Home > History of Wine, Image > Anatomy of a Madeira Letter – Recipient’s Address

Anatomy of a Madeira Letter – Recipient’s Address


Whether from England or America, an old letter addressed to a Madeira house is shockingly simple. The name of the firm followed by “Madeira” are all that were required for an address to enable the letter to reach its destination during the 18th and 19th centuries. Founded in 1745 by Francis Newton, the firm of Cossart, Gordon & Co. has changed names some dozen times since [1] and the letters in my possession illustrate several of these changes through the recipient’s address:

  • Messrs Newton Gordon & Co (1787)
  • Messrs Newton Gordon & Johnston (1790)
  • Messrs Newton Gordon Murdoch & Scott (1808)
  • Messrs Newton, Gordon, Cossart & Co (1840)

A number of my letters are endorsed with additional information. To understand why we must turn to postal history.[2] The British Post Office was first organized by act in the mid 17th century which gave it the authority to send all letters and packets.[3] There were exceptions which allowed others to carry mail as well. Letters regarding personal affairs could be carried by a friend and merchant correspondence could be carried by other ships.

Three such examples appear in the image below. The top-most cover is endorsed “pr. Packet” which meant it traveled by a regular postal packet. If you look closely you can see it was rated “2/5” meaning a rate of 2 Shillings and 5 Pence was charged along with “40” for the 40 Centimos collect fee in Madeira. The middle letter endorsed “THe Alexander CapT Reid” was carried by private ship. Captain Reid no doubt carried the letter because a John Welch of London was directing Messrs. Newton Gordon to ship five pipes of Madeira onboard Captain Reid’s ship Alexander. The final cover is endorsed “by favour of Mr Wm Hope” and from the contents we learn that the banking firm of Marsh, Stracey, & Co. of London requested that Messrs Newton Gordon advance Mr. William Hope up to 600 Pounds.


[1] “Madeira, The Island Vineyard” by Noel Cossart & Mannie Berk, 2010.

[2] Many interesting papers may be found at the Great Britain Philatelic Society. URL: http://www.gbps.org.uk/

[3] “June 1657: An Act for setling the Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland.” British History Online. URL: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/acts-ordinances-interregnum/pp1110-1113

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