Trains on Stamps : Peru : 1870/71 5c 'Trencito' issue

Peru Stamps Trencito 1871 5c Locomotive
Strip/4 of the Peru 'Trencito'. The largest known multiple is, we believe, a strip/6.

Historical Status :
This is an iconic railway stamp, often referred to as the Trencito ('little train'). It is unique amongst railway stamps in several respects. However, one of its claims to fame, that of being the world's first commemorative stamp, is much in doubt. We are indebted to Henry Marquez for pointing to evidence that the 5c Trencito may not hold this distinction. He has provided us with a translation of the summary of the story of this stamp in the "Catalogo especializado de las estampillas del Peru", 1981, by Casa Filatelica Bustamante (of Lima), to whom we are grateful for permission to reproduce Henry's translation. Henry has also added some further detail, based on his own research. We have made some very minor modifications to the text for reasons of presentation rather than content. His text is in violet below.

On December 29,1865 a half price postage reduction was given to all mail transported by train between the cities of Callao, Lima & Chorrillos. At that time the minimum postage charge was 10 cents (Un Dinero), so the new railway rate was reduced to 5 cents. This is the reason why the 5 cents green stamp of 1866 was issued, and also the reason why there are covers with bisects of the Un Dinero rose stamp.

Peru Stamps Cover of Railway tariff reduction 50% 1866 5c Vicuna Peru Stamps Carriage by Railway tariff reduction 50% 1866 5c Vicuna

The 1866 5c Green (Vicuna), introduced to provide a stamp at the correct rate for carriage of mail by rail at 50% rate reduction. The stamp was widely used for many other postal purposes but then mostly in pairs to meet the standard postage rate. The cover was sent in October 1866, the adhesive being cancelled with a poor strike of Callao. There is a boxed LIMA / DISTRIBn arrival marking alongside. The manuscript 9. ½. endorsement is an instruction for the letter to be sent by the 09.30 train.

After President Mariano Prado was overthrown, the half price reduction was decreed to be void. After many complaints from mail users, it was re-instituted on September 15, 1869. At the same time, an order was placed for special stamps to be used by the railway mail system between Callao, Lima & Chorrillos. This mention of the three cities led collectors to believe that it commemorated the 20th anniversary (1851-1871) of the railway system between these cities, whereas, in fact, the earliest dates of usage found on this stamp appear to be as early as June 1870. Note that much later, on January 27, 1873, the half-price rate was extended to all other railway systems in Peru, which is the reason that postmarks from cities other than the three named on the Trencito are found on this stamp.

Peru Stamps Trencito 1871 5c Locomotive
Detail from a postcard of Callao Port, c.1910.

Printing Features :
The Trencito has several distinctive features. Foremost is the fact that, like some other Peruvian issues of this period, it was printed on a Lecoq machine, imported from Paris, adding greatly to the stamp's philatelic interest. The Lecoq was an embossing machine through which was passed a strip of gummed paper, which measured either just over one stamp in height or one stamp in width; the machine 'pressure-printed' each stamp individually as the strip was passed through it.

This is an unusual method of printing stamps and only suited to meeting relatively small printing requirements. It is demanding in labour terms and the partially-manual aspect of the process is not best suited to producing consistent quality of output either in terms of stamp margins or inking, with both under-inking and over-inking a common feature of the stamps. Interestingly, the strips of paper were joined together in order to create a continuous process, simply by sticking one strip onto another. Printing continued across the strip-join and stamps displaying this feature, which appear to have aroused little enthusiasm amongst collectors at the time, are now much sought-after.

It seems that there existed a semi-mechanical method of feeding the paper through the machine to maintain correct (and semi-automated) separation between the stamps. This method leaves tiny pin holes in some of the stamps and any stamp displaying these holes should certainly not be viewed as damaged but, rather, valued for its display of a feature of the printing process. In the strip/4 shown at the top of this article, all four stamps display this feature, whereas we have also seen many single stamps with quite wide margins, and and at least one pair, with no pin holes present, which suggests that this semi-automated stamp separation aid was either not always used or perhaps unavailable at certain periods.

Note that this stamp does not bear the country name. When first issued, the 'Trencito' was used essentially as a local stamp, although its use was later extended to other parts of the country and it was used on international mail. Thoughts that this original usage might explain the lack of country name, however, does not stand up to scrutiny. With the exception of the 1866 set/3 which includes the Vicuna stamp already illustrated, none of the Peruvian stamps between 1857 and 1873 carry the inscription 'PERU'.

