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The Postal History of the Åland Islands during the Russian period
by
Mårten Sundberg (Mariehamn; Åland Islands)


The Postal History of the Åland Islands should be of interest to collectors of Russian postal history. From the war between Sweden and Russia in 1808-1809 until 1917 the Åland Islands were a part of The Grand Duchy of Finland, and consequently a part of the Russian Empire. After Finland´s independence the common opinion in the Åland Islands was that Åland should be a part of Sweden as it was before 1808. The issue was solved by the League of Nations in 1921. The Åland Islands was declared a part of Finland, but with an autonomous status and a demilitarized area. This article will put together information dealing with important aspects of the postal history of the Åland Islands.

The foundation of the Finnish post
The Åland Islands have for centuries been a link in the transportation between Finland and Sweden. In a manuscript from the 13th century, the King Waldemar´s route description, it is mentioned that the sail route from Denmark to Estonia went via the village Lemböte in the Åland Islands. In 1527 the king of Sweden, Gustavus Wasa, confirmed the privileges given to country people in Väddö in the Roslagen district to carry travelers across the Åland Sea. The "Mail Decree" of 1636 is considered to be the birth of the Swedish Postal Service, and in 1638 the general postal service was established in Finland. Then the regulations for the mail road from Sweden to Finland across the Åland Islands were adopted, and a post office was established there in the Kastelholm castle. In 1698 5.748 letters were sent from Sweden to Finland across Åland and 4.467 from Sweden to the Baltic via the same way.
Fig. 1: Map of the mail road from Grisslehamn in Sweden via the Åland Islands to Åbo (Turku).

This mail connection gives Åland an important part in the postal history of Sweden and Finland. In addition it is a source for many dramatic events in the hard life of the country people responsible for the transportation of mail in small boats across the Åland Sea (see [1]). Prior to 1870, when the steamer "Postiljonen" was taken in use, more than 200 persons lost their life during such transports.

Fig. 2: The most famous letter transported via the mail road across Åland and the Åland Sea. Sent in 1859 from Helsinki via Åland and Grisslehamn to Stockholm and franked with a tête-bêche pair of the 10 kopek.
(David Feldman auctions, May 2003, lot 20102).



The Grand Duchy
After the war of 1808-1809 - when Sweden lost Finland and Åland to Russia - Gustav Wilhelm Ladau became the head of the postal authorities in the Grand Duchy Finland. He decided that there must be Russian speaking officials at every post office and in 1812 the post offices in Finland got the first single line Cyrillic cancellations (except for Wiborg which probably got it before 1810). Two of the offices were situated in the Åland Islands: Eckerö and Kastelholm (Figs. 3 & 4).
Fig. 3: Straight line Cyrillic postmarks 1812 - 1846 (taken from the collection of Oleg Fabergé [2]).

At that time the Russian border to Sweden was in the Åland Sea and Eckerö was the outpost to the west. Hence a new huge building in brick and stone for customs and post office was built and completed in 1828. A few years after that the Russians started to build the great fortress Bomarsund. A fortress which was not completely finished when it was captured and finally destroyed by British and French troops in 1854 during the Crimean War. But for some years the Åland islands possessed two monumental Russian buildings. The Eckerö cancellation is very rare. In 1845 only 1.070 letters were sent from Eckerö, compared to Helsinki from where 140.024 letters were sent. The post office Kastelholm was situated not far away from Bomarsund in the eastern part of Åland. In 1842 the Kastelholm office moved to Skarpans, the village that had grown besides the Bomarsund fortress. The same year the Cyrillic single line cancellation Skarpans was taken in use (Fig. 5). It is believed that the Skarpans cancellation was used for mail from the military forces and the Kastelholm cancellation for the civilians.
Fig. 4: A letter from 1843 of postal historic importance. It is cancelled Kastelholm, but dated Skarpans. It shows that the Kastelholm canceling device was handled over to Skarpans. Kastelholm post office closed 1.8.1842, and Skarpans opened the same date (collection of the late Folke Löfström).
Fig. 5: Letter with the Skarpans Cyrillic cancellation.

