The History and practice of Communications in The Shire.
Post date: Feb 21, 2014 11:53:53 AM
by Arlo G. Underhill III -- SR. 1710
We are indeed indebted to professor Ronald Dwale* for his introduction of the oft neglected Hobbits to the world. The attitude of the Hobbits towards life and its hardships is an example that all of us, Elves, Dwarves, and Men, could well benefit from. In this paper we shall explore the economic and communicative practices of The Shire in rather greater detail than usual. For Shire historians it is indeed unfortunate that the story of events in the wider world of Middle Earth has eclipsed that of the Hobbits to such a large extent. In the preparation of this paper, recourse has been made to private collections of letters and papers that are unpublished and therefore have been unavailable to earlier researchers. Aside from the usual sources, archives of particular value have been the collections maintained at Undertowers in the Westmarch, Brandy Hall in Buckland, in Tuckborough at Thain House, as well as an important anonymous collection maintained in Archet of Breeland. The author wishes to express deep gratitude for the quality of the work done by all these amateur historians, and their gracious hospitality in permitting access to valuable family records and correspondence.
In this work we shall continue the precedent established by Prof. Dwale, and refer to all places and names in and around The Shire by anglicized spellings and pronunciations. Without his background research we might never have been able to access the archives critical to the preparation of this paper.
((Ronald Dwale is in LotRO the in game representation of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien))
The beginnings of The Shire:
When the Hobbits first came to the shores of the Baranduin river in Eriador, they were a semi nomadic people with a tribal social structure strongly tied to clan relationships. Three distinct groups or breeds were recognized, at least among the Hobbits themselves (though it is doubtful that any others knew, or even cared about the differences); these were the Fallohides, the Stoors, and the Harfoots. Of the similarities and differences between the breeds, much has been written (Tolkien 1955) so I will refer the reader to those works rather than repeat the information found there.
The Harfoots, under the dual leadership of the brothers Marcho and Blanco (of Fallohide descent, interestingly), were the first to reach the river Baranduin (Took SR 412). The area that was shortly to become The Shire consisted of a gently rolling land some one hundred miles east-to-west, and about the same north-to-south. It was bounded on the east by the river Baranduin, on the north by the decreasing fecundity and cold of the northern moors and the Dim Hills around bleak Lake Evendim, on the South by the great and impassable Southern Marshes, and on the west by the Far Downs and an unnamed stream that would later become River Harfoot. The area had been populated and well tended by Big Folk some hundreds of years earlier, until their population had been decimated by a great war which does not figure prominently in this narrative, and the land laid to waste. While it is true that the area had become overgrown and disused, the essential quality and fecundity of the land remained intact. Indeed, it might be said that the land, having lain fallow for some generations, was at this time perhaps the most fertile agricultural district in all the west of Middle Earth!
In an audience with King Argeleb II at Fornost, Marcho and Blanco were given royal permission to take the region and establish it as an ordered community, subject only to the lordship of the King. And so, in the year 1150 of the Third Age (Appendices, Tolkien 1955), the bulk of the Harfoots and a few dozens of the Fallohides crossed the Baranduin over the ancient Bridge of Stonebows, numbering some 1,200 altogether, and began the counting of years according to the Shire Reckoning. (hereafter abbreviated as SR)
Of the geology of The Shire:
Geologically, the area that became known as The Shire is quite a heterogeneous terrain. The dominant structural feature is the great Eriador Anticline, with great thickly bedded siliceous limestone strata exposed in the Weather Hills to the east, and in the Mountains of the Moon to the west (Cotton 1692). The drainage pattern of the region is dominated by south flowing streams, of which the chief is the Baranduin. A series of low ridges and valleys reflecting the various lithography of the rock underlying the limestones characterizes The Shire proper. The White downs in the west are formed of a great outcropping of soft chalky limestone. The geology and rock characteristics here determine the desirability of land for the Hobbit's purposes. The soft stone is especially easy to tunnel in, while providing sufficient strength and water repellence for convenience and comfort. To the north towards Nobottle and Needlehole we find increasingly metamorphosed rocks, and eventually in The Crags is a small complex of granite domes and tors. To the south, the Far Downs with the villages of Sackville and Digby are chiefly comprised of tilted layers of pink calcareous sandstones, while the Red Downs to the west of Longbottom are composed of coarser reddish sandstones and conglomerates, heavily weathered into low rounded hills. To the north the karst topography of the Dim Hills feeds the cataracts of Oatbarton and are predominantly composed of the same massive limestones as the Weather Hills. Here the falling waters were early seen to be of use, and much of the light industry in The Shire was eventually established in this region.
