Shire Post

Shire Post stamps ceased to be issued in 2003 following the refusal of the owners of the IPR (aka The Orcs) to allow their sale.  These pages (taken, with permission, from the original website) are therefore for reference purposes only.  You can’t buy the stamps, no matter how much you might want to.

I wonder if Tolkien would mind that evil triumphed in the end?

Enjoy – I think JRR would have.

The History and practice of Communications in The Shire.
by: Arlo G. Underhill III —  SR. 1710 Introduction:

We are indeed indebted to professor Tolkien for his introduction of the oft neglected Hobbits to the world. The attitude of the Hobbits towards life and its hardships is an example that all of us, Elves, Dwarves, and Men, could well benefit from. In this paper we shall explore the economic and communicative practices of  The Shire in rather greater detail than usual. For Shire historians it is indeed unfortunate that the story of events in the wider world of Middle Earth has eclipsed that of the Hobbits to such a large extent. In the preparation of this paper, recourse has been made to private collections of letters and papers that are unpublished and therefore have been unavailable to earlier researchers. Aside from the usual sources, archives of particular value have been the collections maintained at Undertowers in the Westmarch, Brandy Hall in Buckland, in Tuckborough at Thain House, as well as an important anonymous collection maintained in Archet of Breeland. The author wishes to express deep gratitude for the quality of the work done by all these amateur historians, and their gracious hospitality in permitting access to valuable family records and correspondence.
In this work we shall continue the precedent established by Prof. Tolkien, and refer to all places and names in and around The Shire by anglicized spellings and pronunciations. Without his background research we might never have been able to access the archives critical to the preparation of this paper.

The beginnings of The Shire:

When the Hobbits first came to the shores of the Baranduin river in Eriador, they were a semi nomadic people with a tribal social structure strongly tied to clan relationships. Three distinct groups or breeds were recognized, at least among the Hobbits themselves (though it is doubtful that any others knew, or even cared about the differences); these were the Fallohides, the Stoors, and the Harfoots. Of the similarities and differences between the breeds, much has been written (Tolkien 1955) so I will refer the reader to those works rather than repeat the information found there.
The Harfoots, under the dual leadership of the brothers Marcho and Blanco (of Fallohide descent, interestingly), were the first to reach the river Baranduin (Took SR 412).  The area that was shortly to become The Shire consisted of a gently rolling land some one hundred miles east-to-west, and about the same north-to-south. It was bounded on the east by the river Baranduin, on the north by the decreasing fecundity and cold of the northern moors and the Dim Hills around  bleak Lake Evendim, on the South by the great and impassable Southern Marshes, and on the west by the Far Downs and an unnamed stream that would later become River Harfoot. The area had been populated and well tended by Big Folk some hundreds of years earlier, until their population had been decimated by a great war which does not figure prominently in this narrative, and the land laid to waste. While it is true that the area had become overgrown and disused, the essential quality and fecundity of the land remained intact. Indeed, it might be said that the land, having lain fallow for some generations, was at this time perhaps the most fertile agricultural district in all the west of Middle Earth!
In an audience with King Argeleb II at Fornost, Marcho and Blanco were given royal permission to take the region and establish it as an ordered community, subject only to the lordship of the King. And so, in the year 1150 of the Third Age (Appendices, Tolkien 1955), the bulk of the Harfoots and a few dozens of the Fallohides crossed the Baranduin over the ancient Bridge of Stonebows, numbering some 1,200 altogether,  and began the counting of years according to the Shire Reckoning. (hereafter abbreviated as SR)

Of the geology of  The Shire:

Geologically, the area that became known as  The Shire is quite a heterogeneous terrain. The dominant structural feature is the great  Eriador Anticline, with great thickly bedded siliceous limestone strata exposed in the Weather Hills to the east, and in the Mountains of the Moon to the west (Cotton 1692). The drainage pattern of the region is dominated by south flowing streams, of which the chief is the Baranduin. A series of low ridges and valleys reflecting the various lithography of the rock underlying the limestones characterizes The Shire proper. The White downs in the west are formed of a great outcropping of soft chalky limestone. The geology and rock characteristics here determine the desirability of land for the Hobbit’s purposes. The soft stone is especially easy to tunnel in, while providing sufficient strength and water repellence for convenience and comfort. To the north towards Nobottle and Needlehole we find increasingly metamorphosed rocks, and eventually in The Crags is a small complex of granite domes and tors. To the south, the Far Downs with the villages of Sackville and Digby are chiefly comprised of tilted layers of pink calcareous sandstones, while the Red Downs to the west of Longbottom are composed of coarser reddish sandstones and conglomerates, heavily weathered into low rounded hills. To the north the karst topography of the Dim Hills feeds the cataracts of Oatbarton and are predominantly composed of the same massive limestones as the  Weather Hills. Here the falling waters were early seen to be of use, and much of the light industry in The Shire was eventually established in this region.

