The Royal Decree of August 6, 1764 by King Carlos III established the new rules for mail delivered to and from the Spanish colonies, and on November 1st, 1764, the official mail operation of the Royal Maritime Service between Spain and America was started.

Until then, Cadiz was the only port in Spain that had the exclusivity of trade with the Americas, and ships from Cadiz had to carry mail free of charge to the different ports in the Americas. After 1764, only the ports of Cadiz and Corunna (La Coruña) could dispatch mail to the colonies, with monthly mail being carried by packet boats operating on schedule that departed from Corunna and sailed to Havana, Cuba.

Postmasters were designated to handle all mail at these ports, and a few other in the Americas, with the mail being conveyed in sealed bags from one point to another. Postmarks were introduced to denote the provenance of all mail with the main ports in Spanish America, as well as Corunna and Cadiz in Spain being provided with postal markings to indicate the origin of all correspondence. Such postmarks included “ESPANA” (for mail originating from Spain to America), “YNDIAS” (American mainland mail to Spain), and “YSLAS” (letters emanating from the Caribbean). Exceptions were made in South America (the Viceroyalty of Peru), with “PERU” and “CHYLE” postmarks also denoting mail originating in Peru and Chile with the postmarks being applied on dispatch.

Latin America Maritime Mail

1767 (March 21). Entire letter from Buenos Aires to Cádiz. The earliest known item displaying any of the extensively used “Yndias” markings, as well as one of just three Spanish colonial letters recorded carried via Portugal.


In 1778-1779, changes in regulations introduced new rates which altered according to the origin of the correspondence; this resulted in nine further postal boundaries including: Islas de Barlovento, Caracas, Nueva España, Guatemala, Santa Fe, Buenos Aires, Peru and Chile, as well as the Philippines in Asia. These territories each had their own postmarks that were distributed to the major cities and ports and which provided more detailed provenance of mail.

Although the American postal boundaries now numbered eight in total, only three different rates were applicable. The boundaries in the Americas included the following territories:

  • Buenos Aires: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and part of Bolivia
  • Chile: Chile
  • Caracas: Venezuela, and part of the Guyana
  • Guatemala: Costa Rica, Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Salvador
  • Islas de Barlovento: Cuba, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo
  • Nueva España: Mexico, part of present-day Southwestern and Central United States
  • Peru: Peru, Ecuador and part of Bolivia
  • Santa Fe: Colombia and Panama

After the period in which most of the American colonies gained their independence, Puerto Rico and Cuba remained under Spanish dominion for a further 75 years until 1898.


Latin America Maritime Mail

1804 (Oct 11). Ship’s register cover of the “Sacra Familia” frigate sailing from Puerto Cabello to Cádiz (Spain). As required, following the postal regulations, ship’s register covers had to be prepaid from 1784 to 1853. This is the only colonial ship’s register cover documented as originating from Venezuela, and one of just three postal items known of this nature emanating from South America. In addition, two covers are recorded bearing the “Franca” and “Pto.Cavello” postmarks used in conjunction (this being the earliest usage).

The Ship’s Register Covers or envelopes were remarkable postal artefacts which were exclusive to the Spanish maritime mail. These were letters containing the list of goods which were carried by a ship between ports and served as customs control documents. They therefore differ from a bill of lading, which was a receipt of embarked goods delivered to the captain of the ship. Ship’s register covers transmitted information which was sealed and contained in envelopes which were considered as sealed correspondence from the perspective of postal communications, and consequently required postage to be paid on them.


There are only sixteen transatlantic register covers in private hands, that originated from different territories in the Americas. Our Latin America auction of June 31st offers most of them.