Of the earliest settlements:
Upon the crossing of the Bridge of Stonebows, these first newcomers to the region spread out initially along the Great East Road (Baggins 1424), which was still in reasonable condition, establishing their first village and headquarters at Whitfurrows in what would later become the East Farthing. There they found the ruins of ancient dwellings by a narrow stone bridge crossing the stream they named "The Water". Being Hobbits, and primarily of Harfoot descent, they preferred to dwell in holes whenever possible, and so the ruins of men's dwellings that they found were quickly dismantled for the dressed stones which form the framing for the front doors of many of the finer homes in Whitfurrows to this day. The bridge itself was not wide enough for wagons to cross, though this was not a serious problem as The Water was wide and shallow at this point, with a solid bottom forming a good fording place. The Hobbits called it "Bridge Ford", which in later years was simply shortened to "Budgeford". The Hobbits then spread north across The Water into what they called the "Bridgefields" along the west bank of the Baranduin, which shortly became the "Brandywine" in Hobbit parlance. Those first Hobbit settlers spread quickly westward claiming homesteads along both shores of The Water, and along both sides of the Great East Road. Indeed, within ten years of the crossing of the Brandywine, the beginnings of the communities that would become known as Frogmorton, Bywater, Hobbiton, Waymoot, Tuckborough, and Michel Delving had been well established. At this early time The Shire consisted basically of this east-west "swath" of habitation and no administrative divisions had yet been made. For the most part, the Hobbits concerned themselves with the important things of life, that is... the growing and eating of food, and the making and raising of children! The name "Waymoot" was given by the Hobbits to an ancient crossroads where the Great East Road crossed the Old South Road connecting Sarn Ford and the Gap of Rohan away south with the dwarf mines in the Blue Mountains away north. Hobbits settled in the area and in later years made good commerce among the various travelers that came along the roads.
The Marish district just south of the Bridge of Stonebows was also settled very early. Many of the Stoors immediately settled this fertile region which occupies a great portion of the flood-plain of the west bank of the Brandywine.
Of The Gathering of the Hobbits:
At the time of the initial settling of The Shire some portion of the Harfoots, and almost all of the Stoors and Fallohides, were still at large in the world, wandering in the fields and forests of the Minhiriath or the Enedwaith with a few isolated groups still eking out a meager living on the further side of the Misty Mountains. In the summer of the tenth year of the settling of The Shire, at the annual gathering on midsummer's eve at Whitfurrows, it was decided that Messengers should be selected and sent into the wide world to inform these wandering Hobbits that there was now a homeland for them, with free land for all. Twenty-four of the sturdiest and most woodscrafty of the Hobbits were selected, furnished with elaborately handwritten copies of the Royal decree establishing The Shire, and sent into the east and south to gather the scattered tribes of Hobbitry to The Shire (Underhill 1578). This period is known as "The Gathering".
Now the Fallohides, being somewhat less shy and more worldly than the other breeds, had learned the art of writing from the Dunedain, and in this, as in many other things, they were the first among Hobbits, so it should not be surprising that the Fallohide strain was well represented in the choice of the messengers. But when the messengers going forth into the land came upon scattered groups of Hobbits living in holes in the riverbanks or in hollow trees, and read to them from the scrolls, they found that they were asked to read the words of the scrolls over and over again, so keen were these Hobbits to hear the words of their estranged kindred. Indeed the Messengers were prevailed upon to tell all manner of tales, true or not, for it is a trait of Hobbits to want to hear news. And so it was that the wandering hobbits gladly forsook the wilderness and came into The Shire, welcomed by their kindred, and were there free to make their living as circumstances and their inclinations dictated. As it happened, the three sorts of Hobbits tended towards different sorts of livelihoods, so there was little tendency towards friction between them, and a great advantage in the diversity of talents. Indeed, while minor conflicts over livestock, land boundaries, and mates have ocurred, sometimes leading even to fisticuffs from time to time, it is said that no Hobbit has ever killed another in The Shire, and that is a remarkable legacy. Once the Stoors and Harfoots realized the advantages of reading and writing, schools were established and they learned quickly; within a mere hundred years or so they became nearly as proficient as their Fallohide teachers.
