The Hamburg Tram Post

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The Service.

A postal service was provided on the trams of Hamburg in Germany from 1920 till 1953 (with an understandable break from 1943 to 1949). Letters could be posted in boxes carried on the trams, and entered the normal postal system.

Its 80th anniversary was marked by an exhibition in Harburg, near Hamburg, and a special commemorative postcard issued.

80 years of Hamburg Tram Post

Detail of the cancel:

Detail of the cancel

On 1st September 1920 special letter boxes for express letters and telegrams were installed on the fronts of the tramcars operating on twenty-one of the suburban services which passed the main railway station. These letter-boxes were also used (until 1926) to interchange express letters and telegrams between the Hamburg post offices, so consisted of two parts: the upper with a slot for the public to post letters, and the lower for mail which was exchanged between post offices.

Each item posted had to be prepaid; the rate for an express letter was 5pf. This, of course, only covered the stage from the tram stop to Hamburg  1 Post Office but it was much cheaper than the standard express fee of 40pf for a local letter. During the inflation period this rose to 5 Milliard by November 1923, falling back to 5pf by the end. Customers had only to walk to the nearest tram stop to use the service, and the mail would then be delivered in the city centre in 10 to 20 minutes. Special messengers then took the bags of letter mail to the nearby Hamburg 1 Post Office where the various cancellations were applied.

Initially such mail was identified with straight-line rubber handstamps bearing the words Aus dem Straßenbahn=Briefkasten (ie from the tramcar letterbox). Four varieties of this cachet are known, with either one line in red, or two lines in blue, black or violet. A circular date stamp was used to cancel the stamp; it bore the words HAMBURG  1 EILBRIEF and gave the time of cancellation in hours and minutes. There was an alternative cachet Mit Straßenbahn-Briefkasten befördet (ie sent by the tramcar letterbox). This was used from 1928, and is found in blue, red or black. At the height of operations in 1938 the service was handling about 2700 letters a day.

Later, the handstamps were withdrawn and new circular datestamps introduced - the single roller HAMBURG 1 / Straßenbahn Fb, used for letters for the foreign mail only; and the continuous roller cancel HAMBURG 1 / Straßenbahn used for both domestic and foreign mail. Both (like the earlier Eilbrief datestamp) gave the time of cancellation in hours and minutes. During the war a handstamp bearing the inscription HAMBURG 1 / a / STRASSENBAHN appeared. It was used from February 1939 until 8th July 1943, and gave the time of cancellation only to the nearest hour. Businesses also added their own markings to tram mail, eg Durch Strassenbahnbriefkasten, presumably for the guidance of their staff.

The bombing of Hamburg in the war (a 'Fire Storm' was created) led to the stopping of the tram post in July 1943. After the war it was intended to restart the service, but this was not possible until 18th July 1949, when letters could be posted from 6pm till 11pm, ie after the Post Offices had closed. This service lasted until 1st April 1958, but no distinguishing cancels were used in this second phase.

Hamburg covers with Aus dem Straßenbahn-Briefkasten cachets

The general form of these cachets is:

Aus dem

The first cover has a 500 mark stamp (SG240) cancelled HAMBURG / 1 / -4.4.23.  8.40  V / EILBRIEFE. [V stands for 'vormittags', ie a.m.] It was sent to The Hague in Holland. On the rear is an arrival cachet A781 in a rectangular box with rounded corners, struck so hard that there is a faint reverse imprint on the front! The tram box cachet is small and neat (43 x 10 mm overall), in purplish ink, in gothic type with an extremely decorative ß and a = between the Straßenbahn and the Briefkasten.

Next is a coloured postcard of the sailing-boat harbour. It has a 5  rpf (SG370) stamp only, and a thick-lettered ringed Porto in black, with a blue- pencil '10'. It is addressed to Wiesbaden. The cancel is HAMBURG / 1 / 14.3.24.  12.00  N / EILB... [N stands for 'Nachmittags', ie p.m.]. The tram box cancel is larger and untidier (53 x 12 mm), in black ink, still in gothic type with the = and the decorative ß.

The last cover is a letter with four 6pf stamps (SG497) and another one cut from some item of postal stationery, which is boxed in blue crayon as invalid; so there is a large blue '8' on the cover. It is addressed to ASSEL, a suburb of Hamburg. The cancel is the later type HAMBURG  1 / 15.12.36  19.20 / Straßenbahn. The cover also has a cachet, large and bold (69 x 13 mm), in black ink and plain type, with the ß replaced by plain letters ss and Strassenbahnbriefkasten all one word.

Letters to South America via the 'Magic Carpet'

The German 'Magic Carpet' service was introduced in January 1934. It offered guaranteed delivery from Europe to Brazil in not more than four days. (The previous best timing was 10 days by the French route: air to Dakar in West Africa, boat to Natal in Brazil, onwards by air.) This service was mail-only; it used a Dornier Wal retrieved by crane, refuelled and launched by steam catapult from a modified steamer (the Westfalien) permanently stationed in the middle of the Atlantic. Fast HE70 aeroplanes provided the connection from Germany to Seville (Spain) or Larache (Morocco), and a JU52 took the mail to Bathurst (Gambia) to the waiting Wal. The mid-ocean touchdown and catapulting was necessary because the Wal did not have the range to reach Natal in Brazil. (In emergencies, the island of Fernando do Noronha, off the Brazilian coast, provided a refuge.) The flight to Santiago over the Andes would have been by JU52.

