I'm reading Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore. The book frequently quotes letters between him and fellow revolutionaries, often when he was in internal exile in some obscure corner of Siberia.

The letters make frequent references to sending money to each other.

How would this work? Would they literally insert a few banknotes into the envelope and risk it going astray somewhere in the intervening 1000s of miles the letter would travel (also, bare in mind that as an exiled revolutionary all his mail would be subject to censorship) or was there some form of travelers cheque or postal order that only had value to the named recipient? He seems to have been sent to some pretty desolate and obscure hell-holes in the middle of nowhere, so my guess is he didn't have access to normal banking services.

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The U. S. Post Office had instituted a system of money orders during the Civil War which became progressively less cumbersome as the 19th century ended. Western Union introduced its Money Order service in 1871, and Thomas Cook introduced the Traveller's Cheque in 1874.

The Russian Post Office had also been a founding member of the Universal Postal Union since the latter's founding in 1874.

So while it is certainly true that Russia lagged technologically behind the U.S. and Western Europe, ti seems certain that the demand for these conveniences would have resulted in their adoption in European Russia, at least, by the end of the 19th century.


I suppose they used telegraph transfers (similar to Western Union in the West), where available. Telegraph transfer was the main tool of sending money in Soviet Union until 1980s. In places where there was no telegraph, there were also post office transfers. You come to the post office, give money, and the office sends a kind of check to another post office, where the recipient receives the money. The sender could remain anonymous if s/he payed in cash, only the recipient had to show an ID.

In several countries, post offices perform many simple banking services even now.

You can see this, for example in the movie Colonel Redl by Ishtvan Sabo. (The movie is set in Austro-Hungary before WWI, but I am sure the procedure was the same as in Russia. And the same procedure existed in Soviet Union until 1980s).

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