Seapost -> Lake Mail

Lake Mail

By Geoff Ellerton

Postal markings from lake boats have been recorded for at least 200 years and cover a wide range, from full "floating post offices" to postal messenger marks, transit marks, vessel cancellations and cachets, some genuinely postal use, others philatelically inspired or purely commemorative. The marks can reflect a tiny motor boat delivering local mail to lakeshore or island communities, as with the Scottish "By Loch Lomond Mail boat" cachet, or a major transoceanic ship engaged in global trade, as with Paquebot marks from the American Great Lakes.

Cover with Paquebot (Hosking 2156)
Fig 1 Cover with Paquebot (Hosking 2156) of Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, on Lake Superior, USA

Travel by water was often the easiest and fastest means of communication where lakeside towns were in areas which were otherwise less accessible, as for example with mountainous regions of the world. In the European Alps this was true of some Swiss, Italian, Austrian and German lakes, and a wide range of lake postal markings exist from these countries. The lakes of Northern Italy: Garda, Como, Maggiore and Iseo, had travelling post offices on boats from as early as the 1850's through until the 1930's. From the 1890's onwards, the numbers of lake TPO's reduced but were supplemented by travelling postmen or postal messengers ("Messagieri") who travelled on board, collected mail from shore and shipboard boxes and cancelled it with a handstamp. Most of the "Natante" ("floating") and "Messagieri" cancellations include a reference to the lake route on which they were being carried.

Picture postcard cancelled by Lindsey type C24 mark
Fig 2 Picture postcard from Italy to UK cancelled "Natante Colico Como 27.5.23" (Lindsey type C24)

In some cases the lakes were within the territories of more than one country, so that more than one national postal administration was involved in lake mail. Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) for example borders Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with each country having its own marks for post carried on its lake boats.

Cover with marks of multiple countries
Fig 3 Cover from Austria to USA cancelled "Osterr.Bodensee-Schiffspost Bregenz 03.9.54" with additional mark "Bodensee-Schiffspost" and cachet of the steamer "Austria"

In North America, one of the longest continuously operating floating post offices is on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. It began in 1892, and the mail boat "Uncle Sam" provided a postal service there for some 75 years until 1982. Its successor, the mail boat "Sophie C" continues to provide today both passenger excursions and a mail delivery service to towns and islands around the lake, although the official Railway Post Office (RPO) ended in 1978. Interestingly, the waterway route here actually outlived the rail routes serviced by RPO's.

Cover with RPO mark
Fig 4 Cover cancelled "Lake Winnipesaukee RPO Jun 15 1971"


R M Hosking: Paquebot cancellations of the world 3rd ed. (Cavendish 2000)
E Antonini & J Grasset: Histoire postale des lacs et des rivieres du monde (Feldman 1984)
G Lindsey: Italian lake mail postal markings (Italy and Colonies Study Circle 2003)

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