Exploring Cuba's History Through Postage Stamps

Postal History

Introduction: Cuba’s Postal History

Map of Cuba
The Island of Cuba, from an 1855 map published by J.H. Colton & Co., New York. (Private collection)

In the days before postage stamps were invented, people could send their letters either prepaid or unpaid. Most sent their letters unpaid, leaving it up to the recipient to pay the postage. Either way, generally, one had to take his letter to the post office for mailing. There were no mail collection boxes in most towns and villages.

If prepaid, the post office clerk determined the rate of postage by weight and distance, and one paid him across the counter. The clerk marked the letter “Paid” or “Franco,” indicating prepayment, applied his town marking or datestamp and put it in the appropriate mail bag for its journey.

If unpaid, upon receipt, the clerk applied his town marking or datestamp and placed it in its appropriate mail bag. The letter would be rated for postage charges by a clerk in the receiving post office. When the addressee called at the receiving post office for his mail, he paid the postage due marked on the front of the letter.

This system began to change when Great Britain first issued postage stamps on May 1, 1840. Now people had an opportunity to prepay their postage with stamps. In those cities and towns with mail collection boxes, they could simply drop their stamped letters into a convenient mailbox, and would not have to travel to the post office to post a prepaid letter. Spain issued its first postage stamps on January 1, 1850. In Cuba, the first postage stamps were placed on sale on April 24, 1855.