Collecting: Railway Letter Stamps

In the days when the Post Office held a complete monopoly of the mails it was possible for the private individual or business to also send post by rail, by affixing the normal postage stamp plus a railway company stamp and presenting it at their nearest station for forwarding by the next available service. This maintained the Post Office’s monopoly while producing a useful source of income for the railway companies. This system operated in the UK and Ireland from 1891 until 1947, and led to a wide variety of stamps being issued by the many independent railway companies.

These stamps are of interest to the specialist stamp collector as well to the railway enthusiast but despite their rarity they remain something of a Cinderella item and, as such, can still be bought quite cheaply. The unused block featured here were issued by the West Clare Railway Company in the 1890s and were purchased on eBay in 2004 for the paltry sum of €10. A very cheap way to begin a collection of genuine memorabilia from this long gone railway made famous by Percy French’s song “Are you right there Michael?”

Given the prices achieved by far more common Irish postage stamps there is only one way that these curiosities are going – so the message is don’t miss the boat! Apart form eBay these stamps turn up occasionally at the various Antiques Fairs around the country.

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