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Embossed postcard with train image - 20th Century Limited

13.2¢ COAL CAR COIL - July 19, 1988

Sc. 2259 - issued 7/19/88

The bare utilitarian purpose of its subject made appealing first day covers of this stamp difficult to find. The ones that are attractive focus on trains in general, and are to me inappropriate. But the ones that stick to the theme are not very exciting. I chose to show the one below for its excellent text, something one can always count on its maker, Fleetwood, to provide. The illustration is very serviceable.

21¢ RAILROAD MAIL CAR - August 16, 1988

Sc. 2265 - issued 8/16/88

There could hardly be a more fitting subject for a transportation coil than this one,
an RPO mail car.

The perfect First Day Cover to me is one that combines an image that complements and amplifies the stamp, plus text that provides its context, plus a philatelic component that makes the cover somehow more than just a FDC. Fleetwood and Pugh covers are consistently the best at the text part, while no maker I've seen is reliable about imagery, and good philatelic features are hard to find. The five covers below all struck me as each a good example of at least one of the characteristics I seek. One has them all!

The image topic here is good - an illustration of how RPO personnel were able to collect mail sacks from towns along the way while the train was still in motion - but the execution leaves something to be desired - the image itself is too static and stilted - if you don't already know what you are looking at it is hard to tell what is going on. The philatelic features here are ones I really like, though - the maker stuck on a label from one of the rolls in which the stamp was sold, and had it tied to the cover with the cancel! And he used a plate number strip of three. No text, so just a solid 1.

I found this image a bit disturbing at first - it looked like someone being hanged! And the children gathered around to watch seemed a bizaare touch. Then I figured out what it really shows - a local Postmaster hanging one of the mail bags to be collected with that metal arm by the next RPO car to come by, while all the local children and a few adults watch - and I liked it. It amplifies the stamp nicely, and evokes an image of small-town American life in a by-gone era, when the arrival of the day's mail on the train was an important event, especially in towns where the train did not stop. Another solid 1.

This one has an excellent illustration of the interior of a mail car, and some text about its history, AND a plate number strip of three of the stamp!
I give it a 2-1/2!

Here is another of those "Photo Essay" items, this time tied to the cover with the First Day cancel, creating a very nice philatelic item. I'm not so sure I like the use of the 4-cent stagecoach stamp to complete the rate, and there's nothing else to make the cover noteworthy, so just a 1.

This one shows another way mail got into the mail cars - it was simply thrown in! I like the image and the artwork, a real action scene, with two mail bags thrown from the train still in the air, but I'm puzzled by the gratuitous addition of the 2-cent locomotive stamp. The pair of 21's more than pays the first-class rate (25 cents at the time), and makes sense in that most collectors prefer coils in pairs, but that rule dates from a time when identical designs were issued in many formats, and the use of a pair helped authenticate the coil. One of the 21's plus two of the 2's would have been perfect, to my way of thinking. Just a 1.

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Revised -- 03/22/2001