During the Zepplin period the aeroplane service operated weeks alternately with the airships, and the method of transport of an individual dated cover has to be determined by looking up the flight records. Although these covers still show a Zepplin in the cachet, the Zepplin service had been discontinued on May  8th, 1937 following the Hindenberg disaster at Lakehurst, NJ. Other methods considered or used were two intermediate boats; sailing from Bathurst with a plane on board which was launched by catapult when in range of Brazil; and a long-range seaplane that could reliably make the crossing without midocean manoeuvres.

The covers also had an additional special red cachet DEUTSCHE LUFTPOST / EUROPA-SÜDAMERIKA a / faint picture. This is the airmail confirmation cachet (Luftpost Sonderbestatigungstempel), depicting a Dornier Wal seaplane (Wal means Whale; so-called as the fuselage was boat/whale shaped) plus a Zepplin airship appearing from a cloud over the sea. The lower case 'b' after Südamerika signifies that the cover went via Berlin.

Air Mail to Santiago

This letter was sent in October 1937 by Siegmund Cohn, Albertstrasse 32/34, Hamburg 15, to the firm of A. Diaz Gonzalez, Madrid 950, Santiago, in Chile. The franking of 1Rm 80pf is made up as follows (these rates applied from 1932).

Letters and postcards by air mail to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay: for each 5 gram 1Rm50.
This letter was 4 gram: note manuscript 4 at left.1Rm 50pf
Normal overseas letter rate: 25pf up to 20 gram25pf
Tram post surcharge5pf
Total:1Rm 80pf

The cover has a black roller cancellation for the tram post: HAMBURG 1 / Straßenbahn / 27.10.37 1350 and the special red cachet. On the rear there is a doubly struck black upside down arrival cancel SECCARTEROS / SANTIAGO / -1 NOV 37 20H / CHILE. (SECCARTEROS seems to have been a district of Santiago.) At the bottom is a faint black roller cancel SANTIAGO / CHILE / 1937 / 1 NOV / 1500 (three impressions, with the time slug inverted in the middle one!)

Air Mail to Valparaiso.

This letter was also sent by 'Wal' Air Mail, to Jorge Broquaire / Valparaiso (Chile) / Casilla 216. It has the address printed on the front, along with Mit deutscher Luftpost, the red airmail confirmation cachet, and a blue air mail label. On the rear is Herb. Marth and Co / Altona (Elbe). The franking is 1Rm 80pf (it was a 4-gram letter). The cover has a black roller tram post cancellation: HAMBURG 1 / Straßenbahn Fb / 15.12.37 - 1830. On the rear is an indistinct arrival cancel VALPARAISO / CHILE / 2001637 19 / lines / ???.

Air Mail to Rio de Janeiro.

This cover is flimsy, and hand-addressed to an agency for Herr Siemsur (?), Caixa 1137, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There is a very clear red air cachet and a black roller tram post cancellation: HAMBURG 1 / Straßenbahn  Fb / 27.7.37.-1830. On the rear is an arrival cancel CORREIO AEREO-1A-T / DISTRICTO FEDERAL / -3.AGO.1937 and the sender's address.

Surface Mail to Argentina

This letter is from Niemeyer and Leser, Dusternstraße 41, Hamburg 36, to Leser and Ahlers, Sarmiento 329, Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is marked at the top Mit D.  'MENDOZA' via Marseille. It bears a wide variety of stamps, of total value 90pf. All the stamps are cancelled with the usual roller HAMBURG  1 / Straßenbahn / 2.3.36 1920. There is a ringed 151 on the rear, and an indistinct arrival cancel ??? / 26  MAR  36 / ARGENTINA, suggesting that the ship took around three weeks for the crossing, though an angry-looking pencil calculation states '69 Days' - perhaps the letter was delayed after landing.

Surface Mail to England

This letter was sent by surface mail to Eccles in Lancashire, England. The cover carries a black roller cancel HAMBURG  1 / Straßenbahn Fb / 20.3.37 2310. The franking of 30pf is the correct rate at that time for overseas surface mail up to 20 grams, ie 25pf, plus the tram surcharge of 5pf.

Surface Mail to Bulgaria

This letter is from Frau Laufer to Herr Kapitain Max Laufer of/on the steamer 'Larissa', care of the Black Sea Shipping Agency A G at Varna, which is on the west coast of the Sea in Bulgaria. It is cancelled with a very indistinct roller HAMBURG  1 / Straßenbahn / 31.??.39 2220; on the rear is the arrival mark BAPHA / -8 IX 39 3? / VARNA.

Surface Mail to Italy

This letter was sent by air mail to Catania in Sicily; it is addressed from Martin, Hamburg 37, Hansastrasse 82 to Some-title Martin, S S Barcelona Something, Catania, Sicily.. The cover carries franking of 50pf (25pf for surface mail to Europe, 20 extra for air, and the 5 for the tram). It has two lines of black roller cancel HAMBURG  1 / Straßenbahn / 20.10.32 1020. There is a violet boxed cachet Mit Luftpost befördert Leipzig *2 (the * is indecipherable) as well as a blue air mail label and a handwritten red-underlined Mit Flugpost at the top. It was flown from Leipzig to Brindisi: on the rear are LEIPZIG C2 / -5N / * ? ?; *POST AEREA* / date and time / ???ROVIA; and BRIN.. / 21.10.32 / (10). It arrived in Catania, and shows CATANIA / 9-10 / 23 . X / ? / DIS?? with an Italian slogan. However, when it arrived the ship had sailed, as the letter is readdressed to somewhere in Palermo.

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©Andy Taylor. Last updated 16 Nov 2009.