The Pneumatic Post of Paris

by J.D. Hayhurst O.B.E.

Edited by C.S. Holder

Prepared in digital format by Mark Hayhurst

Copyright © 1974. The France & Colonies Philatelic Society of Great Britain.

Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3

Part 3

The Postal Markings

It has been continuously emphasised that the pneumatic post in Paris has always been operated by the Télégraphes or, nowadays, the Télécommunications and the date stamps have therefore been those of that service. In 1885 there was an official decision to make the date stamps of the Postes and the Télégraphes similar but the telegraph date stamps were to contain, in place of the collection number, a T or, in the case of the larger offices, a letter denoting a particular telegraph counter. However, existing date stamps were to continue in use until they were worn out. This economy led to the retention of date stamps of earlier vintages and, furthermore, when an office changed its address, it used at its new address the date stamps which still bore the old address In 1879 the most common telegraph date stamp was a small wavy circle of which there were several variants. Other different types were used, some with appendages. Most of these date stamps were applied in blue, some in red, and occasionally in black. The 22 mm diameter 'postal' date stamp is sometimes found on pneus prior to the application of the 1885 decision. The 'postal' date stamp of 25 mm diameter incorporating a B was applied at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Again these were usually struck in blue and sometimes in black, but in the first half of 1894 a number of of fives used a violet ink. As has already been described, the Paris post offices numbered up to 9 had their telegraphic numbers preceded by a zero and this appeared in their date stamps. Hexagonal date stamps intended for the late-fee. postal service were sometimes used at some offices even when those offices were equipped with conventional date stamps as were the circular date stamps incorporating an E. At the turn of the century new types of date stamp were introduced which, for the first time, showed the time of despatch of a pneu, so that it was no longer necessary to record this time in the daily register. Two of these differed by having small and capital lettered "d" in "du"

A pneu, during its journey from the sender to the addressee, might have to be transferred from one tube line to another and when this occurred the office of exchange applied its date stamp on the back. Using date stamps incorporating times, the times of each stage of a journey could be ascertained. At the big exchanges of Central and Bourse a stamp was mechanically applied.

Around 1930 a date stamp of the 'Rotoplan' type was introduced with the year appearing at the bottom; shortly afterwards there was another on the same pattern but within the year in the central slug. This is not an exhaustive list of the postmarks but served to illustrate the principal ones.

Figure 12a. Postmarks of the Pneumatic Post.

Figure 12b. Postmarks & sundry cachets of the Pneumatic Post.

The auxiliary marks on the conventional post have also been applied to pneus, often in a particular context. A pneu put, not into the correct and smaller box, but into an ordinary post-box would, on being sorted, receive the post office date stamp and also the mark 'TROUVE A LA BOITE' before being transferred to the telegraph counter where the telegraph date stamp would be applied. In much the same way, a pneu put into a box attached to the rear of a tram would be taken to the post office adjacent to the Paris terminus of the route of that tram, receive there the post office date stamp and 'B M' (for boite mobile) before being transferred to the telegraph counter where again the telegraph date stamp would be applied. Other postal marks such as 'AFFRANCHISSEMENT INSUFFISANT' or 'PARVENU SANS ADRESSE' or 'RETARDE FORTUITEMENT' were equally applied to pneus. In the early days of the pneumatic post, pneus might be addressed, by accident or otherwise, beyond its boundaries; they were then endorsed in manuscript 'Hors limites' or 'Hors service' and transferred to the post. The sorters tired of writing and made up their own handstamps for these and other annotations. In this category of individual initiative handstamps is 'BOURSE B' (B for banlieue) applied to pneus arriving at Bourse for the suburbs after the last despatch and held there overnight.

A handstamp often found on pneus of 1938 and the five following years refers to the registration of pneumatic mail. The 2 francs letter-card of 1938 contained on the back the information that pneumatic mail could be registered in the same way as ordinary mail and this facility was widely publicized by a cachet applied by hand to the front of a pneu. There are numerous varieties, those of 1938 show that there was a special registration fee of 1.50 franc for pneus but the later cachets merely announce the facility.

