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What was the postage rating on this international cover?

As we all know, the French Post Office letter rate was 25 centimes (equal to Chinese 10cents) during the IPO period; examples of this rate are very common. While there are plenty of combination covers with 25ctms French and 10cts IPO adhesives, rather few exist with 15ctms French Indo-Chinese and 6cts IPO postage. The one in question is such a cover. First of all, we know that the cover is not domestic mail matter not from the foreign stamps alone (some domestic destination mails going through an international route also required foreign stamps and an international rate) but from the final destination – Hanoi. But the 6c IPO postage is not an international rate either, since the IPO international rate for a letter was 10 cents (20c for non-UPU countries) through out the Imperial Post period. I have checked several books on Chinese postal rate and postage tables in several Chinese stamp catalogs, but it seems as if this 6c international rate did not officially exist. If this rate did not existing, how could we explain this cover?

When we could not find the answer directly from Chinese rates, we had to try the foreign offices’ rates for possible explanations. I checked the Indo-Chinese postal rates and found that from Feb. 16, 1879 to Dec. 31, 1898 the rate for a letter up to 10 grams was 25 centimes; from Jan.1, 1899 the rate was reduced to 15 centimes; and from 1907 to 1919 the rate was further reduced to 10 centimes. Most importantly, these rates were unified rates, which means that the same rates were applicable to domestic and international destinations, French colonies and non-French colonies – there was one rate for everywhere. The cover in question was mailed in March 1902 and therefore, the 15 centimes was the applicable rate for Indo-Chinese Post Office. 15 centimes was equivalent to 6 cents of the silver dollar. I assume that the sender of this mail knew of the lower Indo-Chinese rate and the Chinese dollar equivalent amount, then took advantage of the lower rate and saved 40% of the postage. Although I have not found confirmation of this in writing yet, there should be existing documentation referring to this. For the time being, we are assuming that since the sender had already paid 6 cents in Chinese stamp (equivalent to 15 centimes), the IPO would not lose money on the item, and it was therefore an acceptable practice.


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