TPO -> The TPOs of Uruguay

The TPOs of Uruguay

By Jay Walmsley

Start and finish dates: 1878 to 1970s (?)

Map of the Uruguay Rail Network  © Jay Walmsley The map shows all the major lines, with the Central Railway and its constituents in blue, the Midland Railway and its allies in red, and the State Railways in green.

The Uruguayan railway system is labyrinthine in its names and financing but actually not especially complicated, as will be seen from the map. The first railway was built in 1869 starting from Bella Vista on the then outskirts of Montevideo on what became the Central Railway main line to the north. The first railways were promoted by local companies but lack of finance and takeovers gradually eliminated them. Essentially there were two main systems, largely British built and owned, the Central and the Midland. The Central occupied the middle of the country with important extensions to the west and the east, taking over small companies in its progress. The Midland, with its allies, the North Western and the Northern, occupied the territory to the North West. The state took over those lines in which the commercial companies were not interested, and developed other lines for social reasons.

There is little doubt that the railways carried mail from their inception. The first travelling post offices were established in 1878 which is the earliest date for which cancellations have been seen. TPO cancellations conformed largely to the standard system of cancellations employed by the Post Office. Uruguay is divided into 19 departments. The Post Office allocated each department a letter and each post office in that department a number, and the cancellations and the accompanying killers used that code in the handstamp.

The river system too was an important way of travelling to and from the interior and also in 1878 post offices were established on river steamers. This was done in conjunction with Argentina who also established such post offices. Cancellations of the "Ambulante Fluviales" of both countries may be found on covers and stamps of the other country.

1884 Wavy Circle A5 TPO cancellation
1884 Wavy Circle A5 cancellation used on the FC a Higueritas from San José to Montevideo

The TPO cancellations after the early examples fell into the standard system. The wavy circles were succeeded by double ring cancellations with codes at the side followed by those with codes inside, and then by shield types. About the time of World War I the system rather broke down and the cancellations became more individual in style. The Ambulante and Fluvial markings are scarce but fascinating.

1902 G20 double ring codes at the side TPO cancellation
1902 G20 double ring codes at the side cancellation used on a card from Tariras (F1) on a train from Colonia to Montevideo

The railways suffered from intense road competition in the 1940s and onwards, became of less importance in the 1970s, and are now reduced to a very small suburban service round Montevideo. It is uncertain when the last TPO ran but the 1970s seems likely.



The Railways of South America by D Trevor Rowe, published by Paul Catchpole Ltd in 2000 provides much information about the railways.

For TPOs, the first edition of The Travelling Post Offices of Uruguay was published in 2007. The second edition, published in 2012 by Jay Grace Walmsley, has largely been rewritten, with much more information added. It now provides a comprehensive account of the travelling post offices and the cancellations they used, and more besides. It is available from the author. For further information click here for details.

An addendum to the second edition is available for free down load from the publications page.

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