In order to understand the usage of numeral postmarks it is necessary to have some knowledge about the structure and the postmarks regulations of the Post Office in those days.
Before the introduction of stamps in The Netherlands postmarks were already in use. The purpose of these postmarks were:
To determine time of arrival and departure of a letter.
To fix payment of postage due.
To indicate other postal regulations.
After the introduction of stamps, a fourth objective arose:
Obliteration of stamps.
The structure of the Post Office
In connection with the differences in regulations and postmark types we distinguish:
In the 19th century only there were no more than a few sub-offices (Amsterdam and The Hague). These sub-offices used the postmarks of the post office they belonged to.
For the dispatch of letters and their cancellation other regulations existed for branch-offices than for post offices. Calculation of postage due was dependent on distance. Therefore one assumed it would be better to send the letters via the controlling post office.
In those days servants on a branch-office were not well educated and calculation of postage due was not trusted to them.
In the next cases a letter was not send via the post office:
The letter was forwarded to a nearby other branch-office
If a letter was dispatched by train and the intervention of the (postal) guard of another branch-office was assured.
The branch-office used a postmark with the place-name (Korteweg 61 and 64). If a letter was not send via the post office this postmark was also used for cancellation, so the postmark was used twice!
The development of railway began in the 19th century and was used by the Post Office soon. The N.S. (Dutch railways) did not exist yet. In stead the sections were run by various companies.
Offices in military camps
Cancellations on stamps of military camps are very rare, since only few letters were written and saved.
Offices in camps were only used shortly.
Official military correspondence was exempt from postage, so no stamps were used.
Letters written by soldiers were not preserved.
Many soldiers were illiterate.
Cancellation by post offices (1852-1869)
Before the introduction of stamps the sender of a letter was not obliged to pay in advance. In 1852 only 14% of the letters were paid in advance. In 1864 this percentage was still low: 25%. Also usage of stamps was not required. A "franco" postmark was used to determine whether payment was settled.
For cancellation of stamps various types of postmarks were used by the post offices.
The "franco hemisphere" postmarks were not used by every office. Generally postmarks were replaced by an other type when the old one was worn out or got lost. Of course this happened more often at post offices in larger cities. Normally those offices used all types.
All post offices were obliged to use the postmark "franco in frame" from April 12 1861 onwards. Normally different postmarks were used for unpaid letters.
Introduction numeral postmarks
The introduction of the numeral postmark in order to obliterate stamps took place on April 1st 1869. This postmark was used till June 15 1893. The Post Office announced the introduction of this postmark in "Circulaire 747" dated March 16 1869.
Previously in many parliamentary budget meetings the Minister was reminded about the complaints concerning bad unreadable cancellations on letters. The numeral postmark, which indicated the city of dispatch, should settle those complaints.
In addition it was hoped that the sharp points, even when the ink was removed, made it impossible to use the stamps a second time.
At first on April 1 1869 138 postmarks were distributed. The numbers 1 up to 135 were delivered to post offices, whereby the numbers were given to the places in alphabetical order. In consequence Alkmaar got number 1 and Zwolle number 135. The numbers 136, 137 and 138 were issued to railway-offices. In later years the numbers 139 up to 259 were issued for other places.
In general it is a fact that the developments in the 19th century in the area of usage, manufacturing and introduction of stamps and all related to this (tariffs etc.) were introduced with delay in The Netherlands. This is also the case with numeral postmarks. The first numeral postmarks were presented in May 1844 in Great Britain. Various types of numeral postmarks were introduced. Each region used an own sequence with a specific form. In stead of dots stripes were used to thoroughly obliterate stamps.
In other countries numeral postmarks were used too:
German States: Baden, Bavaria, Brunswick, Prussia, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Thurn and Taxis.
The postmarks of these countries have in common that a number indicated the place name of cancellation. The used forms duffer very much. In general the number was surrounded by a pattern of lines and dots, through which obliteration was secured.
