Copyright © Hans Högman 2021-08-06
What was the postal services like in former days?
How was mail being sent? What was the delivery
times like? Were the postal services only for the
authorities or could also the general public use the
services? How did remote people communicate with
each other formerly?
This article will give answerers to these types of
The image reads Royal Post
Office (Kungligt Postkontor).
At the top is the Royal
Swedish Crown and at the
bottom the symbol of Swedish
Mail, a posthorn. Photo Hans
Högman 2017, Old Linköping.
Postal services were established during the Middle
Ages. Special postal deliveries was used between
cities and between different authorities. The
Government and the royalties used special postal
These postal services were not for the use of the
public. In these days private mail was delivered by
members of the public traveling in the “right”
direction, i.e. to the destination of a mail. However,
an important prerequisite was that both the sender
as well as the receiver could read and write. In
Medieval times reading and writing was merely
mastered by aristocrats, i.e. the upper class.
Every courier traveling on behalf of the Government
or a government agency had the right to free ride,
lodging and food; a service they acquired from the
farmers in the nation. This was a great burden for
the farmers along major routes in Sweden. To make
it worse, other travelers incorrectly claimed to be
traveling for the Government and therefore
demanded farmers to give them free food and
lodging. To stop the abuse, the
Government provided each royal
courier with a special badge as a prof
of traveling for the Government. These
badges were official badges with both
a Royal Crown and the national coat of
To the right is a royal courier badge
from the end of the 1500s.
In 1649 a Hostelry Act (Gästgiveriförordningen) was
passed in Parliament. The Act stated that a number
of inns was to be established along the routes in
Sweden. These inns along the routes released the
farmers’ burden to provide rides, food and lodging.
However, farmers still had to provide horses for the
The Act of 1649 also contained a statement about
having the distances between towns in Sweden
measured. A number of milestones (Swe:
milstolpe/milsten) was to be placed along the routes
informing travelers about the
distances to nearest towns. The
distances were given in either quarter,
half or a full Mil. A Scandinavian “Mil”
is 10 km (6 miles).
The image shows a Swedish milestone
from 1785 and shows the distance ¼
Mil (1.5 mile) . Photo Hans Högman.
The demand for regular postal services increased in
the 1600s. This was during Sweden’s Great Power
Period and it was necessary to be able to send mail
across Sweden as well as to the Swedish provinces
in the Baltic region and Northern Germany in an
secure, fast and easy way. Postal service with
government couriers was established between
Sweden and its foreign provinces. This postal service
wasn’t for the general public. The former royal
couriers were predecessor to the postal services
now being established.
In older days there were a system passing important
messages called rallying sticks (Swe: Budkavle) which
was used for sending important messages between
farms in an area. When the Swedish Royal Mail
(Kungliga Postverket) was established in 1636 it was
organized in a similar way. Farmers along major
routes were selected as Postal Farmers (Postbonde)
and each postal farmer were obliged to run a rally
with arrived mail to and from the next postal farmer
(post house) along his route.
Kungliga Postverket Established in 1636 -
The Swedish Kungliga Postverket - Royal Mail -
(The Royal Post Office Department) was established
in 1636. The Act was passed on February 20, 1636.
This was the first regulation of a regular Swedish
postal service. Along major routes a number of
farmers were selected as postal farmers (post
houses). The distances between two post houses
was about 20 - 30 km (12 - 18 miles) and it was the
responsibility of each of these farmers to have
arrived mail transported to the next post house
along his route. A prerequisite was that the postal
farmers were able to read and write. The postal
farmers had to keep one or two mail carriers
(postdräng) on foot who were to ran to and fro
between the post houses carrying mail. They were
obliged to keep a speed of at least 2 hours per 10
km (6 miles). These mail carriers on foot were
equipped with a posthorn and a spear. When they
were approaching the next post house the mail
carrier was to blow the posthorn to alert the next
mail carrier. The postal farmers were being
reimbursed for the costs they had for the mail
service they provided. They were also exempted
from participating in the military Allotment System.
