Casey Jones Rail Road Unit of the ATA

Why All Railway Parcel Stamps (including Belgium's) are Cinderellas

Or are they?

Back to Trains on Cinderellas


AUTHOR's Note:

When I first published this page, on December 4, 2004, I hoped it would provoke some controversy. I was concerned not so much with whether Railway Stamps are Cinderellas, as how they were issued and used. I thought that if I made a challenge, someone might respond. Until today (8/7/2005), the only responses I had were ones that I solicited. It turned out I was far from the only collector of these adhesives who was confused about them. That was reassuring, but frustrating.

Finally a reader in Belgium has written to contradict some of my assertions, and set the record straight. I am publishing his letter at the end of this page. It still leaves some questions, but certainly resolves many of the uncertainties of the discussion preceding it.

SO, if all you want is the answer, skip to the end, but if you want to understand the debate surrounding it, read on.

I was confused for a long time.....

about the distinction between Parcel Post stamps and Railway stamps, and which to treat as Cinderellas.

I was encouraged in this confusion by terminology and listing policies of the Scott Catalogues, and of the ATA Handbook, World Railways Philatelic. Scott, for example, lists the parcel stamps of the Belgian National Railway (SNCB), and calls them Parcel Post stamps. They are not, as I will explain below. The ATA Handbook lists the parcel stamps of the French National Railway (SNCF), and calls them Parcel Post stamps. That too is incorrect.

The key question for me in deciding whether any stamp is or is not a Cinderella is Was it issued by the postal service? For me, if it was not a postal issue, it is a Cinderella. It may be listed in catalogs, widely collected, highly valued, exhibited in prestigious philatelic exhibitions and competitions, etc., but if it was not issued by the postal service, it is a Cinderella. That is my personal standard, and I am sure there are many who will disagree with me. I don't think they are claiming that the issues are "postal", but many feel that any government- issued stamp is not a Cinderella, and belongs in some separate category. The most popular examples are Revenue stamps and government-issued or government-sanctioned railway stamps. If you wish to put those in special categories, go ahead. To me they are Cinderellas, though they can properly be called Express stamps.

So all of the following are Cinderellas:

1. Scott- and ATA-listed "Parcel Post" stamps of Belgium.

2. Yvert & Tellier and ATA-listed "Parcel Post" stamps of France.

3. Yvert & Tellier and ATA-listed "Parcel Post" stamps of Algeria.

4. Railway parcel stamps of Great Britain.

5. Railway parcel stamps of Australia and Australian states.

6. Railway parcel stamps of Germany and German states.

7. Railway stamps of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, South Africa, the USA, and any other country.

In other words, if it has the word "railway" in its name, it is a Cinderella.
It was sold by the railway that issued it, not by a Post Office (some exceptions do exist), and the package (or letter, more about that below) it paid for was handled by railway personnel, not by postal personnel. End of story.

Note as well that most of these railway adhesives were affixed not to the parcels themselves but to waybills or bills of lading, which also helps to distinguish them as non-postal issues.

Another source of confusion is terminology.
Some catalogues and listings use the term "Railway Parcel Post". I would prefer it be called "Railway Package Service" or just "Railway Mail". The term "Post" should be used only when an item is handled by the postal service. But again, the use of the word "Railway" is the tip-off that it is not really postal.

Conversely, Parcel Post stamps are not automatically rail stamps.
That too confused me - if all the Belgian Parcel Post stamps are listed in the ATA Handbook, why aren't all the U.S. Parcel Post stamps listed there? Well, First, as I have explained above, the Belgian stamps do not really belong in the catalogue or Handbook. And Second, Parcel Post could be shipped by any of many methods - trucks, trains, planes, etc., so it can be but is not necessarily rail- related. The Handbook does rightly list some Parcel Post stamps from other countries, but only when they have an explicit rail theme, such as Scott U.S. Q3, Q5, and Q9.

Belgium, Belgium, Belgium!
Let's talk about Belgium. That is the only one of the categories listed above that is in the Scott catalogue for its country. How that happened is a mystery, though I have read various explanations. Why it persists is, I think, mostly a matter of economics: if Scott de-listed all the Belgian "Parcel Post" stamps, all the collectors who have spent large sums of money collecting them (including me, by the way) would be outraged, since the value of their collections would plummet, at least in the U.S.

But why did it start?

Here are some of the explanations I have collected (all of these sources agree with me, by the way, that these stamps do not belong in Scott, or that if they remain, the others like them should be added):

"The stamps were issued by a Government-owned railway, which gives them official status."
      (Source forgotten - This does not explain why the similar stamps of France and Germany are NOT listed.)

"The stamps were sold at Post Offices."
      (Source forgotten - Is this true? Which ones? During what period?)

