On the Perry Como Show, the chorus used to sing: “Letters, we get letters. We get stacks and stacks of letters.” However, during the Regency Period, the mail was expensive. MPs were the only ones who had a “free” ride for the mail delivery. Until 1840, MPs could “frank” their own letters.
In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Edmund tells Fanny to have a friend or relative who was an MP to frank the letter for her and, therefore, save the Price family from the cost of the letter. “As your uncle will frank it, it will cost William nothing.”
Postage was based on the number of miles the letter traveled from point A to point B. Recipients paid, rather than the sender of the letter. These were the going rates for a single page: fourpence for the first fifteen miles, eightpence for eighty miles, etc., etc., up to seventeen pence for a letter covering seven hundred miles. Additional pages increased the price accordingly.
To save on the expense of sending a letter, people developed their own form of “Tweeting.” Abbreviations saved space. Often the writer would “cross” the letter, which meant turning the letter at right angles and writing between the previously written words.
A “two penny post,” which was developed for mail delivery within London proper, was separate from the General Post Office, which dealt with the national mail. There were designated shops for dropping off the mail. As with the writing of the letter, abbreviations were used as part of the address/directions to speed the delivery: “W” for the West End; “N” for north of the Old City, etc.
After 1840, a person could send a letter anywhere in England for the cost of one penny. Railroads sped the delivery system and made the mail service more economical. Also, before 1840 envelopes were generally not used. In Jane Austen’s stories, her characters use a wafer to seal the letters. A wafer was small disk made of flour and gum. A person would lick the wafer and stick it to the folded sheet of writing to form the envelope. Those of the upper class used seals. It was melted and applied to the letter. Commonly, red seals were used for business and other colors for social correspondence. Black was a sign of death and mourning.