Railroad Postal Items

Some areas of railroadiana collecting represent a convergence of more than one interest. Railroad postal items are a case in point -- a combination of interest in railroads and postal operations or philately.

For more than a century, U.S. railroading and the U.S. Post Office had a strong and mutually beneficial association. Dating back to before the Civil War, the government realized that railroads offered a highly efficient means of transporting mail, and in 1838 legislation was passed declaring every railroad a postal route. Soon, the Railway Post Office or RPO was born, embodied in railway cars that were part of passenger train consists and that were equipped for sorting mail enroute. A special occupation evolved -- the railway post office clerk -- who could sort mail accurately and efficiently in a swaying railway car traveling at passenger train speeds. By the latter decades of the 20th Century, trucks and airlines began to replace railroads as the primary means of transporting mail, and although some mail still travels by rail, the Railway Post Office has passed into history. Here is a website devoted to information on Railway Post Offices.

Today's collectors of railroad postal memorabilia pay particular attention to cancellations on envelopes that were done by RPO's as well as meter cancellations with a railroad theme. Included here are first-day and last-day covers that bracket the history of a particular RPO route. There are other items related to railroad postal operations as well including postcards, other types of paper, and hardware items.

On this page are shown a number of railroad-related "slogan" meters. These were frankings or imprints that not only indicated postal value but also provided a bit of advertising for the railroad. To show detail, the images are big so they may take some time to download on a slow internet connection. We thank Howard Lucas (email: h-lucas@erols.com) for providing these images.

 

 

Perforated Stamps: We received a question on our Q&A Board in Fall, 2009 about a stamp with a "PRR" perforation, standing for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The question (#1724) asked what this special perforation was about. One of our viewers responded with the following: " It seems there is a society for every kind of stamp collector; the 'Perfin Society' deals just with stamps like yours with extra hole patterns punched thru them. Since stamps are otherwise like cash (eminently stealable) the holes provided railroad companies and many others --worldwide-- with security to make sure their stamps were properly used. I suspect any PRR employee caught putting your marked stamp on personal mail would lose his job for the 3 cent convenience. See writeup of this phenomenon -- it mentions PRR and other railroads specifically. Postage meters which mark the mail with the sender co.'s ID have long since made this unnecessary."

Source: Klamkin, Charles. Railroadiana: A Collector's Guide to Railroad Memorabilia. Funk & Wagnalls, New York, 1976.