Source of information
Most information you can find back in:
Railway post in Lithuania / Jan Kaptein and Eugenijus Uspuras. - Special issue of HBG 2010 ; 56. - 125 pages, English, color, A4.

The first railways in Lithuania: the Czarist period

In 1851 the Czarist government decided on the construction of the St Peterburg - Warsaw railway. This main railway line was to lead from ДВИНСКЪ (Dwinsk, Latvian Daugavpils) via ВИЛЬНО (Wilno, Vilnius) to ВАРШАВА (Warsaw). The linewas completed in 1862. In the same year the line from ВИЛЬНО (Wilno,Vilnius) to Eydtkuhnen in East Prussia was also completed. The first part, ВЕРЖБОЛОВО (Werzbolovo, Lithuanian Virbalis) – КОВНА (Kowna, Lithuanian Kaunas), had been opened on April 28, 1861. Via Eydtkuhnen - Königsberg the line ran to Berlin and further westward. On May 9, 1862 this line was extended, via Kosedary (Kaisiadorys), to Wilna. Here this line then links to the main line С. ПЕТЕРБУРГЪ (St Peterburg) – ДВИНСКЪ (Dwinsk, Daugavpils) – ВИЛЬНО (Wilno, Vilnius) – ВАРШАВА (Warsaw). This line to Warsaw was officially opened on December 15, 1862. In 1871 the line from ВИЛЬНО (Wilno, Vilnius) to ЛИБАВА (Libava, Liepaja in Latvia) followed.

These lines are shown on the map, on which the network of the Czarist railways within present-day Lithuania can be seen. Of course the lines do not take into account present-day borders, but also did not take into account the borders of the provinces.

‘spoorlijn’ = railway, ‘grens 1990’ = border 1990, ‘naar’ = to Map of the railway network in Lithuania 1861-1915. НОВО-СВЕНЦЯНЫ (Švencioneliai) – ПОТАВЫ (Pastovis, on the line to БЕРЕСВЕЧ (Bereswetsch) in present-day Belarus) was a narrow-gauge railway (750 mm), as was - НОВО-СВЕНЦЯНЫ (Švencioneliai) - ПОНЕВЪЖЪ (Panevežys). The other lines had the Russian broad-gauge railway width (1524 mm).

For the mail by rail a special organisation was established in 1869, which managed the riding post offices and station-post-offices. This organization was connected closely with the Post Department, but remained an independent organization.
From the beginning, 1851, agreements were made between the Post Department and the railway companies concerning the transpost of post by train. The Post Department had build special postal wagons. A passengers-train, which transported post, had at least one postal wagon, two was permitted,.in which employees of the post sort, collect and delivered the post on the stations along the route.
In 1857 new rules were introduced, in which was stated that private railway companies had to transport the poist for free in trains with a special post-compartment. If a real postal wagon was needed, then the costs were fot the Post Department. Also it was permitted to place post boxes on the stations.

After the introduction of stamps in Russia, number cancellations came in use.
The first postmarks, 1861-1963, for Travelling Post Offices (TPO's) were the dotted cancellations in the form of a hexagonal, but with points vertical. No. .12, 14, 15 and 16 were for the line to Werzbolovo (13 was omitted as unlucky number).
Below a postal stationery is represented with a single-ring postmark of ВИЛЬНО (WILNO), Vilnius from 1873, but with at the bottom of the postmark the abbrevation for 'railway station'.
In the oldest one-ring postmarks you see ВИЛЬНО (WILNO). Later mostly ВИЛЬНА (WILNA) is used.

Original print size of this image: 14,461 x 8,492 cm (is something more as the postal item)

This picture and all pictures below on this page, if not mentioned otherwise: scanned about 300 dpi. Then set right and cut out - noted the actual print size-, resized 25 % of this image and saved as jpg.

Resized 50 %: the postmark.
At the bottom of the postmark: СТ (ST) Ж (ZH) ДОР (DOR), short for:

A list of Russian postal terms and the abbrevations in the book of Witold Fugalewitsch:

  • Pašto Antspaudai = Poststempel in Litauen = P.O. Cancels in Lithuania / V. Fugalevičius. - second ed. 1990. - p. 308-309

A more clear postmark on the backside:

