Page created 5 February 2010

EDWARD LAW

BRITISH FREE FRANKS

For a number of years I have been searching the internet in the hope of locating a discussion group, or similar, focusing on British free franks or free fronts as they are sometimes called. Having failed to locate one and feeling that there must be others out there with the same interests, and encountering similar problems of identification, I decided to publish this page.

I have been collecting and dealing in free franks for seven years since purchasing a couple of collections with a small unexpected legacy. My interest is primarily in the research opportunities which the material presents, as almost every letter which was accorded free postage carried the signature of the person who was entitled to the privilege.

The vast majority of free franks which are encountered date from the first three decades of the nineteenth century though the system originated in the seventeenth century. The privilege of free franking was held by four classes: Members of Parliament; peers sitting in the House of Lords; archbishops and bishops sitting in the House of Lords; office-holders, largely as stipulated by Acts of Parliament.

Free franks were avidly collected at the time they were current. This was done by cutting out the front panels of letters or envelopes which carried the inscriptions required under the use of privilege. These panels are termed free fronts and greatly outnumber complete letters, or entires as they are known. The fronts seldom carry the full postal markings, which were often struck on the back, though free strikes which were added in London were almost always on the front.

My own interest is not so much in postal history as in identifying the signatures which were required to appear on the front, establishing the privilege under which free postage was claimed and establishing some biographical background for the individuals. I offer fronts for sale on eBay and by private treaty. I welcome approaches from anyone looking to purchase particular signatures which I can generally supply at prices between 5 and 20. I also purchase collections and albums.

In pursuing the topic I have found help from a variety of sources, including the following:
Books.
The dormant, abeyant, forfeited and extinct peerage, Bernard Burke, 1883.
The franking system in the Post Office 1652-1840, Frank Bottomley, 1988.
Handbook of British chronology, F Maurice Powicke & E B Fryde, 1961.
Herewith my frank ..., J W Lovegrove. 1st edition [1975], second edition 1989.
A list of Representative peers for Scotland, 1707-1963, and for Ireland, 1800-1961, J C Sainty, 1968.
Members of Parliament, 2 volumes, 1878.
Monarchs of all they surveyed: the story of the Post Office surveyors, J T Foxell & A O Spafford, 1952.
Officers of the House of Lords 1485-1971, J C Sainty, 1971
Official franking 1800-1840, J G S Scott, 1983.
Peerages. Particularly one giving a genealogical account of the peers. e.g. A Genealogical & heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage, Bernard Burke, 1893.
A short account of the franking system in the Post Office 1652-1840, George Brumell, 1936.
On-line.
Leigh Rayment's Peerage Page is an excellent resource, in particular his House of Commons listing of the MPs for the various constituencies.

The first problem which the collector encounters is to decipher the signature and the other information on a front -post town, date of posting, addressee, address and any postal strikes or inscriptions. Many signatures are difficult to decipher, some are literally impossible, and one can only hope to find an example with a contemporary identification. Once the name has been established there may be problems in identifying the individual or the basis upon which the privilege was exercised.

I have spent many hours pursuing difficult cases in the above reference works, and others: sometimes with, and sometimes without, success.

IDENTIFIED UNIDENTIFIED

It is hoped that the information given on the page 'identified' will be of assistance to others. If anyone can enlighten me on any of my 'unidentified' material it will be greatly appreciated.
I can be contacted at
lawe@eircom.net. Please use free franks in the subject line.

LINKS to:

Edward Law, interests, bibliography, and the Victorian prize medals of Huddersfield College.

ASSOCIATED SITES:

The history of Huddersfield and district: essays and research.

The history of Kilkenny county and city: essays and research.

Anastatic printing, some brief notes, relating to photograph and crest albums and Cowells of Ipswich.

The Victorian pastime of Crest Collecting: research findings, album publishers and scans of crests.

Sheffield silversmiths, two important research articles on the silver industry in Sheffield.