"The catalogues include them because in Belgium the railway parcels service was the only parcels service. There was no Post Office parcels service as such."
      ( Tony Goodbody - True until recently - see below)

"Scott lists Belgian Parcel Post and railway stamps because, in addition to paying for railway delivery, they were valid for some classes of Parcel Post delivery."
      (Janet Klug, Linn's Refresher Course - This was true for a short period, and applies only to one small issue, 1928-33.))

"It is possible that the use of these stamps on parcels to the Belgian Congo brought them into contact with the postal system enough to account for their listing as postage stamps. Belgium and the Belgian Congo had an agreement for parcels which allowed the use of the railway labels from Belgium and ordinary postage stamps from the Congo."
      (Richard McB. Cabeen -Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting, New Revised Edition - an interesting theory, which simply confirms my opinion that their listing was a mistake.)

Hoping to resolve this mystery, I emailed Michael Baadke, Editor of Scott Stamp Monthly and an e-friend, sending the list of theories above, and asking whether he could confirm any of them, or add new ones. He replied (12/06/2004) as follows:

From what I could discover, the decision to list these stamps in the Scott catalog apparently came around 1888, when the first ones appeared in the 49th edition of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. That would be just a couple of years after John Walter Scott sold his catalog business to Gustave B. Calman in December 1885.
I notice the stamps are also listed in Stanley Gibbons, Michel, Yvert et Tellier, Minkus and Belgium's own OBP specialized catalog.
I asked Scott catalog editor James E. Kloetzel for his insight on the subject, and he contributed this:

We can't speak to the original decision to list Belgian parcel stamps, although "Source Unknown,"  Goodbody and Cabeen are probably correct. So long as the labels paid parcel fees and were issued by a government agency, there was a logic in adding them to the catalog. When they ceased to be valid for the payment of fees, however, they were nothing more than publicity or charity labels, and so those which had crept in after 1996 were delisted in the 2005 edition.

There is a certain logic in listing railway labels that pay fees for the carriage of parcels or other mail, when the issuing authority is state-owned, but, as far as I know, Belgium is the only country for which we've included such issues. We do not plan on taking these issues out of the catalog, and perhaps we should consider adding similar stamps from some other countries (at least to the Classic) at some future date.

That was much more than I had expected, and I thought it ended the matter.

But then I happened to look at my Scott catalogue again, and stumbled on this notation at the beginning of the Parcel Post section for Belgium:

Values for used stamps are for copies with railway cancellations. Those with postal cancellations sell for twice as much.

Oops! What's that about? I re-read some articles Tony Goodbody had sent me, and found he had written this in one of them:

For a short time only, 1928-33, the Belgian Post Office operated a small packet service, and issued stamps for that service. This service was subsequently taken over by the railway company and short sets of stamps inscribed "Colis Postal" or the letter "B" in an oval and incorporating a post-horn into the design were issued from 1934 onwards and were available at post offices as well as at railway stations.
So maybe there was more to this. I emailed Tony and asked him to elaborate on that statement about a postal small parcel service. Here is the e-versation that ensued:
Can you give me more information about the small parcel stamps you mentioned in that article?

These are short sets issued beginning in 1928: Q174-75 (overprints), Q176-79, Q181-83, 208-210, 291-6, 301-9, 328-335, 338-340, 362-373, 379-387 (My Scott catalogue doesn't go any further). They don't ALL have the B and the posthorn and the words "Colis Postal" (later "Colis Postaux" and/or "Postcolli") but most of them do.

I have seen a claim elsewhere that the post office continued to offer a small packet service, and to issue stamps for them. I thnk Horst Brix alluded to this too, something about Michel separating the stamps into two categories.

I think it would be perfectly valid to separate the Belgian stamps into two categories. The same would be true for the German railway stamps (i.e. those inscribed "Express" vs. the others)

I just noticed as well that Scott says "Values for used stamps are for copies with railway cancellations. Those with postal cancellations sell for twice as much." The plot thickens.
Those with circular cancels are more attractive and scarcer of course. I try to find circular cancels as far as possible.
And all the Q's you listed were sold at both PO's and RR stations?
I imagine so.
At the PO's they paid for small parcels conveyed however the PO chose? Or strictly by rail, with the addition of postal delivery?

Here I begin to speculate but I imagine by rail. After all Belgium has the densest rail network (i.e. more miles per person) in the world. But presumably the ones that started at a post office traveled under postal control.

Now here is one thing I noticed:

If you compare the practice in France and Belgium there are similarities. In France they used separate stamps for delivery at home, insurance, outsized parcels, cash on delivery, etc. In Belgium, they did not use separate stamps, but they did use "etiquettes" which were fixed to the waybills to indicate that certain additional services had been paid for. These are rather scarce but I have got one waybill with a triangular etiquette reading "Remboursement" which is for cash on delivery. I have another one with a wineglass picture stuck on, which indicates a fragile parcel. Others have pictures of farm animals for livestock consignments.

