations sometimes used "Porto" for "Franco".

Mark-ups for rare specimens:

+Receipts with a fine decorated edge
+Receipts before 1800
++Local printings from small post offices
++Return receipt
+++Hand-written receipt

Top of page

9. Free Franks

Exemption from charges is an unsatisfactory chapter in Austrian pre-philately because the regulations were continuously changed and because handling by the Post was inconsistent [Aside: after 1850 it was no better!]. There were personal free franks for members of the Court. Letters of this kind have the name of the privileged person on the face or, at a later period, only "Hof" (= Court) top right. They are consequently called "Hofbriefe" (Court letters). Secondly, official letters from the royal and imperial offices also enjoyed exemption. These letters were marked "ex offo", "ex officio", "in str. offic.", "Militärsache" [Military matter], "Jud. Gegenstand" [legal matter] etc. and are generally called "Ex-offo" letters. There are Ex-offo letters that were carried free of charge, often identified by the ex-offo symbol in red crayon, which looks like an extravagant "P".

Heavy registered Court letter

2 Loth heavy registered Court letter for 2nd distance zone; Prague 23.3.1845 – Vienna – Innsbruck. Fully exempt because sent by Archduke Stephan

Where an Ex-offo letter is marked with a diagonal line from bottom left to top right this means that the sender had no charge to pay. If the recipient had to pay a charge, the letter was marked with half-postage, subsequently with the entire postage. Many more recent ex-offo letters between exempt offices are marked along the bottom: "Postporto kommt von der betreffenden Parthei einzuheben.........". [= Postage to be collected from the party concerned]. This means that the receiving office has paid the postage due and subsequently collected this from the party – in a probate matter, for example, from an heir.

Mark-ups for rare covers:

++Registered ex-offo letters
+++Court letters

Ex-offo letter

Ex-offo letter (sender, hence justification, unreadable) of 3½ Loth over 6 relay stations, from Eisenerz to Graz; dated 10.11.1824. 28 kr postage paid for 7th weight step, 2nd distance zone (but at the top there is an Ex-offo mark in red crayon!)

Top of page

10. The Border pre-paid system for letters sent abroad

Prephilatelic correspondence between Austria and any other postal area is an extensive specialist area. Consequently, only a general summary and some examples are possible here. For letters sent abroad, the Austrian sender had to pay postage up to the frontier. This means that he had to pay the charge from the office of posting up to the national border of the Imperial and Royal Postal area. Only Court letters and ex-offo letters were excepted. For the first time, the border pre-paid system was replaced on 1.10.1842 by a common postage between Austria and Bavaria. Many of these border pre-paid letters were treated as inland pre-paid letters, carrying the pre-paid diagonals, the comment "frey" ["paid"] and/or a pre-paid handstamp. Only meticulously written border pre-paid letters have the manuscript marking frei bis zur Grenze ["paid up to frontier"] or also a handstamp GRENZE ["FRONTIER"] next to the "Franco" handstamp.

Origin, border crossing and charge marks on foreign letters demand specialist knowledge. The origin marking L.A. means "lettre autrichienne" and served to calculate the postage payable by the foreign recipient. The exchange post offices at the frontiers used various border crossing markings which indicate which post route a letter followed. In some postal areas, charge handstamps were also used, which indicate a transit charge or the entire postage in the appropriate national currency. The most important book concerning these markings is "Marques de Passage" by James Van der Linden.

Pre-payments to frontier were:

From 1.7.1722:6 kr per half Loth
From 1.6.1750:6 kr per half Loth to the Netherlands, the German Empire, Milan, Mantua, Tuscany, Tirol and the extra-territorial Hapsburg possessions;
8 kr per half Loth to other countries
From 1.11.1751:6 kr per half Loth to all foreign countries
From 1.11.1789:8 kr per half Loth
From 1.8.1798:12 kr per half Loth
From 15.11.1803:16 kr per half Loth
From 1.11.1806:24 kr per half Loth
From 1.7.1810:48 kr per half Loth
From 15.3.1811:14 kr per half Loth = 1 fl 10 kr in Einlösungsscheinen
From 1.2.1814:16 kr per half Loth = 1 fl 20 kr in Einlösungsscheinen
From 16.5.1815:24 kr Vienna Currency [= 8 kr VCC from 1.6.1816]
From 1.6.1817:1-3 relay stations up to frontier: 2 kr per half Loth
4-6 relay stations: 8 kr per half Loth
7-9 relay stations: 10 kr per half Loth
10-12 relay stations: 12 kr per half Loth
over 12 relay stations: 14 kr per half Loth
From 1.8.1842:Distance postage in a straight line up to the frontier under the domestic tariff

The rates for Austrian mail prepaid to the border therefore appeared on the front of old letters in red crayon and from approx. 1817 on the back, initially in red crayon, subsequently in black ink. Postage payable by the recipient appeared on the front. If a letter transited other countries, several transit charges were often written up, and finally the total postage as from the Austrian frontier charged in the currency of the recipient’s country.

Additions for rare covers: The value of foreign covers depends greatly on their age, the destination and the origin, border crossing, payment and tax stamps, for which Van der Linden gives a valuation in his book. Rare destinations for letters from or to Austria include for example North America, Ireland, Scandinavia, Portugal, Spain, Malta and some other countries.

Transit letter

Simple transit letter from Vienna 8.5.1775 via Cologne to Verviers 18.5.1775. Austrian postage of 6 Kr paid by the sender up to the border (shown in red crayon above Verviers, barely visible here). Thurn & Taxis transit postage for carriage between Austria and the Netherlands: 8 Stuivers transit + 4 Stuiver inland = Postage of 12 Stuivers payable by recipient.

