The first two postal franks, the CUSTOMS VANCOUVERS ISLAND crown seal and VICTORIA V.I. / POST / OFFICE in oval, do not have “PAID” incorporated in the handstamp device, and so are beyond the scope of this article. Two postal franks have PAID as part of the device and are relevant to this article. The three-line VICTORIA / PAID / V.I. unframed handstamp (Fig. 1) seems to have been used only on Wells Fargo covers from Victoria from 1859 to 1861. About 20 examples are known, most addressed to the USA, and a few to England via the USA. The Deaville book lists the device as “Seen only on Wells-Fargo Express U.S. 30 stamped envelopes of the 1853-55 issue, but probably used also on ordinary envelopes for transmission of mail.” I have seen this handstamp on Wells Fargo 30 and 100 Nesbitt first-issue envelopes and also on Wells Fargo 30 and 10¢ star-die envelopes. I believe Wells Fargo took batches of their printed frank envelopes to the Victoria post office and prepaid the postmaster to apply this postal frank to the left of the familiar Wells Fargo printed frank to comply with the express statutes requiring government postage. Since I do not believe this frank was ever used on governmentmail from Victoria, it is possible that Wells Fargo created the device and arranged with the post office to pay them each time Wells Fargo applied the handstamp . Wells Fargo used 30 envelopes for US west-coast destinations, 100 envelopes for US east – coast destinations , and 100 envelopes for UK destinations. The letters to UK destinations normally went into the government mail in New York and show 290 US postage for the west-coast rate to England (cover 1).
The long oval POST OFFICE / PAID / VICTORIA VANCOUVER ISLAND device (Fig. 2) was often used as a postal frank after the introduction of adhesive stamps. Wellburn lists the earliest known use of this frank as late February 1863 (Wellburn book, p. 47). It was also used as a cancel for adhesive stamps. It was not used on express company mail except in rare circumstances when an express company letter came into Victoria, then was put in the government mail (cover 2). This 1864 cover to England has a manuscript “By Express” and a manuscript “Paid.” It originated in the mainland mines and was carried to Victoria by express, probably by Dietz & Nelson. The express company took it to the Victoria post office where the long oval postal frank was applied to indicate payment of Vancouver Island postage. Most express covers from the mainland, on the other hand, were turned over to Wells Fargo in Victoria for travel south to San Francisco. Frank envelopes printed by Wells Fargo in this period used the Victoria Coat of Arms postal frank or adhesive stamps to prepay Vancouver Island government postage.
PAID in Oval Postal Handstamps
Fig. 3 is a closely-spaced double oval used by the Victoria post office ; the earliest usage I have seen is in black ink in November 1859 in conjunction with the VICTORIA / V.I. / POST / OFFICE postal frank (Stuart Johnstone sale – Sissons , April 19, 1972, lot 710), so Victoria definitely had a PAID in oval before adhesive stamps were issued in April 1860 . Wellburn’s 1948 article asserts that this device was acquired in San Francisco, although no documented proof is given . It is very similar, if not identical, to the PAID in oval used by Wells Fargo at San Francisco and other US offices. I have seen two examples of postal usage of this device, used alone as a postal frank from Victoria in early 1860 before the issue of adhesive stamps. In 1868 Victoria used its PAID in oval handstamp in blue as a postal frank when the Vancouver Island 50 adhesive stamps were used up (see Eaton price list, p. 106). In 1861 -62 Barnard’ s Express took their corner-card printed frank envelopes to the Victoria post office to have the coat of arms frank and PAID in oval handstamps applied to designate prepayment of government postage, as required by the express statutes. Black ink was used for both handstamps; the PAID in oval seems redundant, since the coat of arms frank already signified prepayment of postage – see p. 32 bottom of the Wellburn book. In the mid 1860s Wells Fargo took printed frank envelopes to the Victoria post office, where 50 Vancouver Island adhesive stamps were applied and precancelled with the PAID in double-oval device in blue ink. Dietz & Nelson did the same. These express envelopes were then carried entirely outside the government mail system, but were required to bear Vancouver Island government postage (and US postage if routed south – see Wellburn book, pp 101 top & 104). Wells Fargo was required to pay Vancouver Island postage on incoming Wells Fargo covers by the 1867 postal ordinance. Wells Fargo’s San Francisco office ordered a supply of Vancouver Island 50 stamps, which they applied and cancelled in San Francisco. When the supply ran out in 1868, they used a PAID in oval handstamp instead of Vancouver Island adhesive stamps. Wellburn believed this marking was the one of Fig. 3, applied at the Victoria post office (Eaton price list, p. 103), but I think it is more likely that the PAID in oval was a Wells Fargo marking applied in San Francisco after adhesive stamps ran out.