Also from individual initiative came handstamps for deficient payment, such as PCV for 'à percevoir', and T 0 0, writing in a digit between the two zeroes to show the tax. The pneumatic service was for a long time less severe than the ordinary post in taxing a deficiency and until 1926 only the simple difference was taxed. The original compulsory use of the official postal stationery and the weight limitation of 7 grams made underpayment impossible but after the concessions of 1896 and 1898 underpayments could and did occur. If a pneu or a privately printed envelope bearing postage stamps appropriate to the tariff for 7 grams weighed more than this (but not more than 30 grams) the addressee had the option either of paying the simple difference or of refusing to pay in which case the item was transferred to the ordinary post and delivered later. After 1926, under the same conditions, double the deficiency was required although items were subsequently retained in the pneumatic post provided they were prepaid to at least half the correct fee but still the addressee could not immediately receive them unless he paid the amount due.

The Most Famous Pneu in History

For generations the pneumatic letter-card was known affectionately as the petit bleu since, between 1897 and 1902, it was on blue paper and it was under this name that a 'Télégramme' was a vital piece of evidence in the enquiries which led to the eventual acquittal of Dreyfus. At a court-martial in December 1894 he had been found guilty of passing military secrets to the Germans and was transported to Cayenne. In 1896 the contents of a waste paper basket in the office of Schwartzkoppen, the German military attache in Paris, were taken to the French Intelligence Staff and found to include a torn-up pneu which had never been sent.

When pieced together, it was found that the petit bleu contained a message to another French officer, Esterhazy, implicating him in the offences attributed to Dreyfus. Thus started the chain of events which culminated in 1906 with the ceremonial restoration of his commission to Dreyfus in that courtyard of the Ecole Militaire lying just behind the Pavillon de l'Artillerie which had housed the telegraph office Ecole Militaire until its closure in 1891.

The Celebration of the Centenary of the Pneumatic Service

The P.T.T. recognized the centenary of the service in 1966 by the issue of a com- memorative postage stamp with a face value of 1.60 franc, the then basic rate for a pneu, The stamp, designed by Combet, showed the Bourse with the hexagon system of 1867 and, at the side, a cylinder in a section of tube. It was issued on 11 November 1966 at the autumn philatelic salon and was there cancelled by a postmark also showing a cylinder in a section of tube. There was the usual range of first day envelopes and cards together with one letter-card which bore a surprising number of mistakes. Its inscription referred to the centenary of the pneumatic postal service although this will not occur until 1979. It was decorated with a reproduction of a 30 centimes Sage type postage stamp embodying the word 'POSTE'. Whilst the true Sage type postage stamp embodied the word 'POSTES' (with a S) the design on the first pneus omitted the word altogether and was for values of 50 centimes and 75 centimes; the 30 centimes rate was not introduced until 1902. To make matters worse, at the last moment, it was found that the French postal administration would not accept the letter-card with its unofficial representation of a postage stamp and the offending illustration had to be hidden under a square of adhesive paper.


The standard work in France on the pneumatic post is 'Cent ans de tubes pneumatiques' J Boblique, Echo de la Timbrologie, 1966.

The engineering aspects of the service are recounted in 'Le réseau pneumatique de Paris' M Gaillard, Revue des PTT de France, 1, 1959.

The postal markings of the 1 9th century are studied in 'Oblitérations du service des pneumatiques de 1879 à 1900' R Cantais, Feuilles Marcophiles, 168, 1966.

The present writer warmly acknowledges his debt to these authors, and, additionally to M Gaillard for arranging visits to the installations in Paris, and to M Cantais who, until his death in 1971, was always ready to pass on the results of his researches at the Musée Postal. Recent research, as yet unpublished, by Dr. G Rykner has also generously been made available to the author.

Tribute is due to the A.C.E.P. members who contributed to these excellent catalogues, the numbering of which has been respected in the abbreviated listings which follow of the postal stationery.