Items with straight line Cyrillic Kastelholm cancellations are also rare and those from Skarpans almost nonexistent. At least there is not any known letter in any collection. Last year the well known Finnish expert Mikko Ossa wrote about Skarpans cancellations in the magazine Keräilyuutiset. Ossa states that the late researchers Karl-Erik Stenberg and D.A. Dromberg had found three letters with the Skarpans Cyrillic postmark in an archive in Finland. In the 1990s another letter was for sale in Finland, a man in Åbo had it (Fig. 5). The late Folke Löfström, a Swede with a Nordic gold medal Åland postal history collection was about to buy the letter but withdraw. He was afraid that some official archive should claim ownership to the letter as the origins of it was not certified. The letter was as far as we know never expertized and what happened to it later is unknown. But maybe this is the only copy on private hands. An odd circumstance in this matter is that only two Cyrillic cancellation devices have been preserved until today, and kept in the Postal Museum in Helsingfors. Skarpans is one. Following the Cyrillic straight line marks, box marks in Latin writing were introduced following 1847 (Fig. 6). Like the Cyrillic mark, also the low box cancellation from Skarpans used between 1847 and 1856 is very rare (Fig. 6). It should be even rarer if it was not for a thief that plundered many archives in Finland during the 1970s and 1980s. Approximately 20-25 letters with Skarpans low box cancellation have found its way to the market.

Fig. 6: High box postmark of Kastelholm and low box postmarks of Eckerö and Skarpans (Kastelholm & Eckerö taken from the collection of Oleg Fabergé [2]; Skarpans taken from [3]).



The Crimean War
The Baltic Sea was one of the three theaters of war in the Crimean War with Russia on one side and Great Britain, France, Turkey, and Sardinia on the other. This war was something like a "world war" with such far-off places like the Black Sea (Crimea, Danube estuary and Caucasus), the Åland Islands, and Petropavlovsk in Kamtchatka, where Russia fought with the allies. Both 1854 and 1855 British and French ships and troops were sent to the Baltic. Apart from the siege of Bomarsund and its final demolition, the purpose was to block all trade with Russia and Finland by capturing all merchant ships and to destroy all fortifications on the coast. Hence, the postal transportation between Sweden and Finland was blocked. Letters were instead sent the northern way by Haparanda in Sweden and Tornio in Finland or the southern way via Denmark, Stettin, and St. Petersburg. The blockade started in May 1854 and the 10th of July the same year a postal circular stated that all mail should be sent via Haparanda. But between Finland and Åland the postal transportation seems to have been undisturbed. In November 1854 the Åland Sea was opened for postal boats, but in July 1855 the blockade was resumed. At the end of the year the British and French forces left the Baltic Sea and postal traffic was normal from December 1st. However the blockade was not total. Studies in Finnish archives have shown that letters on occasion were carried across the Åland Sea even during the period of the blockade. Researchers have also found pairs of identical letters, one sent via Haparanda, the other via the Åland Sea.