Of the earliest settlements:

Upon the crossing of the Bridge of Stonebows, these first newcomers to the region spread out initially along the Great East Road (Baggins 1424), which was still in reasonable condition, establishing their first village and headquarters at Whitfurrows in what would later become the East Farthing. There they found the ruins of ancient dwellings by a narrow stone bridge crossing the stream they named “The Water”. Being Hobbits, and primarily of Harfoot descent, they preferred to dwell in holes whenever possible, and so the ruins of men’s dwellings that they found were quickly dismantled for the dressed stones which form the framing for the front doors of many of the finer homes in Whitfurrows to this day. The bridge itself was not wide enough for wagons to cross, though this was not a serious problem as The Water was wide and shallow at this point, with a solid bottom forming a good fording place. The Hobbits called it “Bridge Ford”, which in later years was simply shortened to “Budgeford”. The Hobbits then spread north across The Water into what they called the “Bridgefields” along the west bank of the Baranduin, which shortly became the “Brandywine” in Hobbit parlance. Those first Hobbit settlers spread quickly westward claiming homesteads along both shores of The Water, and along both sides of the Great East Road. Indeed, within ten years of the crossing of the Brandywine, the beginnings of the communities that would become known as Frogmorton, Bywater, Hobbiton, Waymoot, Tuckborough, and Michel Delving had been well established. At this early time The Shire consisted basically of this east-west “swath” of habitation and no administrative divisions had yet been made. For the most part, the Hobbits concerned themselves with the important things of life, that is… the growing and eating of food, and the making and raising of children! The name “Waymoot” was given by the Hobbits to an ancient crossroads where the Great East Road crossed the Old South Road connecting Sarn Ford and the Gap of Rohan away south with the dwarf mines in the Blue Mountains away north. Hobbits settled in the area and in later years made good commerce among the various travelers that came along the roads.
The Marish district just south of the Bridge of Stonebows was also settled very early. Many of the Stoors immediately settled this fertile region which occupies a great portion of the flood-plain of the west bank of the Brandywine.

Of The Gathering of the Hobbits:

At the time of the initial settling of The Shire some portion of the Harfoots, and almost all of the Stoors and Fallohides, were still at large in the world, wandering in the fields and forests of the Minhiriath or the Enedwaith with a few isolated groups still eking out a meager living on the further side of the Misty Mountains. In the summer of the tenth year of the settling of The Shire, at the annual gathering on midsummer’s eve at Whitfurrows, it was decided that Messengers should be selected and sent into the wide world to inform these wandering Hobbits that there was now a homeland for them, with free land for all. Twenty-four of the sturdiest and most woodscrafty of the Hobbits were selected, furnished with elaborately handwritten copies of the Royal decree establishing The Shire, and sent into the east and south to gather the scattered tribes of  Hobbitry to The Shire (Underhill 1578). This period is known as “The Gathering”.
Now the Fallohides, being somewhat less shy and more worldly than the other breeds, had learned the art of writing from the Dunedain, and in this, as in many other things, they were the first among Hobbits, so it should not be surprising that the Fallohide strain was well represented in the choice of the messengers. But when the messengers going forth into the land came upon scattered groups of Hobbits living in holes in the riverbanks or in hollow trees, and read to them from the scrolls, they found that they were asked to read the words of the scrolls over and over again, so keen were these Hobbits to hear the words of their estranged kindred. Indeed the Messengers were prevailed upon to tell all manner of tales, true or not, for it is a trait of Hobbits to want to hear news. And so it was that the wandering hobbits gladly forsook the wilderness and came into The Shire, welcomed by their kindred, and were there free to make their living as circumstances and their inclinations dictated. As it happened, the three sorts of Hobbits tended towards different sorts of livelihoods, so there was little tendency towards friction between them, and a great advantage in the diversity of talents. Indeed, while minor conflicts over livestock, land boundaries, and mates have ocurred, sometimes leading even to fisticuffs from time to time, it is said that no Hobbit has ever killed another in The Shire, and that is a remarkable legacy. Once the Stoors and Harfoots realized the advantages of reading and writing, schools were established and they learned quickly; within a mere hundred years or so they became nearly as proficient as their Fallohide teachers.
The Stoors, who came to The Shire mostly from the South, tended to occupy the low-lying areas of the Southern district. They were less inclined to require holes to live in, and therefore could occupy the marshier districts where aboveground homes were the norm. The Harfoots tended towards the open prairies of the downs, where dry sturdy holes could be dug with relative ease,  while the Fallohides took to the deep woods that were scattered here and there around The Shire.
Of the original twenty-four messengers who were sent out into the wide world to collect the scattered Hobbits, only eighteen ever returned to The Shire, and the names of all twenty-four are carved today upon the Three-Farthing stone, as near to the geographical center of The Shire as can be, and are learned by Hobbit children in school. The names of the six “missing” messangers are recalled and woven into tales, and Hobbits are forever asking travelers from far away if they know what became of them. During the gathering of the Hobbits, these messengers and scouts had traveled to and fro between the traveling groups, coordinating their journeys and warning of dangers along the road which were many. It is more than likely that the missing ended up in the stew pots of trolls and goblins.
Upon the settling of  The Shire, these groups of Hobbits, now living closer to each other but still in  a wide land, found that they missed the communications that had been provided during The Gathering by the Messengers. For some years communication between the various parts of  The Shire was carried out in a private and haphazard fashion, with written messages delivered by those who happened to be traveling in a certain direction. But such missives were often lost, or took extraordinary amounts of time to reach their destinations. About the year 25 in the Shire reckoning the enterprising Bolo brothers of near Stock in the Marish district hit upon the idea of a private messenger service, and at first their idea proved very popular. But the Bolo messengers served only a small portion of the East Farthing, and soon their rates became too much to bear, for they charged whatever they thought they could get from the customer for the delivery of letters and parcels. Genuine artifacts from this period are extremely rare (Brandybuck SR 1462) and command exorbitant prices at auction. (beware forgeries!)
At about this time the situation came to the attention of  Marcho and Blanco, still living in Whitfurrows and still accorded the status of dual chieftainship of the local groups. Numerous complaints and appeals had been received from the populace, and at the Midsummer’s eve gathering in Whitfurrows in the year 30 of the Shire Reckoning, it was decided to establish the Messenger Service as a permanent service in The Shire. At this historic meeting the fundamental administrative structure of The Shire was determined. A document was composed and carefully inscribed which instituted the office of the Mayoralty, with its three branches and powers. It was also decided to remove the site of Shire administration to Michel Delving in the West Farthing, which was thought to be further removed from the dangers of the wild lands to the east,  to be more accessible to the Hobbits of the South Farthing, and besides, it had an immensely comfortable and dry hole where the scions of The Shire wished to spend their dotage.

