1988 21c Transportation Series: Railroad MailCar, 1920s

# 2265 - 1988 21c Transportation Series: Railroad MailCar, 1920s

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U.S. #2265
1988 21¢ Railroad Mail Car, 1920s
Transportation Series

  • Third stamp in Transportation Series to honor a railroad vehicle and third to honor a postal vehicle

Stamp Category:  Definitive
Series: 
Transportation
Value: 
21¢, rate for presorted first-class mail
First Day of Issue: 
August 16, 1988
First Day City: 
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Quantity Issued: 
311,280,000
Printed by: 
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: 
Engraved
Format: 
Coils of 500 and 3,000
Perforations:  10 vertical
Color:
  Olive green

 

Why the stamp was issued:  This stamp was replaced the 1985 18¢ George Washington and Washington Monument stamp for first-class mailings presorted to three- or five-digit ZIP codes. 

 

About the stamp design:  David Stone sketched different railroad mail cars from the 1870s, 1898, and 1920s before settling on the final design.  The stamp pictures the 1922 Southern Railway Postal Car No. 49, which was built by the American Car and Foundry Company. 

 

Special design details:  This stamp has a “Presorted First-Class” precancel.  Precancels are stamps canceled before being sold, to make mailing faster and cheaper for customers with large amounts of mail.  Bulk mailers use precancels, then pre-sort their mail and save money. 

 

First Day City:  The First Day ceremony for this stamp was held at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a town with a long history closely tied to the railroad. 

 

Unusual fact about this stamp:  More than 1,000 imperforate error pairs have been found.

 

About the Transportation Series:  On May 18, 1981, the USPS issued the first stamp in the Transportation Series, US #1907, picturing the Surrey, a doorless four-wheeled carriage. For the first time in US history, a coil stamp featured its own unique design rather than simply copying that of the current definitive stamp. Over 50 more coil stamps would be issued over the course of the next 15 years, each picturing a different mode of transportation. All of these types of transportation were used since American independence.

The various denominations provided face values to exactly match the rates for several categories of Third-Class mail (bulk rate and quantity-discounted mail). As the rates changed, new stamps with new values were added. Never before had a stamp series included so many fractional cent values.


The Bureau of Engraving and Printing printed most of the stamps in the Transportation Series, although private contractors printed a few. All but a few of the later stamps were produced by engraved intaglio. Differences in precancels, tagging, paper and gum provide a large number of varieties.


Scott Catalog separates the Transportation stamps into four groups. The stamps in the first group (#1897-1908) generally have the denomination in small type with a “c” next to it. These stamps were printed on the Cottrell rotary press, which joined together two plates to make a sleeve. The gaps between these plates created depressions where ink would collect and create joint lines on the stamps. Later issues were printed on a different press and didn’t have these joint lines.


The second group (#2123-36) had larger numbers with no “c.”  The third group (#2252-66) was similar in appearance to the second group, but service inscriptions were added to the designs. These stamps also used a variety of paper and gum as well as different types of tagging. The fourth group (#2451-68) marked the end of fractional values. Now bulk mailers would use either the 5¢ or 10¢ stamp and then pay the difference from the actual postage rate.


The last stamp in the Transportation Series, the 20¢ Cog Railway, was issued on June 9, 1995, at the TEXPEX ’95 stamp show in Dallas, Texas. This marked the end of the largest US definitive series up to that time. Three new series would eventually replace it – American Transportation, American Culture, and American Scenes. Additionally, the Great Americans would go on to become the largest American definitive series.

 

History the stamp represents:  This stamp paid tribute to the vehicle that made the rapid growth of the postal service possible - the Railway Mail Car. By combining fast transportation with in-transit mail processing, the Postal Department was able to speed up its distribution of mail.

 

On July 7, 1838, Congress approved an act that declared all United States railroads as post roads.  This would lead to a dramatic increase in the use of railroads to deliver mail.

 

In the 1830s, businesses and individuals began to complain that mail delivery was too slow.  At the time, it was carried by horse and stagecoach.

The postmaster general answered these calls by authorizing mail to be put on trains in the early 1830s.  The first mail carried by train was delivered on December 5, 1832, aboard a train between Lancaster and West Chester, Pennsylvania.

 

The next major development came in May 1837, when John E. Kendall was made a route agent, marking the first time a clerk was appointed to accompany the mail on a railroad car.  When the mail traveled on these trains, it usually sat unopened, waiting to be sorted at the local office.