Rare field post
Field post correspondence from the French or British troops is rare. The author has seen letters sent from British Naval officers and dated in the Åland archipelago, but none with any postal markings from the theatre of war. These letters were forwarded via the Prussian post offices in Danzig and Memel [4]. Some examples of French field post have been found though. Two specific French postmarks related to this campaign were in use. More "common" is the use of a mark "Escadre de la Baltique" (Squadron of the Baltic) which is primarily seen in red, but singular strikes are also seen in blue and black. Piat-Dewavrin hypothesizes in his booklet dealing with the Crimean war, that this may be an arrival mark for field post arriving in France [4]. Such a mark would have been necessary to prove the reduced rate for this letter which was identical to the French inland rate. Nearly all known covers show French 30c. charge marks (Fig. 7). Even rarer than this mark is the dispatch mark of the expedition corps for which about five examples are known. Two covers are franked with 20c. Napoleon stamps postmarked with "C.E.B." (Corps Expeditionnaire de la Baltique, i.e. The Baltic Expedition), while the strike of an additional date postmark is added (Fig. 8). In the 1992 Rurik auction catalogue Martin Holmsten describes two such letters: - Dated "devant Bomarsund le 14 Août 1854" (in front of Bomarsund the 14th of August 1854). Field postmark "Corps Expre de la Baltique" (The Baltic expeditionary forces). - Dated "au camp de Sonnd-Chorka près Bomarsund, ce 19 Août 1854" (in the camp by the Sunds church before Bomarsund, the 19th August 1854). Field Postmark "Corps Expre de la Baltique". The cover is franked with a French 20 centimes stamp and postmarked with a dotted postmark with text in the center "C.E.B.". Martin Holmsten finally writes: "It seems also clear that French Stamps were used on the Åland Islands in 1854. Herewith arises the question which was the first stamp used in Finland?" (Finland got its first stamps in 1856).
Fig. 7: Porto cover from 1854 from the Baltic theatre of war to France with the mark "Escadre de la Baltique" (Roumet Histoire postale auction No. 10, Lot 394).

Fig. 8: Field post cover of August 21, 1854 from the Baltic theatre of war to France with a 20c. stamp for the French inland postage tariff. The stamp is postmarked with a dotted mark "C.E.B." and a corresponding date postmark is seen aside (from [4]).



The Åland Islands at the beginning of the 20th century
Between 1884 and 1890 several new post offices opened on the Åland Islands: Godby, Vårdö, Kumlinge, Lemland, Hammarland, Degerby, Granboda, Geta, and Brändö-Åland. In the following years even more postal stations opened. Although Åland is a small community, the amount of different cancellations used is relatively large, since Åland has 16 communities. In the russification period since 1900, Russian stamps had to be used on mail from Finland sent abroad. In two articles in the Rossica journal, Leonard Tann put together the information and postal history material available of the Åland Islands for the last decades of the czarist rule (1900-1917) [5,6]. Many items in these articles have been from the collections of René Hillesum, a Dutch collector specialized in Finland under Russian rule, and Bill Ross, an English Åland collector. A lot of the existing and presented items are picture postcards dispatched from tourists on their way from Finland to Sweden or vice versa and dispatched on a stay on the Åland Islands (Fig. 9). Mr. Tann was particularly interested if there were any items from Åland franked with Romanov stamps. All specialists asked had responded negatively. But in the second article Mr. Tann could show one postcard franked with a Romanov stamp and cancelled in Mariehamn, and he mentioned that a handful Romanov items from Åland existed [6]. The conclusion was that Romanov stamps probably never were for sale in Åland, but that some were carried there by tourists or other visitors.
Fig. 9: Picture postcard dispatched in Saltvik on August 11, 1908 to New York (collection Leonard Tann, sold at Cherrystone auctions, December 2008, lot 5187).



The First World War
After the Crimean war it was decided in the peace negotiations in Paris that Åland shall be a demilitarized area. But during the First World War the Russians built comprehensive fortifications on the islands. After the 1917 revolution Russian troops of about 2000 men were left in Åland. During the Finnish civil war 1918 soldiers from both the white and the red army came to Åland, Sweden send troops to help the people in Åland and even German military lands (Fig. 10). The collector of field post has a lot to work with this year only. In February 1918 a Bolshevik delegation led by professor Nathanson-Barbrov and social minister Alexandra Kollontay on its way with a steamer from Finland to Sweden had to land in Mariehamn because of bad weather. They stayed for a few days, and the visit was immortalized on a post card (Fig. 11).
Fig. 10: Swedish, German and Russian soldiers in the Åland Islands 1918 on a contemporary post card. They seem to get along quite well.

