Do you know the Waghorn agency in Paris? Robert Abensur, President of the Académie, tells the story in a letter from 1839!

In 1836, Lieutenant Thomas Fletcher Waghorn (1800-1850) set up a fast, efficient transport company for connections, passengers and goods between Alexandria and Suez. Its agents in Europe, Egypt, India and the Far East market its services. In particular, they affix the well-known “Care of Mr. Waghorn…” to letters, as well as a registration number and often the duties payable by the sender. Then the letter is delivered to the official post office and to the Mediterranean or Red Sea steamers, depending on where the letter has come from. With this pass, the letters are picked up by Waghorn’s representatives in Alexandria or Suez and travel through Egypt via the Mahmoudieh Canal,
the Nile and the desert between Cairo and Suez.

In Paris, Waghorn’s representative is the bookseller Galignani, located in rue Vivienne. This, the oldest English bookshop in Paris, is a real club offering the most varied services: refreshments in a charming garden, reading rooms, newspapers, library, recruitment of personnel, and so on. The bookshop still exists, but it moved to rue de Rivoli in 1856. Until 1895 it published a daily newspaper, the first in English in Paris, Galignani’s Messenger. On 1 December 1837, Waghorn announced the opening of his agency in the bookshop, giving his rates and making it possible to send letters to India through him by first paying for his service, then visiting the Post Office to obtain postage to Alexandria.

Users found this very complicated and complained about it. The ledgers of the Paris postal council contain an amusing story on this subject. In October 1838, the postal administration became aware of the difficulties caused by compulsory passage through the bookshop. It proposed that the post office collect duties on Waghorn’s behalf, applying the famous oval seal. Galignani did not want to give up his “stamp”, so they had a similar one made for 15 francs. On 10 November, the postage stamp was available at the post office and the public could pay for Waghorn’s private service and frank their letters. Barely a fortnight later, the seal was withdrawn and users who did not have a correspondent in Alexandria were once again sent back to the Galignani bookshop! The “public-private partnership” did not last long. Despite Waghorn’s regular visits to France reported in the press, his meetings with the French authorities and his meetings with postal officials, his name did not curry much favour in France. His agents, suspected of carrying mail on French territory, in breach of the postal monopoly, were arrested in Marseilles or Boulogne and had to pay fines. Although he also had a representative in Marseilles from December 1837, he was not allowed to open the branch he had announced in the Bordeaux newspapers. This must have been vexing for someone who presented himself as the pioneer of the Egyptian overland!

Legend : “Care of Mr Waghorn Alexandria» seal with registration number 67 from February on an 1839 letter from Paris to Calcutta. The Paris seal, eminently recognisable thanks to its cursive characters, can today only be found on a few letters

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Written by Héloïse

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