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Postage stamps, seals, and postmarks

Dewi Josephine Obert, Marjam Trautmann

Introduction

  1Next to addresses and pre-printed parts, a topic that often seems to be neglected within the TEI universe are the additional parts of information found on envelopes or postcards, like stamps, seals, and postmarks. Seals are specifically chosen by the sender and, thus, can tell us a lot about them. Postmarks and postage stamps, however, seem to be quite the opposite—the sender exerts little to no influence on both. Still, they can contain a great deal of information about the time and location the letter was sent from. Furthermore, many tourist spots will have their well-known places, sights, or buildings printed on their stamps. Even postmarks can include special editions for certain anniversaries or other festivities. If these elements are not included, a lot of relevant information about the document in question could be missed.

Postage stamps

  2The TEI Guidelines do list an element called <stamp> that "contains a word or phrase describing a stamp or similar device"[1]. This element, however, usually refers to armorial stamps or rubber stamps. But when encoding envelopes or postcards, taking postal stamps into consideration is often inevitable.

Example 1: Postcard with stamps (source: Swiss-German picture postcard corpus ANKO, https://www.ds.uzh.ch/de/projekte/ansichtskartenprojekt/).

Approach 1: Postage stamps within the <text> element

  3If the stamps are to be included within the <text> element, a suitable encoding might be the use of the <figure> element with a @type, such as <figure> type="postage-stamp". However, it has to be noted that the given definition is not really what we are looking for: "<figure> groups elements representing or containing graphic information such as an illustration, formula, or figure"[2].

  4As mentioned above, the element <stamp> does already exist but is rather used for rubber stamps. A convenient addition could therefore be the expansion of the description and usage of the <stamp> element to include postal stamps as well.

Approach 2: Postage stamps within the meta data

  5Understanding postage stamps as part of the meta data could be another proposal. An adequate place to put them could be the <objectType> element, for example within the <physDesc> element. This way it can be stated that one or several stamps are present in the given document. It is also easily possible to add the text written on the stamp, as well as any other information required such as the motive or value.

  6A possible encoding of example 1 might look like this:


<msDesc>
<physDesc>
<p><idno type="postcard">101030</idno>
<objectType n="1">Stamp</objectType> from Italy with the imprint
<quote>CASTELLO <lb/> ARAGONESE • ISCHIA 100<lb/> ITALIA</quote>
<figure>
<graphic url="postagestamp1.jpg"/>
<figDesc>The drawing on the postage stamp shows a castle on top of
a cliff.</figDesc>
</figure>
</p>
<p>
<objectType n="2">Stamp</objectType> from Italy with the imprint
<quote>CASTELLO <lb/> SCALIGERO • SIRMIONE 600<lb/> ITALIA</quote>
<figure>
<graphic url="postagestamp2.jpg"/>
<figDesc>The drawing on the postage stamp shows a castle next to a
body of water</figDesc>
</figure>
</p>
</physDesc>
</msDesc>

Postage stamps: Conclusion

  7By the current status, there is no uncomplicated way to incorporate postage stamps inside the <text> element. It also seems unnecessary to invent a new element specifically for those—considering that a <stamp> element already exists. Therefore the proposal to solve this problem would either be to expand the description and usage of the <stamp> element to include postal stamps as well, or to just position them in the <physDesc> element within the metadata, where it is possible to add significant information such as the text or motive.

Seals

  8A similar issue is the topic of seals: There is the option to encode them in the header via <sealDesc> (within <physDesc>), which "describes the seals or similar items related to the object described"[3]. It is even possible to specify the @type and @subtype of the seal as well as describing it along with other desired information such as the date, owner and a description.

Example 2: Seal on an envelope for a letter (source: Clara Schumann to Hedwig von Holstein, 18 June 1886, https://www.deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de/item/SD5BCK2IF4HNMI5AYZHYDRD4YIOZJ6S7).
<physDesc>
<sealDesc>
<seal type="x" subtype="y">
<p>Round seal of <name>XY</name> made of red wax</p>
</seal>
</sealDesc>
</physDesc>
Example 3: Three seals on a letter (source: Adelbert von Chamisso to Louis de La Foye, 26 June 1804, https://www.berliner-intellektuelle.eu/manuscript?Brief005ChamissoandeLaFoye+en#2).

