A long history of disinfected mail

An 1828 folded letter mailed from present-day Québec to France during a cholera pandemic was exposed to smoke and vinegar for disinfection. Two vertical cuts on the front helped to ensure proper disinfection. (Photo by Auktionshaus Felzmann)

In the time of COVID-19, disinfected mail is perhaps one of the most intriguing and relevant areas of postal history for collectors to explore. It’s an aspect of postal history similar to disaster mail, which refers to mail disrupted by natural or human-made events such as fires, floods, shipwrecks and plane crashes. Arising from seemingly random instances, both disinfected and disaster mail are also understandably rare and date back as far as mail, plagues and disasters have existed. “Long before the causes of epidemic scourges were individually identified, the dangers of dissemination of infection had been grasped,” wrote K. F. Meyer in the December 1952 issue of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, a peer-reviewed medical journal on psychopathology (the scientific study of mental disorders). Continue reading →

OTD: Canadian post offices take to battlefield

A letter mailed in 1916 from France by Flight Lieutenant Michael Silley shows a censor mark. A stamp applied by the post office after the letter arrived in Canada partially covers the mark and has a Toronto cancel with slogan.

On Aug. 4, 1914, Britain entered into the conflict today known as the First World War. At that time, Canada did not conduct its own foreign policy and found itself also at war. The next day, the Canadian government determined that it would raise a Canadian Expeditionary Force at its own cost, to serve in Europe alongside British and allied troops. For the Canadian military, this represented a problem because the tiny permanent army was not up to the task. Rather than mobilize the militia, it was decided to raise a separate force, using numbered battalions made up of active militia and civilian and veteran volunteers. Continue reading →

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