The numeral postmarks used in France resemble Dutch numerals most and have certainly been used as an example.
In France two series were used. The first proof-series with little numerals "Losange petits chiffres" were followed by a postmark with much larger numerals: "Losange gros chiffres".
The numeral postmark introduced in The Netherlands in 1869 presents a suspicious resemblance with the France postmark.
Dutch Post Office did not hear about the bad experience the France suffered with the unreadable numbers. The main reason to implement the numeral postmark in The Netherlands would therefor not be met.
Next to the numeral postmark the dispatch postmark (Korteweg 53a) was still used. On a letter which is entirely preserved one can see when the letter was sent and arrived it's destiny.
There were two objectives in using the numeral postmarks:
Obliteration of the stamp to prevent a second use.
It was not allowed to use this postmark on printed matter and postcards. Naturally this rule was offended from time to time. Especially from Culemborg (no 20) those cancellations are well known.
To determine the place of origin of a letter.
The predecessor of the numeral postmark was "franco in frame". This postmark was in use at every office in the land and did not give information about the place of dispatch of the letter. The dispatch marks were most often unreadable too.
As mentioned before the introduction of the numeral postmark should have improved this situation.
In the official introduction of 1869 the postmark was described as: "A number, shaped six-sided, surrounded by dots". The postmark contained in principle 26 dots, except the offices 1 up to 9. These have a dot extra on each side of the figure and have 28 dots in total.
Color of postmarks
Users were ordered to use black ink to obliterate stamps. Some offices applied other colors. Some used blue, red (no 75, Meppel) or violet (no 211, Warmond).
As mentioned earlier distribution of the postmarks began in 1869 with the issue of 138 numbers. After some time more numbers became in circulation. Eventually 259 numbers were used.
Due to the delivery dates of the numbers the postmarks could not be used on each issue. Some postmarks were only used shortly: Number 259 (Waddinxveen), which was delivered on June 1 1893, has been used only a fortnight. Some numbers were used in two places. The post office in Delfshaven (no 21) was closed on May 1 1886 and became sub-office of Rotterdam. On April 1 1891 Emmen became post office and used the number 21 from that day. The office in Dirksland (no 25) was closed on December 16 1890. The postmark used in Dirksland was heavenly damaged. The upper row of dots were missing. A new postmark 25 was used by the post office in 's Graveland after its opening on April 1 1891.
Stamp issues with numeral postmarks
Numeral postmarks can be found on stamps of the first emission (1852) until the emission 1891 Princess Wilhelmina. These cancellations on the first emission are very rare. Those stamps were not sold at the post office anymore when the numeral postmark was introduced. Only unused stamps still lying around could be used during the numeral postmark period. Such usage of stamps was rare, because people did not keep stamps at home. They went with the letter to the post office and bought a single stamp for a specific letter. Complicated tariffs (distance, foreign letters) made it almost impossible for a sender to determine the right tariff.
Muted numeral postmarks
In two offices postmarks were used without numerals, which look like a numeral postmark:
Ouwel-cachet (Dutch name, no translation)
This type was used in Nieuwe Niedorp during the period 1874-1876).
Mute dots postmark consisting of 20 blocks (five rows of four dots)
The place in which this postmark was used is still unknown. Only one letter with the little-circle-postmark "Herveld" is known.
These postmarks were not officially distributed by the Post Office.
Last day of use
The last day of use for the numeral postmark was June 15 1893. Henceforth all postage and postage-due stamps had to be cancelled with a date postmark. From 1877 onwards the little-circle-postmark came into service, which was used to determine time and place of dispatch and arrival.
This postmark was to be used twice at dispatch in future. Once for obliteration of the stamp and once to get a clear mark of place and time of dispatch.
After some time the obligation to use this postmark twice disintegrated.
Therefore the obligation expired in 1894 when the great-circle-postmark was introduced.
More information Postage Stamps
Stamps of The Netherlands
Postage Stamps 1999