Honduran Telegraph History
Above is a photo of the National Telegraph Building (with belltower) whose construction was started in 1916. It is followed by seal of the Tropical Radio Telegraph Company attached to a posted envelope in 1931. This company was given a fifty year monopoly by the privileged elite families in Tegucigalpa. It should come as no surprise since it was wholely-owned by the kingpin of Anglo-American colonialism. You guessed it...the United Fruit Company.
Cover page from pricelist for radiograms
The telegraph system in Honduras was started in 1876 by the promotion of the American-owned Rosario Mining Company where the first telegraph office was built. It reached Tegus in 1877 and San Pedro Sula in 1880 and was primarily used by national and local government. It was instantly popular with the "haves" and by 1882 there were thousands of miles of telegraph wires largely hung from trees. By 1901 more than 700 private telegrams were being sent daily. By 1905 the Tegus telegraph office had twenty six employees and was full of sinecures for the city's privileged. Obviously the "haves" simply adored the telegraph. The "have not" majority not so much. They were never taught to read or write anyway.
That's interesting but we are stamp people. What about the first telegraph stamps in Honduras? Legrand claims that they first appeared in Honduras in January, 1883 and leaves it there. To date the earliest Honduran telegraph stamp ever found dates about fifty years later. Another catalog publisher creating fairy tales?
The above is a telegraph received by Dr. William B. St. John in Tegus in early August, 1889. It is part of a package of correspondance mailed by Dr. St. John to his father, Dr. Charles St. John, over a period of less than a year as he traveled in Honduras. It appears to be the telegraph copy supplied to the recipient since it was mailed the same day to the United States from Tegus.
The above telegraph bears a seal from San Pedro and is the form supplied to the sender of the information in May of 1890. The recipient was in Puerto Cortés.
HONDUTELThat brings us to 1976 and the governmental creation of the Empresa Hondureña de Telecomunicaciones. It started operation in 1977 and handled telegraph and radiotelegraph operations for the next 17 years. Telegraph stamps were printed in 1978, 1981, 1984 and 1993. Hurricane Mitch in 1998 destroyed the remaining landlines and the service was discontinued.
HONDUTEL offered two price levels for internal messages. Regular service was charged 35 centavos for up to five words and additional words at 7 centavos. Urgent service had a total cost of 1 Lempira. The originating office applied stamps to a form that included full details and signatures of both the operator and the sender of the telegram. The sender was given no receipt. The office was required to store the forms and submit them monthly to the Ministerio de Gobernación were they were destroyed. Perhaps this was the only way to guarantee the privacy of the message. It resulted in the rarity of used telegram forms with stamps and the open question of why they bothered with the expense of producing telegraph stamps at all.
Control MarksLike all the revolutions in Honduras, the revolution of 1931-32 left Honduras in desperate times. Stamp sales was a major income source for the government and income from stamp sales had slowed to a trickle. There were two main reasons. Inventories of stamps had been sacked and robbed, and there was no currency so civil servants were paid partially in stamps as a form of cash. This led to a common market of stamps being sold below face value for cash. Only the foolish bought stamps from the government at face value.
The new Carías dictatorship in 1933 tried to fix things. All stamps were required to be turned in during the month of May along with paperwork verifying the source of the stamps. In exchange people were given new stamps bearing a signature facimile of their area administrator. After June 10, unsigned stamps were officially but not always refused as invalid.
The telegraph stamps seemed to pass through the same process. What is strange is that only two signatures of a possible twenty five have been discovered... the JM Lopez signature from the Tegus area and a later signature of Gallardo from the Cortés department who didn't take office until June of 1934! The Lopez signature was rather large, covering as many as three stamps.
The Anglo Hiscock describes these signatures as "indecypherable scribbles." That seems to say much more about Mr. Hiscock than about the signatures...
There is also the persistent and previously noted bias of the Anglo-American collectors' love affair with mint stamps. This continues in Honduran telegraph stamps because those folks print the catalogs. But used copies are utterly rare and have felt the steady hands of a Honduran telegrapher. Most mint copies have never been shown to have even visited the shores of Honduras, let alone heard the click of a telegraph key. Most were shipped directly to dealers from American or European printers where the stamps were born. Yet they are strangely described as "from Honduras?"
-Anderson Catalog of Classic Honduran Revenue Stamps by Craig Anderson © 2018.
-Collecting Telegraph Material; by Hiscocks, Higson in Gibbons Stamp Monthly January 2007.
-Correspondance with Edgardo Alegría, October, 2022.
-Correspondance with John Barefoot, April, 2020.
-Guía de Honduras by Fernando Somoza. Tipografia National in Tegucigalpa, 1905.
-Honduras; from the International Bureau of American Republics Doc #145 part 4. Washington 1904.
-Legrand's Manual for Stamp Collectors by A. Legrand. New York 1896 p. 117.
-Primer Catálogo de Sellos Fiscales de Honduras por Edgardo Alegría Reichmann, Tegucigalpa, 2005.
-Revenues of Honduras by Joe Ross.
-Telegraph Stamps of the World; an extensive and authortative website authored by Stephen Panting.