The Philatelic Truck – Book Review

Discussion in 'United States Stamps' started by Molokai, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. Molokai

    Molokai Moderator Moderator

    The Philatelic Truck by James H Bruns, BIA 1982, and 101pp. liberally illustrated but no plates. Prices: Hardback $26-$55, Paperback $12-$36.

    I prefer hardbacks but if I feel a book is mostly a single read and a very occasional reference, paperback – as in this instance – is OK.

    Table of Contents - It is vitamin-packed for just 100 pages!


    The Philatelic Truck

    A Chronological View



    Philatelic Convention Visits


    Souvenir Poster Stamp

    Some Unknown Items

    From the Introduction, “This is one story of a tangible effort made by the President (FDR) and his Postmaster General (James Farley) to bring the fascination of stamp collecting to the attention of the American public.” A kinder, gentler view of Farley sadly mostly known for his ‘follies.’

    Summarizing the Philatelic Truck in Chapter 1 – “As a further means of directing public attention to stamp collecting, the Department authorized the construction of a special motorized postage-stamp-display car for the touring purposes throughout the country, thereby giving collectors and the public distant from Washington an opportunity to inspect specimens of all issues of postage stamps ever provided by the Department, as well as first-hand information with regard to the process employed in the design and printing of United States stamps.”

    That is quite a sentence! Perhaps the writer was of German descent, save it doesn’t end in a preposition. J

    The Philatelic Truck was an older model vehicle, retrofitted and reconstructed in the Chicago Post Office shops. The plan was to send it then onto Washington for fitting of displays. The original list of displays was very overly optimistic, given the size of the truck’s interior.

    The author notes much is missing on the Philatelic Truck history from postal files. Fortunately, Isaac Gregg of the New York Sun was a steady pipeline for information passed on from the authorities. The author feels his accounts are a reliable substitute for the missing PO files and relies heavily on them, often quoting key dispatches.

    As chronicled in Gregg’s accounts, there were numerous delays in getting the Philatelic Truck on the road. Perhaps the biggest delay was caused by Congress, feeling slighted most likely, cut funding on two separate occasions. After several months delay – it was first mentioned in Gregg’s column of August 6 1938 the truck was outfitted with postal goodies and sent on its merry way across America on May 15, 1939 after spending a week in front of the Post Office building in Washington.

    Three were picked to initially man the Philatelic Truck. The author states that none of the original crew had volunteered although that seems a little strange to me. Ralph Davis, Charles Branan and Frank Dawson were assigned. Dawson and Branan drove while Davis was in charge of the vehicle. He was also the one with the deepest knowledge of things philatelic. Two of the original crew eventually gave way to replacements. Dawson was the first to leave. Apparently the rough ride of the truck, irregular sleeping arrangements, boredom, loneliness, nervous fatigue and (at least once) missed pay checks wore on them. None of them, or their replacements, found the job much to their liking.

    A few months in, the truck had mechanical problems and had to return to Washington for repairs. More mysteriously, the Philatelic Truck saw no action for 4 ½ months from late December 1940 to May 1941. Davis gave an interview in 1982 on his recollections and the book excerpts from that event in several places. He could not recall the reason for the dead time and Bruns could find no documentation for it.

    The route was determined on a month basis from Washington; the crew had no say in the matter. Initially the truck headed north to New York, then zig-zagged south to Florida. From there it toured much of the South, moving then into the bread basket and Texas. Travel through the Rocky Mountains was scratched. Alas, by now it was mid-1941 and the conflict in Europe was changing events worldwide. The Philatelic Truck was not exempted.

    The truck was in Yuma, Arizona on December 7, 1941. Davis recalled saying, “Well, that’s the end of the Philatelic Truck.” Shortly thereafter a letter from Washington instructed the crew to take the truck to San Diego where its tour was to end.

    The truck grew large crowds. In all, the Philatelic Truck logged 20457 miles, visits to 490 towns, villages and cities and 483,976 visitors. The author calculated that, given the size of the truck and the number of displays therein most visitors saw very little. Davis recalled asking a visitor who had just exited the truck what he remembers seeing, to which he replied, “Lots of people!”