Mounted Mail Carriers
In 1646 the mail carriers on foot were replaced with
mounted mail carriers on important routes for the
conveyance of mail. The postal farmers on these
routes were obliged to keep replacement horses for
the mounted mail carries instead of keeping mail
carriers on foot. In cities along the important routes
special postal depots were established. These
depots were managed by a Postal Steward
(Postförvaltare). These stewards were also titled
Postmasters (Postmästare). Among the Postmasters’
responsibilities was to supervise the postal farmers.
A Postmaster in a county seat was titled Post
Inspector (Postinspektör). It was the Post Inspector
who paid the postal farmers for their work.
The postal depots were organized as offices which
locals could visit to see if there were any mail to
collect and among other thing read local and
national news as well as decrees. The news and
decrees were placed on the office walls, accessible
for visitors. These postal depots were in a way early
modern post offices.
29 post offices were being established in Sweden
between 1636 and 1644. In 1688 there were post
offices established in every city in Sweden, in total
78 post offices. Post offices were in some extent
also established in the countryside during this
When a mail carrier arrived, the postmaster would
remove the letters for the local area before handing
the remaining letters and any additions to the next
carrier. In early America, post offices were also
known as "stations".
In the 1670 special mounted carriers were hired by
Royal Mail and were used on routes which hadn’t
been working properly or had been troubled by
highwaymen committing several robberies and
other attacks. These mail carriers were mounted
and titled Postiljon (Postilion). They wore uniform
and carried firearms. The carriers were frequent
targets for highwaymen. In the 19th-century
American West, highwaymen were known as road
The image to the right
shows a mounted Postilion.
Photo Hans Högman 2003,
The Stockholm Post Office
occupied a unique position
being in the capital of Sweden. The Stockholm
Postmaster was the Postmaster General
(Rikspostmästare), the Director of the postal services
in Sweden and thereby the head of the local
postmasters and postal farmers. His was also the
head of the Swedish intelligence service. He held
agents in foreign countries who continuously
reported foreign activities directly to him. All
postmasters was also responsible to report to the
Postmaster General about what happed in
respective town, visiting foreigners etc. The
Postmaster General was in the center of a mail web
controlling all mail conveyed in Sweden as well as to
and from Sweden.
Swedish Royal Mail also founded a newspaper first
published in 1645. The name of the newspaper was
in the beginning “Ordinarie Post Tijdender” but the
name has varied throughout the centuries. The
paper still exits today but now with the name Post-
och Inrikes Tidningar. This makes the newspaper
the oldest paper still being published.
Between 1645 and 1791 the Postmaster General
was the legally responsible publisher of the
newspaper. This responsibility was in 1791
transferred to the Swedish Academy.
In 1718 an attempt was made to reform the postal
services. It was then decided that the local post
offices were to provide food and lodging. This was to
be done by consolidating the local inn with the local
post office. However, the reform was stopped
before it was realized.
One thing lasted in the reform. For the protection of
mounted mail carriers, postal farmers and their mail
carriers on foot it was ruled that an attack on these
officials while carrying out their duties would result
in capital punishment for the perpetrators.
On July 30, 1643, Swedish Royal Mail established a
shipping line for freight, mail and passengers
between Sweden and Continental Europe. The
shipping line operated between Ystad in southern
Sweden and Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania,
Northern Germany and made one return journey
per week. As early as in 1684 Royal Mail acquired
their own sailing ships.
In the 19th century Royal Mail was using
steamboats. By using steamboats, they could use
precise sailing lists. The journeys between Sweden
and Germany became faster and was no longer
dependent of weather and winds. Postal
conveyance with ships under their own
management was discontinued in 1869.
In 1850 the Wilson Line received the rights to postal
traffic from Sweden. From the 1860’s and up to 1915
Swedish immigrants to the USA had first to travel
via England. The journey from Gothenburg was
undertaken by smaller passenger ships, often by the
Wilson Line, across the North Sea to Hull or Grimsby
on the English east coast. This journey took 2 days.