The Stoors, who came to The Shire mostly from the South, tended to occupy the low-lying areas of the Southern district. They were less inclined to require holes to live in, and therefore could occupy the marshier districts where aboveground homes were the norm. The Harfoots tended towards the open prairies of the downs, where dry sturdy holes could be dug with relative ease, while the Fallohides took to the deep woods that were scattered here and there around The Shire.
Of the original twenty-four messengers who were sent out into the wide world to collect the scattered Hobbits, only eighteen ever returned to The Shire, and the names of all twenty-four are carved today upon the Three-Farthing stone, as near to the geographical center of The Shire as can be, and are learned by Hobbit children in school. The names of the six "missing" messangers are recalled and woven into tales, and Hobbits are forever asking travelers from far away if they know what became of them. During the gathering of the Hobbits, these messengers and scouts had traveled to and fro between the traveling groups, coordinating their journeys and warning of dangers along the road which were many. It is more than likely that the missing ended up in the stew pots of trolls and goblins.
Upon the settling of The Shire, these groups of Hobbits, now living closer to each other but still in a wide land, found that they missed the communications that had been provided during The Gathering by the Messengers. For some years communication between the various parts of The Shire was carried out in a private and haphazard fashion, with written messages delivered by those who happened to be traveling in a certain direction. But such missives were often lost, or took extraordinary amounts of time to reach their destinations. About the year 25 in the Shire reckoning the enterprising Bolo brothers of near Stock in the Marish district hit upon the idea of a private messenger service, and at first their idea proved very popular. But the Bolo messengers served only a small portion of the East Farthing, and soon their rates became too much to bear, for they charged whatever they thought they could get from the customer for the delivery of letters and parcels. Genuine artifacts from this period are extremely rare (Brandybuck SR 1462) and command exorbitant prices at auction. (beware forgeries!)
At about this time the situation came to the attention of Marcho and Blanco, still living in Whitfurrows and still accorded the status of dual chieftainship of the local groups. Numerous complaints and appeals had been received from the populace, and at the Midsummer's eve gathering in Whitfurrows in the year 30 of the Shire Reckoning, it was decided to establish the Messenger Service as a permanent service in The Shire. At this historic meeting the fundamental administrative structure of The Shire was determined. A document was composed and carefully inscribed which instituted the office of the Mayoralty, with its three branches and powers. It was also decided to remove the site of Shire administration to Michel Delving in the West Farthing, which was thought to be further removed from the dangers of the wild lands to the east, to be more accessible to the Hobbits of the South Farthing, and besides, it had an immensely comfortable and dry hole where the scions of The Shire wished to spend their dotage.
And so it came to pass: that the mayoralty was given three fundamental powers.
First, the power of order, given to THE WATCH. Problems with wayward animals and the small conflicts between neighbors had arisen such that some mechanism became necessary for dealing with them. The Shirriffs became local haywards and ombudsmen, with the authority to settle minor disagreements. They wore no uniform, and were known only by the fact that they wore a blue feather in their cap. Major problems were brought to the Midsummer's eve gathering and voted upon by all the adult Hobbitry. In later years, and particularly after the Long Winter of SR 1158-59 (Tolkien 1955) the Shirriffs would also patrol the borders of The Shire, and those who specialized in this service were known as the Bounders, and were among the more woodscrafty of the Hobbits.
Second, the power of land boundary determination, given to THE SURVEY. It was central to the mores of the Hobbits to own land. Even in their nomadic stage, what they called "the Wandering" their legends spoke of a time when they would occupy a land and not be forced to move by others. As the Hobbits began to fill The Shire, it became necessary to enforce a code by which land disputes could be resolved, ownership determined, and boundaries known. The Surveyors were known chiefly by the green feather worn in their caps, and were held in great honor among the populace. These Hobbits essentially invented the theory and practice of surveying with simple instruments, and it was given to the surveyors the authority to determine once and for all, the exact position of land ownership boundaries. These ancient corners were marked with special stone cairns erected by the surveyors, and such markers attained an almost sacred status, anyone moving or altering them would be grievously frowned upon. The first marker, established in the fall of the year SR 30, was of course the now-famous Three-Farthing Stone, upon which all other determinations are based. Rather than use a system based on a cartographic grid or upon the cardinal directions, the Hobbit surveyors developed an unique system based upon triangles, and the division of triangles into smaller triangles (Thornberry SR 1120).
