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.

The first half of the 19th century saw an unprecedented acceleration of communication through the introduction of the electric telegraph. Its principal application was to commercial intelligence for the merchants on the stock exchanges for whom fortunes could be won by the receipt of advance information, but the gain in speed from the telegraph could be lost if a message took a long time to get from the telegraph office to the stock exchange. It was to avoid this delay that in 1853 J. Latimer Clark installed a 220 yard long pneumatic tube connecting the London Stock Exchange in Threadneedle Street with the Central Station in Lothbury of the Electric Telegraph Company which had been incorporated in 1846. There were similar installations in Berlin in 1865 between the Central Telegraph Office and the Stock Exchange, and in 1866 in Paris out of the place de la Bourse.

Other cities followed and tube systems were opened not only for the transport of telegrams but also for individual letters and for letters in bulk. The transport of letters in bulk required large diameter tubes such as exist today in Hamburg and as once existed in a number of American cities. Provision for the transport of individual letters was made in Vienna and Prague, Berlin, Munich, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Naples, Milan, Paris and Marseilles. There were ephemeral installations for private letters at the South Kensington Exhibition of 1890, at the Karlsbad Philatelic Exhibition of 1910, and at the Turin International Exhibition of 1911.

Today, the pneumatic post survives only in Paris and Italy. Pneumatic tubes are still however widely used for the transport inside many cities of the world of small batches of telegrams, express letters and air mail letters. These tubes are generally of a diameter of about 3 inches and the messages are carried in cylinders which are propelled along the tube by an air pressure differential from the back to the front, attaining speeds of around 25 mph. Letters and cards which have been transported in the tubes are invariably creased where they have been rolled up for insertion in a cylinder.

The Parisian Network

The network in Paris was commenced in 1866 by the construction of an experimental line between the telegraph offices at Grand Hotel and place de la Bourse. This was extended in 1867 into a one-way hexagon from place de la Bourse through the telegraph offices rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, rue de Rivoli, rue des Saints-Peres, the Central Telegraph Office (rue de Grenelle), rue Boissy d'Anglas, and back to Grand Hotel. During the following decade single line polygonal systems were linked to this hexagonal system and a double tube (two-way) was laid between Central and Bourse, but the network remained always within the limits of the pre-1791 octroi of Paris, roughly corresponding to the inner arrondissements.

Figure 1. Map of the Parisian Pneumatic Post Network.

In 1879, with the opening of the service to the public, there was a new motive for expansion and, in 1881 plans were approved to extend the network of tubes across the whole of Paris. There were to be four stages each taking about one year to achieve: by 1 February 1882 the 16th and parts of the 15th and 17th arrondissements; by 1 April 1883 the rest of the 17th, the 18th, and part of the l9th; by 1 February 1884 the rest of the l9th, the 12th and 20th; by 15 December 1884 the rest of the 15th, the 13th and 14th. The system of tubes running across the whole of Paris (generally located in the sewers) consisted of tubes of 65 mm diameter but from 1888 many tubes of 80 mm diameter were installed and today about one-third of the system uses the larger diameter. Also from 1888 began the elimination of the one-way polygonal networks and their replacement by double tubes.

Since the end of the l9th century there have been numerous detail changes of the network inside Paris but only one tube has gone outside Paris: that to Neuilly opened in 1914. It had been intended to extend the tubes widely through the suburbs but the 1914-18 war suspended the project and it was never revived. Nevertheless, in 1907 the transport of pneumatic mail beyond the limits of Paris was made possible by the employment of special messengers operating in 19 suburban areas. By 1916 these messengers were on bicycles and operating in most of the towns of the department of the Seine and also in Enghien-les-bains, Sevres, and St Cloud in the department of the Seine et Oise. Raincy was added in 1921.

Today, the service works inside Paris and to Neuilly by the tubes and thence outwards throughout most of the suburbs by messengers on motorcycles. Inwards the service uses post office vans between the suburban post offices and those offices on the limits of Paris which are on the tube network.

There is also another network between French government offices radiating from Central but with one line joining the Senate and the -Assemblee Nationale with the Journal Official. Along this line pass the transcripts of the parliamentary debates which are printed and published within twenty-four hours.

The cylinders are propelled along the tubes pneumatically, ie by air either compressed or depressed: they are either blown forwards or sucked forwards from one office to another. The pressures come from compressors feeding groups of offices; these compressors were originally simple heads of water, then driven by steam engines, and finally by electrical machines. There are today 7 such installations, supplying pressure to 12 offices in the network.