Nanaimo used a PAID in oval device (Fig. 4) which Wellburn’s 1948 article lists as identical to the devices used at New Westminster, Yale, and Hope (Fig. 5). However, Nanaimo’s PAID in oval has a smaller vertical width, has taller letters, and the A is narrower. It appears in black ink from about 1863 to 1869 (see Robson Lowe Encyclopedia Vol. V, p. 576 for a cover illustrated in colour). I have seen four examples of the Nanaimo black PAID in oval and I believe it to be a single oval, unlike the closely-spaced double oval of Victoria.
The PAID in oval handstamps used by mainland British Columbia post offices are of the type illustrated in Fig. 5. Virtually identical handstamps were used at New Westminster, Yale, Hope, and possibly other offices as well. These probably were issued to post offices at the same time as the numeral-in-bars cancels, about August 1860. New Westminster first used blue ink, then red, then black, corresponding with the colour of their “1 in bars” killer – see Wellburn book, pp 56, 57, & 58 for examples of PAID in oval in each colour. Yale used red ink in 1862, then black ink by 1868 (Wellburn, pp 60 and 119). Hope used black ink in 1861 (Wellburn, p. 64). Wellburn’s 1948 article lists subtypes of these handstamps with a flat-topped A rather than a pointed A – I have seen examples of this variety (Wellburn, p. 63 top), but am unable to say if this is a different handstamp or just an overinked example of Fig. 5. These PAID in oval handstamps often appear on covers with British Columbia postage paid by adhesive stamps, so the oval handstamp would seem to be redundant if it was intended to indicate prepayment of government postage. In some cases the PAID in oval handstamps were used to cancel adhesive postage stamps.
Let’s look at an 1862 cover from New Westminster to England in an attempt to discern the purpose for the PAID in oval handstamp (cover 3). Mail from British Columbia to foreign destinations came to San Francisco, and required US postage to the country of destination. US stamps were available at Victoria as early as 1860, and probably at New Westminster a few years later. This 1862 cover was marked 29 in red crayon for the US postage which was collected in cash at New Westminster – the US stamps were applied en route at Victoria. Did the PAID in oval (in red matching the I in bars cancel of New Westminster) designate that the US postage had been paid in cash? There seems to be no surviving documented instructions to postmasters as to the use of their PAID handstamps, but there exist other covers with the PAID in oval placed just to the left of the red crayon marking designating the US postage, and so it seems likely the PAID in oval was used to show the cover was completely prepaid, including the US postage. The 3 handstamp on this cover is a credit to the UK for internal postage – the cover went by American Packet from New York across the Atlantic.
Express Company PAID Handstamps
These markings should not be confused with the postal Victoria PAID in double-oval marking (Fig. 3) which was sometimes applied to Barnard’s Express, Dietz & Nelson, and Wells Fargo envelopes as explained above. Fig. 6 was a name change from Barnard’s Express in June 1862, and is seen in both black and blue ink (see Wellburn, p. 32 top for newspaper clipping). Fig. 7 is Dietz & Nelson marking, usually seen in blue ink, but Wellburn lists it in black ink also. Bold strikes show a period after the D of PAID, although the period is not present in Wellburn’s 1948 illustration. On strikes not showing the period, PAID is centred to the left inside the oval. Fig. 8 is a Barnard’s Express marking, narrower vertically than Dietz & Nelson’s handstamp and with taller letters. Barnard’s PAID in oval is usually in black ink, but sometimes in red. Dietz & Nelson ran from Victoria to Yale and connected there with Barnard’s Express north to the Cariboo Mines. Barnard sometimes used vermilion PAID labels and green COLLECT labels, which would seem to make the handstamps redundant. However the Barnard PAID labels were often cancelled at Yale by the Dietz & Nelson PAID in oval handstamp. Dietz & Nelson occasionally used printed vermilion labels as well, but these do not incorporate the words PAID or COLLECT.