So it appears the situation is far more complicated than I thought. Stay tuned as I try to learn more.

Recently Belgium Post initiated a real Parcel Post service, with special adhesives called Kilopost, while SNCB offers only heavy freight shipping, so apparently the era represented by the Belgian Railway stamps has ended. Mr. Kloetzel's remark above implies that happened as early as 1996.

8/7/2005 - I received the following email message:

Dear Mr. Senkus,

I have read with interest your Internet posting on Belgian Parcel Stamps.

Although I do not share your view that all Railway Parcel Stamps are Cinderellas (we should leave it to individual collectors to decide if they want to collect also Railway, Telephone, Telegraph stamps, other Fiscal stamps, etc...), I would like to give you some further information regarding the particular case of Belgium. I am NOT a specialist in this matter and what I tell you is just "common" knowledge of a citizen of Belgium who has used those services for over 40 years and who happens to collect also those "Cinderellas".

Your starting point is to say that if the label was not issued by the postal service, then it is a Cinderella. Even if we accept that definition, many of the Parcel Stamps of Belgium WERE issued by the postal service (as several of the contributors to your page have already pointed out). Moreover, stamps of both the Postal Service and the Railroad were sold by offices of both organizations. The situation is complex, and I will try to explain in detail below how these stamps were issued and used.

First, some background about the agencies involved.

You must know that in Belgium in the 1800's (as in other European countries at that time), the postal service, telephone service, telegraph service AND railway service were all under just ONE administration. It was only over time that they separated into different "independent" organizations (even if they remained under the authority for most of the time of the same Ministry). That's why you can sometimes have one service (telegraphs or railways) using the labels (stamps) issued by another service (postal service) or vice-versa.

To give you an practical example. Until a few years ago in Belgium, "Express" (= "Special Delivery") letters could be sent by remitting them either to a Post Office or (after closing hours of Post Offices) at the offices of the Railway Company, which then forwarded them during the night. Those letters (deposited either at the Post Office OR at a Railway Station) where then delivered to the address by the Telegraph Delivering Service (subordinate at that time to the Telephone Company). Such letters had to carry normal stamps issued by the postal service (Special Delivery stamps during the short period when there were such stamps). If they were deposited at the Post Office, the stamps were cancelled with a Post Office stamp (round); if there were deposited at the Railway Station, they were cancelled with a Railway cancellation stamp (rectangular format !). Therefore it is the cancellation of the letter (stamps) which tells you where a Special Delivery letter was deposited.

Now to Belgium's Railway Parcel Stamps.

First of all, you must take into account that nearly ALL catalogues list two completely different kinds of stamps under the same heading and numbering called Railway Parcel Stamps, which is confusing, because this listing then includes two rather different types of stamps used in principle for two different services, although the boundaries between the two are not always clear cut.

In the beginning (1879 up to 1928) there was only one type of stamps (Railway stamps "Chemins de Fer - Spoorwegen) issued by a service which was common to postal and railway services. Those stamps were sold both by the postal services AND by the railway services. Postal services typically accepted parcels up to a certain size and weight (which varied over time) AND they delivered parcels up to a certain size and weight (varied over time, and differing if within Belgium or in International traffic). When delivered to the post office, the parcel could use either railway stamps (if available) or normal post stamps. You can find on those stamps two types of cancellations, either the "common" Railway cancellation (rectangular in over 90% of the cases, although in the beginning there were also a few round railway cancellations with different diameters than those of the postal service) OR the much less frequent (especially on higher value stamps) "postal" cancellation (round cancellations, identical to those on normal stamps). This is why most catalogues indicate, like Scott, that <<Prices for used stamps are for copies with railway cancellations. Stamps with postal cancellations sell for about double prices>>.

In 1928, the Postal Service issued for the first time two special stamps (Scott Nr. Q174 and Q175) for small parcels accepted at the offices of the postal services. Those are two stamps from the regular issue of normal post stamps with an overprint. Subsequently, the Postal Service issued several stamps for small parcels (Postal Parcel Stamps). They all bear the words "Colis Postaux - Postcolli." More recently (after a few years of interruption of dedicated stamps for this service), the inscription "Kilopost" has been used.

Now those stamps (as opposed to those - after 1928 - bearing only the words "Chemins de Fer - Spoorwegen" or having no words and just the letter <<B>> in an oval) are indeed issued by the postal service (thus NOT Cinderellas according to your definition). They are used for small parcels (up to various weight limits) deposited at the regular Post Offices (but also at the Railway Stations, which also sell those stamps). Those small parcels are forwarded (transported) by the Railway company and are in most of the cases (but not in all cases all the time during the period 1928-1980) delivered to the addressee by the same postman (Postal Services) as the one who delivers your regular mail (except if one asked and paid for "Special Delivery", see above ....). Again, you can see from the cancellation if the stamp was used for a parcel deposited at the Post Office (round cancellation) or at the Railway Station (rectangular cancellation).

