Owney and the Railways Mail

by Larry Oliver

A Border Terrier, an orphan and abandoned, of uncertain age, wandered into a post office in Albany New York in 1888. It was cold and he soon settled into a comfortable position on some mail bags. He was scruffy and had obviously been on the streets for some time, and this may have been the first warm bed in a long time.

Most people love a dog, and this one immediately won the affection of the mail clerks in the office. He was mild-mannered and loved the affection—and the food—that the clerks gave him. His love of the mail bags as a bed was endearing, and led to some long-term and widespread adventures.

The Albany Post Office daily carried mail to the railway stations, the dog accompanied them on the trips. By this time, he had acquired the name of “Owney”. How that name was chosen is a subject of myth, with numerous speculations in the various literature that surrounds the dog. It is clear that the clerks in Albany named him, for they had a collar and name tag for him with that name on it.

And its a good thing Owney had that collar and name tag because his introduction to the Railway Mail Service set a pattern that made him a legend. Owney had “adopted” the railroads as his home away from Albany, and was soon hopping rides in the mail cars. The railway mail clerks took to Owney just as the Albany clerks had, and fed him, gave him water, and loved him and his companionship on their trips while sorting the mail.

Owney always slept on the mail bags, with the clerks gently moving him when they needed to open a bag. It was not long before his travels, first around New York, then far afield around the entire US, gathered attention and adoration. People—not just postal clerks—began adding trinkets to his collar to indicate where he had traveled. A sort of postal charm bracelet! His travels extended to almost every state in the US, and as his collar became too laden with trinkets, the postal clerks would remove some and mail them back to Albany for safekeeping.

John Wanamaker was Postmaster General at the time, and he had a special harness made for Owney to hold the trinkets to relieve the load on his collar. Owney literally traveled around the world in 1895. In Tacoma, WA, he boarded a steamship bound for the Orient. He visited China and Japan, collecting trinkets along the way. He even acquired a special postal classification called “Registered Dog Package”. The round-the-world tour took 132 days, going from west to east.

He died in 1897 while on a trip to Toledo, OH. It is reported, albeit unconfirmed, that he got upset and bit a postal worker, who then shot him. Autopsy confirmed that he died of a gunshot wound.

Owney traveled over 140,000 miles during his sojourn as a Railway mail mascot. He visited several thousand cities and accumulated over 1,000 trinkets and medals. He was greeted by crowds at most places in the last 6-7 years of his life—his fame had spread widely.

There are several anecdotes that persist about his life and experiences. The most credible of which include his jumping off a train when a mail bag fell off as it was leaving a station and staying with it until it was retrieved and his being given a passport when he arrived in Japan.

That he was loved is not in question. Such an experience could not be duplicated today for a variety of reason, not withstanding the multiple restrictive regulations under which the USPS operates.

He was honored with a US stamp, #4547 in 2011.

References:

  • Smithsonian National Postal Museum website Owney: Mascot of the Railway Mail Service, National Postal Museum. 1992
  • Multiple websites, not all verifiable but enjoyable and enlightening nevertheless
  • Numerous short articles from various philatelic magazines and journals.

Are you interested in articles like these? Join our club and receive The Smoky Mountain Philatelist in your email box bi-monthly, six times a year. And if you would like to share your expertise with your fellow stamp collectors, we’re always looking for interesting submissions. Please email the editor here, and thanks!

President’s Message

As we move through our beautiful and much warmer than normal winter season, it’s inspiring to see new faces at each of our club meetings. That means growth for our club when other clubs across North Carolina may not be as fortunate. Some of that growth is attributed to the beautiful facility we meet in and acquired for us free of charge by our former president, Ed deBary.

Our programs are varied, educational and fun for all. Our every other month club auction attracts a plethora of philatelic items that can be acquired for very reasonable prices. The amount of philatelic knowledge that our membership contains is quite striking. Less experienced members can quickly determine those individuals that can help them significantly in their hobby knowledge growth. As we move into the rest of the year, I invite all members to willingly participate in all of our club auctions, programs, business segments of our meetings, etc. We are a viable club because of your input and participation.

This is YOUR club and the goal of myself and the other officers is for you to get enjoyment and knowledge from our programs.

See you soon,
Robert

Welcome to The Asheville Stamp Club

We have been an active club since 1924. We currently have 65 active members of all collecting interests and meet once per month to share programs, auctions, ideas, buy, sell & trade stamps, and just plain camaraderie. Many of our members have extensive collecting, exhibiting, or speaking experience, and discussions are always interesting and rewarding. New and developing collectors will find an audience ready and willing to help with expanding one’s knowledge and enjoyment of the hobby.

Western North Carolina is in an interesting geographical location: we get visitors from the north during the winter, from the south during the summer, and many people who decide they’ve had enough of either of those climates to move here permanently! We urge visitors of any age with philatelic interests to join us, even if only for a short time. We may even convince you to enjoy our region full-time!

Membership

We welcome collectors of all ages and interests.
Dues are $10.00 a year and includes our bimonthly newsletter “The Smoky Mountain Philatelist”, complete membership list that includes “what we collect” and notices about our meetings with urging to attend and share your interest with us.
Download the Membership Application in .pdf format.

If you have questions, please contact:
Larry Oliver, PO Box 340, Black Mountain, NC 28711
Phone: 507-254-3008
Email: stamper707@gmail.com

Meetings

We meet at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Center, 1617 Hendersonville Rd, Asheville, NC in the Blue Ridge Room of the Community Center (usually: e-mail an officer to verify for the particular month), at 1:30 pm on the third Sunday of each month.

Stamp Club Activities each month include:

  • A talk, exhibit, show-n-tell – with an auction every other month. The auctions have lots supplied by members and by the club, with no “hammer” premium, and all proceeds going to the provider of the lot. Sometimes there is a Silent Auction in conjunction with a program as well.
  • We have a club stock of worldwide stamps available at 5c each that encourages addition to a collection at an affordable price.
  • We also have current catalogs available for reference at all meetings.
  • December is our Christmas banquet, with no formal meeting.
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