After 1860 the first postmarks for railway stations were introduced: the name of the railway in the top, the place name below and a 3-line date indication (month in cyrillic). With the establishment of the Railway Post Department - in 1869- this changed: placename at the top and railway indication below. After 1870 you can see a new type on some stations: number of the railway instead of the name of the railway.
About 1880 serials are needed for identification of the postmark. Cross-date postmarks are introduced for railway stations on 5 March 1890.
In circular No. 9 of 3 February 1903: introduction of double-oval postmarks with placename in the top and ВОКЗ. or ВОКЗАЛЪ (VOKZAL) = station below in the postmark.
Postal item (P13) with one-ring-postmark ВИЛЬНО (Wilno = Vilnius) to Riga (1891)
Original print size of this image: 14,385 x 9,229 cm (is something more as the postal item)

At first sight this seems at first sight a normal one-ring-postmark. At the bottom of the postmark stands -with a magnifying glass good to discern- a word, followed by a abbreviation. The whole means "Warsaw Railway Line". After the place name -Wilna- follows point-letter-point-letter-point, probably the abbrevation of "Postal Branch". We are clearly dealing with railway mail. ВАРЩАВСК. Ж. Д.

П. О. =
In april 1860 the single-ring postmarks were introduced for the TPO's. At that time the railway post was still under control of the ordinary Post Department. The numbers you can see on these postmarks, with an indication of the name of the line, are not route-numbers, but only serial numbers, indicating the postal wagons on the route.
There is also known a postmark ПОЧТОВОЕ ВАГОНА 4 (POCHTOVOE VAGONA 4), with serial A from 1863 or B, used on the Warsaw-Wilna line, also not a route-number yet.
In 1869 the Railway Post Department is established, and short before this came a system of route numbers for TPO's. A route get an odd number for the direction away from the controlling railwaystation-postoffice, and an even number for the opposite direction. Starting with the mainline through Lithuania: from 1872-1881 for the route St. Petersburg - Werzbolovo the number '3' was in use, and no. '4' was for Werzbolovo-St. Petersburg.

The first postmarks in use for the route-numbers, were single-ring postmarks, with the numbers for both directions.
So for line 3-4: ПОЧТОВОЕ ВАГОНА No.3-4 (POCHTOVOE VAGONA No.3-4)
Later, some time before 1890, a new type is introduced: the route number for only one direction, first with the 3-line date and after 1890 the cross-date.
The latest type postmark for TPO's were the well-known oval postmarks.


It is obvious from the map that ВИЛЬНО(Wilno, Vilnius) is a real junction within the railway-system.
The first special cancels for the travelling post offices were introduced in April 1860; these were to replace the dotted number cancels in 1863. These were single circular cancels, which did indicate the mail van number but not really a section number.
Yet the name of the railway and the date was indicated. To the left of the date the code number was indicated (sometimes side-ways) of the station where the postal item had been delivered. This number had to be changed at every station, and if another mail van was put in on the same route, this van sometimes carried a different station numbering. On the line to Warsaw Vilnius had 33 as station code, and Werzbolovo 37.
It was not, however, facile in its use, and in 1881 these station number codes were abolished.

Shortly before the foundation of the Raiway Mail Administarion, 1869, the section numbers were introduced.
The section С. ПЕТЕРБУРГЪ (St Peterburg) - ДВИНСКЪ (Dwinsk, Daugavpils) - ВИЛЬНО (Wilno, Vilnius) КОВНА (Kowna, Kaunas) - ВЕРЖБОЛОВО (Werzbolovo, Lithuanian Virbalis) received section number 3 from 1872 until 1881 and number 4 for the return journey to St Peterburg. We also find these numbers in the cancels. These cancels had appeared in several shapes.

The oldest are the circular (single circular) cancels, which appear in different shapes again:

  • with both section numbers e.g. No. 3-4, and below the number of the cancel itself in parentheses. In addition next to the day of the date the code numbers of the intermediate stations.
  • by 1880 with one section number and below the cancel number between ornaments.

The station code numbers were abolished in 1881.

Postcard to Vilnius (arrival postmark 23.3.1913), with 2x the oval railroad cancellation ВЕРЖБОЛОВО - С. П. БУРГ Ъ (WERZBOLOVO-6-ST.P.BURG):

Original print size of this image: 14,232 x 9,203 cm (is something more as the postal item)
The postmark, resized 50%.

The oval postmarks, with the number of the railway line and the names of the terminal stations, were prescribed in 1903 and slowly introduced.
Werzbolovo (=Virbalis) is situated near the border on the line between Vilnius and Eydtkuhnen in Eastern-Prussia. Via Vilnius the line goes to Saint Petersburg.