Steam Locomotive Callao Harbour
Callao Harbour, picture postcard produced by The Hispanic Society of America, handstamped 1928. Whether 1928 refers to the date that the photograph was taken or to the postcard issue date is unclear.

This method of printing could only produce either vertical strips or horizontal strips of each issue. A stamp showing a llama (a stamp design in a vertical format) from the same period is only found in vertical strips (or pairs); the Trencito is only found in horizontal multiples. On the Trencito, the pin holes that we have seen have all been on the right-hand side of the stamps. Given that the mechanism for feeding the strips would presumably have needed to be acting horizontally, we may infer from this that the image on the embossing head was at right-angles to the strips of paper being introduced.

In general, the upper and lower margins on the Trencito are close, frequently just touching at top or bottom, this accentuated where the paper appears to have been fed through at a slight angle. Some stamps are higher overall, displaying reasonable margins at top AND bottom, which may indicate that there was some variation in the width of the strips of paper introduced. The side margins,i.e. the separation between stamps, are much more consistent and quite generous.

Embossing continues across strip-joins and the line of the join falls randomly across the design. Strip-joins are not common; if we had to estimate its frequency, based simply on how often we encounter one, 1-in-20 might be a reasonable guestimate. It is a scarce feature on mint stamps, and rare on mint multiples.


'Trencito' Shades :
Peru Stamps Trencito Shades
. . . . . . . Pale Rose . . . . . . . . . Rose . . . . . . . . . . . . Vermilion . . . . . . . . . . Reddish Vermilion . . . . . . Bright Vermilion
Sellos Postales Peru Trencito Sellos Postales Peru Trencito
Deep Bright Vermilion . . . . Scarlet Vermilion . . . . . . . . Scarlet . . . . . . . . . . . . Deep Scarlet . . . . . . . . . Dull Plum

Please bear in mind that computers tend to display colours differently. The colour descriptions that we have postulated followed an examination of actual stamps, not scans. The 'Bright Vermilion' above is almost an 'electric vermilion'.

Catalogues list broadly similar shades as follows :
Michel : Three shades : blassrot (Carnation, Mi.16), zinnober (vermilion, Mi.16a) and Karmin (carmine, Mi.16b)
Scott : Two shades : Scarlet (Sct.19) and Pale Red (Sct.19a).
Stanley Gibbons : Three shades : Pale Red (SG21), Vermilion (SG 21a) and Scarlet (SG 21b).
Yvert et Tellier : Two shades : Rouge Vif (bright red, Yv.14) and Rose PÔle (pale rose, Yv.14a)
Domfil Railway catalogue : 871.1 and colour shade 871.1VC

A glance at the scans above will demonstrate the difficulty of defining these colours. Necessarily, stamp catalogues must reduce shades to something manageable for all but the most specialised collectors. Our attempt at describing these colours precisely is below the scans and, by its nature, subjective.

Our thanks to Phil Lunn for providing the scan of the 'dull plum' shade, a marked departure from the normal range of shades. We wonder if it may have come from the start of a new print-run, when the Lecoq machine had not been been properly cleaned with some ink from the printing of a preceding stamp becoming mixed with the red.
The Trencito appears to have been available until at least 1874, a year after the 2c Llama design had first appeared, also a product of the Lecoq machine. This 2c is known in Blue, Deep Blue and Slate-Blue. Dull Plum could well result from one of the darker blues from a 2c printing becoming mixed with that day's shade of red ink used for the 'Trencito'. The red would rapidly take over but not before a small number of stamps in varying hybrid shades emerged from the printing process.

Sellos Postales Peru 1873 Llama stamp Sellos Postales Peru Trencito 1870 usage Sellos Postales Peru Trencito 1874 usage
Above: Two of the many shades of blue of the 2c Llama stamp. This stamp only exists in vertical multiples and a strip-join is just visible at the bottom of the right-hand Llama stamp. Note: The 2c Llama was a special discounted rate for local use in Lima only and is not a railway-related issue.
Also shown are two 'Trencito' stamps with interesting dates. One is cancelled at Callao in October 1870, a very early usage and much at odds with the oft-used April 1871 issue date. Used stamps with legible dates in 1870 are rarely encountered and should command a premium. The second 'Trencito' is displayed sideways to highlight its 1874 postmark, towards the end of the stamp's reign.


