5th April 2016 Siege of Paris – Philip Mackey

On Tuesday 6th April, Banbury Stamp Society welcomed Philip Mackey who presented postal history from the siege of Paris. He started with a history lesson: The Franco-Prussian war started in 1870, fought over the succession to the Spanish throne. After initial success, the French army fell back and the Prussians lay siege to a number of French cities including Paris. People were soon trying to get mail in and out of the city and the presentation covered all aspects of this. The best known method of getting mail out was by balloon – first tried during the siege of Metz. The Paris balloon flights were largely successful, if variable in the end destination of the flights. Balloons were filled with town gas and when they were being inflated, the gas lights dimmed across the city because of the drop in mains pressure. It is estimated that three million letters were sent by balloon, and the philatelic joke is that there are five million in collections – this is an area full of bogus covers. The letters showed how people tried to get on with their lives: mail to a jewellers – commerce was too important to stop for war; a letter from the Times correspondent bemoaning the fact that he had not been paid. One aspect of the collection was the inclusion of mail from the Prussian army, and one pair of letters described the same event from both sides: A Prussian soldier writing home saying that he had just watched a balloon take off from Paris, and a letter from within Paris that had been on the same balloon. Getting mail back into Paris was not practical by balloons. Some mail was sent as microfilm by pigeon post and we saw an original microfilm. Zinc floats with mail sealed inside were put into the Seine and there were water damaged examples of these letters. The final route was via undercover mail where runners carried the mail across the siege lines. The war also saw the first use of the Red Cross prisoner of war mail, mainly from Paris to Silesia where most French PoW’s were held. Paris was the centre for printing stamps and when the rest of France ran out, printing took place in Bordeaux using the lithograph process and these stamps are quite common on mail going into Paris. The war ended with an armistice and Prussia imposed a 20 centime tax on French mail in the occupied areas.

The display contained a wealth of rare material which, combined with an excellent speaker, gave a real insight into how mail was sent during the Siege of Paris.

The next club meeting will be on Tuesday April 19th at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre. The speaker is Brian Hyner who will be presenting on the subject of ‘Zeppelin 1900-1939’. The Banbury Stamp Society is on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’, or please contact John Davies on 01295 255831.