ESTONIA – POSTAL HISTORY

By Alar Pastarus

Before 1632:

At the beginning of the 13th Century the Estonian territory consisted of eight Land-States. Some initial steps had been taken to form a Confederation of these lands. This development was interrupted by the arrival of foreign military forces under pretext of christianization of the area. The dispatch off messages during ancient Estonian Independence before the 13th Century, had been verbal, mainly by means of mounted couriers. In cases of enemy attacks, bonfires were lit on hilltops. It can be assumed that for commercial and for other peaceful purposes written messages with neighbouring traders have been exchanged. In 1227 all Estonia was subdued and the conquerors divided the country. After conquering Estonia and Livonia in the 13th Century all new authorities had their own courier and messenger communication system.

Couriers of the Livonian Order were routed between individual Comtours and Vogts (administrative and sub-administrative centres). A specific postal system was introduced in 1309.

Couriers of the Church were mainly monks who served the monasteries, parishes and the Bishop's residence.

The Hanseatic League (14th - 15th century) had a well developed postal system operating between the member-cities and -towns. The sea mail was carried by the so called "kogges" (merchant sailing-ships). The land mail was carried by travelling merchants or by specially paid or hired couriers.

Left: The Letter-Carrier of the Teutonic Order about 1276
(according to an anonymos drawing from later period).

Right: Monks acted as postmen and carried letters for bishop,
monasteries and churches (according to a Swiss print, 1466).

 

After 1632:

Estonia as Province of the Kingdom of Sweden

Because of the warring in Denmark, in Northern Germany and in the Baltic provinces the postal communications were of vital importance to the Swedish Government and especially to the military authorities. There was not yet a general postal organisation at that time. As the postal route via Denmark periodically was interrupted, the mail from Sweden to Germany was often directed either via Finland and Tallinn (Reval) or via seaway to Riga. This background explains the appointment in 1625 of Jakob Becker of Riga as Postmaster for Livonia and Prussia. In 1631 Becker was made responsible for the printing shop of the University of Tartu (Dorpat). His appointment as Postmaster was extended to include Estonia (1632).

The public notice "Postordnung" of September 26, 1632 printed in Tartu by Jakob Becker can be considered to be the opening date for general mail in Estonia. This notice provides information about times of arrival and departure of mail from/to Riga and firm postal tariffs in Revaler Mark for 1 lot (approx. 13,5 g) to a great number of cities on the continent.

Letter to Mattias von Porten, Reval, dated Pernau February 25, 1708

 

Post Offices an Postmarks in Estonia 1638 - 1710

The general mail organisation in Sweden was initiated in 1636. Estonia together with other Baltic provinces and Finland, was incorporated in the system by a Royal Edict of the Queen Christina of September 6, 1638. In the Estonian area eight Post Offices were opened. (The contemporary Swedish names are given in brackets):

Tallinn (Refwell, Reval)
Haapsalu (Hapsall)
Rakvere (Wesenberg)
Tartu (Dorpt, Dorpat)
Pärnu (Pernou, Pernau)
Kuresaare (Arensburg)
Valga (Walk)
Narva (Narfwen)

As far as known only the Post offices in Tallinn and Pärnu in the years of 1708-1710 used cancellers. The ribbon postmark of Pärnu is known only in one (possibly two) private collection. Additionally about 10 items have been found in archives. About 20 of the postmark of Tallinn in private collections are known.

 

Estonia as Part of the Imperial Russia 1710 - 1918

Officially Estonia was incorporated in the Russian Empire through the Peace of Uusikaupunkti (Nystad) in 1721. Actually this period of Estonian history began already with the surrender of Tallinn in 1710. The needs for a properly functioning postal service had become so important that already in the negotiations about the capitulation one of the conditions of the cities was that post offices should be re-opened and that postal communications with neutral countries should remain open. These conditions were accepted by the Russian authorities. At the beginning the postal communications were rather sporadic and mainly met the military needs. In 1704 Narva was included in the postal route St. Petersburg - Narva - Pskov - Velikij Luki - Poland.

Sources: Eesti Filatelist #30, 1984 (Jakob Becker and his "Post Ordnung" A.D. 1632, by Elmar Ojaste) and the "Estonia Philately & Postal History Handbook" by Vambola Hurt and Elmar Ojaste (in English and German).