FOCUS ON PHILATELY
by Ingert Kuzych
Ukraine's first express mail service
Express mail service has been around for a lot longer than most people realize. In the U.S. it began on an experimental basis in 1970; it was made a permanent postal service in 1977. However, the roots of expedited postal service go back much, much further. The Austrian Empire was one of the first countries to introduce express mailings for domestic mail on October 1, 1859. The service was initially only available locally within certain cities, but gradually it became an inter-city service.
Figure 1 is a cover (a mailed envelope) sent from Lemberg (today's Lviv) to Vienna on October 16, 1871. The 30-kreuzer franking (applied postage) on the cover breaks down as follows: 5 kreuzer for letter transmittal, 10 kreuzer for registration and 15 kreuzer for express delivery. Although it was not a requirement, most express letters were registered.
The efficient Austrian postal service continued the express service right up until the fall of the empire at the end of World War I in November of 1918. Figure 2 is a wartime cover dispatched from Lemberg to Krakow on June 26, 1917. The 75-heller_1_ franking is composed as follows: 20 heller for an overweight letter, 25 heller for registration, and 30 heller for express delivery. A Krakow receiving mark on the reverse of the envelope indicates that the item arrived the same day.
On November 1, 1918, Western Ukraine (the eastern part of the Austrian province of Galicia) declared its independence from the Empire. Western Ukraine's first stamps were produced in Lviv (the new capital), but the city fell to the Poles just as the stamps were to be released and so they did not see much use._2_
The next Western Ukrainian stamps were created in Kolomyia. On December 12, 1918, five different Western Ukrainian stamps were put into circulation. Four of these consisted of the overprint "Ykp. H.P." (Ukr[ainian] N[ational] R[epublic) and a new value. The fifth was an entirely unique Western Ukrainian registration stamp prepared at a local print shop. Figure 3 shows all five of these stamps on a registered letter mailed December 23, 1918.
The Western Ukrainian government initially retained the Austrian postal rates; a letter still cost 20 heller (or sotyks, the Ukrainian name) to send, while registry was raised slightly to 30 sotyks. The cover in Figure 3, therefore, is slightly overfranked (totaling 65 sotyks) since only 50 sotyks were required. (This overfranking was intentional on the part of the sender in order to show all the stamps of the set.) Note the Ukrainian-language boxed "Censor/ Kolomyia" marking, since this letter was transmitted under wartime conditions.
Western Ukrainian express mail
Also retained by the Western Ukrainian government was the Austrian express mail service, which therefore became the first Ukrainian express mail service._3_ To date, I have not come across any express mail covers from 1918, but I have been able to acquire two from the following year.
The ongoing war with Poland created many hardships, and the Western Ukrainian postal service soon felt it needed more income to sustain its services. On January 1, 1919, postal tariffs were raised as follows: letter rate 40 sotyks, registration 50 sotyks, and express delivery 1 hryvnia and 20 sotyks._4_
Figure 4 is an express cover mailed from Kolomyia to Stanyslaviv_5_ on May 20, 1919. Three things on the envelope indicate that it is express: the "exp" abbreviation in the upper center, the "x" through the middle of the cover (shorthand for "express"), and the 2 hryvni 10 sotyk franking (40-sotyk letter rate, 50-sotyk registration, and 1.20-hryvni express fee). The amount is made up with 1.60 in Austrian heller, which remained valid in Western Ukraine as sotyks, and the 50-sotyk registration stamp.
Figure 5 is also an express cover, but it is harder to detect since there is no "express" inscription of any type. An "x" was applied across the cover, but it is quite light and easy to overlook. What defines it as express, however, is the franking.
The piece was mailed on February 6, 1919, to Vienna and so it is an international letter. Nonetheless, the franking did not change; it remained 2.10 hryvni, the same as for a domestic dispatch.
Because the Western Ukrainian postal service existed only for about seven months (November 1918 to May 1919) and because fighting took place during much of this time, only an estimated 400 or 500 Western Ukrainian covers survive. Of these, only a minuscule fraction are express covers. Such items, therefore, are very scarce. All Western Ukraine covers are expensive (the "cheapest" with more common stamps or franking are $75 to $100; the priciest with rare stamps go for thousands of dollars). Express covers typically fall in the $600 to $700 range.
1. A new monetary system went into effect in Austria on January 1, 1900; two new heller equaled one old kreuzer. [Back to Text]
2. Despite the fact that eastern Galicia was overwhelmingly Ukrainian in population, Poland claimed the territory and set about trying to take it by force. [Back to Text]
3. Although the much larger eastern Ukraine had broken free of Russia earlier (de facto November 20, 1917, de jure January 22, 1918), its postal system never had an express mail service (neither did Russia). [Back to Text]
4. 100 sotyks equaled 1 hryvnia. [Back to Text]
5. Stanyslaviv at this time functioned as the Western Ukrainian capital, but it would fall to the Poles five days later. Today the city's name is Ivano-Frankivsk. [Back to Text]
Ingert Kuzych may be contacted at P.O. Box 3, Springfield, VA 22150 or at his e-mail address: email@example.com.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 3, 2005, No. 14, Vol. LXXIII
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