Longest running international postal service

Rate this item
(0 votes)
Longest running international postal service Photo: illustration

The longest running international postal service was operated by the Counts of Thurn and Taxis from 1450 until 1871 – a total of 421 years. The service originated in 1450 when the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III, employed Roger de Tassis to extend the existing courier services of the Holy See to the Tyrol Venice.

This service was passed through generations of the family and the family organised and controlled the European postal system throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the earliest postal rates lists was established in July 1613 for the Antwerp Taxis post office.

At its strongest point the Thurn and Taxis postal system produced an annual profit of 4,000,000 livres, had around 25,000 couriers, and owned many properties. However, events began to chip away at its influence including the Spanish Succession War (1701-14) when the family lost its postal authority in the region.

By 1850 the operation had been reduced to three Grand Duchies and a handful of petty principalities. Between 1852 and 1867 the Thurn and Taxis family issued adhesive postage stamps for the Northern and Southern districts of German states (54 stamps in total). The family had also been responsible for employing the first modern day horse drawn mail coaches (in 1650), and being a part of the first attempt to standardise the colours of postage stamps in 1850.

The family backed Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War and paid the penalty by being forced by the victorious Prussia to sell its long-standing postal monopoly for 3,000,000 thalers. Thus ended over four centuries of a postal system that is still celebrated on stamps today, chiefly those from Belgium.