Straight-Line PAID Handstamps
Similar postal handstamps were used at New Westminster, Williams Creek. Quesnellesmouth, and possibly other mainland British Columbia post offices. The New Westminster straight-line PAID (Fig. 9a) has shorter letters than the others and is seen in black and blue inks from 1864 later than the PAID in oval device used at this office. The Quesnellesmouth straight-line PAID (Fig. 9b) is seen in black ink from about 1864 to at least 1869 (Wellburn book pp 65 and 103). The Williams Creek straight-line PAID (Fig. 9c) has the tallest letters and the D is narrower – it is seen from about 1863 to 1869. The purpose of these straight-line PAID handstamps is not always clear. The Wellburn book, p. 114 bottom, shows a pair of 3d stamps cancelled 10 in bars and used from Williams Creek to New Westminster. The Quesnellesmouth cover on page 65 has a pair of 2’/2d stamps cancelled 13 in bars used to New Westminster. Both covers show a straight-line PAID at left, which may show that the postage paid by adhesive stamps is correct, but such a usage seems superfluous since the presence of adhesive stamps indicates prepayment of postage. Occasionally Williams Creek had a shortage of adhesive stamps – the cover to Prince Edward Island on page 49 of the Wellburn book shows the straight-line PAID used as a postal frank when no adhesive stamps were available. On covers coming south through San Francisco, the Williams Creek straight-line PAID may have been used to show that US postage had been prepaid in cash. These covers were marked with the amount of US postage prepaid in cash in red crayon, and then US stamps were applied at New Westminster, Victoria, or San Francisco, often on top of the crayon marking. An example is illustrated in the Wellburn book, p. 120.
Occasionally B.C. & V.I. covers have PAID markings which were applied in transit at US cities. When the PAID device includes the city name, there is no ambiguity – San Francisco, Chicago, and New York are examples. The cover at the bottom of page 56 of the Wellburn book shows a straight-line PAID in red applied at San Francisco in conjunction with a 15 in octagon rate mark on an 1862 cover to Bowmanville, Canada West. After July 1, 1870, mail from the now united colony of British Columbia could be sent prepaid to US destinations without US postage. One occasionally sees PAID or PAID ALL handstamps applied in the USA to indicate the postage was fully prepaid to destination, with no US postage due from addressee. The cover at the bottom of page 117 of the Wellburn book shows a boxed PAID marking in black ink which I believe was applied at Portland, Oregon. I have seen three 1870s postconfederation Small Queen covers from British Columbia with a PAID ALL in circle device; Tracy Cooper illustrates one of these on page 43 of his excellent article, “Mail and the Cassiar Gold Rush.” These covers entered the US mail system at Portland, Oregon, and I believe the red PAID ALL in circle was applied there. Cooper theorizes that his cover proceeded from Portland to San Francisco by rail, and believes the marking was applied at San Francisco. His cover could have gone from Portland to San Francisco by ship, or overland by a combination of rail and stage (the railroad from Portland went south only to Roseburg, Oregon in 1874 – through rail service to San Francisco was completed in 1887). I believe these covers never went to San Francisco at all, but went east up the Columbia River by steamboat, then by stage to Boise and south to the transcontinental railroad. In any case, Cooper and I agree that this PAID ALL in circle was not applied at Victoria, and is a US marking indicating to subsequent postal clerks that the cover was fully paid to destination.
UNPAID Straight- Line Markings
These are postal markings indicating that postage is to be collected from the addressee. I believe that both UNPAID handstamps were used at Victoria, but Wellburn’s 1948 article suggests that Fig. 11 was used at New Westminster. Ken Kutz’s Untold Wealth illustrates a cover on page 16 which originated in Victoria with this marking. Lot 188 in Charles Firby’s January 15, 2000 auction catalogue is a cover with this marking used to New Westminster. It is possible that the Kutz cover was cancelled on arrival, and the Firby cover is a drop letter, but I think it more likely that Fig. 11 originated in Victoria. The smaller marking is in blue ink, used about 1863-65. The larger marking is normally in black, but I have seen one example in red and Wellburn lists it in blue. The period of use is about 1866-68. I have seen about five examples of each marking. Wellburn illustrates a third UNPAID marking in his 1948 article, intermediate in size between those of Figs 10 and 11, which he believes was used in Victoria. I have not seen it and so do not illustrate it.
