THE VICTOR HUGO
This remarkable cover addressed by famous playwright Victor Hugo and franked with three examples of the world’s most iconic stamps, the Great Britain 1858-79 1d rose-red showing a plate number 77, is unique in its philatelic rarity.
The Victor Hugo cover was sent by Hugo from Guernsey to his publishers in Brussels on Monday the 27th November 1865, is franked with three of of the world’s most iconic stamps – the Great Britain 1858-79 1d rose-red showing a plate number 77.
Only seven other examples of this stamp are still known to exist today. One unused example, stamp AB, resides in the Royal collection, one unused example, stamp BA, and a used example, stamp PH, reside at the British Library, and three used examples stamps LL, PI and MI in private hands. The whereabouts of the seventh unused example stamp AC is unknown.
This cover is the most forensically tested philatelic item known. Scientific examinations by internationally recognised bodies using state of the art analytical equipment (unprecedented in philatelic history) have unequivocally demonstrated that the stamps are completely genuine.
The Victor Hugo cover now has three certificates of opinion from three philatelic expert bodies declaring the stamps as completely genuine.
1864 letters in all four corners, watermark Large Crown Die II, perf. 14, 1d rose-red (SG43) ‘Plate 77’.
Irregular block of three on large part envelope from Guernsey to Brussels cancelled by ‘324’duplex date stamp of 27th November 1865, showing ‘PD’ in circle in red and, on the reverse, the Belgian TPO transit and the Brussels arrival c.d.s. of 28th November 1865. The cover was mailed correctly at the 3d rate*, the rate required to send mail from Great Britain to Belgium at that time * and carries the following cancels:
1- The Guernsey duplex hand stamp G16b showing the pointed ‘four’ in ‘324’ was in use in Guernsey between 1862 and 1867. ** The cover which is dated 27th November 1865 falls within these dates.** All three stamps are tied by this handstamp alongside is the ‘Guernsey A’ c.d.s. of NO 27 65.
2- The ‘PD’ (Paid to Destination) in a circle mark, which was applied in red, was applied to letters going beyond France indicating payment for the English and French postage. This ‘PD’ mark, SG type 34 ** was in use in Guernsey between 1866 and 1873. The mark on this cover precedes this date by two months. **
3- ANGLETERE/AMB. OUEST2- A Belgian TPO cancel used on the Ostend-Brussels railway line.
4- BRUXEL arrival c.d.s. of 28 NO 65.
* British Letter Mail to Overseas Destinations 1840-1875- Jane and Michael Moubray
** Stanley Gibbons Channel Islands Postal History Catalogue- Stanley Gibbons Limited
the victor hugo connection
Close investigation of the handwriting, the addressee on the cover and its journey revealed that this letter was sent by the famed literary and political figure Victor Hugo.
Victor Hugo is, without doubt, the most famous figure to have lived in the Channel Islands. He is the author of classic works such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables and lived in Hauteville House, Guernsey between 1855 and 1870.
This cover was sent to Hugo’s Publishers, Lacroix and Verboeckhoven, in Brussels on the 27th November 1865, and Hugo resided in Guernsey at the exact time the letter was sent.
The address on the letter is that of the headquarters of Belgian publishing house Lacroix and Verboeckhoven, who were noted as publishers of, among other things, the works of Victor Hugo. In view of the fact that the cover is excised down the left-hand side, the visible text reads as shown in the centre panel, the very likely wording is shown on the right-hand panel.
It should be noted that ‘Impasse Du Parc’ is today named ‘Rue de Colonies’, and is situated just off ‘Rue Royale’. The address is now home to the Société des Transports intercommunaux de Bruxelles.
The cover would have had to travel by sea and by rail in order to reach its destination. Examination of the sailing records out of Guernsey in the archive copies of the ‘Guernsey Daily Star’ newspaper which are held at the Priaulx Library in St Peter Port, Guernsey showed the following entry:
Nov. 27 1865- St. Aubin, Barette; Cygnus, Falle; Alliance, Lewis, Jersey; Brittany, Goodridge, Southampton; Watt, Angel, Alderney.
From the above entry it appears that the only Steam Ship bound to England on Monday the 27th of November 1865, the day the letter was sent, was S.S. Brittany under its Captain Goodridge which sailed to Southampton. (Route ‘a’).
The S.S. Brittany was owned by the London and S.W. Railway Company, a company born out of the London and Southampton Railway which was opened in May 1840 with the objective of connecting the port of Southampton with the city of London. The original London terminus would have been based at Nine Elms.
The Victor Hugo would have been carried by rail to London via this route. (Route ‘b’ marked opposite).
The letter would have then been sent by rail from London to Dover. (Route ‘c’ marked opposite).
The London-Dover rail service was run by the South Eastern Railway which, by 1848, was serving two steam ships a day between Folkestone and Boulogne, one a day between Dover and Calais, and one between Dover and Ostend. (Route ‘d’ marked opposite).
The 3d rate the Victor Hugo letter was sent at indicates that the letter was sent on the direct Dover to Ostend line rather than being shipped to Calais and then by train to Ostend.
The route times would have therefore been as follows:
By sea from Guernsey to Southampton approx. 9 hours
By train to London approx. 2 hours
Transit across London approx. 2 hours
By train to Dover approx. 2 hours
By sea Dover to Ostend approx. 4 hours
By train Ostend to Brussels approx. 3 hours
CONFIRMING VICTOR HUGO'S HANDWRITING
In order to confirm that this is Hugo's handwriting, a high-resolution image of the cover was sent to Sotheby’s offices in Paris for an opinion and the following confirmation was received from Mr. Adrien Legendre, Spécialiste en Livres & Manuscrits, Sotheby’s:
"In my opinion, the hand-writing on the envelope is Victor Hugo’s."