Postal history: a collection of Paquebot post marks

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09 March 2012
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imports_CCGB_paquebotpostalmarks_99232.jpg Paquebot postal marks
Mike Dovey, expert in maritime mail and member of the TPO and Seapost Society, reveals his collection of covers with 'Paquebot' postmarks sent abord a variety of ships that used to travel around the world. ...

Many stamp collectors move into postal history collecting, and one part of this enormous subject is maritime mail and the collecting of 'paquebot' covers, as detailed in the Back to Basics guide in April's issue of Stamp & Coin Mart.

Paquebot cancellations show not only the routes used around the world, they also provide a record of the time certain vessels were on the high seas, making the markings a useful tool for recording maritime postal history.

By the mid 1960s Ocean Transport & Trading (Ocean Fleets) consisted of three shipping companies, Glen Line, Elder Dempster, and in the main Blue Funnel Line. While Elder Dempster traded mostly to West Africa, the other two went all the way to the Far East and back via Indonesia. Blue Funnel ships were always instantly recognisable by their stack funnels and ship design rather than their funnel colours, as their name suggests, but this was all to change in the early 1960s when Ocean fleets had designed and built their “P” class vessels. These were a revolution in design for the company and were of a class never seen before in Ocean Fleets. Designed for fast break cargos they came into service in 1966/7 with four in Glen Line colours and four in Blue Funnel colours, however with the advent of containerisation no-one could foresee that within eight years these ships would be clawing cargos as and whenever they could as the onslaught of container vessels took over all the main routes.

To combat the now dwindling conference routes for conventional cargo all of the eight ships were assigned to Blue Funnel and a deal was struck so that all eight were put on the round the world voyage under the banner of the Barber Blue Sea Line. The eight vessels concerned were the MV’S PATROCLUS (ex Glenalmond), PEISANDER, PERSEUS (ex Radnorshire), PHEMIUS (ex Glenfinlas), PHRONTIS (ex Pembrokeshire), PRIAM, PROMETHEUS, & PROTESILAUS.

The actual route was very easy: starting at Vancouver in Canada and working down the west coast of the USA, through the Panama Canal and up the east coast ports of the USA. From there vessels would go across the Atlantic, past Gibraltar, and cover ports through the Mediterranean, transit the Suez Canal and then head towards Hong Kong, Japan, and the Far East before crossing the Pacific back to the beginning at Vancouver and then go round again. Because the vessels never actually called at ports in the UK the British crews would have to fly out and join the ships at various points around the world.

By 1980 all eight of the vessels were withdrawn from the Barber Blue Sea round the world route and all eight were sold off.

During the early 1970s when these vessels were on this route I had the fortune to know a number of Masters who commanded these ships on this global route. I am deeply indebted for the superb help and consideration shown to me in my quest for covers from these Masters. Captain Sydney Barton-Gilliat posted from six of the eight ships and Captain Dave McCaffrey managed three of them. Besides these three Masters, many other Captains and Ship’s Officers posted either just the once or more but alas there is not enough room to mention them all here.

So what happened to all of these conventional vessels? By 1969 when the first container ships came into being a single new container vessel replaced five conventional ships and within five years a new generation of bigger designed containers ships were replacing up to 25 conventional ships each. Another thirty years have passed and the latest generation of container ships dwarf the original ones so that each new ship replaces, in effect, what would be a whole shipping line. It is no wonder so much is now imported from China and India when such ships can do the work of so many conventional vessels and at a fraction of the cost.

Are the covers shown philatelic?  Yes. Are they of any less value or importance than other non philatelic items? I am of the opinion that they are, in their own way, just as important because if the collectors hadn’t conceived the idea of contacting the vessels (many of them cargo only with no possibility of a passenger posting a letter) then there would be absolutely nothing to show that either these ships or even the paquebot marks ever existed and so in years to come philatelic covers from many different subjects will eventually achieve the merit they deserve and in this case they show one very small slice of British maritime history.

See more covers from Mike's collection in the gallery.

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Get the basics on collecting 'Paquebot' post marks in the April issue of Stamp & Coin Mart.

With thanks to Mike Dovey of the TPO and Seapost Society.

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