COLLECT in Oval Markings
These are express company markings used to direct the express agent to collect the express charges from the addressee. They do not refer to the government postage, and in fact the COLLECT markings were sometimes used to cancel adhesive stamps (Wellburn book, p. 78). Fig. 12 is Dietz & Nelson marking which has small letters and a period after the T – it is scarcer than the one in Fig. 13 . Fig. 13 also is a Dietz & Nelson marking, usually applied at Yale, but probably at other towns as well. It is normally in blue ink, and often used in conjunction with the large double-circle Dietz & Nelson handstamp. Fig.14 is a Barnard’s Express marking, usually in black but sometimes in red. It was used from about 1863 at Yale and possibly other towns, and often in conjunction with Barnard’s large double-circle handstamp. It is sometimes seen used after confederation on incoming Wells Fargo envelopes from the USA which were turned over to Barnard at Victoria. Tracy Cooper’s recent article on the Cassiar Gold Rush in this journal illustrates an 1876 cover from Cassiar to Victoria with a straight-line COLLECT marking. I concur with Cooper’s opinion that this is an express marking, not a postal marking, but am unable to say whether or not it is a Wells Fargo marking. In his 1948 article, Wellburn illustrates a similar handstamp which he had seen on incoming Wells Fargo covers from the USA, but does not indicate where he thought the marking was applied. Wells Fargo used straight-line COLLECT markings at San Francisco and other US offices – is it possible that the Wells Fargo Victoria office had one of these devices?
FREE in Oval Handstamp
This is a Dietz & Nelson marking in blue ink with a period after the second E. There are two stampless covers with this marking shown on page 36 of the Wellburn book, and another cover on page 66 with a 21/2d adhesive. Apparently the FREE refers to the express charges, not government postage. The two stampless covers are addressed to government officials, and so may not have required government postage. The cover with the adhesive stamp is addressed tto the wife of a government official, which m1ay explain the adhesive stamp paying government postage.
Using our newly acquired knowledge, let us analyze an 1865 cover from p. 66 of the Wellburn book (cover 4). This is an incoming cover from San Francisco to “Frenche Crik, Big-ben. Columbie Britan-nique” (French Creek, Big Bend, British Columbia). Note there is a PAID in oval handstamp (in blue ink) and two COLLECT in oval handstamps (which have been enhanced so they reproduce better). The COLLECT at top left is in blue, and the COLLECT at bottom right is in red.
- The blue COLLECT in oval at upper left is the Dietz & Nelson’s Express marking.
- The red COLLECT in oval is the Barnard’s Express marking.
- The PAID in oval looks like the Victoria postal marking (Fig. 3), but that would be incorrect. Note that the cover started with Wells Fargo in San Francisco, although there is no Wells Fargo printed express frank. The PAID in oval is a San Francisco mark applied by Wells Fargo in place of a printed frank to show that Wells Fargo’s express charges had been prepaid by sender (Leutzinger’s Wells Fargo book, p. 120, handstamp type 7-1).
So on this cover the Wells Fargo charges were paid by the San Francisco sender, then Wells Fargo turned over the cover to Dietz & Nelson in Victoria, then Dietz & Nelson turned it over to Barnard at Yale for delivery to Big Bend. Both British Columbia express charges were collected from the addressee upon delivery at the mines. The pair of adhesive stamps was applied and cancelled by Dietz & Nelson to pay the government postage from Victoria to the mines, as required by the express statutes.
I hope the illustrations of handstamps in this article will facilitate analysis of British Columbia and Vancouver Island covers. When analyzing a British Columbia cover, keep in mind that it is not always immediately clear if a cover shows a postal use, an express use, or a combination of the two. This is because express companies took their unused printed frank envelopes to the Victoria or New Westminster post office to have the required government postage prepaid. Sometimes the post office applied a handstamped postal frank which indicated prepayment of postage. Sometimes the post office applied adhesive stamps which were precancelled with a PAID in oval or other postal cancellation. Once the express company sold these envelopes which had been prepaid with government postage, the envelopes were carried entirely outside the Vancouver Island or British Columbia government mail.
Correspondence and criticism are welcome!
- Cooper, T., “Mail and the Cassiar Gold Rush,” PHSCJournal #106, 30 June 2001, pp 39-55.
- Deaville, A. S., The Colonial Postal Systems and Postage Stamps of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1849-1871, King’s Printer, Victoria, 1928.
- Eaton, D. and J. Wallace, editors, The Stamps & Postal History of Vancouver Island & British Columbia, The Gerald Wellburn Collection, 1987.
- Eaton, D., privately spiral-bound price list of Wellburn covers. (about 1990).
- Robson Lowe, The Encyclopedia of British Empire Postage Stamps, Vol. V, Robson Lowe, London, 1973.
- Leutzinger, J., The Handstamps of Wells Fargo & Co., Leonard Hartman, ed., Louisville, KY, 1993.
- Wellburn, G., “The Handstruck Postage Stamps of British Columbia and Vancouver Island,” Bulletin no. 46, Postal History Society, December 1948. Reprinted in BNA Topics, vol. 7, Nos I & 2, 1950.
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