Tin Can Mail

Tonga Tin Can Mail -

There are seven postal markings on this cover and they are all legible.

The 'rubber stamped' text reads:-
'This Letter, enclosed in a water-tight tin was put
into the sea from the cruise Steamer "Maunganui"
off Niuafoou or "Tin Can Island" in the Tongan
Group - Lat. 15.33' South, Long. 175.39' West
on the 6th September 1937.'

The stamps used were the 1920-37 definitive ½d Arms and 2d Queen Salote.

On the reverse of the envelope there are 11 different postal markings

Item from 'Stamp Collecting' August 29th, 1968.

The Tin Can Mail.

"The study of Tonga's postmarks and registration markings provides plenty of scope for the specialist. At present there are eight post offices in the Group - Nuku'alofa, Eua, Ha'afeva, Ha'apai, Niuataputapu, Nomuka, Vavau and Niuafo'ou. Postmarks other than the first are unusual on commercial mail, while the many oddities to come from the last office deserve a collection of their own. Niuafo'ou, better known as Tin Can Island, is an isolated and unapproachable volcanic dot in the Pacific. It was visited in 1930 by U.S. and N.Z. astronomers, and in the early thirties C. S. Ramsay, who operated the Morris Hedstrom trading store, started a tradition by swimming out to a passing ship to collect his mail and magazines and carrying them back wrapped in oil cloth. Sealed tins soon came into use, and the "service" became popular with collectors all over the world who sent letters there for cancellation with the Niuafo'ou postmark and one or more of the many cachets which were soon provided to mark such mail. After a native swimmer was killed by a shark the service was operated by canoe, and continued until 1946 when the volcano erupted. The inhabitants were evacuated to Eua, mostly against their will, and the post office closed down. The last mail was carried on the Government yacht Hifofua on October 9th, 1947. There being no postmarks available all letters were endorsed in manuscript with the name of the island, date and signature of the ship's purser. Niuafo'ou was repopulated from 1958 onward and the first of the new Tin Can mail was carried in January 1962. Only a limited souvenir service is now operated, covers from the S.S. Mariposa of the Matson Lines being cancelled with the new Niuafo'ou postmark. The straight-line and circular cachets are now applied on the ship."

Copyright EARS Leisurewrite 1996.

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