These selected covers illustrate the markings of and movement of mail in those territories of Imperial Russia which later became the Republic of Estonia. The time period has been restricted to before 1900 - a period of considerable postal development and expansion.
While Sweden lost the Baltic Provinces to Russia during after the Great Northern War, the postal system first established by Sweden in 1636 in the Baltic continued.
A partial system of post riders, using Cossack horsemen was used to carry on the service. In 1712 the government reorganised the system and made the provincial nobility responsible for maintaining Mail Coach stations and routes.
The postal system in the provinces of Estonia and Livonia was part of the St. Petersburg postal district. Not only was the postal coach route from St.Petersburg-Narva-Tartu-Riga (established in 1723) important for local post movement, but the line continued from Riga to Memel and westward, connecting the centre of the Empire to Europe. Additional official routes connected Narva to Tallinn and Tallinn to Parnu and Riga.
In the 18th century the system was expanded to include all larger towns in the provinces of Estonia and Livonia. Private routes were also opened and routes were closed or adjusted as needed.
In 1870 the first train services was established between Paldiski-Tallinn-St.Petersburg and the corresponding mail Coach stations closed. As the railway system expanded, Mail Coach stations were closed to eliminate duplication. The railway also introduced travelling postal wagons to carry mail and process mail picked up along the routes.
However, even after the major centres were connected by train routes, and the town or railway station post offices had replaced the major Mail Coach stations, postal coach routes continued to function into the 20th century, well after the founding of the Estonian Republic. The routes were also adjusted to move mail to and from those smaller places not served by the railway.
Mail transported during the late swedish period was marked by the 'banderol' markings of Reval or Pernau and Narva to indicate place of origin.
Mail during 1910-1796 bore no postal markings. From 1796 straight line markers or handwritten markings in German or Russian were introduced for main postal establishments such as Reval, Pernau, Tartu and Narva. These were followed in the 1820's by circular double-ringed bilingual Russian-German cancellers featuring a date.
A great variety of cancellers were manufactured locally and adopted by both the post offices and Coach Stations. Some of these required a handwritten date or location be supplied.
A variety of arrival markings "POLUCENO" were also adopted during this period.
In January 1858 postage stamps were introduced and with them the numerical dot cancellers of the philatelic period. The single circle date cancellers of the fleuron type were adopted to provide location and dating. The post horn type of single circle cancellers followed.
As their sole function was to cancel postage, the numerical dot cancellers were not generally used on official mail. They were generally withdrawn in Estonia in the years 1860 through 1877 and in post offices were replaced by circular date stamps of various designs.
During the period 1872 through 1890 double straight line frameless markings were introduced for those Coach Stations handling mail. They were required for marking mail after the numerical dot cancellers were withdrawn.
Many of the cancellers introduced into use during the prephilatelic days continued in use after the introduction of postage stamps.
The introduction of the railway brought with it cancellers for the postal wagons which identified either numbered or named routes.