The Origins of Express Mail


Whilst the new Express Service was formally introduced by the Post Office on March 25th 1891, an express services did exist prior to this and the origins of 'express delivery' go back to the need for a speedy but secure delivery of mail.

This Exhibit endeavours to present the origins and subsequent development of the 'Express Delivery Letter Service'. Presenting examples of the important phases of this developing service including those from the final three periods between 1891 and 1892 during which the first express service was finally established.

The Exhibit

The Cromwellian 'New Post' of 1653 allowed all Governmental Departments to use Express Messengers but it seems 'Haste Haste' and 'for ye Service of ye State' endorsements continued to be used. The Admiralty was the main user of express services and the cover shown dated February 12th 1695 is thought to be the earliest to be endorsed 'By Express'.

Strangely, the date that express services were first introduced by the General Post Office is not known, but was probably around 1720. Each Express Letter had to be individually wrapped and timed as shown by the Way Bill dated April 29th 1772 and Wrapper of June 11th 1781. Express letters from this first period show that a 3d. wrapper charge and a 6d. per stage Express Fee applied.

On June 21st 1790 a notice in the London Gazette announced increased charges of 6d. per mile and a ls. per stage Express Fee. The London to Hereford express service invoice for £5.9s.6d. working out to 9.7d. per mile or 146 times the standard single letter rate of 9d. The Notice issued in November 1826 set a charge of 11d. per mile and 2s.6d. for each of the Postmasters accepting and delivering together with a required speed of at least 7 miles an hour.

The Post Office Express Service introduced on March 25th 1891 is known as the 'First Period' and provided a Telegraph Boy delivery within London postal districts. Only five covers are known, the example shown is thought to be the earliest. The 2d. express fee was paid for in stamps affixed to the Delivery Form.

A 'Second Period' was introduced on August 1st 1891, providing a national service as detailed by the PO Notice shown. The 'Third Service' was introduced on January 1st 1892, increasing the express fee to 3d. per mile except for local letters which were not charged. This period lasted until 1919 and the covers shown include a January 1st first day cover but all examples are scarce.

Throughout all periods shown, material relating to Express Mail is extremely scarce and as such this may well be one of the very few attempts ever made to provide an exhibit on this subject.


Frame 1

  1. Introduction
  2. Admiralty Official Mail - "Haste Post Haste"
  3. Admiralty Official Mail - "By Express"
  4. Express Letter Way Bill 1772
  5. Express Mail 1781
  6. General G.P.O. Express Service (1783 & 1785)
  7. Express Mail 1790
  8. Express Way Bill 1799 - Market Harborough to London
  9. Express Way Bill 1806 - Brighton to London
  10. Express Mail Charges 1807 - Hereford to London
  11. Express Mail - 1826 Postmasters Instructions for Handling Express Mail
  12. Express Mail 1838 Printed O.H.M.S. Notice from G.P.O. Dublin
  13. Express Mail 1864 and New Express Mail Service - March 25th, 1891
  14. Express Mail - Second Service August 1st, 1891
  15. Express Mail - Third Service January 1st, 1892
  16. Express Mail - 1892 'EXPRESS DELIVERY'