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Faeroe Islands
Excerpts from pre-philatelic Postal History

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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. 

Six-man rowing boats served between islands, often fitted with an extra seat for a clergyman or other official who travelled free of charge: non-officials paid a rate set by law.  "Skjútsur" also carried the mail, beginning officially in 1798.  

Private letters numbered few in the early days, but officials always had something to write about; their correspondence had to be sealed with wax and display the letters "K.T." (Danish for "Kongelig Tjeneste" = On Royal Service).  

  • Six-man rowing boat serving between the islands. The boat flies the Danish national flag.  Photograph by courtesy of Postverk Foroya. 

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.  

  • Private "skjútsur", dated 17th February 1887, from Kaldbak on Kaldbaksfjordur to Tórshavn. 

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. 

"Red Route"
The route to Klaksvik on Bordoy bagan with a short walk to Hvitanes and a boat crossing to Toftir on Eysturoy, followed by an overland trek to Leirvik via Soldarfjordur and Gota.    At Leirvik the postman went by boat to Klaksvik where he delivered Klaksvik letters to the sheriff and letters destined for Kunoy and Kalsoy to Uti i Klaksvik, a shop where people from those two islands could pick up their mail later.    The postman continued over rugged mountain trails to Norddepil on the eastern side of Bordoy, where any letters addressed to Svinoy and Fugloy were left, and crossed the sound to Hvannasund on Vidoy for the final walk to Vidareidi and a brief rest before re-tracing his route. 

"Blue Route"
More sea time occupied the postman covering the route to Suduroy.  He walked southwest to Velbastadur and beyond to Kirkjubřur where he was rowed to Hestur.  Another boat took him to Skopun on Sandoy, where he walked to Sandur to meet a boat for Skúvoy and yet another boat for Hvalba on the northern part of Suduroy.  

"Violet Route"
The third route, mostly overland, involved a walk northwest from Tórshavn to Kvívík and Vestmanna, a short boat crossing to Oyrargjógv on Vágar, and hike over the mountain to Sandavágur.  

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.  

The Faeroese waters are no joke.  The weather is unpredictable, and the currents in the fiords are constant and fierce, so it has often been VERY dangerous to row the mail boat over from one island to the other.  Over time crews have disappeared because the weather and the breaking changed suddenly whilst at sea.  The stories are many and gruesome, and it has happened more than once that the entire male population - except for the babies and the oldest - of a village have been taken by the sea while performing their postal duties.  

The photo shows the mail boat "Rosa", owned by the mail carrier Peter Johannesen, rowing ashore straight against the breaking.  One can nearly smell the salty waters and the fierce winds ...  

The boat was named after his second daughter. On this boat he delivered the post from Tórshavn to Skopun on Sandoy once a week ("Blue Route")

  • Landing the post was often a harsh job.  

The small rowing boats often carried hundreds of mailbags that were simply thrown ashore and then taken away by the islanders to be delivered at the post station, from where the recipients could take their mail when they wanted.  

I like the following remark that a Canadian stamp collector wrote to me:  "I think your web page should be required reading for Canada's letter carriers!"  ...

  • Another way of landing the post was similar to fowling; the post man was "drawn" ashore dangling along a rope on the cliffs of Big Dimun ("Blue Route") in the middle of the ocean just before the landing at Hvalba on Suderoy.  Post days on Big Dímun are Wednesdays and Fridays 

  • Faeroes 1976.  Overland postman of yesteryear - only one overland footpost route remains, between Sorvágur and Gásadalur on the island of Vágar (the westernmost part of the violet route on the map).  Scott # 23.

The stamp was issued on 1st April 1976, and is part of a set of three, issued at the occasion of the establishing of Postverk Foroya. 

The stamp is engraved by Czeslaw Slania, and features the postman J.P. Henriksen.

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: 

  • Faeroes 1983.  First Day Cover, showing the three post boats from the 1983-set, "Arcturus", "Laura", and "Thyra".  The cover is cancelled in Tórshavn on 21st February 1983,  and the cachet shows the steam-ship "Laura" (featured on the 2.50k-stamp).

Scott # 90

Scott # 745b

  • Faeroes 1983.  "Arcturus" (former "Victor Emanuel").
  • Iceland 1991.  The same "Arcturus" in full sail. 

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 
Copyright © by Ann Mette Heindorff
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