For a long time the cylinders went from one office to the next where their contents were sorted for the next stages of their journeys. Much time was spent in the manual redirection of cylinders but, after experiments in 1931, automatic navigation was introduced using apparatus which could accept or pass on cylinders according to the setting of electrically conducting bands encircling the cylinders.

Figure 2. Pneumatic Post cylinders, new and old, showing the electrically conducting bands introduced after 1931.

The administration of the senice started with the Télégraphes since it was then intended for the transport of telegrams and the first network connected offices of the Télégraphes which were quite distinct from those of the Postes. In 1878 the Postes and the Télégraphes were joined and became the Postes et Télégraphes. Later, the Télephones was added to make the P. T. T. which still today remains the familiar designation of the Postes et Télécommunications. Inside the larger organisation, the responsibility for the pneumatic service remained with the Télégraphes or its successor the Télécommunications. The cooperation between the separate parts of the ministry is well illustrated by the events of 1927 when floods put the Segur telephone exchange out of action; telephone subscribers were allowed to send letters by tube for 30 centimes, the cost of a telephone call, instead of the normal 1.50 franc charge. Although not operated by the Postes, the service must still be considered to be postal since the addressee receives the original manuscript (or typescript) message of the sender on a letter, or card, or letter-card each of which falls within the generic term 'pneu'.

The service does not have its own offices but pneus are posted in special boxes which have slits narrower than those for conventional mail. The fusion in 1878 of the Postes and Télégraphes led to a rationalisation of their of fines and the purely telegraphic of fines gradually disappeared. At the end of 1879, the first year of public use of the pneumatic tubes, there were 36 of fines in Paris with pneumatic installations but only 6 of them provided a postal service; before the end of the century all solely telegraph offices had been closed. The telegraph of fines had been numbered serially in 1871 and the post of fines in 1863; as the two merged the joint offices took the postal number. Up to their individual closures the few telegraph offices which remained were allotted postal numbers as, for example, Ecole Militaire,which had had the number 15 as a telegraph of fine in 1871, was given the number 46 in the postal series until its closure in 1891. These office numbers had a purpose: an instruction of 1871 required that each telegram (and hence, later, each pneu) should carry in its top left-hand corner the two digit number of the office of despatch preceded by the number of that telegram as recorded in the daily register. Thus the 341st pneu sent out on one day by Bourse (98) would carry 34198. Since the first nine post of fines were numbered only by a single digit their telegraph counters used the post office numbers preceded by a zero. These office numbers were not initially used to indicate the destination of a pneu. At the office of posting, the name of the office nearest the addressee was written in the top left hand corner so as to facilitate its navigation through the tube network; just after the turn of the century there was a gradual replacement of the office name by the office number.

There was a curious situation in 1900 when the seven post of fines at the International Exhibition were temporarily allotted telegraph office numbers from 10 to 16, numbers which were being used at the same time by the normal Paris post of fices 10 to 16. To avoid confusion, the pneus from these of fines were recorded in each daily register starting at 501; thus the 27th pneu sent out on a particular day from Alma (12) would carry 52712.

Shortly afterwards, the practice of numbering pneus was discontinued.

The Postal Stationery of the Pneumatic Post

Until 1898 when private cards and envelopes were admitted, the use of the official postal stationery was obligatory for pneumatic mail. The decree which opened the tubes to the public was signed on 25 January 1879 by MacMahon in the last days of his presidency and came into effect on 1 May 1879. It prescribed two franked forms: one, open, at 50 centimes, and one, closed, at 75 centimes, in rhodern parlance respectively a card and a letter-card although the latter was on thin paper.

The intention had been that the imprinted stamp should be the Chaplain type which had been the runner-up in the 1875 competition for the design of a new adhesive postage stamp but the upheaval which followed the resignation of MacMahon reverberated throughout the French civil service and the dies of the Chaplain type were not available in time to have the imprinted postal stationery ready by 1 May. It was therefore decided to use temporarily the Sage design, which had won the competition and was on the current postage stamps, modified by the deletion of POSTES. Thus, on I May two forms were on sale bearing this modified Sage design: a cream card titled 'Carte Télégramme' with a red imprinted stamp, and a blue letter-card titled 'Télégramme' with a black imprinted stamp. These inscriptions reflect the insistence that the service was provided by the Télégraphes and that the missives were regarded as telegrams except that for a fixed fee there was no limit to the number of words that could be sent. The absence of a limit was quickly recognized by the public; a card dated 15 May 1879 includes the following passage 'We are taking advantage of the freedom which renders henceforth the postcard telegram no longer limited by sending you with our best wishes our friendly greetings' which, in French, took 27 words and, by itself, would have cost 75 centimes at the then current rate for telegrams. The letter-cards carried on the back a prohibition against the inclusion of any sheet of paper or of anything at all; if the weight exceeded that of the letter-card as sold it would be transferred to the post.