Increased Number of Mail Items
In the 1800s there were post offices established in
most places in Sweden. The ability to read and write
was generally high also among country people and
in 1842 a new school reform introduced the
Elementary School (Folkskolan). Writing and sending
letters now became common among the general
In 1850 there were 302 post offices and in 1875
Number of mail items, years:
As we can see there was at great increase in number
of mailed items in the second half of the 19th
century. However, there was no deliverance of mail
directly too the addressees at this time. Therefore,
each person expecting mail had to go to the post
office to see if there were any mail to be collected.
On the exterior wall of the post office the
postmaster daily put up a listing of arrived mail.
Further, when the mail driver arrived to a post office
he blew his posthorn which also was a message to
the local people that mail had arrived.
Letters was to be handed in to a post office about 2
to 3 hours before the mail were dispatched. Official
mail had highest priority. Opening hours was
regulated in the 1707 decree and set to 8:00 to
12:00 and 14:00 to 17:00.
The word mail comes from the Medieval English
word male, referring to a travelling bag or pack. It
was spelled that way until the 17th century, and is
distinct from the word male. The French have a
similar word, malle for a trunk or large box, and
mála is the Irish term for a bag. In the 17th century,
the word mail began to appear as a reference for a
bag that contained letters: "bag full of letter" (1654).
Over the next hundred years the word mail began to
be applied strictly to the letters themselves, and the
sack as the mailbag.
Post is derived from Medieval French poste, which
ultimately stems from the past participle of the Latin
verb ponere ("to lay down or place").
In the 19th century the British usually referred to
mail as being letters that were being sent abroad
(i.e. on a ship), and post as letters that were for
localized delivery; in the UK the Royal Mail delivers
the post, while in the U.S. the U.S. Postal Service
delivers the mail.
Postage stamps and an uniform postage rate were
introduced in 1855 for Swedish domestic mail.
Before real postage stamps came into use letters
were simply postmarked with an B or an F in
B was used when mail postage was needed to be
paid (B = Betald; Paid for). F was used for mail which
was classified as mail free of charge, i.e. official mail
sent by authorities (F = Fribrev; Free Mail).
The fee for so-called B-mail was based on the weight
and the distance to the addressee.
Real postage stamps were first used in the UK in
1840. They were introduced in Sweden in 1855. The
Swedish stamps had an image of the National Coat
of Arms. The values of the first issued Swedish
stamps were 3, 4, 6, 8 and 24 Skilling Banco. The
Swedish currency was changed in 1873 and the
skilling stamps were replaced by new stamps
denominated in "öre".
In 1885 the first Swedish stamp with a royal
portrait was introduced; the portrait of King Oscar
The Swedish stamp 3 Skilling Banco yellow of 1857
with a misprinted value, 3 instead of 8, is the most
expensive postage stamp today. Such a stamp, of
which only one example is known to exist, was sold
at an auction in Switzerland in 1996 for 15.000.000
SEK (about 2.000.000 USD).
The 3 skilling banco yellow stamp was a misprinted 8
skilling banco stamp. The 3 skilling banco stamp was
green and the 8 skilling banco stamp was yellow. A
stereotype of the eight-skilling printing plate was
damaged or broken, and it was mistakenly replaced
with a three-skilling and printed in yellow color. A
plate consisted of 100 stereotypes assembled into a
10 × 10 array so 99 3 skilling
banco stamps were printed
The image to the right shows the
yellow misprinted Swedish 3
Skilling Banco. Free image
When the postage stamps was
introduced in 1855 mailboxes were put up at post
offices, stagecoaches, steamboats etc. Now people
could affix prepaid stamps on envelopes themselves
and put them in a mailbox instead of taking the
letters to a post office.
Traveling in former days was expensive and time
consuming. Not until steamboats and railroads was
introduced around 1850 traveling became faster
and more comfortable.
