"Money Letters" 1792-1840


´╗┐Registration works by tracking a letter while in the post, with a signature taken on delivery. Generally it is handed in at a post office and a fee paid, with a receipt provided. Such a service for UK inland mail was first introduced on 6th January 1841.

For some 50 years before, however, the Post Office operated a system that registered some letters free of charge. The catch was that it applied only if they contained gold or silver coins (or jewellery), usually fairly obvious from the weight and feel. These were known as "Money Letters".

The basic motivation was to prevent any clearly valuable letters from going astray (protecting the Post Office against complaint). The public were informed that letters containing coin should always be given to a postmaster/receiver, but no receipt was issued. Postal staff were instructed to treat any letter seen (or merely suspected) to enclose coin as a Money Letter from that point onwards, exactly as if declared as such by the sender.

The addresses of Money Letters were written on the letter‑bills, the actual letters were wrapped in the bill for onward despatch, and a signature taken on delivery – so registration in all but name. No fee was charged – the practice was described as "a mere rule of the Office", i.e. not a service officially authorised by Act of Parliament – but since Money Letters contained enclosures by definition, they were always liable to at least a double rate ...

The method was, it seems, a truncated version of a plan for fee‑paying registration proposed in 1788. The first notice is dated 22nd September 1792. (There are, however, suggestions in the archives that some special treatment was in existence for a few months before, even if not always enforced.)

Banknotes and other financial instruments were not covered, apparently on the reasoning that a banknote was just another sheet of paper, and not obviously valuable from the outside. The official recommendation to anyone worried by this was to cut notes in two and send the halves by separate posts (thus doubling the postage, of course).

In practice, the majority of extant Money Letters appear (from their texts) to have contained notes or the like, so the postmaster or clerk may often simply have taken the sender's word for it that the letter contained 'money'. Occasional reminders were sent to postmasters to instruct them not to accept letters containing "valuable Paper only".

From the 1820s onwards it became increasingly common to use the name 'registration' too, and by the mid‑1830s, the Post Office were seriously looking at introducing a full registration system, This was ready to go by mid‑1839, but was quietly withdrawn at that time (as it was expected that Penny Postage would produce too many registered letters) – the Money Letter system was also from 1st January 1840, though not all senders realised!


Frame 1

  1. ´╗┐Introduction
The Money Letter System
  1. The First Steps in Inland Registration
  2. 1804 2d Post Returned Letter Wrapper
  3. Money Letters By Local Posts
Money Letters Identified En Route
  1. Supposed Money Letters
  2. 'Compulsory Registration' of Letters Containing Money
  3. 'Cash Letter' Re‑Rated by Inspector
Money Letter Documentation
  1. 1820s Inter‑Office Letter‑Bills
  2. Official Wrappers for Money Letters
Public Use of Money Letters
  1. Stating Good Reasons for Sending as a Money Letter
  2. 'A Small Coin in the Letter'
  3. 'Said to be a Money Letter No cash enclosed' Endorsement
  4. Chelsea Out‑Pensioner Requesting New 'Instructions'
  5. Money Letters to 'People in a Humble Sphere of Life'
Towards Registration
  1. 1828 2d Post Returned Letter Wrapper
  2. Continued Use of Endorsement in 1840