Franking was the privilege of free postage granted to members and friends of parliament and was greatly abused in the 18th century. In 1715, pay letters and franked letters totaled 121,000 pounds and 23,600 pounds respectively (Ellis 40). By 1764, the ratio was 186,500 pounds for pay letters and 170,000 pounds for franked letters (40). The dramatic increase was attributed to friends of members, such as ministers and officials, who were entitled to use member's franks (40). Members also distributed franked covers (effectively pre-paid return mail envelopes) to correspondents and sometimes abused privileges for their commercial businesses (40).
The Franking Act of 1764 sought to curb the abuse. Many privileges were lost as franking was confined to select positions and penalties for forgery were imposed (Ellis 41). However, the system soon relaxed again, and by 1783 privileges were once again extended, and the abuse of member's franks continued to grow (41).
The Franking Act of 1784 was designed to check these offenses by determining that a place and date must appear on each letter (Ellis 42). To circumvent these controls, members simply supplied correspondents with post-dated covers endorsed as required (42).
The Franking Act of 1795 posed tougher regulations. The maximum weight allowed was lowered to 1 oz. and a daily limit of 15 letters received and 10 sent was imposed. In addition, members must be within 20 miles of the place of posting on the same day sent for the frank to be valid (Ellis 42). While potentially effective, these regulations were difficult to enforce, and the abuse continued until the Postal Reform and abolition of franking in 1840 (43).
Rates and Terms
Postal Moneys Used for War
Postal Reform of 1840
Quotes from Austen's Characters