in Postal History
Tonga to United States
August 13, 1934
I reviewed my
available covers for today
and discovered three different covers
from this visit of the S.S. City of
Los Angeles* to the Island of Niuafo'ou.
It sounded like fun to gather them all up and show them together.
There are a number of common themes on these three covers sent
by different people to different destinations in the United States.
First, all took advantage of the famous "Tin Can Canoe" of Niuafo'ou
to create a souvenir cover for a friend or relative "back home."
Niuafo'ou is on the outskirts of the Tongan Island group about 400
miles north of the Tongan island Tongatapu roughly between Samoa and
It is volcanic in origin lying in the Tonga Ridge stretching
north beyond the Kermadec Ridge from New Zealand.
As a result there are no shallow anchorages near
the island so boats can only hold station offshore.
To provide mail services, a number of schemes have
been tried to get mail to and from the island.
There have been barrels, buoys, sealed tins, rockets, swimmers
with sticks to hold the mail out of the water, and canoes.
Walter George Quensell made Tin Can Mail famous
by servicing mail during 1931 to 1934.
He collected a fee from passengers for these souvenirs on
which he lavished handstamps of many varieties and languages.
Needless to say, these covers did not benefit from all that service.
Perhaps the ship's purser negotiated a lower fee so less service was
The island was abandoned for twelve years after an eruption in 1946.
Second, all received the Matson Line cachet for this Second 1934 South
Seas Exploration Cruise.
Third, each cover was franked with a single 1934 2½d black and
blue Queen Salote (SG 59).
Fourth, each was canceled with a purple slogan handstamp with
DISPATCHED | BY TIN CAN | CANOE MAIL,
a single rim CDS for Niuafo'ou, and five wavy lines.
The stamps were cancelled with a NIUAFO'OU enclosed in a box of 9
In the case of the third cover, there were two strikes of this killer.
The destinations were Galveston, Texas, on the Gulf Coast near Houston;
a civilian associated with the U.S.S.
Texas c/o Postmaster New York;
and Merton Station, Pennsylvania.
It must have been a wonderful cruise!
Needless to say, Tin Can Mail
has many collectors.
There are many sites available such as The
Tin Can Mail.
*The S.S. City of Los Angeles began life as the Grosser
Kurfurst (ex North
1917 Seized by U.S.A, renamed Aeolus.
bought by LASSCO, renamed City of Los Angeles.
1931 operated by Los
Angeles S S Co. and Matson,
1934 transferred to Matson. 1937 scrapped
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