According to the book of Mr. Fugalewitsch line-number 6 was used only in 1914 for the line WERZBOLOVO-6-ST.P.BURG, but as appears from this cancel already in 1913.
First number 6 was used for the line Warsaw-Vilno (1872-1910), then Werzbolovo-Vilno (1910-1913?), for Werzbolova-St.Peterburg (1913?-1914) and finally for Werzbolova-Petrograd (1914-1915).
Number 6bis was used for the rapid train (bis = bistro = rapid).

Here we see a card with a 'Grüss von der Deutsch-Russischen Landesgrenze' (Greetings from the GermanRussian border:

The card has the cancel ВЕРЖБОЛОВО - ВИЛЬНА (Verzbolovo-Vilnius), without number at the top. This postmark was used 1910-1915.
This postmark and a postmark for the opposite direction were the only TPO oval cancels without number of the railway line in Lithuania.

Original print size of this image: 14,079 x 9,101 cm (is something more as the postal item)

The postmark,
resized 50 %.
The postmark is octagonal and must be ПОЧТОВОЕ ОТДЕЛЕНIЕ ВАГОНА No.
= Postal Branch Carriage No. ..or better: Coach Postal Section. According the book of Prigara (p. 123) the mail was not always transported in postcars, but sometimes in a special section of a coach. In these postal sections in the coaches were used this octagonal handstamps with the text ПОЧТОВОЕ ОТДЕЛЕНIЕ ВАГОНА.

On this card is used the postmark of line 6, serial number 4.

These octagonal postmarks were used by the sub-postoffices on the busiest routes. Sometomes these type postmarks have the date in three lines, sometomes as a cross-date. Later these travelling post offices also received single circular cancels.

On 1-12-1903 the lines changed: mail van nr 3 and 4 ran on the St Peterburg - Warsaw line, while at the same time mail van nr 5, 6 5 ОТД and 6 ОТД ran on the Wilno - Werzbolovo line.
Both routes can be seen schematically below.

The date is not clear, but the card is written in Werzbolovo. After 1-12-1903 line 6 ОТД ran from Werzbolova to Wilno (and on 15-10-1910 to St. Peterburg via Wilno).
This postmark of line 6, serial number 4, is used from 15.3.94 (first reported date).

Here a picture postcard with the postmark of line 6 bis.
First number 6 was used for the line Warsaw-Vilno (1872-1910), then Werzbolovo-Vilno (1910-1913?), for Werzbolova-St.Peterburg (1913?-1914) and finally for Werzbolova-Petrograd (1914-1915).
Number 6bis was used for the rapid train (bis = bistro = rapid).

The postmark, resized 50 %.

The picture-side of the card: a nice view of the railway station ВЕРЖБОЛОВО [WERZBOLOVO]. Alse the German name is mentioned on the card: Wirballen.
In the Baedeker 1914 (p. 34) the station is of course described in the chapter '8.From Berlin to St. Petersburg'. From Berlin to Werzbolovo the trip by express train in 1914 takes 10½ hour, from Wirballen to Vilna 3 hours and from Vilna to St. Petersburg 11½ hours.About Wirballen in Baedeker:".. the first Russian station. Passports and baggage are examined here (.....), causing a halt of 1 hr."


The postmark, resized 50 %.

Card with the railway-station of Werzbolowo
Werzbolowo, in Lithuanian Virbalis, and in German Wirballen, was a very important transit-station between Germany and Russia. There were rails with different width, small (west-european) and wide (Russian).
The tsaristic (wide) gauge was 1524 mm and with the independence this chaged to the West-european gauge 1435 mm. In the Soviet period of 1941 the rail changed back to the old 1524 mm, after the German occupation again back to 1435 mm and in 1944 again to 1525 mm.

The other side of the card, with the postmark.

Original print size of this image: 14,078 x 9,202 cm (is something more as the postal item)

The station itself was situated 4 kilometre from the border and the little village Kibarty (Lithuanian: Kibartai) was direct at the border. By the growth of Kybarty to a city the border-station of Werzbolowo was situated in this city. Later the station is also named Kibarty.
More about Kibartai
In later Lithuanian railway-postmarks we find so Kibartai as name.
The postmark , resized 50%, with the placename КИБАРТЫ (KIBARTY)

As we have seen above double-oval postmarks with placename in the top are introduced in circular No. 9 of 3 February 1903. Below in the postmark we see ВОКЗ. short for ВОКЗАЛЪ (VOKZAL) = station
From the (now) Lithuanian area three oval railway-station postmarks are known:
КИБАРТЫ (KIBARTY), the Lithuanian Kybartai, ВОКЗ (VOKZ.)
НОВО-СВЕНЦЯНЫ (NOVO-SVENTSYANY), in the Lithuanian Švenčionėliai, ВОКЗ. = ВОКЗАЛЪ (VOKZAL), see next page.
and ВИЛЬНО (WILNO), Vilnius, ВОКЗАЛЪ (VOKZAL), see also next page.