The writer expresses his gratitude to M A Fileyssant for permission to reproduce the hexagonal postmark of place Ventadour and to Mr J E Colley for drawing the postmarks shown in the illustrations.

The catalogues of the postal stationery are:

'Catalogue des entiers postage de France' Association des Collectionneurs d'Entiers Postaux 1965,

and, with more specialist detail,

'Catalogue complet des entiers postaux de France et Colonies' A.C.E.P., with Supplement 3, 1969

These listings are very similar to those in the American Postal Stationery Catalogues published by Higgins & Gage, but the catalogue numbers do not quite correspond.



1Letter-cards1879(1 May)75c
1880(1 June)50c
1Cards1879(1 May)50c
1880(1 June)30c
1Envelopes1885(15 January)75c
1887(1 January)60c
1896(17 September)50cup to 7g
1f7 - 15g
1,50f15 - 30g

Tariffs 1902 -

Up to 7g7 - 15g15 - 30g
1902(1 January)30c50c1f
1917(1 January)40c65c1.25f
1920(1 April)60c1f1.50f
1924(25 March)75c1.25f2f
1925(16 July)1f1.50f2f
1926(1 May)1.50f2f3f
1937(12 July)2f3f4f
1942(2 January)3f4f5f
1945(1 March)6f8f10f
1946(1 January)10f12f14f
1947(1 April)13.50f16f19f
1947(8 July)19f24f28f
1948(21 September)30f40f50f
1949(6 January)45f60f75f
1957(1 July)100f120f160f
1959(1 January)125f150f200f
1964(1 June)1.50f1.75f2.25f
1965(15 January)1.60f1.90f2.40f
1971(3 January)3f3f3.60f
1973(7 July)3.90f3.90f3.90f

(An abbreviated summary)


1187975c Sage modified TELEGRAMME
3188150c Chaplain
4188250c with map of Paris, blue shading at west
5188350c -do-, blue shading at west and north
6188450c -do-, no shading
7188550c No 6 with 'Valable pour tout Paris'
8-1550c no map(differing perforations)
1f with reply coupon
16-26189750c CARTE PNEUMATIQUE FERMEE(differing inscription on back)
1f with reply coupon
27-70190230/50c(on previous types and with differing surcharges)
7130c black on blue CARTE PNEUMATIQUE
72,7430c red on blue(differing inscription on back)
73,7530c + 30c
76190730c Sower(differing inscriptions on front and on back)
8430c + 30c
85191940c Chaplain
89-9219271.50f (differing colours)
9419423f Petain
9519443f Chaplain
99,100195045f (differing inscription on back)
103,10419601.25f (differing colours)
106-10919651.60f (differing inscriptions on back)


1187950c Sage modified CARTE TELEGRAMME
2188050c Sage Chaplain
350c + 50c
430/50c Sage modified
530/50c Chaplain
630c + 30c/50c + 50c
830c + 30c
9188230c with map of Paris, blue shading at west
101883-do-, blue shading at west and north
111884-do-, no shading
16,18,19188530c No. 11 with 'Valable pour tout Paris'
1730c + 30c No. 8
20,2230c no map
21,23188730c + 30c no map
24,25,27189730c CARTE PNEUMATIQUE
26,28,2930c + 30c


6-8189750c (two formats) ENVELOPPE PNEUMATIQUE
9-15190230/50c on previous types
17-19190730c Sower (differing inscriptions on back)
20191940c Chaplain
23,24,2519281.50f (differing colours)

Caisse Nationale d'Epargne repayment demands

1188430c + 30c Chaplain on card
2-5189030c + 30c on paper (differing inscriptions)
6-8190930c + 30c Sower (-do-)
9-10192160c + 60c Chaplain (-do-)
1119251f + 1f
12-1419281.50f + 1.50f (-do-)
1519392f + 2f
1619433f + 3f
1719476f + 6f



1191030c Sower
230c + 30c
3191940c Chaplain
6,719291.50f (differing colours)