Celebrating Railroads through Cuban Stamps

Navigation tools at the base of this exhibit

In 1837 Cuba became the first country in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula to adopt the system of steam powered railroads. (It was the third country in the world after England and the U.S.) By 1854 Cuba had laid 593.30 km of rail lines greatly facilitating the export of sugar by telescoping the distance between the sugar mills and the major ports of the Island.

All the esoterically technical and general economic information on capital accumulation, technical construction and geographical routing are not the intended subject of this exhibit. Our focus is the listing of all the railroad stamps issued and why they were issued.

For the Cuba philatelist the first railroad stamps were a challenge to classify. Were the stamps the beginning of a topical collection that would grow over time or were they historically significant in illustrating the interdependence of the sugar industry and rail transport? The observer will quickly see that railroad stamps responded to four objectives:

  1. Illustrate how rail permitted the growth of sugar production ultimately making Cuba the premier producer in the world;
  2. Document the importance of the railroad to the national economy;
  3. Show the progression of the railroad beginning with wood combustion steam locomotives, then advancing to coal combustion, then oil combustion and ultimately electric and diesel locomotives. This exhibit follows this order of progression ending with a series of stamp issues that commemorate anniversaries of several rail lines; the 210th anniversary of the birth of George Stephenson inventor of the locomotive; celebration of the Railway Workers' Day in present day Cuba; the addition of trams or streetcars to the railroad evolution; and ending with the special cancellation honoring the 10th International Railroad Congress.
  4. The fourth and last objective is less known or recognized in the philatelic records and history, or one could add that it is purposely ignored by the Cuba Postal Museum, the Philatelic Federation and the Ministry of Communications. Here is the story: In the early years of Castro's government, the Ministry of Communications earned hard currency by selling in Europe all the new stamps issued Cancelled To Order (CTO's as they are known). The main conduit in this debasing trade was a man in Germany, Giorgio Maco, retired from the philatelic firm of Numiversal. He became the de facto advisor to the Cuban postal authorities and urged them to issue railroad stamps because these were very popular and was his topical interest. Thus Cuba began releasing a large number of railroad stamps usually celebrating stamp shows anywhere in the world including shows where there was no Cuban participation.

The Cuban Philatelic Federation claims that the postal authorities no longer engage in the sale of CTO's but the trains keep being issued, now "because the Minister of Communications likes them"!


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Daniel Chaij exhibit of 30 slides: "Celebrating Railroads through Cuban Stamps"