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Via Siberia Mail - November 1998
By Ed Fraser



Figure 1


Relative to the interesting subject of "Via Siberia" mail, raised in Alfred A. Gruber's article on that subject in the August 1998 Posthorn, he is quite correct in his assumption of why that marking was used. This was a practice from 1903 to around 1940 to speed mail from Southeast and East Asia to Europe (figure 1). Otherwise the mail would have gone more slowly (and sometimes with some additional risk) south and west, via the Indian sub-continent, Suez Canal, etc. It also was used during times of conflict etc., to avoid shorter routing through potentially hostile areas.

It was the Turn-of-The-Century opening of the Trans-Siberian Railroad (TSR) that made this feasible. It would have been normal to have found a Japanese port, as well, in this circuit (so mail would have normally gone to Vladivostok via Tsuruga, Japan). At this time the Trans-Siberian Railroad purposely was operated into Manchuria, using lines of the China Eastern Railroad (CER) diversion that saved considerable distance and TSR (completion) construction cost.

"Via Siberia" international mail routing was suspended with the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and not resumed for international mail until about 1923. By that time the USSR had built a through connection that enabled the TSR now to traverse only Siberia (avoiding dipping into Manchuria and Japanese influence).



Figure 2


Japanese ports eventually also were reincluded in this routing, when Japan finally withdrew its occupation troops from Northern Sakhalin Island in 1925 (after withdrawal of the last of the sizable Japanese force as a result of their participation in the Allied Intervention of Russia, that had concluded for virtually all of the other national elements five years earlier).

Use of the TSR for this accelerated mail routing became less of a factor with the introduction of air mail service through Siberia in 1929. "Via Siberia" directed international mail routing can be seen into the summer of 1940. However, WWII events would suspend this mail route once again. I doubt this sort of international mail direction practice saw much (if any) use after the war.

Much of the "Via Siberia" mail direction was accomplished by either private handstamps (figure 2) or manuscript inscriptions (figure 1) by the



Figure 3



Figure 3a



Figure 4

sender. Occasionally there were "official" (postal or governmental) "Via Siberia" postal stamps applied to mail that would be so diverted. This would include some early WWII mail (figures 3/3a) associated with Greenland (after Denmark was overrun) and some French military-marked mail from their forces in Southeast Asia just after the Boxer Rebellion (figure 4). The preponderance of "privately" applied direction markings should not obscure the fact that this was an official international mail route that can be seen in Imperial Russia postal documents as early as 1 October 1903.

 

ENDNOTES

1. British Army Post Office 1 (Shanghai) 25 July 1928 cancellation on properly franked soldier mail to England sent "Via Siberia." This was exactly a year after this Russian redirection was authorized by Britain from China station for its forces' mail. It was subsequently suspended for three years (1932-35).
2. Tientsin, China, 15 April 1934 printed rate commercial mail to Czechoslovakia that is "privately" stamped for transmission to "Europe via Siberia."
3. Tientsin, China, 31 May 1905 French Army Corps of Occupation mail to Ardennes, France, with French military post stamped ". . . Voie Siberrie" marking that accompanies a sender's manuscript "Via Siberie" inscription.

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