In the beginning of the 19th century traveling speed
was about 10 km/h (6 miles/h). It was the road
conditions that set the speed. Road were often in a
poor condition. It was generally easier to travel in
winter when winter road was in use, either on snow
or on ice roads. Stagecoach services were
established in Sweden in 1722 when the first
stagecoach route opened running between
Stockholm and Uppsala. In 1822 a number of
private mail coach services were established and
soon most of Sweden was covered by stagecoach
Swedish Royal Mail opened up their postal
stagecoach service in 1831. The first route to be
opened was running between Stockholm and Ystad
in south of Sweden, a distance of 560 km (348
miles). The mail coaches departed Stockholm at
18:00 on Saturdays and arrived in Ystad on
Thursdays afternoon following week. In other
words, the journey took 5 days. Horses were
changed every 30 km (18 miles) at stage stations.
Passengers were accommodated over nights at
coaching inns in the cities Nyköping, Linköping,
Jönköping, Växjö and Kristianstad. Bad weather
could worsen the road conditions which could delay
arrival in Ystad with several days.
The image to
the right shows
a Swedish mail
from the 1860s.
In general, private stagecoaches were more
comfortable than Royal Mail’s coaches so
passengers preferred private coaches. The
stagecoach services had a peak between 1861 and
1875. On reason was that the use of postal farmer
was to be disestablished in 1860 and replaced by
mail coaches. The last postal farmer (post house)
was disestablished in 1870.
A stagecoach is a four-wheeled public coach drawn
by horses used to carry paying passengers and light
packages on journeys long enough to need a change
of horses. A stagecoach made long scheduled trips
on an established route using stage stations or posts
where the stagecoach's horses would be replaced by
fresh horses. The business of running stagecoaches
or the act of journeying in them was known as
staging. A stagecoach traveled at an average speed
of about 10 km (six miles) per hour with the total
daily mileage covered being around 100 km (60
A mail coach was a stagecoach built to a Post Office-
approved design to carry long-distance mail for the
Post Office. Passengers were taken at a fare.
The image to the
right shows a
Stagecoaches and mail coaches were known in
continental Europe as diligences and postcoaches.
The Swedish term is diligens.
A Stage station or Relay station, also known as a
staging post, a posting station, or stage stop is a place
where an exhausted horse or horses could be
replaced by fresh animals. A long journey was much
faster with no delay to rest horses.
Stage is the space between the places known as
stations or stops — known to Europeans as posts or
The coaching inn (also coaching house or staging inn)
was a vital part of Europe's inland transport
infrastructure until the development of the railway,
providing a resting point for people and horses. The
inn served the needs of travelers, for food, drink,
rest and overnight accommodation. A roadhouse
(US) or stopping house (Canada) is a commercial
establishment typically built on or near a major road
or highway that services passing travelers.
A simplified and lightened form of stagecoach
known as a stage wagon or mud-coach or mud-wagon
was used in the United States under difficult
conditions. These were the vehicles that opened up
the new stage routes in America's West.
The peak period of the stagecoaches (1861 - 1875)
happened in the time frame as the railroad
expansion. The railroad increasingly took over the
conveyance of mail. A journey by train between
Stockholm and Gothenburg took at that time 12
hours while the same journey by stagecoach took 5
days (500 km).
Mail coaches were slowly phased out, their role
eventually replaced by trains as the railroad network
Railroads were being built both by the government
and by private companies. The first line, The Western
Trunk Line (Västra stambanan), between Stockholm
City on the east coast and Gothenburg City on the
west coast, was opened in 1862. Two years later,
1864, The Southern Trunk Line (Södra stambanan) to
Malmö City in the south of Sweden was opened.
The largest expansion of the railroads took place in
the 1870s. By then most towns in the central region
around Stockholm and down to south of Sweden
were connected through railroads. Thereafter the
railroad expanded north to the less populated areas
of northern Sweden.
The image to the right
shows a Swedish
type-E2. Free image
The trunk lines were
built by the
government while the sidelines were built by private
companies. These sidelines used narrow-gauge rails.
This division between government and private
railroads lasted until the 1930s when the private
railroads were nationalized.
