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Switzerland TPOs

By Tony Goodbody

Railways came comparatively late to Switzerland, the first one between Zurich and Baden, with a route length of 23 km., and known as the Nordost Bahn, was opened in 1847. Travelling post offices were introduced a decade later.

The postmarks of the travelling post offices in Switzerland may be divided neatly into three groups according to period of use.

Period I 1858 - 1870

SCHWEIZ. BAHNPOST/ NORDOSTBAHN with train (zug) number 17 BASEL - OLTEN route During period I the postmarks specified the route either by the name of the railway (left) or by the end points (right, fig. 2). A travelling post office operated on the route Zurich-Baden from 1858 or 1859.

The postmark reads SCHWEIZ. BAHNPOST/ NORDOSTBAHN with train (zug) number 17. Subsequent postmarks kept the same format but specified the route (e.g. the BASEL - OLTEN route). These early marks are usually only found as sorting marks. Used as dispatch marks they are rare.

Later postmarks used in period I were single or double circle marks, similar to fig. 2, but with minor variations. Thus the ZÜRICH - ROMANSHORN route used a postmark with a Swiss cross at the base, shown below.

Swiss TPO mark with cross at base
Swiss TPO double circle mark with cross at base

Cover bearing a double circle mark with Swiss cross at the base and inscription B.P. (BAHNPOST) SCHAFFHAUSEN - WINTERTHUR. The straight line SCHAFFHAUSEN mark indicates the station at which the letter was posted.

Period IIa 1870-1889

From 1870 postmarks with TPO number but no indication of the route were introduced. TPO numbers up to 69 have been seen. Unfortunately routes were routinely changed with the introduction of the winter and summer timetables each year. Hence it is not possible to determine the route exactly without access to a current timetable with train numbers. In a series of articles in Railway Philately for March - December 1991 an attempt is made to determine the routes from a knowledge of the TPO number and the train number. The station of posting sometimes provides a further clue (e.g. KONSTANZ - WINTERTHUR, posted at Ermatingen).


Period IIb 1889-1910

In 1889 the number of routes was reduced to 32, although that number gradually increased to 40.

Swiss TPO Genève - Culoz Ambulant 1

One route which did not change during the period was No.1 (Genève - Culoz).

France to Switzerland TPO Ambulant route 9

Some routes crossed the border into France. Above is an example of a card posted on route No.9 (Neuchatel-Berne-Pontarlier) in France at the station of Verriéres de Joux in the Départment Doubs.

Period III 1910 -

In 1910 postmarks without route number were introduced (cover below). These were either dual language or single language. Without a timetable for the summer of 1934 it is not possible to determine the route with any accuracy.

Swiss Bahnpost Ambulant without route number

There were however two major exceptions. In the first place a number of mainline routes continued to use cancellers with the end points specified, although this number gradually dwindled in the years to come.

Swiss Post Amb. (Ambulant) with TPO route specified in post mark

The second exception was that some of the TPOs on the private railways also used cancellers specifying the terminals (see cover below). Here the adhesive is cancelled with the mark of the station where the letter was posted.

Stamp cancelled with station name

Swiss Italian language TPO mark Unusual design format Swiss TPO mark The piece left shows an Italian language postmark with, below the date, the number of the Canton, in this case Ticino.

With so many private railways it is perhaps surprising that there were few departures from the norm in postmark design. On the right is such a case. It is one of two rectangular marks used on the FRIBOURG-MORAT-ANET route.

In recent years the number of individual postmarks has gradually declined and even the ubiquitous BAHNPOST/ AMBULANT postmarks have probably by now all disappeared (May 2007).

The website of the Helvetia Philatelic Society of Great Britain contains a section on Railways & TPOs.

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