The French postal system was founded by Louis XI. (June 19, 1464), was largely extended by Charles IX. (1565), and received considerable improvements at various periods under the respective governments of Henry IV. and Louis XIII. (1603, 1622, Early History1627 seq.). In 1627 France originated a postal money-transmission system, a system of cheap registration for letters. The postmaster who thus anticipated modern improvements was Pierre d'Alméras, a man of high birth, who gave about £20,000 (of modern money) for the privilege of serving the public. The turmoils of the Fronde wrecked much that he had achieved. The first farm of postal income was made in 1672, and by farmers it was administered until June 1790. To increase the income postmaster ships for a long time were not only sold but made hereditary. Many administrative improvements of detail were introduced, indeed, by Mazarin (1643), by Louvois (e. 1680 seq.), and by Cardinal de Fleury (1728); but many formidable abuses also continued. The revolutionary government transferred rather than removed them. Characteristically, it put a board of postmasters in room of a farming postmaster-general and a controlling one. Napoleon (during the consulate) abolished the board, recommitted the business to a postmaster-general as it had been under Louis XIII., and greatly improved the details of the service; Napoleon's organization of 1802 is, in substance, that which now obtains, although, of course, large modifications and developments have been made from time to time.
The university of Paris, as early as the 13th century, possessed a special postal system, for the abolition of which in the 18th it received a large compensation. But it continued to possess certain minor postal privileges until the Revolution.
Mazarin's edict of the 3rd of December 1643 shows that France at that date had a parcel post as well as a letter post. That edict creates for each head post office throughout the kingdom three several ohicers styled respectively (1) comptroller, (2) weigher, (3) assessor; and, instead of remunerating them by salary, it directs the addition of one-fourth to the existing letter rate and parcel rate, and the division of the surcharge between the three. Fleury's edicts of 1728 make sub-postmasters directly responsible for the loss of letters or parcels; they also make it necessary that senders should post their letters at an office, and not give them to the carriers, and regulate the book-post by directing that book parcels (whether MS. or printed) shall beopen at the ends. In 1758, almost eighty years after Dockwra's establishment of a penny post in London, an historian of that city published an account of it, which in Paris came under the eye of Claude Piarron de Chamousset, who obtained letters-patent to do the like, and, before setting to work or seeking profit for himself, issued a tract with the title, Mémoire sur la petite-poste établie d Londres, sur la rnodéle de laquelle on pourrait en établir de semblables dans les plus grandes vtlles d'Europe. The reform was successfully carried out.
By this time the general post office of France was producing a considerable and growing revenue. In 1676 the farmers had paid to the king £48,000 in the money of that day. A century later they paid a fixed rent of £352,000, and covenanted to pay in addition one-fifth of their net profits. In 1788-the date of the last letting to farm of the postal revenue-the fixed and the variable payments were commuted for one settled sum of £480,000 a year. The result of the devastation's of the Revolution and of the wars of the empire together is shown strikingly by the fact that in 1814 the gross income of the post office was but little more than three-fifths of the net income in 1788. Six years of the peaceful government of Louis XVIII. raised the gross annual revenue to £928,000 On the eve of the Revolution of 1830 it reached £I,348,000. Towards the close of the next reign the post office yielded £2,100,000 (gross). Under the revolutionary government of 1848–1849 it declined again (falling in 1850 to £1,744,000); under that of Napoleon III. it rose steadily and uniformly with every year. In 1858 the gross revenue was £2,296,000, in 1868, £3,596,000.
