21¢ RAILROAD MAIL CAR - August 16, 1988
Sc. 2265 - issued 8/16/88
There could hardly be a more fitting subject for a transportation coil than this one,
an RPO mail car.
The perfect First Day Cover to me is one that combines an image that complements and
amplifies the stamp, plus text that provides its context, plus a philatelic component
that makes the cover somehow more than just a FDC. Fleetwood and Pugh covers are
consistently the best at the text part, while no maker I've seen is reliable about
imagery, and good philatelic features are hard to find. The five covers below all struck
me as each a good example of at least one of the characteristics I seek. One has them
The image topic here is good - an illustration of how RPO personnel were able to collect
mail sacks from towns along the way while the train was still in motion - but the
execution leaves something to be desired - the image itself is too static and stilted -
if you don't already know what you are looking at it is hard to tell what is going on.
The philatelic features here are ones I really like, though - the maker stuck on a label
from one of the rolls in which the stamp was sold, and had it tied to the cover with the
cancel! And he used a plate number strip of three. No text, so just a solid 1.
I found this image a bit disturbing at first - it looked like someone being hanged! And
the children gathered around to watch seemed a bizaare touch. Then I figured out what it
really shows - a local Postmaster hanging one of the mail bags to be collected with that
metal arm by the next RPO car to come by, while all the local children and a few adults
watch - and I liked it. It amplifies the stamp nicely, and evokes an image of small-town
American life in a by-gone era, when the arrival of the day's mail on the train was an
important event, especially in towns where the train did not stop. Another solid 1.
This one has an excellent illustration of the interior of a mail car, and some text
about its history, AND a plate number strip of three of the stamp!
I give it a 2-1/2!
Here is another of those "Photo Essay" items, this time tied to the cover with the First
Day cancel, creating a very nice philatelic item. I'm not so sure I like the use of the
4-cent stagecoach stamp to complete the rate, and there's nothing else to make the cover
noteworthy, so just a 1.
This one shows another way mail got into the mail cars - it was simply thrown in! I
like the image and the artwork, a real action scene, with two mail bags thrown from the
train still in the air, but I'm puzzled by the gratuitous addition of the 2-cent
locomotive stamp. The pair of 21's more than pays the first-class rate (25 cents at the
time), and makes sense in that most collectors prefer coils in pairs, but that rule dates
from a time when identical designs were issued in many formats, and the use of a pair
helped authenticate the coil. One of the 21's plus two of the 2's would have been
perfect, to my way of thinking. Just a 1.