TPO -> TPOs of France

TPOs of France

By Tony Goodbody

French TPOs and Mailguards

France is a large country and was once covered by a comprehensive system of TPO and mail guard routes. The last few were terminated in 1995. That the subject is complicated may be seen by consulting the "Terms and Abbreviations" section of the Railway Philatelic Group website where there are nearly two pages of terms and definitions relating to French TPOs, etc. The present introduction can do no more than offer a few pointers. Generally speaking any postmark of the form (say) "PARIS A NANCY" (fig.1) will have come from a TPO or a mailguard.

Travelling Post Offices

The French term for a TPO is Bureau Ambulant. Bureaux Ambulants postmarks are usually circular (fig.1) for night runs or octagonal for day runs. Earlier TPO marks were smaller.

Mail Guards

The French term for a mailguard is Courrier Convoyeur. The postmarks are easily recognised by their familiar scalloped circular cancellations (fig.2). Courriers Convoyeurs may be divided into two categories: Courriers Convoyeurs Stations and Courriers Convoyeurs Lignes. The postmarks of the first category give the station of posting, the number of the French Department and an indication of the route in abbreviated form. Marks of the second category give the route as for a TPO (fig.2).

Fig. 1 French TPO or mailguard cancel Fig. 2 French Courrier Convoyeur TPO postmark

Examples of Courriers Convoyeurs Lignes cancellations

It was the French custom, in many cases, to add the stamp to the photo side of the card. This B&W card has a scalloped circular cancel "GRETZ A PARIS" and is dated 1905.


B&W card with a nice view of Honfleur harbour and a ten sided circular cancel on the photo side of the card "HONFLEUR A LISIEUX" dated 1905.


Printed stationary card sent to England bearing 2 strikes of a larger scalloped circular cancel "NANCY A LANGRES", dated 1905.


This envelope is a later version of the scalloped circular cancel and has 2 strikes dated 1961 "LILLE A ARRAS"


See also this earlier cover posted into the Bordeaux to Irun TPO at Bayonne.


Goodbody A.M. "An Introduction to French Railway Post Offices" Railway Philately, Vol. 14 No.1, December, 1979, pp 14-18. (Reprinted from the American journal "Transit Postmark Collector," hence the form Railway Post Office) This article gives a more comprehensive introduction than can be given here. The original Transit Postmark Collector article is available here by kind permission of the Mobile Post Office Society, USA.

Pothion, J. "Catalogue des Cachets Courriers-Convoyeurs Lignes, 1877-1964" Published by the author, 1965. After a brief introduction, the book lists 3595 Courrier Convoyeur routes, with rarity ratings.

Pothion, J. "France Bureaux Ambulants, 1845 - 1965" Published by La Poste aux lettres, Paris 1975. The book lists 1423 TPO routes with rarity rating. Again, the introduction is brief.

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