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Wednesday 27 February 2013

Russia: Travelling Post Offices 1914 - 1940

Before the First World War, Russia  developed a very extensive system of Railway Travelling Post Offices (TPOs) which used distinctive oval cancellations. Before World War One, civilians were regular users of the system. Between 1914 and 1921, the system broke down. There were several reasons:

- parts of the railway network were seized by Germany, most obviously in Poland from 1915 on
- military action damaged railway lines and rolling stock
- Russia could not produce and install replacement lines and rolling stock  and imports  were much reduced
- railway lines and trains were taken over by Armies (Imperial, Red, White) for military use

In areas which remained under Russian control, the TPO system never returned to the size it had grown to by 1914. Soviet TPO mail is actually quite scarce and you will not often see an item like the one below, posted in 1928 on the MURMANSK 36 LENINGRAD route:

In contrast, independent Latvia, Estonia and Poland  re-created extensive and widely used TPO systems between the World Wars. Some of these offered Registered Mail services - see the illustration below from 1939 on the RIGA - ZEMGALE route:

During the Civil War period, TPO mail is scarce. In contrast, it is quite common to see Railway Station (Voksal) cancellations: perhaps people walked or rode to the local station thinking it would speed their letters if they posted them there. Mail bags could be loaded onto passing trains even if they had no TPO  facilities.

For Transcaucasia in the 1917 - 23 period, you will occasionally see loose stamps with TPO cancels ( Baku - Batum, Dzhulfa - Tiflis) but covers are  rare. For White Russian areas and Ukraine, the same is true. It is most unusual to see an item like the one below posted in 1918 on the un-numbered KHOLONEVSKAYA - SEMKI route (the Trident is Podillia 8b):

All these items are for sale.

The Trans-Siberian Railway is, as always, another story ...


  1. On the subject of the TPO breakdown in 1914-1921, I recall that, in 1921, after the conclusion of the civil war and the war with Poland, only 2% of Russia's total rolling stock were functioning. It took a while before service was reestablished anywhere within the Soviet Union.

  2. There is interesting information about TPO usages during the Soviet period in the following articles from the Post-Rider, the journal of the Canadian Society of Russian Philately:

    Alexander Epstein, "The railway post in Russia during the transitional period (1915-1923)"

    Dr V.G.Levandovskiy, "Registered and Express mail sent by postal wagons of Russia in the Soviet period after 1917". (and illustrations for this article in:

    Rabbi L.L.Tann, "Mail registered on TPO's/RPO's - Imperial and Soviet times".