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Colombia Pages

Introduction and Historical Background


The birth and development of the private postal services in Colombia has to be studied through a historical point of view, in order to understand its creation, growth and eventual disappearance.

Everyone writing a letter is communicating something that requires the addressee to receive it as soon as possible. The speed in the delivery of mail has always been related with how easy or difficult is to transport it and the means used for this purpose. European conquerors found various roads already built by natives, each in different condition, but all suitable for the traveler.

The introduction of the pack mule brought up the need to extend, improve and build new roads to facilitate communications between the conquered towns and the European continent. The development of the roads was achieved with the work done by natives who were forced to destroy the forest and open trails, without receiving any remuneration, resulting in people forced into slavery and the destruction of villages and cultures.

Later on, the “Borbon Law” for the construction of roads granted privileges in exchange of the construction of different public works required by the Viceroyalty.

In the Republic of Colombia and since the year 1823, the opening of roads and the construction of bridges and infrastructure, as well as the development of the first sections of the railroads, involved the concession of enormous waste lands and the granting of huge amounts of money given by the state to the concessionaries.

The purpose of such development was to improve the trails and roads used by the mule drivers with their droves, which was the only way of communication between the coast and the interior of the country in addition to the Magdalena River. It was on these roads that the colonial mails and afterwards the republican ones flourished through contracts for the transportation of mail through relay stations established by individuals who had contracts with the corresponding governments.

The end of the XIX century marks the beginning of private carrier mail.

Starting with the Constitutional Law of 27 April 1859, regulating the Postal Services, the following was established: Article 2º; ”The mail service shall not be a monopoly of the Confederation; therefore the states and companies or individuals may take part in it, even in the same routes established by the Central Government.” Thanks to this Law, the postal services of the Sovereign States were created, as well as the urban postal service of various cities and the mail transportation contracts by individuals. However some companies have operated without official or legal contracts.

The first recorded service was the weekly mail service of El Dorado, which transported mail from the Siecha Lagoon to Bogota; however, it only lasted a couple of years, between 1868 and 1870. The few pieces of mail survived, correspond to notices of drainage work that took place at the lagoon near the city of Bogota. No other letters are known other than the ones related to the work on the site of the lagoon. The second reference to private mail in the XIX century correspond to an important development of the mail in Cucuta and the agents abroad, who took advantage of the simplicity of mail between Cucuta and the golf of Maracaibo in Venezuela, which, at the time, had a permanent marine communication with Europe and North America.

The Cucuta Chamber of Commerce was founded around the year 1890 and it organized an extraordinary mail service named Correo del Comercio (Business mail), a service operating between 1890 and 1915.

The so called Mail of Mora, the third mail service registered in the XIX century, remains a total mystery; only mint stamps and one used stamp are known. Apparently it transported mail around the year 1882 between Barranquilla, Sabanalarga and Puerto Colombia. The next reference is the Compañía Colombiana deTransportes operating along the Magdalena River carrying mail under a government contract, of which 2 covers with the company datestamp of 1896 and a freight bill of loading are recorded.

At the end of the XIX century a strong attempt of railroad development started between the coffee grower regions trying to find a way to connect with the Magdalena River and through this river to reach the Atlantic coast in order to export coffee to the United States and Europe.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the XX Century there were only 645 kilometers of railroad tracks. The XX Century begins with the arrival of the first automobile to Bogota in the year 1905. On that same year the President of the Republic, General Rafael Reyes promotes and enacts Law 44 of April 29, 1905 creating the Department of Public Works. This Law establishes the development of all the infrastructure work of the country, such as roads, bridges, public buildings and railroads; it updates and optimizes the development of these kinds of projects.

With the growth of the Department of Public Works between the years 1911 and 1916, the construction of the Northwest road begins, starting in Ubate, continuing through Chiquinquira, Guepsa, San Jose, and ending at Socorro. The approximate length of the road was 200 kilometers.

The project for Colombia’s national roads, based on Law 88 of 1931, outlined three interstate main roads lengthwise and 23 side roads connected to the interstate main roads. The interstate main roads are those that follow the meridian and are parallel to the branch line of the Andes. The side roads follow the path of the parallels, going from West to East. ince the beginning of the year 1938, the national government studied the possibility of paving some of the roads based on the traffic flow.

Law 175 of 1938 authorized the paving of national roads. During the year 1939 the following sections were set to be paved: 73 Km. in Boyaca, 50 Km. in Santander and 74 Km. in the northern area of Santander.

Numerous transportation companies were created during this period. A truly obvious, inexpensive and efficient service was the transport of mail.

This and the insufficient distribution / red of the National Postal Services were the main reasons behind the creation of so many companies offering mail service starting in the 20’s. The boom of the mail service was such a success that the National Government, through Decree 192 of February 2, 1926, decided to regulate the contracts for the private postal service.

At the beginning, these companies were able to charge a surcharge for the postal service by using their own stamps. This permission was in effect until September 16, 1933, date in which a decree was pronounced prohibiting the issuance of stamps or vignettes for the postage of mail transported by private postal service companies starting on October of 1933.

Starting on the above mentioned date the surcharge was raised through a caption placed on dated handstamps which read: “Surcharge for the amount of $… “; these cancellations also had to include the name or firm name of the corresponding company and the place where it was sent from.

The private postal companies were eventually replaced by the national postal service. Many of the private companies offered their services until the 60’s. This website try to show and explain what is known and has survived of this private postal service.

Like all philatelic material of Colombia, all the covers are quite uncommon due to the lack of practice to save the envelopes and to the custom of collecting only new and used stamps, as practiced by philatelists until well into the second half of the XX century. The only thing we have left from many of those companies is their name, thanks to the advertisement offering their services.

We hope this work will encourage others to research this interesting topic of the Colombian postal history and maybe some day new findings will emerge, complementing our knowledge.

Written by Carlos Valenzuela Acosta.

I am thankful to have been granted the permission to publish this introduction here.