'Trencito' Varieties :
Under-inking and, particularly over-inking,is a feature of this issue (and other Lecoq-printed stamps). Scott footnote them, as do Michel, but SG lists the varieties so created, 'CALL..' for 'CALLAO' (SG 21c) and 'ALLAO' for 'CALLAO' (SG 21d). In our experience, these varieties seem to occur most frequently on the Rose-Red to Pale-Red shade but they are probably found on most shades.

Sellos Postales Peru Trencito

The scan above shows two examples of 'CALL..', for 'CALLAO', the second a strip-join stamp. The third stamp shows the word 'CALLAO' totally un-inked. The variety 'ALLAO' for 'CALLAO' is shown in the fourth stamp. Over-inking seemed to affect the right side of the stamps far less frequently but the fifth stamp does show the 'C' of 'CINCO' and much of the word CHORRILLOS obscured by excess ink. The likely explanation for the condition of the middle stamp in the scan is that is was part of a strip-join pair which separated when soaked in water. Any pressure applied onto the overlapping stamp underneath the join will produce a colourless embossing (see scan below of a separated strip-join stamp).

Sellos Postales Peru Trencito


'Trencito' Strip-Joins :
Sellos Postales Peru Trencito
Sellos Postales Peru Trencito
Note: The scans of the backs are of course reversed, with left being right and vice-versa.

The strip-join on the pale red and vermilion stamps, both used, are fairly easy to see from the front, but hard to spot on the mint pair in the carmine shade. Seen from the front, the right-hand stamp of this mint pair is affixed on the top of the left-hand stamp with the join (on the front) located on the left-hand stamp; it runs (at a slight angle) from the top-right figure '5' to the 'S' of 'CENTAVOS'.

The overlap is quite small, extending underneath the right-hand stamp only as far as the chimney of the locomotive at the top and the second 'C' in 'CINCO' at the bottom, but the presence of this join on the underside can only be seen from the back or by looking through the front of the stamp in a strong light. Over time, the paper used came in various thicknesses and the degree to which a strip-join can be easily discerned varies significantly.

Check List:
We have elected to distinguish in our listing below between the duller and brighter vermilions, thus providing four groups of shades, rather than the conventional two or three. The Dull Plum is more an error of colour than a shade. We are only listing the over-inking varieties once, but they may occur on all shades.

5c Trencito : Rose-Red to Pale Red [ . ]
- ditto - Strip-Join single [ . ] or pair [ . ]
- Variety - 'CALL..' for 'CALLAO' [ . ]
- Variety - 'ALLAO' for 'CALLAO' [ . ]

5c Trencito : Vermilion (pale or dull-reddish) [ . ]
- ditto - Strip-Join single [ . ] or pair [ . ]

5c Trencito : Bright Vermilion [ . ]
- ditto - Strip-Join single [ . ] or pair [ . ]

5c Trencito : Scarlet (to Deep Scarlet) [ . ]
- ditto - Strip-Join single [ . ] or pair [ . ]

5c Trencito : Error : Dull Plum ** [ . ]

** We have listed the Dull Plum based on a single stamp reported, and subject to the provisos which naturally flow from that.


'Trencito' : Covers and Cancellations :
The Trencito is uncommon on cover but not rare. When encountered, the stamp is often alone on the cover, which is logical as it was a reduced-rate special franking.

Sellos Postales Peru Trencito
A cover offered in a Soler y Llach auction with a single 5c Trencito on an entire from Tacna to Valparaiso, Chile.

We show below a range of cancellations:

Sellos Postales Peru Cancellations Trencito Sellos Postales Peru Cancellations Trencito
Callao (in a pair), two types of Lima cancellations and a pen cancel, which could still be found at this period.

Sellos Postales Peru Cancellations Trencito Sellos Postales Peru Cancellations Trencito
LIMA DISTRIB cancel, a straight-line PAITA, two examples with part duplex (C38) cancellation of the the British Postal Agency in Callao and a cancellation used by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.


'Trencito' Forgeries :
We have only ever encountered one forgery - and not a very convincing one! If you know of others, please send us a scan.

Sellos Postales Peru Forgeries of the Trencito
Forgery of unknown source or period, perhaps late 19th century?

There is an interesting web article by Allen Morrison, mainly on the tramways of Peru, but with several mentions of the railways in that country, which .. may be accessed here (opens in a new tab)

That concludes this article. In the chronology of railway thematic stamps, excluding locals, this fascinating stamp ranks third after the 1860 New Brunswick 1c and the USA 1869 3c stamps. In terms of classic railway thematics, it is arguably the premier stamp.

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