Railway stamps with overprint "Journaux - Dagbladen" (listed as "Newspaper stamps") or with overprint "Bagages - Reisgoed" (Luggage, not listed by Scott) are also issued by the Railway Company.

Railway stamps up to the present day are used (mainly by companies, large and small) to pay for the fees to have parcels (larger or heavier than those accepted by the Post Office) picked-up, transported and delivered by the Railway Company. In recent years (after 1980) the Belgian Railway Company has issued a few stamps and blocks aimed at collectors more than at the usage they are supposed to serve.

One finds Railway stamps on special forms (waybills) that the users of this service must fill in to have their goods transported. Those forms remain with the Railway Company, which, after a certain period, auctions off its archives (where collectors can then "recuperate" the used stamps). You can even find (very rare) normal postal stamps used on those waybills, either alone or mixed; moreover, those waybills can carry labels (etiquettes) for special handling (live animals or glass) or special services ("remboursement").

Postal Parcel Stamps (including Kilopost) are all sold at the regular post offices (at least in the period 1960 up to now) and one can get them from the same "collector's service" where one buys the other postal stamps.

From about 1960 to about 1990, Railway stamps were not sold to the general public by the regular post office. One had to go to a separate office of the Railway Company to get them (mint). More recently (within the past 5 or 10 years?) collectors can also get the Railway Stamps from the same collector's service where they get the regular postal stamps.

To confuse things even more, you should know that not only had the Belgian Postal Services their own railway carriages (waggons) which traveled with regular trains (this was common in all European countries until a few years ago) and where employees of the postal services where handling letters and parcels when the train was rolling, but that again in the period 1960-1990 and maybe a few years later, the Belgian Post Services had their own trains (painted in red) which they operated for transporting mail (including small parcels).

Finally, Railway Letter Stamps in Belgium (catalogued as "Official Stamps") bear either a symbol (wheel with wings) or the letter <<B>> in an oval. They are affixed on the correspondence sent by the Railway Company through the regular postal services and can in theory only be used for the correspondence of the Railway Company (if using them on private correspondence, the sender was assumed to have "stolen" them from the Railway Company), but you could always buy them mint from the post office (for collectors).

I hope to have helped you a little bit in your understanding of these "overlapping" services.

Best regards

Jean Maas
Bruxelles, Belgium

I am very grateful to Mr. Maas for taking the time to provide that extremely informative overview of the subject. His explanation has helped me to understand why there is such confusion among collectors about this matter. I think part of that confusion, especially among U.S. collectors, is that we start from the viewpoint of our own country's history, and assume it must be the same elsewhere. I confess as well that I prefer simple answers, and thought there must be a simple way to sort all Railway Stamps into clear categories. I see now that is not the case. I will no longer assert that all Railway Stamps are Cinderellas.  

1/21/2007 - GO HERE for details and pictures for all the Belgian Railway stamps, including Parcel, Newspaper, Luggage, Officials, and Regular Issues.


Railway Letter Stamps are not much different from Railway Parcel Stamps, except that they paid for conveyance of a letter, and were affixed to that letter, not to a waybill. Generally Railway Letter service was more strictly regulated than the parcel service, since it was more likely to compete and conflict with the Postal letter service, so again, these are basically Express services, and Express stamps, and Cinderellas.

Railroads in three countries issued Railway Letter Stamps, but Great Britain is the only place I know of where these were officially sanctioned, during the period 1891-1941 (but see above, "Railway Letter Stamps in Belgium". There were also stamps issued and used in the UK before that period, with sometimes questionable authority, for what amounted to private mail service by railroads. The area is a complex and interesting one, which I will not try to examine here. There are authoritative publications on the topic by the Railway Philatelic Group of the UK, whom I suggest you write if you wish to learn more. (NB - the modern "Railway Letter Stamps" issued by tourist railways and Preservation Societies such as the Talyllyn and Festiniog of Great Britain do not fall into this category - they are souvenir labels.) Because these stamps were issued with government approval, and under government supervision, all the designs are essentially the same, differing only in the name of the railway, the denomination, and the color. None shows a train or locomotive, so they tend to appeal only to the serious collector. (Click here to see some of the GB Railway Letter stamps.)

The two other countries where Railway Letter Stamps were issued are Netherlands and Iraq. I know of no country which still uses railway parcels stamps or railway letter stamps apart from the above-mentioned concoctions for tourists issued in the UK and in Australia.

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All text Copyright © 2004, William M. Senkus

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Created -- 12/04/2004
Revised -- 08/09/2005