 

To improve service, on July 7, 1838, Congress passed an act declaring all US railroads to be post roads.  This act helped increase the use of railroads for mail delivery.  It also led to a significant decrease in the use of post riders and horse-drawn vehicles.  However, they were still used to deliver to post offices that weren’t along railway routes.  In areas of the country that didn’t have railroads, contractors delivered the mail and were called star routes.

 

For nearly 30 years, trains were used to transport mail between post offices.  The mailbags were loaded onto the trains and delivered to the post office where they were sorted.  However, while some of the mail was delivered, many letters were returned to the bags and placed back on the trains to be sorted later.  Several issues also arose.  The post office and the railroads struggled to agree on a fixed rate for mail transported by rail.  In some cases, this led to railroads refusing to deliver the mail.  The post office felt the railroads were beyond their control and started to consider other options.

 

Soon the idea emerged to have mail clerks on the trains to sort the mail as it traveled between towns.  In 1862, the idea was briefly tested on the Hannibal and St. Joseph line in Missouri.  Then two years later, Chicago’s Assistant Postmaster George B. Armstrong pushed for the widespread use of a railway post office and succeeded.  The first mail car, a renovated baggage car, ran on the Chicago and North Western Railroad line between Chicago and Clinton, Iowa, on August 28, 1864.

 

Clerks aboard the train sorted mail not just for routes along the line, but also for those beyond the end of the line.  This new railway mail service proved a great success.  More mail cars were added to travel between New York and Washington, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, as well as between Chicago and Burlington, Illinois, and Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois.

 

These trains didn’t always stop at every station, but those smaller stations still had mail.  Early on, the trains had to slow down so the clerks could grab the mailbags, which was both inefficient and dangerous.  Eventually, they developed mail cranes.  Mailbags were hung on a crane at stations that were too small for the train to stop.  The clerk used a metal mar to grab the bag as the train passed at about 70 miles per hour.

 

By 1867, there were 18 railway mail routes that crossed over 4,435 miles of track with 160 clerks hard at work.  They were so efficient that dozens of clerks at stationary post offices were fired or moved to other jobs because they were no longer needed to sort the mail.  The clerks took great pride in their work and could sort up to 600 pieces of mail an hour, and up until the mid-1900s, railway mail service dominated the movement of the mail.

 

However, as airplanes and highways expanded and improved, the need for railway mail began to decline.  Postal officials also began to move toward mechanical processing.  On June 30, 1977, the very last railway mail car ended its final run when it pulled into Washington’s Union Station.

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U.S. #2265
1988 21¢ Railroad Mail Car, 1920s
Transportation Series

  • Third stamp in Transportation Series to honor a railroad vehicle and third to honor a postal vehicle

Stamp Category:  Definitive
Series: 
Transportation
Value: 
21¢, rate for presorted first-class mail
First Day of Issue: 
August 16, 1988
First Day City: 
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Quantity Issued: 
311,280,000
Printed by: 
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: 
Engraved
Format: 
Coils of 500 and 3,000
Perforations:  10 vertical
Color:
  Olive green

 

Why the stamp was issued:  This stamp was replaced the 1985 18¢ George Washington and Washington Monument stamp for first-class mailings presorted to three- or five-digit ZIP codes. 

 

About the stamp design:  David Stone sketched different railroad mail cars from the 1870s, 1898, and 1920s before settling on the final design.  The stamp pictures the 1922 Southern Railway Postal Car No. 49, which was built by the American Car and Foundry Company. 

 

Special design details:  This stamp has a “Presorted First-Class” precancel.  Precancels are stamps canceled before being sold, to make mailing faster and cheaper for customers with large amounts of mail.  Bulk mailers use precancels, then pre-sort their mail and save money. 

 

First Day City:  The First Day ceremony for this stamp was held at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a town with a long history closely tied to the railroad. 

 

Unusual fact about this stamp:  More than 1,000 imperforate error pairs have been found.

 

About the Transportation Series:  On May 18, 1981, the USPS issued the first stamp in the Transportation Series, US #1907, picturing the Surrey, a doorless four-wheeled carriage. For the first time in US history, a coil stamp featured its own unique design rather than simply copying that of the current definitive stamp. Over 50 more coil stamps would be issued over the course of the next 15 years, each picturing a different mode of transportation. All of these types of transportation were used since American independence.

The various denominations provided face values to exactly match the rates for several categories of Third-Class mail (bulk rate and quantity-discounted mail). As the rates changed, new stamps with new values were added. Never before had a stamp series included so many fractional cent values.


The Bureau of Engraving and Printing printed most of the stamps in the Transportation Series, although private contractors printed a few. All but a few of the later stamps were produced by engraved intaglio. Differences in precancels, tagging, paper and gum provide a large number of varieties.


