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United States/Covers & Postmarks : Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
20 Mar 2021
03:32:36pm
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NY & Canal Zone RPO

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NY & San Juan RPO

Okay, collective brain trust, do your magic!

I was going through my beloved Franklins this morning and started to wonder about these from my US possessions collection. Pretty obvious that there are no train tracks between these, but there has to be a great story! I did a cursory search of the Internet to no avail.

Anyone?
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smauggie
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20 Mar 2021
04:17:47pm
re: Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

Railway mail services (RMS) were often coordinated with oversea shipping routes. In the Canal Zone, the railway was the Panama Canal Railway, first opened in 1850, which carried mail and parcels from coast to cost between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Puerto Rico's original rail lines went along the west and north coasts of the island.

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pigdoc
21 Mar 2021
10:04:34am
re: Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

Interesting postcards, Tom.

I would presume the first one was mailed from NY. Van Buren, Arkansas is across the Arkansas River from Fort Smith. Postcard thus was probably not carried on the Canal Zone railway to get from NY to AR.

On second look, I see the printer's imprint on the first card, at left. I see the word "Panama". So, the card was probably purchased in Panama. Also, the sender's message starts out "Will go see the ditch tomorrow." COOL!

The other was mailed to NYC. From San Juan? If it was mailed in PR, wouldn't that stamp have been overprinted? Any evidence on the other side of where it was mailed?

I've always wondered if mail clerks sometimes substituted cancelling devices, particularly in RR mail cars. Or, if a railway mail clerk assigned to one branch line brought along his cancelling device if he was required to substitute on another branch line. I would presume this scenario to be more likely on the very small branch lines, sometimes with a single clerk for the entire route, in both directions. I have some tentative evidence in my collection of this scenario playing out.

Government property (such as a cancelling device?) is often "accountable". That is, it is assigned to a particular employee who is responsible for maintaining custody of that property. (As a Federal employee, I am required to regularly document the accountable property that's been assigned to me.)

-Paul

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
21 Mar 2021
01:53:56pm
re: Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

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Thanks for the response Paul. The above image will answer your question. Both cards started out on the tropical end of the trip. With addressees in the USA.

Puerto Rico used regular US issue stamps at this point. So the 300 Franklin stamp would be legit usage. And the domestic one cent rate would apply. Regular town cancels were used in PR at this time, I own several from different towns.

Canal Zone is another story... there is a Canal Zone overprint on 300 Franklin, which is Canal Zone 4. It was only in use for one year in 1904. At that point they started using Panama overprint stamps, so the usage of an American stamp in 1908 would not be proper.

I'm thinking that there must've been usage handled by US administration there, maybe those involved in the construction of the canal or US military protecting US interests? But the message about going to see the big ditch tomorrow, makes it novel, so it wouldn't be someone involved with the dig or assigned there, more of a touristy thing. US Navy visiting? But our navy started with dedicated ship cancels in mid 1908 and this is Dec 1908. Still we don't know how the roll out went, I do have a ship cancel on a Panama postcard from 1909. In fact all my ship cancels start in 1909.

Not sure if these were actually an RPO on a ship, which would make sense since the mail obviously went by ship in those days.

There should be record of the cancels existing because I've seen several of each over the years. I checked to see if there was an RPO cancel society and couldn't find one. I know Don has created an HPO list on Stamp Smarter, so no doubt one exists for RPOs as well.

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JohnH35
21 Mar 2021
09:51:21pm
re: Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

Great Canal Zone postcard, Tom!

The NY & CZ RPO CDS is a Sea Post marking. The USPOD authorized the establishment of this service on the line of the Panama Railroad Steamship Company on Oct 29, 1907. The service continued until just before the US entered WWII. There were a number of different duplex handstamps used over the years - the one on your postcard is known on dates between 1908 and 1913.

Hope this is of some help.

John

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JohnH35
22 Mar 2021
10:52:28am
re: Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

I guess both of these are sea post markings. NY-Canal Zone and NY-Puerto Rico were the longest routes of numerous Boat Railway Post Offices, the others mostly operating on inland waterways.

For the CZ one at least, although the card was obviously written in Panama, given the lack of any other CZ markings, the card was presumably mailed on the boat, so the US stamp would have been legal usage.

I was trying to blow up the image of the stamp, because I thought I could possibly see the beginnings of a very misplaced "Canal Zone" overprint at the upper left of the stamp, but I can't get a clear enough image. It could just be my imagination! Do you see anything?

John

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
22 Mar 2021
12:52:55pm
re: Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

Thanks John! That confirms what I suspected.

Your assumption that the Canal Zone card was mailed on the boat is probably correct. The stamp doesn't have the Canal Zone overprint, that was used only in 1904. Canal Zone then went to overprinted Panama stamps.

Image Not Found

Here's proper usage of the Canal Zone 4 overprint. These are pretty rare on cover since they were used less than a full calendar year.

Are there any similar sea post routes for the 1903-1909 era I should look out for, especially from US possessions?

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JohnH35
22 Mar 2021
01:47:51pm
re: Info Needed - RPO - New York & Canal Zone New York & San Juan

I figured the phantom CZ overprint was just my over-active imagination. That would have definitely been an interesting, late and illegal use of CZ4!

I'm not aware of any other sea post routes that were part of the US RPO network, but I'm definitely not an expert on that topic. My interest here is primarily the CZ connection.

Your CZ4 card is also very nice. Those are definitely quite rare on cover. I believe someone at the Canal Zone Study Group has been trying to compile a census of that issue.


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