Thirdly, the power of communications, given to THE MESSENGER SERVICE more commonly known as the "Post". Unlike the Watch and the Survey, The Post employed both male and female Hobbits as mail carriers and clerks, who were recognized immediately by all due to the red feather worn in their caps. It is chiefly the establishment and development of the Post, that we wish to examine in this paper, for this institution became by far the most prominent and enduring of Shire institutions. The Survey found after some years that once the basic division of The Shire proper was done, there was little further need required of them, except in cases of minor disputes, or the unfortunate destruction of a corner marker. The Watch evolved into a small group, but again, was little needed by the general populace, who were largely self-controlled. Only the Post experienced continuous growth due to the incredible yearning of Hobbits for small news, and this growth became the basis for a number of social innovations that can be credited first to the Hobbits in Middle Earth among all the peoples of the known universe. To a certain extent we will have to deal with the workings of the Survey, for they have largely determined the primary divisions of the landscape which thus affects the addressing and routing of postal communications.
The Messenger Service:
As mentioned above, it was in S.R. 30 that the decision was made to move the Shire administrative capital into the western area. This was done partly to secure more comfortable surroundings, but also because of its proximity to Waymoot, which by virtue of location at the crossroads became the principal market town of The Shire. It was also at this time that the Messenger service was instituted as a feature of Shire administration.
The more remote inhabitants, and their correspondents, were upset by the unreliable service and exorbitant prices that were being paid for postal services run privately. At this momentous meeting, it was voted that the most loud-mouthed of the complainers, one Gonzo Proudfoot of Bywater, should be installed as the first Mayor and Postmaster of The Shire, with offices located on the central square in Waymoot. Now it is said privately, and some old letters corroborate this (Whitfoot SR 1471), that the commissioning of Gonzo was largely a stratagem worked out by his neighbors in Bywater to be rid of him! He was a chronic critic of everything and everybody... but little did they realize just how perfectly suited to the job old Gonzo really was. He removed his family straight-away to Waymoot and set up shop in what would later be called the Central Post Office on the southeast corner of the main junction of the roads.
Now Gonzo, like others of the Proudfoot clan, was no fool. He saw immediately the huge potential for profit to be made in setting up a reliable postal service. As part of his commission it was required of him that he offer a recommendation, within one year, for standardized postage rates to be applicable throughout The Shire. Accordingly, one year later, First Postmaster Proudfoot presented his recommendations to the Midsummer's festival (now removed to the White Downs for the first time). It can be said that perhaps no other postal administration in history has had such a concise yet thoroughly thought-out plan at its inception. Indeed, The Shire Messenger Service, of all the postal entities known to this author, has had the longest continuous period of service without a rate increase that has ever been known!
Gonzo realized immediately that some standardization of currency would be necessary in order to standardize postal rates, so he prefaced his recommendations to base all values upon a currency unit he called the "Penny", which could then be divided into four "farthings". Defined as a copper coin the weight of 72 grains of wheat of the variety known as "Noddytop". This "penny" eventually replaced the motley assortment of coinage of other realms that circulated about The Shire. Twelve pennies would be equal in value to a silver coin of the same weight, to be called a Shilling (though it was more commonly referred to simply as a "silver penny"). Twenty-four shillings would likewise be equivalent to a gold coin of the same weight, to be known as a Crown... named in deference to the king.
Also realizing that there was a significant difference in the cost of delivering mail to remoter villages, as opposed to nearby ones, Gonzo proposed dividing The Shire into four quadrants, each to be called a "farthing". Postal rates would then be standardized in a simple way such that service within the farthing of mailing would cost one farthing for a letter weighing less than 1 ounz! What could be simpler? Postage between farthings would be 2 farthings (or one haypenny), while postage to outlying districts (such as Buckland and Bree) would be variable depending upon service available. The surveyors had already divided the Shire into four primary wedge-shaped parts for purposes of legal land descriptions, and these divisions were accepted and adopted as primary postal divisions as well. (it should be noted that road infrastructures do not always follow land divisions perfectly, so that in certain areas carrier districts sometimes cross farthing lines. One can, for instance, have farm land that is formally part of the South Farthing, yet because of the way the land lies with respect to the line, the postal address may be East Farthing)
The major innovation which Gonzo introduced which has kept the Shire Post operative all these many years was the system of distribution of postal income. In each village he selected from volunteers, some individuals with business establishments near the village center which were consistently attended. These would be the postmasters. They would be responsible for obtaining cartage between theirs and neighboring towns along the postal routes. Each postmaster would be advised to apply his or her town mark to the letters as they passed through the office, before delivery or re-routing. At the office of destination, the delivering postmaster would make a series of tick marks on a tally sheet indicating the postmarks on each letter. At the end of each month these tally sheets would be sent to the Central Post Office in Waymoot, and postage revenue shared among the postmasters based on the volume of mail they had handled. Carriers were offered remuneration based on the quantity and weight of mail carried between offices. Immediately it became apparent that there would be no lack of carriers, for it proved economically beneficial to travelers to stop and see if there was any mail that they might carry between stops along their way. The system was an immediate success, and the many young Hobbits seen sporting the red feather in their cap as a badge of service with the Post were soon the envy of their peers.