And so it came to pass: that the mayoralty was given three fundamental powers.
First, the power of order, given to THE WATCH. Problems with wayward animals and the small conflicts between neighbors had arisen such that some mechanism became necessary for dealing with them. The Shirriffs became local haywards and ombudsmen, with the authority to settle minor disagreements. They wore no uniform, and were known only by the fact that they wore a blue feather in their cap. Major problems were brought to the Midsummer’s eve gathering and voted upon by all the adult Hobbitry. In later years, and particularly after the Long Winter of SR 1158-59 (Tolkien 1955) the Shirriffs would also patrol the borders of The Shire, and those who specialized in this service were known as the Bounders, and were among the more woodscrafty of the Hobbits.
Second, the power of land boundary determination, given to THE SURVEY. It was central to the mores of the Hobbits to own land. Even in their nomadic stage, what they called “the Wandering” their legends spoke of a time when they would occupy a land and not be forced to move by others. As the Hobbits began to fill The Shire, it became necessary to enforce a code by which land disputes could be resolved, ownership determined, and boundaries known. The Surveyors were known chiefly by the green feather worn in their caps, and were held in great honor among the populace. These Hobbits essentially invented the theory and practice of surveying with simple instruments, and it was given to the surveyors the authority to determine once and for all, the exact position of land ownership boundaries. These ancient corners were marked with special stone cairns erected by the surveyors, and such markers attained an almost sacred status, anyone moving or altering them would be grievously frowned upon. The first marker, established in the fall of the year SR 30, was of course the now-famous Three-Farthing Stone, upon which all other determinations are based. Rather than use a system based on a cartographic grid or upon the cardinal directions, the Hobbit surveyors developed an unique system based upon triangles, and the division of triangles into smaller triangles (Thornberry SR 1120).
Thirdly, the power of communications, given to THE MESSENGER SERVICE more commonly known as the “Post”. Unlike the Watch and the Survey, The Post employed both male and female Hobbits as mail carriers and clerks, who were recognized immediately by all due to the red feather worn in their caps. It is chiefly the establishment and development of the Post, that we wish to examine in this paper, for this institution became by far the most prominent and enduring of Shire institutions. The Survey found after some years that once the basic division of The Shire proper was done, there was little further need required of them, except in cases of minor disputes, or the unfortunate destruction of a corner marker. The Watch evolved into a small group, but again, was little needed by the general populace, who were largely self-controlled. Only the Post experienced continuous growth due to the incredible yearning of Hobbits for small news, and this growth became the basis for a number of social innovations that can be credited first to the Hobbits in Middle Earth among all the peoples of the known universe. To a certain extent we will have to deal with the workings of the Survey, for they have largely determined the primary divisions of the landscape which thus affects the addressing and routing of postal communications.

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