Genesis Of Stamps - Part 1

From earliest times the peoples of the world have sought means of communicating with each other. These efforts may be traced to the very mists of antiquity, and before any means of written thoughts had come into use we may be sure that runners carried spoken messages between tribes. Inca runners carried quipus - a strange collection of cords tied to a stick with the cords knotted so that the runner bearing them could slip each through his fingers and, as in counting rosary beads, recite the messages the knots recalled to memory. The Dak runners of India wore bells around their necks to frighten away the beasts of the jungle as they ran their courses through the night. Darius of the ancient land we now know as Iran had established a vast and efficient system of delivering messages to his governors and military leaders.

Inca courier
Inca courier

This great system inspired Herodotus to write of them the words which are presently emblazoned in the stone facade of the great Post Office in New York: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Everywhere that tribes had formed and the beginnings of civilization had started, the first need was for communication with other tribes, and systems of communication were set up according to the need and the ability of the rulers to maintain them. No one may claim the origin of the postal system. In one form or another it existed in all places on the earth wherever there were people, in all of the civilizations that have preceded our own.

runner of India stamp.  King Darius on throne stamp
Dak runner of India. King Darius on throne.

All of these primitive systems existed for the benefit of the rulers. They were maintained at public expense but the runners were permitted to carry only the messages of the tribal chiefs or of later-day kings and emperors. It remained for Augustus Caesar to establish what most closely resembles our modern postal system. His Cursus Publicus had routes throughout the Roman Empire and the carriers were permitted to carry messages of certain high government officials not necessarily connected with the Emperor's household. It is from this system that we get our present name "post" office. Along the roads traveled by the Roman couriers posts were established to mark the distances each should travel. Often a hostelry would be established at the post and hence we derive the word "post" and later "office."