Figure 3. "Sage" design 50c card of 1879.

Figure 4. "Chaplain" design 30c envelope of 1902.

By the end of 1879 the Chaplain dies were completed and cards were put on sale with this design of imprinted stamp which embodied the work 'TELEGRAPHE'. The first card was a reply card, at 2 x 50 centimes, and was followed by a single card. The pneumatic post was an immediate and outstanding success, the volume of telegrams increasing by 80% and the revenue by 90So between 1 May 1879 and 30 April 1880. In accordance with a promise made in 1878 to try to bring down the price of a telegram the Minister of the Postes et Télégraphes made the proposal, approved by the President, Grévy, on 22 May 1880, to reduce the price of the pneumatic Gard to 30 centimes and that of the letter-card to 50 centimes. Existing stocks of the two 50 centimes cards, the reply card, and the letter-card were overprinted 'Taxe réduite' and the appropriate new value. At the end of the year new cards and a new letter-card appeared bearing the new rates. However, by this time, the decision had been taken to extend the tube network in the four stages that have been described above and three cards and three letter-cards (but not reply cards) were issued bearing coloured maps on the front to show the areas successively covered by these stages. On the cards the imprinted stamp was now in black. At the final stage, with the network covering the whole of Paris, the card and letter-card of the third stage, together with the reply card issued prior to the extensions being launched, were overprinted 'Valable pour tout Paris'. The cards of this series can claim to be the first regular coloured postcards of France.

Figure 5. "Taxe réduite" 30c on 50c "Chaplain" card of 1880.

Figure 6. 30c "Chaplain" card showing outline map of area and "Valable pour tout Paris" overprint of 1885.

New cards, single and reply, and a new letter-card were issued (in August 1885, February 1887, and August 1885 respectively) for use in this wider area and these remained unchanged until 1897 apart from minor variations such as, for the letter-cards, different patterns of perforation. During this period two new items of postal stationery appeared. In December 1884 a reply letter-card was put on sale at 1 franc; it consisted of an ordinary letter-card but printed in red with a black stamp (in two types: 1 fr and 1 F) with a small coupon joined, at first perforated and later imperforate, to be detached at the addressee's post office and exchanged for an ordinary letter-card which was delivered with the original letter-card. The second addition was an envelope, 115 x 75 mm, introduced in January 1885 and sold for 75 centimes which, within a weight limit of 7 grams, could contain anything that was not rigid. The envelope was violet with a pink stamp and was inscribed 'Tubes Pneumatiques'. In November 1886, the price was reduced to 60 centimes and existing stocks were overprinted, the old value being cancelled by either 5 or 6 lines. The definitive envelope appeared in 1889 but in 1896 the price was again reduced, this time to 50 centimes, and again the existing stocks had to be overprinted. Coincident with this second reduction, the weight restriction was amended, envelopes up to 30 grams being thereafter accepted. Up to 7 grams the charge was 50 centimes, from 7 to 15 grams 1 franc, and from 15 to 30 grams 1.50 franc, postage stamps being added to make up the correct charge. These ranges of weights remained in force throughout all subsequent changes of tariff until 1971 when the basic rate applied up to 15 grams. The tariffs quoted thereafter are the basic rates; in the higher weight ranges the charges were generally about twice and three times the basic rate.

Figure 7. 1fr. reply-paid Telegram of 1885.

Figure 8. "Tubes Pneumatiques" envelope 50c on 60c "Taxe réduite" of 1896.

In 1896 it was decided to retitle the postal stationery of the pneumatic post, the 'carte telegrammed becoming a 'carte pneumatique', the 'télégramme' a 'carte pneumatique fermée', and the envelope an 'enveloppe pneumatique'. New stationery bearing these inscriptions appeared from 1896 onwards, the cards and letter-cards retaining their previous formats but the envelopes were issued in two new different sizes: 145 x 85 mm and 125 x 95 mm. The same year saw the application of 'dates' to the postal stationery of the pneumatic service, other than envelopes which did not carry them until 1898; the first digit was the last digit of the year and was followed by two digits representing the week of the year. Thus: 703 denoted the 3rd week of 1897 (or 1907, or. . ) and identified the week in which the item was printed. The practice was discontinued for envelopes in 1900 but remained with letter- cards until 1939. From these dates it can be deduced that some items were sometimes reprinted at weekly intervals but at other times the periods between reprintings were considerable.

