TPO -> The TPOs of Argentina

The TPOs of Argentina

By Jay Walmsley

Start and finish dates: 1865 to unknown

Map of the Argentina Rail Network  Jay Walmsley The map is drawn from that officially published by the Buenos Aires al Pacifico Railway in 1900. Each colour represents a different railway company or group of companies. Argentina is a huge country, the eighth largest in the world, and the railway system was the most extensive in South America. After 1900 the system continued to expand, becoming a labyrinth of lines far too complex to plot on a map as small as this. The railways of course also extended southwards into Patagonia and northwards towards Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay, with international trains. It should also be remembered that with a mighty river system finding its confluence in the River Plate, there was an extensive network of river steamers with their on board post offices.

With such a huge system the number of TPOs was also considerable and the volume of individual cancellations runs well into the thousands but provides an enormously interesting collecting field. The postmark system divides into three approximate time periods:-

1865 - 1915. The cancellations show initials of the railway company or steamer route, at first without date but then dated in single rings, boxes and double rings.

1916 -1935. Control of the TPOs running to/from Buenos Aires was delegated by the main post office in Buenos Aires to branches (sucursales). Five of these sucursales controlled the capital's travelling post offices. Based at the main stations, these were No. 2 Retiro, No. 4 Puente Alsina, No. 5 Constitucion, No. 8 Once and No. 37 Lacroze. Other TPOs were under the control of the postal districts with a district cancellation usually with the railway initials.

1935 onwards. The TPO cancellations became very uniform being numbered with no reference to the railway or controlling office.

1892 Box Cancellation Est(afeta) Amb(ulante) 6
1892 Box Cancellation Est(afeta) Amb(ulante) 6 of the Ferrocarril del Oeste, the Western Railway. The cover also has a Despues de Hora marking, after the hour (for posting).

Some definitions particular to Argentinean TPOs may be helpful.

ESTAFETA AMBULANTE: Travelling post office. Often abbreviated to Est. Amb.. These were introduced in 1865 and usually consisted of a postal clerk in a compartment or a section of the baggage van. Most trains carried them. From the early 1900s the name developed a more specialised usage to mean a travelling post office that operated in more than one postal district and ran for more than 250 kilometres. This specialised usage of the term was superseded by Vagon Postal, Brigada and Oficina Postal Ambulante.

VAGON POSTAL: Postal Carriage. Entire sorting carriages designed for post office work were introduced in 1916 and given distinctive handstamps. Inevitably these were used on long distance trains and for a time this term replaced Estafeta Ambulante in handstamps but was then itself overtaken by Brigada.

BRIGADA: Brigade or Crew. With the introduction of vagones postales or postal carriages in 1916, the concept of single manning was broken. A brigade took over the manning of these larger carriages and was given distinctive handstamps. As postal carriages were used on long distance trains, these were the equivalent of modern Estafetas Ambulantes.

ESTAFETEROS: A more modern term introduced in circa 1931 for Brigada.

ESTAFETA FERROVIARIA: This term was introduced in the early 1900s meaning travelling post offices that operated in more than one postal district but ran for less than 250 kilometres.

OFICINA POSTAL AMBULANTE: A more modern term introduced in circa 1933 for an Estafeta Ambulante that operated in more than one postal district and ran for more than 250 kilometres. The term replaced Brigada and Estafeteros.

INTERCAMBIO: Interchange.

RELEVANTE: Relief or substitute.

TREN ATRASADO: Late train.

ULTIMA HORA: last minute (literally last hour but colloquial usage).

1892 Oval cancellation Estaf(eta) Amb(ulante)
1892 Oval cancellation Estaf(eta) Amb(ulante) of the Ferrocarril Santa Fe a las Colonias

The Railways of South America by D Trevor Rowe, published by Paul Catchpole Ltd in 2000 provides much information about the railways.
For TPOs there are two good books published which are very informative:-
Matasellos Utilizados en Estafetas Ambulantes Argentinas 1865 -1892 by Juan Alberto Ceriani and Rudopho Kneitschel 2nd edition published in 1995 in Buenos Aires, and
Estafetas Postales Ambulantes Argentinas 1865 - 1965 by Walter B L Bose and Rolf Korth published in 1974 in Buenos Aires.


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