Make your own free website on

How Much To Pay?

For the Feb. 9, 1897 registered cover from Peking to France and the question "How much Chinese stamps should be on this cover if it was paid in stamps?" Here, I come up with some facts and try to answer the question.

1). The following description of an 1897 cover (franked 2 cent Chinese and 5 sen Japanese stamps) was in the New York Collectors' Club Centenary Display Brochure , pages 13-14:

An Imperial Decree issued on 20 March 1896 instructed that the new postal service should be inaugurated, to be operated on the same Post Offices in westernised countries. It was to be controlled by Sir Robert Hart, who would take on the new duties of Director General of Posts, in addition those of his current duties as Director General of Maritime Customs. Some ten months later the new postal service opened on 2 February 1897, under the title of The Imperial Post Office. The illustrated cover was sent from Ningpo to the USA on 3 February, the day after opening. For the initial eight days to 9 February 1897 the postal rate for this international mail was 12 cents per ½ ounce. This charge comprises 2 cents per ¼ oz for the domestic part of the journey plus 5 sen (equals 10 cents) per ½ oz for the international part of the journey. On the 10 February 1897, the charge was reduced to 10 cents per ½ oz for the entire journey. The Imperial Post Office operated a postal service in China until the revolution in 1911, which overturned the last Emperor, when the country became the Republic of China.

2). From Imperial China History of the Posts 1897 by Major Richard Pratt FRPSL, London: Sahara Publications Ltd. 1998. Chapter 3. Postal Matters during the February of 1897, pages 101-103:

    International Postal Rates etc. levied in the first 18 days of the new service
A second article, this time published in the 5th of April 1897 issue of the North China Herald, throws far more light on the question of method of charging, etc., for the transmission of International Mail, which was used by the Imperial Post Office during the first eighteen days of its life.
As can be seen from the contents of the extract from that article, which are quoted below, they seem to have left much to be desired:-
"... ... ... ...
... ... The uncertainty resulted in the necessity for foreigners who live at the outports being obliged in the first few days of the new service to pay domestic postage on their foreign letters to Shanghai, and also to add the usual foreign postage stamps according to the country to which they were being sent. Within a few days notices were circulated at the outports saying that domestic postage to Shanghai was no longer required, and that only the necessary foreign stamps need be added. This plan was soon superseded by a general order from the Postal Department printed in circular form advising that letters for foreign countries must be paid for at the office from which they were sent in Imperial Post Office stamps according to the notices of the Post Office through which they were to be forwarded, and that the office in Shanghai would in exchange for these stamps place the necessary foreign stamps upon them, and forward them to their destination. Thus within a month three different plans were in vogue for handling foreign letters sent from the outports, ... ... "

    The 12 and 14 cent rates of postage for Letters
As can be seen from the comments in the article recorded above, and Postal Circular No 20 (provisional), details of which can be found on page 90 this volume. From the beginning of its life The Imperial Post Office set its charge for Domestic Mail at 2 cents for a letter weighing under a ¼ ounce. From there on the charge increased by 2 cents for every further ¼ oz or part of thereafter.
When handling International mail, the appropriate Domestic charge were added to a charge of 10 cents for a letter weighing under ½ an ounce. From there on the charge increased by 10 cents for every further ½ oz or part thereof. The Domestic charge were then added to that for the International portion of the item's journey. Hence the formation of a twelve and fourteen cent rate of postage and for the first half ounce of International Mail.

The charge for the
Domestic portion of
the item's journey
The charge for the
International portion
of the journey
Under ¼oz. 2 cents (a) 10 cents (b) 12 cents
¼oz. ~ ½oz. 4 cents (c) 10 cents (d) 14 cents

To summarize the above table - a total of 12 cents was levied for the first ¼ oz. being the total of boxes a + b above, while a total charge of 14 cents was levied for the second ¼oz. which was the total of the boxes c + d above. Thereafter for every ½ ounce weight step for International Mail, there were two for ¼ ounce weight steps for Domestic Mail making it possible (as can be seen from the table below) to find a total number of 6 rates for a letter weighing up to 1½ ounces in weight.

Total charge per
¼ oz. ~ 1½ oz.
Under ¼ oz. ¼ ~ ½ oz. ½ ~ ¾ oz. ¾ ~ 1 oz. 1 ~ 1¼ oz. 1¼ ~ 1½ oz.
cents 12 cents 14 cents 24 cents 28cents 36cents 42 cents

The author knows of three covers and a piece, all of which show a different variation of handling the first two steps of this rate. They are:-

  1. A 12c rate cover from the author's collection. (Lot No. 211 - Sotheby's Sale of 9 May 1988.)
  2. An inwards cover from Europe, which was forwarded from Shanghai to Tientsin on 11 February.
  3. A particularly interesting specimen of the 14 cent rate, a detailed description of which will be given later, was dispatched from Tientsin on 12th of February.
  4. A specimen of the 14c rate was posted from Nanking on 13 February (see Lot 310 in the second Kauder Sale).
(Note: the total for ½ to ¾ oz. should be 26c, and for 1 to 1 ¼ oz. should be 40c.)

3). From Postage Rates of China 1867-1980 by Pingwen Sieh and J. Lewis Blackburn, Directorate General of Posts, Taipei, Taiwan 1981. Part II Rate Tables, page 17:

    Notes to Tables 3A-3H

  1. The collection of domestic postage on both incoming and outgoing international mail articles during the Customs Posts time was discontinued from February 20, 1897, the official date of establishment of the Chinese national posts, but the following are exceptions:
    1. Domestic postage had to be paid additionally by senders or addressees, as the case may be, on international mail articles posted at, or addressed to, the three northern post offices, Peking, Tientsin and Newchwang during winter season from 1897 to October 10, 1902.
    2. Domestic postage also had to be paid additionally on international heavy mail articles - newspapers, books, printed matter, commercial papers and samples - carried by couriers or from inland establishments not reached by steamers or railways from 1897 to September 1, 1914, the date of China's accession to the U.P.U.
        Also in Part II Rate Tables, page 55:

    Notes to Table 10A

  1. From Feb.2, 1897 to Oct. 10, 1902 international registered letters forwarded during winter season to or from Peking, Tientsin and Newchwang were subject to pay domestic registration fee additionally. (Postal Circular 2 of Nov. 24, 1897).

According to above, domestic postage had to be paid for international mail for a certain period of February 1897. Source 1 suggested that this period was only up to 9th, while Source 2 and 3 would suggest that this period was up to 19th, where this method of charge was practiced. The latter is correct as there are covers in existence showing that rate was in effect even after February 9th. Source 3 also suggested that the letter was subject to pay domestic registration fee (it was 4 cents at that time) in addition to the 10 cents international registration fee since the winter rate for the Northern cities would be applied.

In conclusion, the cover in question should have weighted between ½ oz to 1 oz. and would be franked with 40 cents (if between ½ to ¾ oz.) or 42 cents (if between ¾ to 1 oz.) of postage if paid in full by Chinese stamps.

½ ~ ¾ oz. ¾ ~ 1 oz.
Domestic postage 6 cents (2c x 3) 8 cents (2c x 4)
Domestic registration 4 cents 4 cents
International postage 20 cents (10c x 2) 20 cents (10c x 2)
International registration 10 cents 10 cents
Total 40 cents 42 cents