Railway stamps delivered letters and parcels

Jan 12, 2004, 10 AM

By Rick Miller

A stamp that is issued by a government authority and is used to indicate prepayment for delivery of letters, newspapers or parcels is a postage stamp, right? Not necessarily. It could be a railway stamp.

Railway stamps are stamps issued by a government to show prepayment for delivery of letters and parcels handled by state railways.

Although railway stamps prepaid the delivery of letters and parcels, they are considered to be a type of cinderella stamp. Even though they are actually closer in function to postage stamps, they sometimes get lumped in with revenue stamps, as in the older editions of the Barefoot revenue stamp catalogs.

Because the railways were owned and operated by the government in many countries, railway stamps often resemble regular postage stamps.

Railway stamps have been issued by Bavaria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Katanga, Latvia, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania.

Because the delivery of the letters or parcels was done through the railway system rather than through the postal system, most railway stamps are not listed in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. Belgian parcel post and railway stamps are an exception. Because these stamps were valid for payment of some postal fees, they are listed in the Scott catalog.

Belgium issued its first parcel post and railway stamps in 1879. These might be the world's first railway stamps.

Most Belgian parcel post and railway stamps are inscribed "railway" in French ("Chemins de Fer") and Flemish ("Spoorwegen").

A 20-centime Symbolizing Unity Achieved Through Railroads parcel post and railway stamp, Belgium Scott Q211, is shown in Figure 1.

Because of their Scott-listed status, the Belgian stamps are found in most general worldwide postage stamp collections. Most used stamps, however, will bear railway cancellations. Scott notes that catalog values for these stamps with postal cancellations are doubled.

French railway stamps are listed in two French-language postage stamp catalogs: Ceres Postage Stamps of France Catalogue and the Yvert et Tellier Stamps of France.

A 5-centime gray Locomotive railway stamp, Ceres No. 9, is shown in Figure 2.

Some catalogs and collectors draw a distinction between railway stamps issued by the government and those issued by railroads that were government-owned companies.

For example, Danish and Bavarian state railway stamps were issued by the government-owned railway company rather than directly by the government itself.

A 25-ore red Numeral state railway stamp is shown in Figure 3. The stamp is inscribed "Danske Statsbaner" (Danish State Railroad). DSB, still in existence today, is a public corporation solely owned by the Danish minister of transport.

The 60-pfennig blue-gray railway stamp shown in Figure 4, was issued by the government-owned Koenigliche Bayerische Staatseisenbahngesellschaft (Royal Bavarian State Railway Company).

Although railway stamps could be used at some times in some countries to prepay letter delivery, most were issued and used for parcel delivery.

A New South Wales 4-penny green and red Shield and Numeral railway parcel stamp inscribed "Government Railways" is shown in Figure 5.

Railway stamps of the Australian states are listed in The Railway (and other Parcel) Stamps of Mainland Australia by W.D. Craig, O.G. Ingles and A.D. Presgrave.

Railway Official stamps also have been issued. A New South Wales 6d red Numeral parcel stamp overprinted

"O S," for "Official Service," is shown in Figure 6.

The first Official stamps of Bavaria, Scott O1-5, are another type of railway stamp listed in the Scott catalog.

According to the Scott catalog, Bavarian definitive stamps with an "E" perfin or overprinted "E" were for use by officials of the railway. The "E" stands for "Eisenbahn."

But according to Philatelic Terms Illustrated by James Mackay, published by Stanley Gibbons, the "E" perfins were railway stamps of the same nature as those issued by Belgium and France.

A 3pf dark brown Coat of Arms stamp overprinted "E" in red, Bavaria Scott O1, is shown in Figure 7.

Railway newspaper and railway newspaper parcel stamps also have been issued.

The railway newspaper parcel stamps of Latvia are listed in the Yvert et TellierPostage Stamps of Eastern Europe Catalogue. A Latvian 10-santimu olive-brown Winged Wheel and National Crest railway newspaper parcel stamp, Yvert et Tellier No. 7, is shown in Figure 8.

In the world of railway stamps, private railway company stamps are the equivalent of private and local postage stamps.

Railway company stamps are much more numerous than railway stamps, and they have been issued by railway companies throughout the world.

The first railway company stamps were issued in Great Britain in 1846.

The Kahului Railroad Co. was founded in 1879. It operated a line between the deep-water port of Kahului on the island of Maui to various terminals that served the sugar plantations on the island.

The railway company also carried letters and parcels because the Hawaiian post office at the time could not compete with the railroad's quick delivery times.

In 1894, the company ordered stamps denominated 5¢, 6¢, 15¢, 18¢ 50¢ and $1 from the American Bank Note Co. A Kahului Railroad Co. 18¢ Numeral stamp is shown in Figure 9. The blue pencil-stroke cancellation is typical.

In addition to the Danish State Railway, a number of private railway companies have operated and continue to operate in Denmark. Many have issued railway company stamps.

A 50o Train Aalborg Privatbaner (Aalborg private railway) stamp is shown in Figure 10.

Railway letter-fee stamps have been issued in Great Britain, Australia, the Netherlands and other countries.

These stamps show prepayment for onward delivery of letters handed in at railway stations. The railway transported the letter to the post office that served the railway station nearest to where the letter was addressed.

In Great Britain, the railway letter post was created Feb. 1, 1891, by an agreement between the postmaster general and 75 British railway companies.

The original railway letter fee was 2d. The letter also had to have regular postage stamps affixed at the correct rate for ultimate delivery through the postal system.

Most of the British stamps are uniform in design, green in color and bear the name of the railway. A typical British railway letter-fee stamp, a 2d green Severn and Wye and Severn Bridge Railway stamp, is shown in Figure 11.

Usage of these stamps was phased out in Britain in 1922 when the railways were amalgamated.

In 1957 several small, private British railways revived the practice of issuing railway letter-fee stamps.

Would you believe that there have even been railway airmail stamps? Well, there have.

Some railways also operated airmail or air delivery services. Britain's Great Western Railway provided airmail service between Cardiff, Wales, and Plymouth, England.

In 1933, the British postmaster general authorized the Great Western Railway to use a 3d grayish-green railway airmail stamp, shown in Figure 12, for prepayment of this service. The stamp is postmarked Plymouth, May 23, 1933.

The stamp was in use from May 15 to Sept. 30, 1933.

In Spain railway charity labels were issued to help fund a school for the orphans of railway workers.

The stamps are inscribed "Colegio de Huerfanos de Ferroviarios." They are similar to Spanish orphans-of-the-post charity labels and orphans-of-the-telegraph charity labels.

A 10-centavo black and red railroad orphans charity label is shown in Figure 13.

Literature on railway stamps is scattered and not comprehensive. A bibliography of literature on the subject is located online at

Collectors interested in railway stamps ought to join the Cinderella Stamp Club. The club publishes Cinderella Philatelist quarterly and operates a packet exchange service.

Annual membership is £22. Write to Roger Hudson, Box 172, Coventry CV6 6NF, England.

Another option is the Danish Freight Stamp and Railway Stamp Club.

The club was founded in October 1997 for collectors of railway stamps, steamship stamps and bus stamps. It boasts a worldwide membership of 90.

The membership fee for members who reside outside Denmark is 260 krone (about $42) per year.

Write to Kristian Holm Klitgaard, Dollerupvej 4, DK-2770 Kastrup, Denmark.