Seapost -> Ocean Letters

Ocean Letters

By Roger Hosking

OZEAN BRIEF with Deutsche Seapost cancel
Posted in 1929 from on board a German vessel receiving a Deutsche Seapost cancel.

What is an Ocean Letter? Well, it is not the same as a ship letter, or a paquebot letter, or a seapost letter. Rather, think "telegram", since the system originated in the discovery of radio as a means of communication at the end of the 19th. Century. At the time, sea voyages were often long and lonely, and radio soon became a vital part of the maritime industry, pioneered by such wizards as Marconi (in UK) and Slaby (in Germany).

Posted registered in 1920 in Southampton at the Docks Office.

The Ocean Letter was a service designed to shorten considerably the time taken for ship passengers to communicate with friends and families back home. In order to achieve this the passenger would write his message and hand it in to the radio officer of the ship, who would then transmit it by short-range radio to a second ship going in the opposite direction. The receiving ship would then transcribe the message on to a special form, put it in a special type of envelope, and mail it to destination on reaching landfall.

Example of an Ocean Letter message form
CRM message form type M16 - used on the S.S. PERGO.

The system was first operated on board German ships in 1911, and British ships a year later, and examples of ocean letters of these two nationalities are the most often seen. Types from French, Dutch, Italian, Scandinavian, and US shipping are also known but they are scarce.

Peak usage of the system was reached in the 1920s, but declined after the introduction of ship letter telegrams in the early 1930s. It did, however, survive the end of WW2, and a few examples are known from the late 1940s.

Example of a Registered Ocean Letter
Registered Ocean Letter dated November 24th 1925 with a superb SHIPPING POSTMASTER - CAPETOWN postmark added.


The full story of this fascinating, eclectic, and short-lived service can be found in the following:
"An Introduction to Ocean Letters", Roger Hosking, TPO & Seapost Society, 2002
"Ocean Letters - A Sequel", Roger Hosking, TPO & Seapost Society, 2006

Ongoing Research:

Member Otto Kjærgaard is preparing a catalogue of Ocean Letters. Input from members and others is sought to provide a comprehensive listing. Review draft chapters here and add your input.

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