  9A possible encoding of the seals in example 3 might look like this:

<physDesc>
<sealDesc>
<seal n="1">
<p>The green wax seal represents the motto of the "Nordsternbund":
<foreign xml:lang="grc"><hi rend="greek">τὸ του πόλοῦ
ἄστρον</hi></foreign>.</p>
</seal>
<seal n="2">
<p>The red wax seal has not been identified yet.</p>
</seal>
<seal n="3">
<p>The yellow wax seal shows Chinese inscriptions. In his book "Reise um
die Welt" (p. 132), Chamisso reports that Julius Klaproth gave him
that seal in 1804 or 1805 and that it shows a quote by Confucius.</p>
</seal>
</sealDesc>
</physDesc>

10Such an encoding is both sufficient and reasonable, and putting the encoding of seals within the <text> element can be dismissed. Seals, just as postage stamps, do not really belong to the text flow and, therefore, do not need an element of their own within the text. If insisted upon, the element <figure> should be adequate (again, example 3):

<text>
<body>
<p>
<figure type="seal" n="1">
<graphic url="seal1.jpg"/>
<figDesc>A green wax seal, representing the motto of the
"Nordsternbund": <foreign xml:lang="grc"><hi rend="greek">τὸ του
πόλοῦ ἄστρον</hi></foreign>.</figDesc>
</figure>
<figure type="seal" n="2">
<graphic url="seal2.jpg"/>
<figDesc>A red wax seal that has not been identified yet.</figDesc>
</figure>
<figure type="seal" n="3">
<graphic url="seal3.jpg"/>
<figDesc>A yellow wax seal that shows Chinese inscriptions. In his
book "Reise um die Welt" (p. 132), Chamisso reports that Julius
Klaproth gave him that seal in 1804 or 1805 and that it shows a
quote by Confucius</figDesc>
</figure>
</p>
</body>
</text>

Postmarks

11Postmarks provide information about the place and date of shipping of the letter. This information can be found in the <correspAction> element of the <teiHeader>. Furthermore, it is thinkable, depending on the question, that one would like to explicitly refer to the existence of a postmark and its information content. Also a differentiation between the date and place of the letter written by the sender, on the one hand, and the date and place at which the letter was actually dispatched by the post office, on the other hand, could be relevant. In the following, it is assumed that the letter writer provided handwritten information. This is usually encoded within <text> within <dateline> and can also be found in <correspAction>. However, the postmark might provide different information. If there is a correct date of dispatch, i.e. the date on the postmark, this is always encoded in <correspDesc>. It should be recorded elsewhere in the metadata, if the handwritten date differs from the date documented on the postmark.

12Such a case could be encoded in the element <origin> within the element <history>. According to the TEI P5 Guidelines, <history> "groups elements describing the full history of a manuscript, manuscript part, or other object"[4] and being part of it, <origin> "contains any descriptive or other information concerning the origin of a manuscript, manuscript part, or other object"[5]. The reference to a handwritten date would reflect the course of the origin of the letter at this point. As another possibility we would like to suggest the encoding of the handwritten date as <note> within the respective <correspAction>. Both suggestions are presented in the fictitious example below.

13Encoding example within the <history> element:


<sourceDesc>
<msDesc>
<history>
<origin>
<p>The sender dates the letter, contrary to the postmark, to the
<origDate when="1915-01-16">16 January 1915</origDate>.</p>
</origin>
</history>
</msDesc>
</sourceDesc>

14Encoding example within <correspAction>:

<correspDesc>
<correspAction type="sent">
<persName>Franz Marc</persName>
<placeName>Benediktbeuern</placeName>
<date when="1915-01-18"/>
<note>The sender dates the letter, contrary to the postmark, to the
<origDate when="1915-01-16">16 January 1915</origDate>.</note>
</correspAction>
<correspAction type="received">
<!-- [...] -->
</correspAction>
</correspDesc>

15Another possibility would be the separate encoding of the postmark. In the following, we would like to discuss possible coding variants using example 4:

Example 4: Postcard with several stamps (source: Franz Marc to Herwarth Walden, 16 January 1915, in: DER STURM. Digitale Quellenedition zur Geschichte der internationalen Avantgarde, https://sturm-​edition.de/id/Q.01.19150116.FMA.01).

