Registered mail

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A 1936 registered letter from Canada to Great Britain sent via the RMS Queen Mary.
A registered parcel sent from India to the UK with electronic barcode registration.

Registered mail describes letters, packets or other postal documents considered valuable and in need of a chain of custody that provides more control than regular mail. The posted item has its details recorded in a register to enable its location to be tracked, sometimes with added insurance to cover loss.


Traditionally, registered mail was a manual process which gave rise to a great variety of distinctive postal markings, like handstamps, and usage of registration labels.[1] Many countries have issued special postal stationery and postage stamps for registered mail. Earlier similar services were known as Money Letters. Today, however, the registration process is largely computerized with barcode registration labels replacing the traditional analog labels having only a printed serial number.

Generally, the item is pre-paid with the normal postage rate and an additional charge known as a registration fee. Upon payment of this fee the sender is given a receipt, and (usually) a unique numbered registration label is affixed to the letter. As the letter travels from post office to post office and through any sorting office, it has to be signed for on a ledger. This process is completed when the letter is delivered and the receiver signs for the item. With computerization and barcode technology, much of the logging once done manually has become simpler and leads to greater options for the sender and receiver alike to access the status of their shipment via the internet. Many postal authorities provide tracing information for registered items on their website.

In most countries, the use of registered mail require labels with a 13-digit reference number and corresponding barcode. The first two letters indicate registration (usually "RR") while the last 2 letters usually represent the country where the registered item was posted. E.g., RR913282511SG indicating Singapore, RB5584847749CN indicating China or RR123456785KR indicating Korea.[2]


A Western Australia registered letter from 1892 complete with original green linen tape.

In the turbulent political and religious climate during the reign of Mary Tudor is found the earliest reference to a registration system in the Kingdom of England in London in July 1556 whereby: that the poste between this and the Northe should eche of them keepe a booke and entrye of every letter that he shall receive, the tyme of the deliverie thereof unto his hands with the parties names that shall bring it unto him, whose handes he shall also take to his booke, witnessing the same note to be trewe.[3] This was likely for state security rather than mail security.[4] In 1603, another Order of Council was made whereby all letters had to be recorded.[3] This system was in effect a registration system although it applied to all items sent via the post.

William Dockwra's 1680s London Penny Post also recorded all details on letters accepted for onward transmission[3] but unlike the general post office, gave compensation for losses.

The registration of letters as known today was introduced in 1841 in Great Britain. The letter had to be enclosed within a large sheet of green paper. The green sheet was addressed to the Post Office where the recipient lived. The green sheet was then used as a receipt and was returned to the office of origin after delivery. On 1 July 1858 the green sheet was replaced by a green silk ribbon and shortly afterwards by a green linen tape. In 1870 the tape was replaced by green string. On the introduction of postal stationery registration envelopes in 1878 the string was replaced by printed blue crossed lines. The blue crossed lines have survived on registered letters to the present day.[5]

In the United Kingdom[edit]

Since 1998, the Special Delivery service has been the only registered service offered by Royal Mail, after the old-style Registered Letter service was discontinued.[6]

In the United States[edit]

Registered mail service is offered by the United States Postal Service as an extra service for First Class or Priority Mail shipments. Registered Mail provides end-to-end security in locked containers. Registered Mail custody records are maintained, but are not normally provided to the customer, unless a claim is filed.[7]

In the United States, registered mail may be used to send classified material up to the Secret collateral level.[8]


On November 10, 1958, Harry Winston sent the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution via registered mail package.[9]


See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Mackay (1982), pp. 154–179, 296–366
  2. ^ "S10c-5 Identification of postal items - Part C: 13 character identifier for special letter products" (DOC). Universal Postal Union. 2004-02-03. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  3. ^ a b c Joyce (1893), p. 234
  4. ^ Mackay (1982), p 7
  5. ^ Huggins, Alan Keith (1970). British postal stationery : a priced handbook of the postal stationery of Great Britain. London: Great Britain Philatelic Society. p. 102. ISBN 0-901421-01-4. 
  6. ^ Royal Mail Special Delivery from 1971 by Austin Davis, Great Britain Philatelic Society, 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013. Archived here.
  7. ^ What is Registered Mail? [1]
  8. ^ "30 CFR 2.28" (PDF). 2007. Retrieved 2010-04-08. 
  9. ^ "By Registered Mail: The Hope Diamond". Life 45 (21). 1958-11-24. pp. 53–54. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 2013-06-26. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Holyoake, Alan. (2012) Great Britain secured delivery of mail 1450-1862. The Great Britain Philatelic Society.