Fig. 11: The Bolshevik delegation at Mariehamn in 1918 on a contemporary post card. Nathanson-Barbrov and Alexandra Kollontay are both sitting to the far left.

Fig. 12: Finland became independent December 6, 1917 and the Russian text was chiseled away from the canceling device leading to the empty space in the bottom part of the cancel.



The author can be contacted via marten.sundberg@aland.net. I thank René Hillesum for reading a previous version of this article.

Literature:
[1] Wortmann, A.H.; Aland Islands; BJRP 50 (1974) 8-10.
[2] Marsden, P.S.S.F., Fabergé, O.A., Hellman, K.; Aland Islands: Further notes; BJRP 51 (1975) 17-20.
[3] Gummesson, R. Ossa, M., Stenberg, K.-E.; The early postmarks of Finland; Turku 1974
[4] Piat-Dewavrin, F.-X.; A Crimean War Study; 1997.
[5] Tann, L.; Russian stamps used in the Åland islands; Rossica 120 (1993) 39-42.
[6] Tann, L.; Ålands revisited; Rossica 125 (1995) 17-38.

Further literature related to the Åland islands:

Mattsén-Hirvikoski: Alandia (Finlands Filatelistförbund 1991)
Three catalogues dealing with Åland postal cancellations have been published, this is the latest and most comprehensive. But of course, since that some new discoveries have been made; new types of cancellations, new latest or earliest dates.

Andersson: The Mail Road Across Åland (The Archaeological Section of The Åland Government 2000)
Even though this book is focused on interesting places by the mail road, it gives the background and history of this vital part in the Åland postal history.

Hühn: Postgeschichte Eckerö (Forschungs-gemeinschaft Nordische Staaten, Arbeitsgruppe Åland 1996)
About the postal route across the Åland Sea and the Eckerö Post office
Luppen, The member publication for the Åland Stamp Collectors Society. Four issues a year.
Robins, Skogsjö & Örjans: Bomarsund (Skogsjömedia 2004)
The most recent book on this fascinating project, available in English.
Moxter: Die Postzensur in Finland (1975). Finnland-Feldpost (Forschungsgemeinschaft Nordische Staaten 1978).
Particularly interesting in the part that deals with the First World War when Russian, German and Swedish troops were in Åland.
Buzzetti; L.; The History of the Postal Service in the Grand Duchy and Republic of Finland; Rossica 100/101 (1981) 103-115.
http://www.government.ax/
The webpage of the Åland Government gives the historical and political background of the autonomy of the Åland Island.
Sällskapet för Svensk Posthistorisk Dokumentation 1/1997. Stenberg-Wirzenius.
Wilén: Postfärder över Ålands hav. (1985).
Wilén: Eckerö Post- och Tullhus. (1998).


Some important dates:
02.06.1638. The general postal service in Finland is established. The Kastelholm post office opens.
1724. Eckerö post office opens.
08.06.1745. After a fire in the Kastelholm castle and the post office leads to the move to new locations nearby.
1812. The first postal cancellations in Finland. In Åland these are Eckerö and Kastelholm.
1837. First steamer in regular traffic passing Åland, "Fürst Menschikoff". The route was Turku-Degerby (Åland)-Stockholm.
01.08.1842. Kastelholm post office is moved to Skarpans and Skarpans also gets its own cancellation.
13.08.1854. The Bomarsund fortress is attacked and destroyed a few days later. Skarpans post office is evacuated.
01.09. 1856. Kastelholm post office reopens, Skarpans post office closes.
01.10.1866. Mariehamn postal expedition opens.
24.11.1870. First postal transportation Grisslehamn-Eckerö with steamer "Postiljonen".
01.07.1875. Eckerö and Kastelholm post offices closes, Mariehamn became post office.
20.01.1876. Eckerö post office reopens.
01.07.1877. Sund postal station opens. (Sund is the commune in which Bomarsund and Kastelholm are located).



(German article in "Deutsche Zeitschrift für Russland-Philatelie" Nr. 92, May 2010)