Approach 1: Postmarks within the meta data

16A postmark is not an object in the true sense of the word, like a stamp or a seal. However, the definition of the <stamp> element in the TEI Guidelines states that it could also represent a "similar device"[6]—something to which a postmark could be assigned. As an equivalent to stamps, it would therefore be conceivable to encode postmarks within the <teiHeader> in <msDesc> as <stamp> and, in addition to a description, to encode the stamped information of example 4 as follows or similarly:

<msDesc>
<physDesc>
<objectDesc>
<supportDesc>
<support>
<p>postcard with
postmark:<stamp><!-- Description if needed--><mentioned><placeName>Feldpoststation
A. A. Falkenhausen</placeName><date when="1915-01-18">18 Januar 15</date>2-3 N</mentioned></stamp></p>
</support>
</supportDesc>
</objectDesc>
</physDesc>
</msDesc>

17<support> "contains a description of the materials etc. which make up the physical support for the written part of a manuscript or other object"[7]—a definition that could include postmarks. Furthermore, the TEI P5 Guidelines recommend to clearly separate the transcription of text written on an object from the editor’s description of that object, e.g. by <mentioned> for the text of stamps as child element of <stamp>[8]. The element <mentioned>, however, is intended to make words and phrases explicit that are only implicit in the text: "<mentioned> marks words or phrases mentioned, not used"[9]. This appears to be a contradiction within the TEI Guidelines. Elements like <q>, <quote> and <cit> are not allowed at this point, perhaps a validation of these elements at this point would be the resolution of the discrepancy we suspect for the element <mentioned>?

Approach 2: Postmarks within the <text> element

18For encoding the postmark within the <text> element, we suggest using a typified <ab> or <div> element (the latter needing an additional <p>):

<ab type="postmark"><placeName>Feldpoststation A.A. Falkenhausen</placeName><date>18 Januar
15</date></ab>

19or

<div type="postmark">
<p>
<placeName>Feldpoststation A.A. Falkenhausen</placeName>
<date>18 Januar 15</date>
</p>
</div>

20Within <text> non-encoded descriptions in plain text of objects in the letter—to which a postmark is counted here—are not provided per se, and are rather assigned to the metadata in the <teiHeader>. So <stamp>, if you want to use it correctly, must not be used within <text> since the element <stamp> explicitly contains a description of the object and is solely part of <msDesc>. But would not a valid use of the <stamp> element—in combination with a validation of elements like <cit>, <quote> etc. as discussed in approach 1—also make sense within <body>, not only for postmarks but also for other types of stamps (e.g. for receipt stamps)?

21Another solution could be to encode the actual letter text again separately in a <div> or <ab> element, or to even introduce a new element <postmark> within the <text> element.

<body>
<ab type="postmark">
<placeName>A.A. Falkenhausen</placeName>
<date>18 Januar 15</date>
</ab>
<div>
<opener/>
<!-- [...] -->
</div>
</body>

22or

<body>
<postmark>
<placeName>A.A. Falkenhausen</placeName>
<date>18 Januar 15</date>
</postmark>
<opener/>
<!-- [...] -->
</body>

Postmarks: Conclusion

23To take into account the difference between handwritten places and dates and those on postmarks in the coding of correspondence, we discussed different approaches. In order to document the handwritten date in the meta data, we suggest using the element <origin> within <history>/<msDesc>, or analogously an additional <note> within <correspAction>, since the date of the postmark is always listed in the <correspAction>.

24However, in order to capture the information of the postmark not only in terms of content but also in terms of a transcription, we make two suggestions. The first is the possible encoding of the text of the postmark in the element <stamp> within <support> (inside <msDesc>) (approach1). Here, the explicit text is in the element <mentioned>, which contradicts the actual definition of this element. For this reason, we suggest allowing elements such as <cit>, <quote>, and <q> in the <stamp> element.

25In our second approach, we discussed the possibilities of encoding the postmark within <text>. One way could be to use a paragraph-like element like <ab> or <div> with a @type attribute "postmark". We also encourage discussion on the possibility of introducing a separate element <postmark> or to validate <stamp> with the adjustments proposed in approach 1 for elements such as <cit>, <q> and <quote>.

Citation

Dewi Josephine Obert, Marjam Trautmann: Postage stamps, seals, and postmarks. In: Encoding Correspondence. A Manual for Encoding Letters and Postcards in TEI-XML and DTABf. Edited by Stefan Dumont, Susanne Haaf, and Sabine Seifert. Berlin 2019–2020. URL: https://encoding-correspondence.bbaw.de/v1/stamps-seals-postmarks.html URN: urn:nbn:de:kobv:b4-20200421172336303-8613365-9Zotero