The Four Farthings:
The South Farthing is by far the largest of the four, comprising almost half the total land area of The Shire. The three farthing stone had been erected about three leagues southeast of the village of Bywater, and the boundary lines set off approximately southeast and southwest forming a great pie-wedge shaped area. This farthing is dominated by large open plantations and widely scattered settlements, with stands of hardwoods occupying much of the higher rockier ground. The economy here is based largely on agriculture, with cotton, maize, sorghum, wheat, and pipe-leaf the primary products.
The West Farthing is the second-largest of the four. Exactly five leagues north of the three farthing stone there was erected a second such stone, called the Northfarthing stone, which likewise divided the farthings. Thus the North and South Farthings did not directly connect to each other, while the East and West Farthings each bordered on all the others. As previously mentioned, the West Farthing early became the administrative center of Shire life, at least, of such administration as there was in The Shire. While a good deal of farming and craft work went on here, the presence of the capital city and the central Post Office determined that the West Farthing would become the artistic center of The Shire, and the preferred residence of those Hobbits who were respectably well-off and of more cosmopolitan habit than the norm.
The East Farthing, the first settled, became largely dominated by commerce and light manufacture, particularly textiles. The wool from the Northfarthing and the cotton from the Southfarthing were here brought together and worked on looms into the staple fabrics of Hobbit clothing. The Eastfarthing was also an agricultural breadbasket of The Shire, for wheat grew beautifully in the great fields North of the Water. The East Farthing also provided much of the higher grade materials for the building trades, for in the Southernmost extremity of the Dim Hills around the villages of Brockenborings, Scary, and Quarry, the Hobbits had found ancient diggings which they worked to provide building stone of the highest quality and workability that was shipped by wagon all over The Shire.
The North Farthing is by far the smallest of the four in areal extent, and, being populated by Hobbits of predominantly Fallohide ancestry, tended towards a more rugged existence than the others. The upland meadows around Greenfields, though comparatively small, have always been the most productive of the entire Shire per hectare, producing the famous "Noddytop" wheat variety with its full heavy head and good storage capacity. Here the Hobbits had more contact with Dwarves than in other areas, and were aided by them in learning the arts of metal working. Much to the consternation of their Dwarfish teachers, the Hobbits never seemed particularly interested in the design and manufacture of weapons or armor, but rather took the metal arts to their highest expression in the production of fine bronze plumbing fixtures and fittings. Indeed, for those who could afford it, Shire-made kitchen and bathroom fixtures were the highest quality and best known in Middle Earth, for the Hobbits did enjoy comfort more than anything. By the end of the first millennium it was only the poorest Hobbit dwellings that still made do with outhouses, as indoor plumbing had become the norm (Leatherleaf SR1550). While trade in The Shire was principally internal, (including trade with the colonies of Buckland and Breeland) some limited external commerce did exist, principally with the dwarves living in the Blue Mountains to the north and to a lesser extent with the Big Folk living to the south and east of The Shire. In later years the dominant exports of The Shire had become pipeleaf (discussed at length by prof. Tolkien 1955), and the aforementioned plumbing fixtures.
The treaty of S.R. 821:
Through the first eight hundred years of Shire history, the administration of the Messenger service stayed pretty much the same. Some new villages grew and were added to the system, some roads were improved from mere trails so that wagons could be used, and thereby they became acknowledged postal routes. But there had always been a problem with the fact that the original charter had not dealt sufficiently well with the problem of postage to the outlying districts, particularly Breeland and Buckland, as well as to the pioneering settlements in the Westmarch. For instance, for an inhabitant of Stock in the Marish district of the East Farthing, to mail a letter to their cousins in Brandy Hall of Buckland, only a few leagues distant, required the services of a privately contracted mail delivery service, which could charge varying rates, sometimes quite exorbitant. Complaints received at the central P.O. in Waymoot were numerous and increasing as the first eight hundred years of Hobbit occupation began to wane.
