Excerpts from pre-philatelic Postal History
Pre-philatelic collectibles of the Faeroe Islands technically should be dated prior to 1st April 1851, when Denmark issued its first postage stamps, or from another point of view before 1st March 1870, when the first post office opened in Tórshavn to sell stamps and apply postmarks. However, as late as 1925, a Faeroese clergyman could still send an official letter to someone on another island without the services of a post office. "Skjútsur" (in Danish: skyds, translating as conveyance), the old land-and-sea communication system originating in the 17th century and a direct descendent of a 13th-century law pertaining to the travel of public officials, covered village obligations to provide escort for officials and other individuals to the next village, usually by foot over mountain trails and rowing boat between islands.
To meet this obligation the "skjútsskaffari of a village, who was usually the most important man, but not himself an official, could command able-bodied males between 15 and 50 years of age on a rotational basis, with refusal to comply without good cause being punishable by fine.
Regulations appeared in 1865 stipulating three rates, which on average changed every five years: letters from clergymen (lowest), other officials, and private persons (highest). If a letter required express delivery, "I uopholdelig befordring" was written on it and no delay would be tolerated.
"Skjútsur" folded letters and envelopes with contents bear no stamps, postmarks or written notes as to rates paid. Apparently few were saved before 1885, and by the time the number of post offices reached eleven in 1904 the system's days were numbered. Only a few Clergymen used "skjútsur" after 1922, perhaps for another 3-4 years. What made this archaic postal system obsolescent to begin with, was the establishment of three postal routes in 1872, each with one postman who covered his route seven times per year.
Their transportation between islands continued by village rowing boats, but now the once-obligatory service was paid for. The photograph to the left is from the book "Stamps and Story of the Faeroe Islands", by Don Brandt. Courtesy of Postverk Foroya.
Each postman started his journey at Tinganes in Tórshavn, site of the country's only post office. The three postal routes are marked on the map below, in red, blue and violet, with Tórshavn in the center.
The remainder of the route, to Trongisvágur and Vágur, was by foot. During 1896-1903 the "Smyril" (with cencelling device on board) also handled some of the Suduroy mail. In 1904 the "overland" postman acquired a motorized boat and also added Nólsoy to his return route.
Letters were usually delivered to local sheriffs, as at Klaksvík, until post offices started to appear. The first three post offices, Tórshavn (1870), Trongisvágur (1877) and Klaksvík (1888), were joined by eight more in 1903-04, in response to a definite need for regular mail delivery at various locations. Existing routes were changed or lengthened in order to reach additional villages such as Fuglafjordur, and a new route established which covered both sides of Sundini between Selatrad and Eidi on Eysturoy, and Hosvik and Haldarsvik on Streymoy.
All mail arriving from or going to other countries was processed at the Tórshavn post office. The story of post boats begins in 1857, one year after the end of the Danish trade monopoly and a brief service between Shetland and the Faeroes. A Danish-Scottish shipping company, Koch & Henderson, submitted a plan to the government of Denmark to operate a steamship between Denmark, the Faeroes and Iceland. Following governmental approval and financial assistance to get started, Koch & Henderson chartered the screw-steamship "Victor Emanuel" (also fitted with sails), launched in Scotland in 1856. When she began to fly the flag of Denmark after being purchased in 1858, her name became "Arcturus". Below are stamps showing the post boats on the Denmark - Faeroes - Iceland route:
Both the Faeroe- and Iceland-stamp show two masts which date the source drawings to before 1872, the year in which "Arcturus" gained a third mast and new steam engine. Koch & Henderson merged with two other shipping companies in 1867 to form DFDS (United Steamship Company), for whom "Arcturus" continued to sail on the Faeroes-Iceland run continually until 1870. She collided with the British steamship "Savona" on 5th April 1887 and sank.
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Revised 15 jun 2007