How Special TPO Postmarks Were Used to Stop First Day Cover Cheats
Many Travelling Post Offices (TPO) began their route during the evening and their postmark handstamps were prepared with that day's date. However, as midnight came and went the handstamp was not changed to show the next day. All mail sorted on board the entire run of that TPO carriage would have the same date applied. This is how it had always been done and nobody saw reason to change anything as the growth in popularity of first day covers took hold.
A few shrewd first day cover dealers and collectors realised they could purchase new stamp issues at midnight in London from King Edward Building and/or Trafalgar Square Post Office (open 24 hours a day) to then drive out of the capital to meet incoming TPOs coming back toward London which would then apply postmarks dated the previous day.
Eventually this trick came to the attention of GPO management and special handstamps were created and issued to some TPOs specifically for use on first day covers. These new postmarks displayed "AM" above the correct first day of issue date in standard circular datestamps leaving regular non-philatelic mail still being cancelled as before. So, while the "early release" trick had largely been overcome, a new and rather special first day of issue postmark came in to use.
According to Norman Hill's Railway Travelling Post Offices of Great Britain and Ireland 1838-1975 the AM indexes slug was originally used 1st July 1954 on five TPOs running in to London where late fee mailings were possible after midnight. However we're not actually aware of any philatelic first day covers bearing these AM postmarks until 1960 on the East Anglian Up and South Western Up TPOs.
In all 32 of these AM postmarks for use on First Day Covers are documented and getting them all represents a tough challenge although they do turn up on eBay fairly frequently. As many eBay sellers don't realise what they are listing it's often possible to pick some of these covers up at rock bottom prices! This pre-filtered search for TPO First Day Cover listings usually finds them.
Warning: Use of the AM postmarks ceased completely in 1981 although some bogus items dated 1982 or later are known so be careful.
Here's an alphabetical listing of all the known TPO routes that used AM postmarks and remember to check the covers dated 1960-1981 only for the "AM" above the date inside the circular postmark rings:
Bristol - Derby TPO
Cardiff - Crewe TPO
Carlisle - Ayr SC (Sorting Carriage)
Carlisle - Edinburgh SC
Crewe - Bangor TPO
Crewe - Cardiff TPO
Crewe - Glasgow SC
Crewe - Peterborough TPO
Crewe - Peterborough (Lincolnshire Section) TPO
Down Special (Aberdeen Section) TPO
East Anglian Down TPO
East Anglian Down (Peterborough Section) TPO
East Anglian Up TPO
East Anglian Up (Peterborough Section) TPO
Great Western Down TPO
Great Western Up TPO
Huddersfield - Whitehaven TPO
London - York - Edinburgh TPO
Manchester - Glasgow SC
Midland Going North TPO
Midland Going South TPO
North East Night Down TPO
North East Night Up TPO
North Western Night Down TPO
Shrewsbury - York TPO
South Eastern Down TPO
South Eastern Up TPO
South Wales Down TPO
South Western Down TPO
South Western Up TPO
Up Special TPO
York - Shrewsbury TPO
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