At the Midsummer's gathering upon the White Downs in the year 821, (by the Shire reckoning) representatives from Breeland and Buckland presented a formal treaty document, which essentially annexed these districts to THE Shire with respect to postal operations though they would continue to maintain their own Watch and Survey (Underhill SR1578).
Postal rate charts were amended to include these districts such that basic letter rates became:
....where "local" is assumed to mean within the farthing OR district of mailing,
"inside" is assumed to mean within the four farthings of The Shire proper
"outside" is assumed to mean between the Shire and the outlying districts, or between those districts.
The Amendment of S.R. 855:
The aforementioned arrangement worked fairly well, except that the inhabitants of the outlying districts still felt that they were being snubbed and made to pay too much. In the year 855 the above mentioned treaty was amended such that "inside" would also be considered to apply to mail between Bree and Brandy Hall in Buckland, promoting solidarity between these districts.
It was soon found that there were times when it was desired to make a purchase by mail rather than in person. Perhaps, for instance, a Hobbit lass in the rural village of Hardbottle in the Southfarthing wished to purchase a strip of ribbon from a millinery firm in Whitfurrows. It was too far to travel for such a small purchase, and it soon proved to be awkward to actually mail coins. First of all, they were heavy and the postage was high... secondly they were susceptible to "loss" in transit. The problem persisted for some time, until in the year 1220 the Shire Postmaster and Mayor Jeminy Whitfoot instituted the FUNDING SERVICE, which proved to be an institutional innovation of the first magnitude. By using this service, our Hobbit lass in Hardbottle will purchase the funding service from her local postmaster. Aside from the regular postage, she will pay 1/2p for the service to fund to the recipient some amount up to 6p. (see rate chart on the "Products and Services" page for sliding scale fees). At the time of delivery the postal clerk or carrier will the remit the indicated funds to the recipient, either in coin (if available) or in postal waivers.
Please note the postal waivers mentioned above! These were small printed documents, pre-prepared in various denominations and initialed by the postmaster, which entitled the bearer to some amount of prepaid postage. Being transferable, these waivers began to trade around The Shire as valuta, being in effect the earliest form of paper currency known to have existed. The funding service, in fact, proved to be the forerunner of what passes in The Shire as a banking system to this day, for the Hobbits have never developed a separate financial administration other than the Post!
Now throughout this early period of the Messenger Service, postage was paid by the sender at the post office where it was mailed. The postmaster would handwrite the amount of postage tendered in the lower left corner of the envelope (the upper right being reserved for the address by ancient Middle Earth custom), and then apply his town mark. Town marks were quite often, in the early days, simply the name of the town written by the postmaster by hand. Later on, and in the larger towns, the postmasters would carve wooden or bone stamps with the name of their town on it, then write only the date by hand.
It was during the earliest tenure of the famous Will Whitfoot as PostMaster that a strange thing happened. A piece of mail, said to have originated in Nobottle (a deceptively named town to be sure) arrived at the central P.O. in Waymoot with a 1/2p postal waiver pasted to the front of the envelope, postmarked and initialed by the Nobottle postmaster. This letter, dated July 16, 1387, resides today in the mathom house at Michel Delving, honored as the first use of an adhesive postage stamp in history (Whitfoot 1466, 1471, 1476). The crude, round, wooden die used to print the postal waivers is now listed as SC1 (die 1) in the Shire Stamp Catalog. Will thought about this letter for some time, over a particularly fine cask of South Farthing ale, and then hit upon the idea of producing sheets of little squares on paper, preprinted with standard postage rate values, which could be sold and affixed to letters. This way, even when a person came to the post office to mail a letter when the postmaster was not present, the letter could simply be dropped in a box! Will got busy at his workbench, and produced a wooden die which he affixed to a hand-press, and using red ink (the only color he had on hand at the time), printed a sheet of 20 crude impressions of a 1/4p stamp. This stamp became known as SC2. (die 2). It soon became obvious that these stamps would be in high demand, and Will quickly had to abandon his earliest press and build a better one. That first sheet of stamps was used up within the first few weeks of March, 1389. Unfortunately, no examples are known to exist in collector's hands of this first purposely made postage stamp! The die he used was reportedly immediately recut to clarify the image and tooth the margin. An anonymous but apparently well-heeled collector has posted a standing offer of 10,000 crowns for a bona-fide example of this stamp, but the offer has yet to be claimed, making the SC2 (if any are eventually found to still exist) the most valuable rarity in Shire philately. The only reliable description of the stamp indicates that it is very much like the SC3 recut version, with the exception that the background of the tablet of value is solid color and not ruled, and the margins untoothed (Maringer 1996).