Top of page

11. Letters from neighbouring countries

Letters from neighbouring countries were charged with postage up to the border for the sender while the Austrian recipient had to pay the border postage, i.e. the charge from the border to the delivering post office. The border postage for letters from neighbouring countries was paid for the same distance as postage up to the border, only in the back direction, and during the pre-philatelic period was with one exception equal in amount to the postage up to the border. From 1.11.1751 to 31.10.1789, the postage from the border was higher than postage to the border, namely 8 kr. per ½ Loth compared with 6 Kr. The Austrian Postage payable from the border in Austrian currency always appeared on the front of the letter. The postage pre-paid in the neighbouring country was written on the front or back, of course in the currency of the sender country.

Simple letter

Simple letter pre-paid to the border. From Nuremberg 7.2.1815 via Regensburg and Linz to Steyr 15.2.1815. Bavarian Postage of 12kr. Rh (see below) paid up to the border by the sender (franco refers to post-paid up to the border). Austrian Border postage of 16 kr. Vienna currency, paid by the recipient.

Top of page

12. Transit letters to Austria

Transit post is undoubtedly the most complex chapter in early European postal history: up to 1806, it was relatively simple, because the greater part of European overland post was carried by the Thurn and Taxis family’s Imperial Posts ("T&T"). Then came the Napoleonic period with many changes in sovereignty and postal areas. And with the new order in Europe following the Vienna Congress, transit post entered its most complex period, because many small European states were created, most of which had their own postal system. Until the conclusion of international treaties, the transit post generally functioned as outlined in the example below:

For incoming transit letters, Austria charged the recipients the following fees in addition to its postage from the border:

from 1.2.1809for transit through Bavaria: 24 kr. per ½ Loth
from 1.9.1810for transit through Bavaria: 36 kr. per ½ Loth
from 15.3.1811for transit from France, Switzerland, Holland etc.: 12 kr. Vienna currency for ½ Loth, 18 kr. for 1 Loth, 24 kr. for 1½ Loth, etc.; no transit fee from Frankfurt, Württemberg, etc.
from 16.5.181530 kr. Vienna currency for ½ Loth, 45 kr. for 1 Loth, 1 fl. for 1½ Loth, etc.

From 1819 [in VCC]:

Letter from:for ½ Loth1 Loth1½ Loth
Italian States6kr.12kr.18kr.
Thurn & Taxis area via Bohemia6kr.12kr.18kr.
T&T area via Switzerland-Milan8kr.16kr.24kr.
France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, West Prussia 14kr.28kr.42kr.
England, Scotland, Ireland, North America24kr.48kr.1 fl 12kr.
Spain, Portugal and Colonies36kr.1 fl 12kr.1 fl 48kr.

Transit letter

Simple transit letter from Dover 29.12.1833 via Calais, Paris and Strasburg to Prague. British border prepayment to Calais: 1/8d by sender. Origin stamp: ANGL. EST Transit stamp: T.F. + A.T.F. meaning Transit France + Allemagne. Austrian postage due: 24kr. CM for transits from Calais + 14kr. CM Austrian postage from the border making 38kr. CM payable by the recipient

Top of page

13. The first uniform charge

In 1842, Austria and Bavaria concluded a postal treaty providing for a single, uniform letter fee for correspondence between the two states instead of the previous postages paid to and from the border. This postal treaty is shown as an example as the last contribution towards foreign letters into Austria because it was the first to provide for a uniform charge and because similar postal treaties were concluded with other countries soon afterwards, with uniform charges. The introduction to the Treaty text reads: On account of removal of compulsory pre-postage between Austria and Bavaria and the application of a uniform letter carriage charge.

As from 1.10.1842, letters between Austria and Bavaria could still be optionally paid by either the sender or the recipient.

For letters paid in Austria, the charge applied under the Austrian 20 florin basic currency = CM Vienna Currency. (VCC)

For letters paid in Bavaria, a charge applied under the Bavarian 24-florin basic currency = Rh.

Letters from Austria to Bavaria were stamped in Austria "O.B.C.", i.e. Österreichisch-Bayrische-Correspondenz [Austrian-Bavarian Correspondence].

Letters from Bavaria to Austria were stamped in Bavaria "B.O.C.", i.e. Bayrisch-Österreichische-Correspondenz [Bavarian-Austrian Correspondence].

Pre-paid or post-paidup to ½ Lothup to 1 Lothup to 1½ Loth
up to 5 miles *3kr. CM = 4kr. Rh.  
up to 10 miles6kr. CM = 7kr. Rh.9kr. CM = 11kr. Rh.12kr. CM = 15kr. Rh.
over 10 miles12kr. CM = 15kr. Rh.18kr. CM = 22kr. Rh.24kr. CM = 29kr. Rh.
Addition **4kr. CM = 5kr. Rh.6kr. CM = 8kr. Rh.8kr. CM = 10kr. Rh.

Post-paid letter

Simple post-paid letter in Bavarian-Austrian Correspondence from Neuburg a.d.D. 11.6.1846 via Regensburg and Linz to Vienna 15.6.1846. In Neuburg: posting mark + B.O.C. + Austrian Postage due 12 kr. VCC; the sender paid nothing. In Vienna: arrival stamp + 12 kr. VCC paid by recipient.

Additions for rare letters:

+With fee up to 5 miles
+Without OBC or BOC marking
+with Bavarian distance addition
++with manuscript OBC or BOC
+++Return letter with OBC + BOC stamp

Important literature on Austrian pre-philately:

Aside: Austrian Altbriefe are hardly ever forged; those from elsewhere eg Lombardy-Venetia sometimes are.

Back to Austrian Stamps homepage Top of page

©Andy Taylor. Last updated 14 Feb 2020