An alteration to the instructions on the back of the letter-cards was necessary after, in 1898, the use of privately printed cards, letter-cards and envelopes was permitted. The official but non-pneumatic postal stationery had, in fact, been admitted since 1886 with the difference in charge made up with postage stamps. Since additional but always flexible matter could now be enclosed in the official letter-cards, the three lines of the withdrawn prohibition were cancelled by six thin or thick bars. Reprinted letter-cards, single and reply, were issued in 1899.

After the admissibility of private stationery in 1898, many Parisian printers produced light weight envelopes inscribed 'Télégramme Pneumatique' or 'Service Pneumatique'. Their dimensions followed those of the official postal stationery which, after 1929, defined on the reverse the maximum as 148 x 115 mm. This was enlarged in 1942 to 155 x 125 mm and, again, in 1970. to 225 x 125 mm. Cards and envelopes exceeding these dimensions were transferred to the normal post. 1902 saw major changes: the card was abolished, the letter-card was now itself titled 'carte pneumatique' and its price and that of the envelope reduced to 30 centimes. The price of the reply letter-card became 60 centimes. Existing stocks were overprinted with the new charge either by hand or by machine and since they included both earlier and recent issues a large number of combinations resulted.

The definitive letter-cards and envelopes appeared in 1902, each introducing on its front top left hand corner a space for the sender, if he so wished, to insert his own name and address. The letter card was initially in grey-blue with a black stamp and then in a number of shades around light blue with a carmine stamp the same as the envelope. The reply letter-card was issued in 1903 and consisted of two parts joined vertically, with the reply portion a smaller version of the outward portion and enclosed within it. When the service was extended outside Paris in 1907 with the aid of special messengers, information on the backs of the letter-cards, single and reply, was amended accordingly.

The stamps on these letter-cards and envelopes were those of the Chaplain design first introduced in 1880 and in continuous use until 1907 when it suffered the first of two displacements by the appearance of the Sower design in purple on the letter-cards and on the envelope. The Sower design surprisingly embodied the word 'POSTES' and the first issues with it continued the information about the service being available in 19 localities outside Paris, amended progressively to 20, 26,42, and finally in 1916 to an indefinite number of localities, being most of the towns in the then department of the Seine together with three towns in Seine-et-Oise.

The war of 1914-18 saw a general increase of prices and by a decree of 30 December 1916 the charge of pneumatic mail went up on 1 January 1917 to 40 centimes.

However, it was not until 1919 that new stationery was issued and it brought back the Chaplain design, the stamp being in brick-red. During the two years before the new letter-cards and envelopes became available, the old ones continued in use with postage stamps affixed to cover the additional charge, a practice to be frequently repeated when there were later increases of tariff. It should be noted that, apart from those of 1 May 1879, the first day of issue of a pneu cannot be exactly identified with any certainty since no announcements are made either before or after a new one is put on sale. Thereafter, the charge rose steadily: to 60 centimes on 1 April 1920, to 75 centimes on 25 March 1924, to 1 franc on 16 July 1925, and to 1.50 franc on 1 May 1926. Letter- cards and envelopes in grey-blue with violet stamps were printed for each of these rates except that there was no envelope at 75 centimes. In 1929, when the 1.50 franc letter-card and envelope were reprinted, a new item of information was added on the reverse: cards were on sale with a reply coupon. No such card has ever been reported and is believed that the cards never existed even though the announcement continued to appear on all postal stationery for the following twenty years. The 1.50 franc rate was maintained until July 1937 but in 1930 the colour of the stamp was changed to brick-red and the letter-cards and envelopes tended to be in a much lighter shade than before. On 12 July 1937 the rate was raised to 2 francs and new letter-cards and envelopes were printed; this was to be the last envelope.

Since 1897 all the postal stationery had carried the inscription 'République Française'. The Third Republic was replaced on 10 July 1940 by the French State and when the charge for pneumatic letter-cards was increased on 2 January 1942 to 3 francs the new letter-card was inscribed 'Etat Francais' and the stamp was the Bersier type of Petain in which, around the Marshal's head, are the words 'POSTES FRANCAISES'. With the Liberation of 1944 there was a reversion to the Chaplain design still at 3 francs but the inscription 'République Française' was not restored.

The Chaplain design, always accompanied by the word 'TELEGRAPHE' has been retained continuously since and so, between 1880 and 1974 it has been in use for 80 out of 94 years.