Will proceeded, over the course of the next few years, to produce and issue stamps in six denominations, with characteristic colors for each.
The crude wooden dies used to make these early stamps would wear after a limited number of impressions were made, and thus they would need to be re-cut several times before they became unusable and new ones would need to be made. The study of the various die variations of these early Shire postage stamps is one of the principal efforts of those hardy philatelists who undertake this demanding and difficult research. These issues of S.R. 1389 ushered in the modern era of postal communication in The Shire, and it is with great pleasure that I share with you examples from my own humble collection (as published in The Shire Catalog). For those who wish to view the finest collections of Shire postal history, this author humbly suggests the mathom house in Michel Delving, open to visitors on Thursdays and Saturdays, and to accredited researchers by pre-arrangement at any time (write to Mrs. Primaly Proudfoot, #16 Sandy Lane, Michel Delving, W.F.) Also the collection of districtal postal history maintained at Brandy Hall in Buckland is by far the best collection of private postal markings dating from before the treaty. This collection is closed to public access, but may be viewed by accredited historians by pre-arrangement. Write Meriadoc Brandybuck IV, West wing, level three, Room 27 G, Brandy Hall, Buckland.)
The Modern Period:
The Shire now possesses one of the most advanced and comprehensive postal services, anywhere in the known universe. They have followed a very conservative stamp issuing policy (unlike some places we might mention, such as Gondor) and issue a new stamp generally only every three to five years or so. Collector interest is very high in the older issues, particularly in the specialty of Postal History, where the entire used envelope is saved. The propensity of Hobbits to save everything means that every few years, a fine old batch of letters is found in a trunk in somebody's spring cleaning, and the postal historians have a whole new database to play with. Much research is still being carried out, and a new minor die variety is found every dozen years or so, so there is still hope that a 1/4p die 2 type 1 may eventually turn up. Shire Postal History enthusiasts sometimes specialize in the collecting of the various postal markings characteristic of the various parts of the Hobbit Postal District. The Hobbits still write to each other as much as ever, though the current issues, printed on hand-cranked semi-automatic, multi-color, letterpress machines, while attractive, are far less collectible than the extremely limited-quantity early wood-die varieties. The Animal series of stamps, issued September 22 SR 1400 ushered in the modern era of stamp-making for ShirePost. These stamps are interesting in their own right, but lack a measure of the rustic charm of the earlier handmade items. These were followed by that workmanlike Posthorn series of 1405 and the more elegant Pony series of 1408.
It is indeed strange that in the wide world of the big folk, adhesive postage stamps were not put into use until 1840, and that little if any mention is ever given to the contributions in the field of written communications made by the Hobbits. But then, that is just another of the ways in which the Hobbits have been ignored since time immemorial. It is my fervent hope that this paper may acknowledge some of the debt that we owe to them.
Arlo G. Underhill III
Shire Postal Historian
#26 Upshot Street
Middle Earth timespace
dimensional coordinates: X-72.77, Y+14.31, Z-2d, downright 6.23 deg.
Bibliography and References:
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Brandybuck M. et al, (S.R. 1464) Herblore of The Shire
Brandybuck M. et al, (S.R. 1465) Reckoning of Years
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Burrows, Burrows, and Boffin. (S.R. 1634) An Auction of Highly Significant Postal Rarities from the Classical Period of The Shire. (Auction calalogue)
Cotton, D. (S.R. 1692) Geology of The Shire and immediately surrounding districts, together with descriptions of plant and animal communities living therein. (PHd. dissertation)
Leatherleaf, G. (SR 1550) An Account of the Relations between the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains and the Hobbits of the Northfarthing before SR 1420 (PHd dissertation,)
Maringer T. (1996) The Complete Shire Postage Stamp Catalog
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Tolkien, J.R.R., (1955) The Lord of the Rings. (a trilogy comprised of three parts: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, and including extensive appendices)
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