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Dead medium: the pigeon post
Source(s): The Pigeon Post into Paris 1870-1871 by John Douglas Hayhurst Published by the author at 65, Ford Bridge Road, Ashford Middlesex 1970

(((We return to Hayhurst's tale of the pigeon post during the seige of Paris in the Franco-Prussian war -- bruces)))

page 13

"The service was formally terminated on 1st February 1871 (...) The successful operations must have been performed by about 50 birds only. These 50 pigeons served France well; they carried official despatches of great importance as well as an estimated 95,000 private messages which went far to keep up the morale of the besieged Parisians. (...)

"The very last pigeon to complete its return to Paris must, if La Perre de Roo can be believed, have been one from *Niepce* captured in in November 1870 by the Prussians and which was presented to Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia, the commander of the Second Army. He sent it home to his mother Princess Charles of Prussia who placed it on the royal pigeon cote. Two years later, tired of its Prussian lodging, it escaped and flew back to Paris.

"The photographic reproduction of messages

"The first pigeons each carried a single despatch which was tightly rolled and tied with a thread, and then attached to a tail feather of the pigeon, care being taken to avoid old feathers which the bird might lose when in molt. From 19th October, the despatch was protected by being inserted in the quill of a goose or crow, and it was the quill which was attached to the tail feather. Although a pigeon could have carried more, the maximum weight it was asked to carry was about 1 gm, and, as the service developed, the aim was to get the greatest possible number of messages inside this weight. Initially, the messages were written out by hand in small characters on very thin paper (...)

"A great step forward was taken in early October from the idea of Barreswil (or Barreswill) a chemist of Tours who had been the co-author in 1854 with Davanne of *La chimie photographique.* He proposed the application of photographic methods with prints of a much reduced size and of which an unlimited number of copies could be taken. His death in late November robbed him of the satisfaction of seeing his proposal accepted and extensively applied. (...)

"The messages were written, still by hand, but in big characters on large sheets of card which were pinned side by side and photographically reduced. (...) A further improvement occurred when Blaise succeeded in printing messages on both sides of the photographic paper.

"Yet another improvement was the introduction of letter-press as a partial replacement of manuscript."