After 1944 the letter-card has kept much the same appearance in shades around grey-blue with the stamp in brick-red, but the charge has risen faster than ever before. It went up to 6 francs on 1 March 1945 and, before the new letter- card had been issued, to 10 francs on 1 January 1946. Consequently no 6 francs letter-card can be found used which does not bear postage stamps. The 10 francs rate had no definitive letter-card, nor did the next rate, 13.50 francs, applied from 1 April 1947. The rate went to 19 francs on 8 July 1947, 30 francs on 21 September 1948, 45 francs on 6 January 1949, 100 francs on 1 July 1957, and 125 francs on 1 January 1959. Furthermore, from 1 May 1947 there has been a charge for the letter-card itself. After the new franc was introduced in 1960 a letter-card at 1.25 franc was issued, raised to 1.50 franc on 1 June 1964 and to 1.60 franc on 15 January 1965. With the increase, on 3 January 1971, to 3 francs (to which had to be added a further 5 centimes for the letter-card itself), the rate from 1971 was the same as that in 1942-45 but in reality 100 times more because of the difference between the old and new francs. On 7 July 1973 there was a further increase to 3.90 francs.

Apart from the standard items of postal stationery that have just been described, there have been three groups of other issues. The first are those for withdrawals from the Caisse Nationale d'Epargne in the rue St Romain and consist of reply-paid forms, part for the applicant to complete and part for the Caisse to return to him with authority for a withdrawal. They appeared in 1884 as joined cards and then as folded forms with varying texts between 1890 and 1904 all with a black Chaplain stamp of 30 centimes. In 1909 the Sower stamp replaced the Chaplain design as had happened with the standard postal stationery and similarly abdicated in favour of the Chaplain stamp in 1921 at a value of 60 centimes, increased to 1 franc in 1925, to 1.50 franc in 1928, and to 2 francs in 1939. A 3 franc rate of 1942 was denoted by a stamp of Petain but the Chaplain stamp reappeared after the war at 6 francs on what transpired to be the last of these forms. A second type of special postal stationery was associated with the Pompes Funèbres, the official agency responsible for funerals. In 1884 there was a fear of a major cholera epidemic in Paris and it was foreseen that there would be a large number of corpses each requiring urgent notification to the Pompes Funèbres. The pneumatic post offered a rapid means of notification and two cards were printed, with a 30 centimes Chaplain stamp in black, addressed to two of fines of the Pompes Funèbres, with spaces in the inside for writing in the length and breadth of the corpse together with other relevant information, all to be filled in by the doctor in attendance. It is doubtful whether any of these cards were ever used. They are rare but even rarer are those carrying advertising matter and which were sold at reduced prices. The very few known were all issued by the one agency 'la Publicité Postale' and were published around 1898.

Figure 9. "Caisse d'Epargne" card of 1884.

Figure 10. 6fr. "Caisse d'Epargne" card of 1947.

Although far from being official, deserving mention are the miniatures of postal stationery which appeared around the turn of the century in children's toy post offices. A 'pneumatic' card of 1898 was so good a reproduction of the official card that there must have been an official demand to change it and one sold in 1900 bears the additional inscription 'La Poste Enfantine' The printer of a miniature letter-card of 1898 tried to anticipate the modified prohibitions on the outside of the official card following the admission of private stationery to the tubes but failed to foresee the continuation of the prohibition of the insertion of hard objects, and so his miniature has a different inscription on the back from the official text.

All the foregoing refers to the pneumatic post of Paris; a similar but much more restricted service existed in Marseilles between mid-1910 and 29 February 1964 and which had its own postal stationery until the last war. Letter-cards showing on the front a map of those areas of the city served by the pneumatic post were issued in 1910 (single and reply) with a Sower stamp of 30 centimes. On the reverse were listed the seven offices from which pneus could be sent. Later, as in Paris, the Chaplain stamp was used: in 1919 at 40 centimes with an eighth office added on the reverse, in 1921 at 60 centimes, in 1926 at 1 franc, and in 1929 at 1.50 franc, all these being against a blue-green background. The background was changed in 1934 to grey and when the 2 francs letter-card appeared in 1938 the map was deleted; this was the last letter-card. Oneenvelope only was issued: in 1910 and similar to the contemporary letter-card.

Whilst the pneumatic postal stationery of Paris may have occasionally been used outside Paris and Marseilles, its regular use is known only in Algiers where an express service was operated by messengers inside the city. In 1938 this service was given its own letter card, and the link with the Paris pneumatic post was broken.

Figure 11. 1fr. 50 card of the Marseilles Pneumatic Posts of 1929.

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)