Resource of the Month – Edward Proud’s Series of Postal History Publications

One of the most frequently asked questions heard from visitors when on a tour for the first time of the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL), especially when it involves non-collectors, is something like “and all of this is just about stamps?” To clarify often the tour guide will respond to the interested visitors “not just stamps, but also postal history.” Those not familiar with the terminology will often then ask “what is postal history?” The answer to that question is not often an easy one that can be summed up in the brief moments of a library tour, but this month’s Resource of the Month is one of the most recognized and comprehensive sources for postal history information at the APRL particularly for the histories of British colonies, the Edward Wilfred Baxby “Ted” Proud series of postal history publications. Starting in 1961 as a stamp dealer, Edward Proud established the Proud Bailey Company in Heathfield, East Sussex, England which sought to produce a series of books about the postal histories of various British colonies. Proud enlisted the expertise of prominent postal historians as well as postal history specialty societies in order to produce what has become one of the most highly regarded series of postal history publications.

Proud’s “The Postal History of Kenya” (G8411 .P856 P968pk)

The Proud Bailey Company would go on to publish these books under three distinct categories: “The Postal History of the British Colonies Series”, “The Commonwealth Military Postal History Series” and “The General Postal History Series.” The British Colonies Series would include postal histories for Aden, the Bahamas, British Guiana, British Palestine, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Malta, Mauritius, Sudan and Trinidad and Tobago as well as other British colonies. Included in the Military Series are postal histories for the armies of Australia, Great Britain, Canada, East Africa, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Finally in the General Series of postal history, titles were published for Chile, German East Africa, Malaya, British Post Offices in the Far East, British Airmails and British Maritime Mail. In all the APRL is fortunate to have 47 of these Proud Bailey postal history publications for collectors and researchers alike to use during a visit or to borrow remotely.

Portion of page from Proud’s “The Postal History of Ceylon” (G7751 P968p 2006) listing 1833 postal rates

From the very first edition of these postal history publications Proud included chapters devoted to four distinct aspects of each country’s postal history. First, the initial chapter deals with a general history of the country including its social, political and economic history as well as its colonization and development, often including historic boundary maps. Second, a chapter detailing the postal history of mail service in a given country was included often providing primary source information about the establishment of postal services and administrations, the earliest postal routes by all known types of postal delivery (road, water, railway, etc.), as well as historic domestic and foreign mail volume data. Next, and one the most often cited chapters of Proud’s publications, is a chapter dedicated to postal rates from the earliest rates of a specific country to a date indicated in the introduction of each book. For specialty postal history researchers this chapter alone is worth consulting as Proud often includes a significant number of primary source tables and decrees that detail all known domestic, international and airmail rates for a given country. Finally, as Proud was a stamp dealer with a keen knowledge of historic postmarks, a chapter is included which compiles and illustrates the numerous post offices for each country and their postmarks. For postmark collectors these chapters are an indispensable wealth of information with detailed illustrations of the postmarks, the lifespan of each known post office and in many cases historic photos of the post offices themselves. All of the books in the series include a number of unique photographs of each country’s postal history, including pictures of the aforementioned post offices, postal carriers, modes of postal delivery, and many other aspects of postal service.

Portion of page from Proud’s “The Postal History of British Palestine 1918-1948” (G7501 .p856 P968p) depicting postmarks

Proud’s postal history publications are housed by country in the main book collection on the first floor of the public space of the APRL. The books are available for borrowing by APS members in person or by contacting the library either at library@stamps.org or by phone at (814) 933-3803 ext. 240. Remote researchers, members and non-members, can also request mailed photocopies or emailed scans of selected sections and chapters of the books which can then be sent to their address or email. See the Library Services page for a schedule of fees and services provided in order to access these remarkable postal history publications.

One thought on “Resource of the Month – Edward Proud’s Series of Postal History Publications”

  1. Although Edward Proud’s great books focus a lot on postmarks, rates etc., they always seemed to me a genuine effort at writing “postal history” in the true sense of the word. Meanwhile, the term “postal history” has been contorted in an extremely deplorable way. When I cataloged books in the early 1970s, the keyword “economic history” in the contents description of a monograph meant history of the economy (of a country, etc.), “architectural history” meant “history of architecture”, and, well, the keyword “postal history” meant that a book was about the history of the postal system in a country or an area. I was puzzled when suddenly collectors of covers – used envelopes that have passed through the mails – replied with “postal history” when asked what they collect.

    As Michael Laurence put it so aptly in his contribution on “Philatelic Definition of Postal History” at the Winton M. Blount Symposium on Postal History (Nov 4, 2006), this is “to confuse artifact with archaeology”. You can study postal history, you can write about postal history, but you cannot collect it!

    Will we ever manage to eliminate the inappropriate use of the term “postal history” from our philatelic terminology?

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