    There is a full chapter on the production and distribution of the Philatelic Truck souvenir poster stamp (as Bruns calls it). Why did it not show a picture of the Philatelic Truck, rather than the White House? No one knows, but there has been speculation it was because 1940 was an election year. The remainder of the book has more details, statistics and maps. The entire book is very generously illustrated with some fascinating old photographs.

    I found the book well-written and documented. The author obviously did some serious research! The reading was both entertaining and informative; if such things are of interest to you. I would recommend the book to US collectors here on StampExchange.

    Attached Files:

    • PT1.jpg
      File size:
      45.5 KB
    • PT2.jpg
      File size:
      50.9 KB
    • PT3.jpg
      File size:
      10 KB
    • PT4.jpg
      File size:
      10.4 KB
    Hochstrasse and DonSellos like this.
  2. DonSellos

    DonSellos Moderator Moderator


    Great review! I'll have to get that book and read it. Some of the covers that the truck handed out? sold? and were canceled in the town that the truck was in can be valuable. I remember one I somehow acquired from a small town in Iowa, I believe, sold for over $100 on eBay. My best philatelic turnover. I wonder if there are any collectors who have a complete set truck covers from the 490 towns visited. Molokai, how would you like to diagram that sentence you quoted above? Lordy, that would give some of those old-line English grammar teachers something to really sink their teeth into!

  3. Molokai

    Molokai Moderator Moderator

    Hi <DON> The book has the 30 page Daily Log of the best get started soon! It also shows sales/item and $$$ totals. Seriously, that would be a fun collecting niche. I assume the 490 includes the stamp shows it attended; I'll peek at the log, see.

    As to diagramming that sentence. I was pretty good at diagramming, but wouldn't touch that monster. Do they teach diagramming in schools today, I wonder?
  4. Hochstrasse

    Hochstrasse Moderator Moderator

    You are likely right about the sentence Molokai. I remember some writings of philosophical thought in German that were frightfully long in their sentence structure, approaching perhaps half a page. Nice write-up about the philatelic truck. Today's version of the philatelic truck is perhaps the National Postal Museum website which I encourage all collectors to visit as the features change periodically.
  5. Molokai

    Molokai Moderator Moderator

    Howdy <HOCH>! I tried reading both Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Wittgenstein's Tractatus in German. The latter was fairly easy as it is comprised of very short statements; the former I found impossible. Interesting, Wittgenstein's estate requires any translation of his work to be side-by-side with the original German. "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen." That leaves me silent on a great many things...:nailbiting:

    As to the Postal Museum - the website is a treasure trove. I heartily second your recommendation!
    Hochstrasse likes this.
  6. Hochstrasse

    Hochstrasse Moderator Moderator

    Molokai you surprise me with your breadth of interests. I'm sure you must have read some Charles Dickens too. I remember reading Great Expectations many years back. It seemed that the first 100 pages or so was completely devoid of plot with endlessly long sentences of character development that were large portions of a page. Maybe it's just today's modernity that has us writing and speaking more concisely. With the shorthand many millennials are using today in their writing pretty soon a small acronym will tell the whole story!
    As far as Wittgenstein goes I know next to nothing about a lot of things, a little about some things and lot about practically nothing, but that never stopped me from exercising my jaw. Anyway I enjoyed your book review, thanks for the write-up.
    Molokai likes this.
  7. Molokai

    Molokai Moderator Moderator

    Howdy <HOCH> Yes, those books were very wordy. My youngest son and I read Pickwick Papers together when he was young; took the better part of a year!

    The authors were paid by the word, so Charles Dickens wasn't German. My fav Wittgenstein is "The world is the totality of facts, not of things." When I studied in college linguistic analysis was all the rage. I much preferred logical positivism.

    I already posted this in another thread. I wouldn't mind having one on cover...


    Glad you enjoyed the review; I'll post with the FDR books or The Persian Rug next. You are the one who got me interested in the latter. Thanks...I think. ;)
Draft saved Draft deleted
Similar Threads: Philatelic Truck
Forum Title Date
United States Stamps U.S. Philatelic Truck Mar 13, 2012
United States Stamps Philatelic Exhibition Labels: Volume 1: A-L Jun 7, 2020
United States Stamps Philatelic Literature Oct 20, 2015
United States Stamps American Philatelic Society (APS) Membership Cover Jun 28, 2014

Share This Page