The lines 3-4 and 5-6 in a table:

Direction WerzbolowoDirection Warsaw
oktober 1871-1881 No 3. St. Petersburg-Werzbolowo (return no. 4)
1881-1884 No. 3 St. Petersburg-Kibarty
1884-1903 No. 3 St. Petersburg-Werzbolowo
sept. 1883-1903 No. 3 ОТД St. Petersburg-Werzbolowo

On 1-12-1903 No. 5 Wilna-Werzbolowo
On 1-12-1903 No. 5 ОТД Wilna-Werzbolowo
On 15-10-1910 No. 5 St. Petersburg-Werzbolowo
?on 15-10-1910 No. 5 BIS Wilna-Werzbolowo
In 1914 No. 5 Petrograd-Werzbolowo
in October 1915 No. 5 ОТД Petrograd-Werzbolowo
aug. 1868 No. 3-4 St. Petersburg-Warsaw
January 1869-1903 No. 5 Wilna-Warsaw (return no. 6)
1884(>7-11-1882)-1903 No. 5 ОТД Wilna-Warsaw

On 1-12-1903 No. 3 St. Petersburg-Warsaw
On 1-12-1903 to 1910 No. 3 ОТД St. Peterburg-Warsaw
On December 1910 No. 3 ОТД St. Petersburg-Wilna

July 1914 No. 3 ОТД Wilna-Warsaw
In 1914 No. 3 Petrograd-Warsaw


After the opening of the line between St Peterburg and Warsaw at first single circular cancels were used with the name of the railway. After the introduction of the route numbers we see the same kind of cancels as we saw previously.

    From 1872 onwards mail van 5-6 ran on the line ВИЛЬНО - ВАРШАВА (Wilno - Warsaw). a single circular cancel with both section numbers
  • with one section direction

As we saw before this changed on 1-12-1903: mail van nr 3-4 ran on the St Peterburg - Warsaw line, while at the same time mail van nr 5-6 ran on the Wilno - Werzbolovo line. Both routes can be seen schematically above.

Original print size of this image: 12,404 x 8,848 cm (is something more as the postal item)

When I bought the card it was announced as 'Postal Branch of Lepin', but in the postmark it is of course
= Coach Postal Section: mail was not always transported in postcars, but sometimes in a special section of a coach and then were used the octagonal postmarks.
A card, sent 7-11-1882, to Mr. Lepin, who lives on Great Str. in Vilna (Vilnius, now Pilies of Didzioji, the streetname changes somewhere}
Mr. Lepin is a shoemaker and lives in the building of Victoria Hotel.
The postmark is not so good to read, the postmark-serial-number is '4', the number of the line is unclear.

The postmark, resized 50 %.

The card must be sent from Orany.
Mr. M. Lam has read the text for me:
"The shoes, I invited at Sunday, I need them at Sunday 11. Therefore, I'll ask you to send them to Orany station to the Vice-Head of the station / signature/ "

Orany is under Vilnius on the railway-line between Vilnius and Warsaw. So the line-number must be 6: Warsaw-Vilnius (1872-1910).
In the book 'Russian railway postmarks' by A.V. Kiryushkin and P.E. Robinson we find on page 64-71 a list of the numbered TPO (Travelling Post Ofiices) postmarks with also the sub-postoffices. When we look to the date of the postmark above, 7-11-1882, we can conclude:
*the oldest postmarks of the travelling sub-postoffices were octoganal with a 3-line date and the month cyrillic, later you can see the octagonal postmark with the cross-date, then the circle with cross-date, and more later were the oval postmarks also used with the indication ОТД.
Some TPO's -so not sub-postoffice- also used the octagonal postmark, but then you not find the indication ОТД or ОТДЕЛЕНIЕ (for instance line 135, 136, 138, 140, 141, 142, 145, 146, 148, 149
* of the sub-postoffices (from the listed 1-2, 3-4,5-6,13-14, 15-16,19-20,59-60, and a postmark of 133) only 3-4 and 5-6 were travelling in the Baltic.
* route sub-postoffice 3: sub-postoffice opened 9.1883 en the line was St. Petersburg-Verzbolowo , route 4 the opposite direction (1-12-1903 the line changes to St. Petersburg-Warsaw, on 12.1910 this line was running St.Petersburg -Wilna, and in 7.1914 it was Wilna-Warsaw), so not the stamp above.
*route of sub-postoffice 5: Wilna-Warsaw existed 1884, and changed 1-12-1903 to Verzbolowo. (The TPO 5 Wilna-Warsaw existed 1.1869, and changed also 1-12-1903 to Werzbolowo). Route 6 was the opposite direction Warsaw to Wilna, so via Orany. The postmark above must be of sub-postoffice 6 to Wilna, earlier than was known.