Scott Catalog separates the Transportation stamps into four groups. The stamps in the first group (#1897-1908) generally have the denomination in small type with a “c” next to it. These stamps were printed on the Cottrell rotary press, which joined together two plates to make a sleeve. The gaps between these plates created depressions where ink would collect and create joint lines on the stamps. Later issues were printed on a different press and didn’t have these joint lines.


The second group (#2123-36) had larger numbers with no “c.”  The third group (#2252-66) was similar in appearance to the second group, but service inscriptions were added to the designs. These stamps also used a variety of paper and gum as well as different types of tagging. The fourth group (#2451-68) marked the end of fractional values. Now bulk mailers would use either the 5¢ or 10¢ stamp and then pay the difference from the actual postage rate.


The last stamp in the Transportation Series, the 20¢ Cog Railway, was issued on June 9, 1995, at the TEXPEX ’95 stamp show in Dallas, Texas. This marked the end of the largest US definitive series up to that time. Three new series would eventually replace it – American Transportation, American Culture, and American Scenes. Additionally, the Great Americans would go on to become the largest American definitive series.

 

History the stamp represents:  This stamp paid tribute to the vehicle that made the rapid growth of the postal service possible - the Railway Mail Car. By combining fast transportation with in-transit mail processing, the Postal Department was able to speed up its distribution of mail.

 

On July 7, 1838, Congress approved an act that declared all United States railroads as post roads.  This would lead to a dramatic increase in the use of railroads to deliver mail.

 

In the 1830s, businesses and individuals began to complain that mail delivery was too slow.  At the time, it was carried by horse and stagecoach.

The postmaster general answered these calls by authorizing mail to be put on trains in the early 1830s.  The first mail carried by train was delivered on December 5, 1832, aboard a train between Lancaster and West Chester, Pennsylvania.

 

The next major development came in May 1837, when John E. Kendall was made a route agent, marking the first time a clerk was appointed to accompany the mail on a railroad car.  When the mail traveled on these trains, it usually sat unopened, waiting to be sorted at the local office.

 

To improve service, on July 7, 1838, Congress passed an act declaring all US railroads to be post roads.  This act helped increase the use of railroads for mail delivery.  It also led to a significant decrease in the use of post riders and horse-drawn vehicles.  However, they were still used to deliver to post offices that weren’t along railway routes.  In areas of the country that didn’t have railroads, contractors delivered the mail and were called star routes.

 

For nearly 30 years, trains were used to transport mail between post offices.  The mailbags were loaded onto the trains and delivered to the post office where they were sorted.  However, while some of the mail was delivered, many letters were returned to the bags and placed back on the trains to be sorted later.  Several issues also arose.  The post office and the railroads struggled to agree on a fixed rate for mail transported by rail.  In some cases, this led to railroads refusing to deliver the mail.  The post office felt the railroads were beyond their control and started to consider other options.

 

Soon the idea emerged to have mail clerks on the trains to sort the mail as it traveled between towns.  In 1862, the idea was briefly tested on the Hannibal and St. Joseph line in Missouri.  Then two years later, Chicago’s Assistant Postmaster George B. Armstrong pushed for the widespread use of a railway post office and succeeded.  The first mail car, a renovated baggage car, ran on the Chicago and North Western Railroad line between Chicago and Clinton, Iowa, on August 28, 1864.

 

Clerks aboard the train sorted mail not just for routes along the line, but also for those beyond the end of the line.  This new railway mail service proved a great success.  More mail cars were added to travel between New York and Washington, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, as well as between Chicago and Burlington, Illinois, and Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois.

 

These trains didn’t always stop at every station, but those smaller stations still had mail.  Early on, the trains had to slow down so the clerks could grab the mailbags, which was both inefficient and dangerous.  Eventually, they developed mail cranes.  Mailbags were hung on a crane at stations that were too small for the train to stop.  The clerk used a metal mar to grab the bag as the train passed at about 70 miles per hour.

 

By 1867, there were 18 railway mail routes that crossed over 4,435 miles of track with 160 clerks hard at work.  They were so efficient that dozens of clerks at stationary post offices were fired or moved to other jobs because they were no longer needed to sort the mail.  The clerks took great pride in their work and could sort up to 600 pieces of mail an hour, and up until the mid-1900s, railway mail service dominated the movement of the mail.

 

However, as airplanes and highways expanded and improved, the need for railway mail began to decline.  Postal officials also began to move toward mechanical processing.  On June 30, 1977, the very last railway mail car ended its final run when it pulled into Washington’s Union Station.