By Janet Klug
French is the official language of the Universal Postal Union, officially named the Union Postale Universelle.
You probably recognize many of the French words or phrases on covers in your collection. Some are easy to figure out even if you don't know French, such as "par avion," which means "by airmail."The UPU was established in 1874 in Berne, Switzerland, in an effort to coordinate international postal policies and procedures.
"Recommande" is literally translated as "recommended," but in a postal sense it means registered mail.
Other French markings are less obvious and made worse if only initials are used! You might find the letters "A.R." handstamped or, less often, handwritten on a letter. This is the abbreviation for the official UPU term "avis de reception," or "advice (or acknowledgment) of receipt."
The United States Postal Service has a return receipt service where an acknowledgment of delivery can be sent to the sender by traditional mail or e-mail, but this method has largely been replaced by barcoded delivery confirmation and signature confirmation on many classes of mail.
However, the "A.R." nomenclature is still in use elsewhere internationally.
Figure 1 illustrates a cover sent from Malaya that was marked by hand "A.R. registered" at upper left. The "avis de reception" acknowledgment form indicating that the letter had been delivered to the addressee is shown in Figure 2.
Some nations issued stamps that paid for the extra A.R. advice of receipt service for registered mail.
The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue uses the prefix "H" for A.R. stamps. For example, Chile's one and only A.R. stamp, Scott H1, issued in 1894, is shown in Figure 3. The 5-centavo stamp depicts Christopher Columbus.
El Salvador issued an A.R. stamp (Scott H1) in 1897, also with a 5c denomination, as shown in Figure 4. The dark green stamp was printed on two different papers, one with a watermark (Scott H1) and the other (H2) unwatermarked.
Panama had several A.R. stamps, some of which were stamps of Colombia overprinted for use in Panama. Figure 5 shows Scott H9, a Colombian A.R. stamp overprinted in 1903 in rose "Republica de Panama." The overprints ceased a few years later with the issuance of a specific Republica de Panama A.R. stamp, H22 (Figure 6).
Colombia's first A.R. stamps were actually two stamps, one with the letter "A" that paid the fee for "anotado" or acknowledgment, and an "R" stamp paying the fee for "registro" or registration. These stamps do not have "H" prefixes in the Scott standard catalog, but are listed as registration stamps with an "F" prefix to the catalog number.
At top in Figure 7 is the Colombian stamp for registration, issued in 1865, Scott F1, and at bottom is Scott F2, the acknowledgment stamp.
Colombia issued A.R. stamps beginning in 1893. Scott H1, a 5c stamp, is illustrated in Figure 8.
As you may have surmised by now from the illustrations shown here, most of the A.R. stamps were issues from South and Central America. However, Montenegro also had A.R. stamps, beginning in 1895. Figure 9 depicts Scott H1, a 10-novcic value printed in ultramarine and rose and featuring a portrait of Prince Nicholas I.
Collecting the A.R. stamps is not particularly difficult. The challenge lies in finding them properly used on cover to pay the fee for an acknowledgment of receipt.