The ingenuity of the French postal authorities was severely tried by the exigencies of the German War of 1870-71. The first contrivance was to organize a pigeon service (see also Pigeon Post), carrying microscopic dispatches prepared by the aid of photographic Pigeon and Baloon Posts.appliances. The Posts number of postal pigeons employed was 363, of which number fifty-seven returned with dispatches. During the height of the siege the English postal authorities received letters for transmission by pigeon post into Paris by way of Tours, subject to the regulations that no information concerning the war was given, that the number of words did not exceed twenty, that the letters were delivered open, and that 5d. a word, with a registration fee of 6d., was prepaid as postage. At this rate the postage of the 200 letters on each folio was £40, that on the eighteen pellicles of sixteen folios each, carried by one pigeon, £11,520. Each despatch was repeated until its arrival had been acknowledged by balloon post; consequently many were sent ofi' twenty and some even more than thirty times. The second step was to establish a regular system of postal balloons, fifty-one being employed for letter service and six for telegraphic service. To M. Durnouf belongs much of the honour of making the balloon service successful. ' On the basis of experiments carried out by him a decree of the 26th of September 1870 regulated the new postal system. Out of sixty four several ascents, each costing on the average about £200, fifty-seven achieved their purpose, notwithstanding the building by Krupp of twenty guns, supplied with telescopic apparatus, for the destruction of the postal balloons. Only five were captured, and two others were lost at sea. The aggregate weight of the letters and newspapers thus aerially mailed by the French post office amounted to about eight tons and a half, including upwards of 3,000,000 letters; and, besides the aeronauts, ninety-one passengers were conveyed. The heroism displayed by the French balloon postmen was equalled by that of many of the ordinary letter carriers'in the conveyance of letters through the catacombs and quarries of Paris and its suburbs, and, under various disguises, often through the midst of the Prussian army. Several lost their lives in the discharge of their duty, in some cases saving their dispatches by the sacrifice. During the war the Marseilles route for the Anglo-Indian mails was abandoned. They were sent through Belgium and Germany, by the Brenner Pass to Brindisi, and thence by Italian packets to Alexandria. The French route was resumed in 1872.
- For the details, see Ency. Brit., 8th ed., xviii. 420–424, and Maxime Du Camp, “L’Administration des Postes,” in Revue des deux mondes (1865), 2nd series, vol. lxvii. 169 seq.
- 28 Pluviose, an XII.=the 18th of February 1804.
- Le Quien de la Neufville, Usages des postes (1730), pp. 59–67, 80, 121–123, 147–149, 286–291; Maxime du Camp, op. cit. passim; Pierre Clément, Appréciation des conséquences de la réforme postale, passim: Loret, Gazette rimée (Aug. 16, 1653); Furetière, Le Roman Bourgeois (in Du Camp, ut supra); “Die ersten Posteinrichtungen, u.s.w., " in L' Union postale, viii. 138; Ordonnanees des Rois de France, as cited by A. de Rothschild, Histoire de la paste-auxletlras (3rd ed., 1876), i. 171, 216, 269. We quote M. de Rothschild's clever book with some misgivings. It is eminently sparkling in style, and most readable; but its citations are so given that one is constantly in doubt lest they be given at second or even at third hand instead of from the sources. The essay of M. du Camp is, up to its date, far more trustworthy. He approaches his subject as a publicist, M. de Rothschild as a stamp-collector.
- There are several charters confirmatory of this original privilege. The earliest of these is of 1296 (Philip “the Fair”).
- Ordonnances, &c., as above.
- There is an interesting biographical notice of Piarron de Chamousset in Le Journal officiel of July 5, 1875.
- The despatches carried by the pigeons were in the first instance photographed on a reduced scale on thin sheets of paper, the original writing being preserved, but after the ascent of the twenty-fifth balloon leaving the city an improved system was organized. The communications, whether public dispatches, newspapers or private letters, were printed in ordinary type, and micro-photographed on to thin films of collodion. Each pellicle measured less than 2 in. by 1, and the reproduction of sixteen folio pages of type contained above 3000 private letters. These pellicles were so light that 50,000 dispatches, weighing less than 1 gramme, were regarded as the weight for one pigeon. In order to ensure their safety during transit the films were rolled up tightly and placed in a small quill which was attached longitudinally to one of the tail feathers of the bird. On their arrival in Paris they were fattened out and thrown by means of the electric lantern on to a screen, copied by clerks, and dispatched to their destination] This method was afterwards improved upon, sensitive paper being substituted for the screen, so that the letters were printed at once and distributed.
- Seventeenth Report of the Postmaster-General, p. 7.
- Boissay, “La Poste et la télégraphie pendant le siege de Paris,” in Journal des économistes, 3rd series, vol. xxii. pp. 117–129 and pp. 273-282. Cf. Postal Gazette (1883). i. 7.
- Sixteenth Report of the Postmaster-General, p. 8.