Swedish Royal Mail began conveying mail by rail in
1860. Soon they also began sorting mail aboard the
trains. They first special mailcar was put into use in
In Norrland (Northland; a region covering the
northern half of Sweden), where the railroads were
being built later than in the rest of Sweden, Royal
Mail used mail buses for the conveyance of mail. The
mail buses also carried passengers.
The image to the left shows a
mail coach (mail bus) in
Norrland on a route between
provinces Ångermanland and
Jämtland, 1930s. Free image
Postal Services Formerly -
Delivery of Mail to Addressees by
A Royal Decree in 1861 ruled that Royal Mail was to
deliver mail directly to the addressees in cities. For
this purpose Royal Mail began hiring mailmen
(Swe: brevbärare). Before 1861 people had to go to
the post office to collect their mail.
However, Stockholm was special in this respect. As
early as in the 1600s and 1700s Royal Mail used
mailmen delivering mail directly to addressees.
In other cities local mail, mail that was posted to
recipients in the same city, was early delivered by
private companies for a fee. However, from 1861
Royal Mail delivered mail to homes in cities.
Number of deliveries of mail per day:
1880s: 6 deliveries per day (all days of the
1890s: 5 deliveries per day
1917: 5 deliveries per day
1921: 3 deliveries per day
1931: 4 deliveries per day
1940: 3 deliveries per day
Rural Mailmen (Lantbrevbärare)
On September 25, 1876, Royal Mail decided to
deliver mail also to homes in rural areas. The rural
mailmen (Lantbrevbärare) were in some way mobile
post offices since they offered extended services. In
order to finance home mail delivery in rural areas
Royal Mail closed down a number of sub-post
offices (poststation) in small places. Thereof the
extended services provided by the rural mailmen.
The rural mailmen not only delivered mail but also
collected mail to be sent. The first counties to
receive rural mail deliveries to homes were the
counties of Kalmar, Blekinge and Gotland. This was
in January 1878. By the end of 1879 there were 232
rural mail routes.
Initially, the rural mailmen were supplied by
contractors. Each contractor made a bid stating how
much they would charge to do the rural mail service
and the lowest bid won the right to do this mail
service in a designated area. These rural mailmen
had the job to deliver mail to homes as a spare-time
work and gave them a fixed regular income.
The rural mailmen had to follow a specific route and
to strictly a follow the time schedule. The timetable
contained both days and hours; when to pick up
mail at the post office and which places to deliver
mail to and when. Normally they had to cover 1 Mil
(6 miles) per three hours.
In the beginning the rural mailmen delivered mail
on foot. If they would use horse and carriage it was
on their own expense. However, in the 1880s official
horse carts was in use.
The use of bicycles began in 1900. The first motor
mail vans came in to use in 1915.
Rural mailmen had a posthorn and Royal Mail’s
emblem on their hat. They
also carried firearms.
The image to the right shows
a rural mailman with horse
and cart (lantbrevbärare).
Photo Hans Högman 2003,
Swedish Postal Museum
The image to the left
show a mailman’s
posthorn, revolver and
hat emblem in the 1870s.
Photo Hans Högman
2003, Swedish Postal
Air Mail is a mail transport service branded on the
basis of at least one leg of its journey being by air.
Air Mail items typically arrive more quickly than
surface mail, and usually cost more to send.
The first regular airmail route in Europe opened
between Berlin and Weimar in Germany in 1919. An
airmail route between London in Paris opened the
same year. In 1920 an airmail route opened
between Sweden and Germany and in 1921
between Sweden and Estonia.
The Swedish airliner ABA was founded in 1924 and
Sweden then got a regular air mail service between
Sweden and other countries.
In 1928 a night flying airmail service opened
between Stockholm and London. The route began
in Stockholm via Malmö, Sweden, Hamburg and
Bremen in Germany, Amsterdam in the Netherlands
and finally to London in the UK.
