by Thomas Mathà

All collectors have a dream or, possibly, many dreams. One of mine came true when I finally laid my hands on a magnificent “Mulready” sent to an addressee in Rome, then capital of the Papal States.

Philatelists who collect and study postal history of the Papal States can easily attest to the special pleasure, not to say frissons, felt by owning a great “gem” of the philatelic world: a Rome-bound Mulready envelope or more simply the first ever prepaid postal stationery issued concurrently with the world’s first adhesive postage stamps (1d and 2d) on that momentous 6 May 1840.

However, it must be pointed out that the credit of the first prepaid postal stationery should in truth be given to Italy because some twenty-one years earlier (1819) the Kingdom of Sardinia issued, for the first time in man’s history, watermarked letter sheets – “stamped letter paper” as it was called then, later on called “cavallini” (little horses) by collectors. On the outer part of the letter sheets was printed in blue ink a device designed by mint engraver Amedeo Lavy featuring a cherub riding a horse and blowing a posthorn; below this charming allegory was the tariff in centesimi which varied depending on the destination’s distance from the point of departure (15, 25 and 50c).

This was a provisional issue, while the embossing punches with similar designs and tariffs were prepared for the 1820 issue. Even though technically the “Cavallini” are not the same as adhesive postage stamps and Mulready envelopes the reasoning for their creation is basically the same because it would seem that the British had understood the practical aspects of the “Cavallini” and had improved and fine-tuned the concept. Beyond their affinities, “Cavallini” and Mulready envelopes have something else in common: a good portion of the public did not quite understand their purpose and therefore they were short-lived.Nevertheless, during the course of time, both innovations enjoyed a tremendous success, even though they were far ahead of their times