GEMS IN MY COLLECTION
Six rare Hong Kong Marine Sorter covers
By Harmon Fine (Texas, U.S.A.)
In order to speed up deliver of incoming mails to China, Hong Kong and Japan, postal clerks were sent from Hong Kong to those P&O mailboats sailing from Singapore to Hong Kong (July 1868 - Aug. 1915) and Hong Kong to Shanghai (July 1868 - Aug. 1870, July 1874 - May 1876, Jan. 1901 - June 1910). Special sorting cabins were built on those ships carrying the mails and datestamps were issued to the postal clerks for backstamping letters. For full details please consult "British Maritime Postal History Vol.2 - The P&O Lines to the Far East" by Reg Kirk and the "Postal History of the British Colonies - Hong Kong" by E.B. Proud.
The earliest type is undated, only with code letters A, B for the Singapore to Hong Kong line and C, D for the Hong Kong to Shanghai line (Proud D1, D2). 1868 late, a set of four double-ring c.d.s. was issued to Singapore to Hong Kong line (Proud D3-6) and a set of two to the Hong Kong to Shanghai line (Proud D4, D5). There is also one with the wording "Shanghae to Hong Kong" recorded used between 1874-75 (Proud D6). These double-ring c.d.s. has a "compound date", the departure date from Singapore and the expected arrival date at Hong Kong or the departure date from Hong Kong and the expected arrival date at Shanghai.
Single-ring steel c.d.s. replaced the double-ring c.d.s. at around 1878, two types have been recorded with "Singapore" at top and "To Hong Kong" below (Proud D8, D9). There was no Hong Kong to Shanghai equivalent since sorting had been discontinued by this date. These were replaced by another series of single-ring c.d.s. with "Singapore-to-Hong Kong" in one line at the top from 1900 onwards (Proud D13-15) and "Hong Kong-to-Shanghai" (Proud D8,9). Sorting on board ship ended at the beginning of the First World War and not resumed after the war.
In addition to the regular datestamps, there are several ad hoc types known used on a single voyage only and the reason for using these has not been ascertained.
(Fig. 1) Hong Kong to Shanghae code C, Proud type D1, Kirk type 6
(Fig. 2) Singapore to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Shanghai double-sorter 1875 cover from Hamburg (Kirk type 2,7)
(Fig. 3) 32 mm single-ring ad hoc type recorded in February 1901
(Fig. 4) 1 anna postcard from India to Hong Kong showing ad hoc type recorded only 2 AP 05
(Fig. 5) Incoming 1d postcard from U.K. showing ad hoc type recorded only 10 SP 09
(Fig. 6) Oval "HONG KONG TO SHANGHAI" - Incoming cover from Egypt to Shanghai showing another ad hoc type made of rubber recorded 19 JAN 01 - 18 FEB 01, Proud D7, Kirk type 10, Webb type 7a.