The airport in Stockholm used by the airmail service
was Lindarängen Marine Airport (Lindarängens
The image to the
right shows a
Junker Ju52 at
early 1930s. Free
In 1924 Bulltofta Airport opened in Malmö and in
1936 Bromma Airport in Stockholm.
During WWII ABA ran a diplomatic courier route
between Sweden and Scotland.
The airmail services in Sweden expended strongly
after WWII and since 1986 Swedish Mail run an
airmail airline under their own management,
In 1948 ABA (Aktiebolaget Aerotransport) and
another Swedish airliner SILA (Svensk
Interkontinental Lufttrafik AB) was consolidated and
joined SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System). The
Swedish government owned 50% of the shares in
ABA and the government kept its shares in the new
company until 1996.
Scandinavian Airlines, SAS, was founded on 1
August 1946, when Swedish Svensk Interkontinental
Lufttrafik AB (SILA), Danish Det Danske
Luftfartselskab A/S and Norwegian Det Norske
Luftfartselskap AS (the flag carriers of Denmark and
Norway) formed a partnership to handle the
intercontinental air traffic of these three
Scandinavian countries. Operations started on 17
Postnummer - Postcodes
Postcodes (postnummer), ZIP codes in the US, was
introduced in Sweden in 1968. This rationalized
sorting and handling of mail. Sweden was divided
into a number of postcode areas. On May 12, 1969,
the system with postcodes was operational.
Before 1968, mail in Sweden was sorted only
according to geographic location, which meant that
postal workers had to learn all mail centers in
Sweden, and what particular mail trains served
The Swedish postcode system is based on a five-
digit number combination, divided into two groups
of three and two digits. The principle of numbering
is that the lower the postcode, the further south the
place is located. Excluded from the principle are
postcodes beginning with number 1, which
represent the capital city, Stockholm. Mail delivery
centers are divided into two-, three-, and five-digit
positioning groups depending on the size of the
geographical place. The two-position group has
larger varieties, whereas the smallest belongs to the
five-digit positioning group.
According to the system, a space shall be inserted
between the third and fourth digit; as well as a
double space between the postcode and the
geographic location. The geographic location shall
be written in capital letters.
A typical address would look like this:
(First, and last name)
(Street, and number)
113 51 STOCKHOLM
(Postcode, and geographic
Government-owned Company to
Postverket - Public Enterprise
In 1921 Swedish Royal Mail (Kungliga Postverket)
was reorganized into a government-owned
enterprise by the name Postverket - The Post
Numerous countries, including Sweden, New
Zealand, Germany, Argentina and Chile have
deregulated their postal services.
On 1 January 1993 Sweden opened up the postal
services market to new entrants.
Posten - Public Incorporation
In 1994 The Post Office was turned into a public
corporation by the name Posten AB - Swedish
Postal Services Inc.
AB is an abbreviation of Aktiebolag which means
incorporation. Corresponding abbreviations are Inc.
in the US and Ltd. in the UK.
In order words the former Postverket was made into
a business company wholly-owned by the Swedish
government. The word "Posten" literally means "The
Post" or "The Mail" in Swedish. The vehicle fleet of
Posten is yellow.
One of the most visible changes to the postal
service was the decision in 2000 to replace Posten's
numerous post offices with a franchise net of
postal service points, run by grocery stores and
gas stations. Postal Service Centers, run by Posten,
are maintained for
business clients only.
Image to the right, a
typical yellow Posten
mail van in Sundsvall
2008. Free image
In addition to regular mail, Posten is also the largest
distributor in Sweden of advertising mail.
PostNord - Holding Company
In 2009 Posten merged with its Danish equivalent,
Post Danmark A/S, forming PostNord AB, a holding
company that is jointly owned by the Swedish (60%)
and Danish (40%) governments. A rebranding to
PostNord for both the mail as well as logistics
divisions was performed in 2015. PostNord means
PostNorth in English. The vehicle fleet of PostNord is
PostNord is under increasing competition from
private companies on the Swedish deregulated
Brevet - en resa genom sekler, Postmuseum,
Nationalencyklopedin, NE (Swedish National
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