Muscovy's Mayflies - Imperial Russia's Temporary Post Offices, 1858 - 1917

by David M Skipton, Posted: 2009-12-31 Samovar Email the Link to this Exhibit

Exhibit Categories: ImperialPostal History

Muscovy's Mayflies

Topic Summary:

The exhibit demonstrates the maturation and spread of Imperial Russia's postal system over the last 45 years of its existence from the sole viewpoint of temporary post office services (the "last piece of the puzzle"), the development of various types of "tempos" following economic, social or military lines, and provide a survey of such offices following a clockwise rotation around the Empire, starting from the Baltic area and proceeding through Moscow, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine and "Little Russia" (present-day Belarus).

Significance of the subject.

When one studies a national postal system that lacks temporary post offices, one has encountered a system that isn't fully developed, in the sense that the "intensity" of postal services provided to the public is at least partially deficient. Not only does a true, modern postal system offer all sorts of choices as to the kinds or categories of mail it will handle, it also provides choices as to where those items of correspondence can be mailed or picked up, and how many of those wheres there are. City posts and home delivery are one example of "intensity," postal services at small railroad stations, platforms and sidings are another. Temporary post offices are usually one of the last conveniences to be offered. For instance, it took Russia from the 1660s to 1832 before she got around to establishing her very first temporary post offices - almost two centuries - and that was only in St. Petersburg, and they were seasonal offices, not special-event; the rest of the empire would have to wait even longer.

If there are no "TPOs" - temporary post offices - it is evidence of a system that has yet to understand that when a literate population congregates for an event or series of events, mail - and thus revenue for the State - will be generated. A temporary post office represents a good investment for the government because people will send more mail at a post office on the spot, no matter how modest that office may be, than they will if they have to trudge many blocks or several miles to get to a permanent post office. Thus, temporary offices are indicators of a fully mature national postal system. And like the canary in the coal mine, when temporary offices begin to disappear, it is evidence that the postal system is in trouble, financially or from a perennial shortage of staff.

"Muscovy's Mayflies" is the most extensive exhibit of "tempos" shown thus far, and has served as the basis for the "Vremennoe" series in the Rossica Journal. A monograph is in the works.