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ANTIQUES & COLLECTING: Rare memento of the mail train; Collecting.

Byline: by Harry Hawkes

A handwritten Victorian letter posted into the world's first railway travelling Post Office almost two centuries ago is to be auctioned in the Midlands.

As the earliest known mail by rail item, the folded letter sheet is attracting the attention of collectors around the world.

Although the sale catalogue estimates the selling price at pounds 1,500, it is likely to treble or even quadruple this figure.

The idea of sorting mail while it was being carried over long distances on the railway was suggested by Frederick Karstadt, son of a Post Office surveyor.

He oversaw the conversion of a railway horsebox into a travelling Post Office, fitted with mail sorting racks, attached to a train running between Birmingham and Liverpool on the Grand Junction Railway and subsequently on the London and Birmingham railway.

The experiment was so successful in speeding up mail deliveries that dozens of TPOs were built and the scheme copied worldwide.

Despite the large amount of mail which was sorted, relatively little required post marking, most of it being cancelled before it arrived for sorting aboard the train.

Today, almost two centuries after these early PTOs cancellers were issued to frank the mail very few have survived - hence the high scarcity premium which is asked for examples today.

Addressed to John Garrard Esquire, Solicitor Olney, this letter was found in old correspondence which was being cleared out of an office to be destroyed several years ago.

The letter was saved from destruction however and bought by Dr Charles Mackenzie-Smith, an indefatigable researcher of Britain's travelling Post Office network and its postmarks.

The London and Birmingham railway postmark was the piAce de rAsistance of his collection. This rarity with many other highlights were sold to another prominent enthusiast Mr Harold Wilson of Derby, credited with having formed the best collection of British travelling Post Office markings ever assembled. It is this collection being dispersed on Tuesday, November 24 by Cavendish Philatelic Auctions Limited, Derby. Details, 01332 250970
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 5, 2005
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