So after the introduction of the oval cancels (1903) this line became 3-4, but only from Jan. 12, 1912 onwards can the oval cancel with the route number 3 (St Peterburg 3 Warsaw) be found.

This card with a nice view on Vilnius has on the other side the postmark ВАРШАВА 4 С. П. БУРГ Ъ [ WARSHAWA 4 ST.P.BURG]: Warsaw 4 St. Peterburg.

The postmark, resized 50 %.
The postmark is known with the serial letters:

  • а: used 23.4.13 (first reported date), 31 x 26 mm
  • б: used 1.6.12 (first reported date), 31 x 26 mm
  • в: used 27.8.11 (first reported date) - 1.9.12 (last date), 31 x 25 mm

The date of the postmark and the written date of the message is June 13, 1912. In this type postmark are used 'script-letters'. I have measured the postmark: 31 x 25 mm. So I suppose this postmark has serial letter в, the third letter of the Russian alphabet, used between 27-8-1911 and 1-9-1912.

As we have seen above December 1, 1903, mail van no. 3-4 ran on the t.Peterburg - Warsaw line, while the same time mail van nr. 5-6 ran on the Wilno - Werzbolovo line.

The card is clearly sent from Vilnius: the picture and the Polish text. The writer has asw message in Polish: "Serdeczny (=Hearty) szacunak (=respect) z (=from) miasto (=city) Wilno", so from Vilnius. The Polish seems to be grammatical not correct and must be: 'Serdeczny szacunek z miasta Wilno'

Yet the cancel ВИЛЬНО - ВАРШАВА (Wilno - Warsaw) was also used without a number. Below in the cancel it reads ОТД [OTD], the abbreviation for ОТДЬЛЕНIЕ [OTDLENIE], i.e. a travelling sub-post office.


One of the main lines through present-day Lithuania was also the line from ЛИБАВА [LIBAVA], Liepaja in Latvia, via ВИЛЬНО [WILNO], Vilnius, to МИНСКЪ [MINSK]. The line between Wilno and Minsk was completed in the period 1871-1874, between Wilno and Libava in 1870. From 1884 to 1915 mail van nr 45 Minsk - Libava and nr 46 Libava - Minsk was in service (ill. 14). During the preceding period 1871-1884 this mail van ran as nr 45 from ЛИБАВА to ОТКИНЫ (Libava to Etkany) and as nr 46 in the reverse direction. The numbers in the cancel were interchangeable and were inserted after the 'no.', sometimes with the number upside down. Thus it was more legible from the outside. In the assignment of the numbers the odd numbers indicated the direction of departure, seen from the capital St Peterburg or a big city. The return direc-tion was then indicated with the following even number. On the route Libava-Etkany Libava was the big city and Etkany but a station, so route nr 45 departed from Libava.

The return direction 46 departed from Etkany.
Etkany started as a railway station in 1862. Then the railway from Vilnius to Kaunas and the German border was constructed. In 1884 the town was renamed КОШЕДАРЫ [KOSHEDARY], Kaisiadorys. The map alongside shows that this town became an important town, because of it's location, especially when connected with the port ЛИБАВА [LIBAVA] - from 1871 onwards. Another branch existed on the line from Libava before the present Lihuanian border leading to КРЕТИНГЕНЪ [KRETINGEN], Kretinga in Western Lithuania. On this route there was no railway mail.

On the route to Minsk (after 1884) of course Minsk was the most important city and route 45 departed from Minsk. The return direction 46 now departed from Libava. Of course something could go wrong with the insertion of the numbers, but mail was also sent with the first train - sometimes in the wrong direction -, and then also received that particular cancel and was sent in the opposite di-rection again, after the sorting.

Station numbers

From the beginning the mail vans on the railway line Libava-Wilno-Minsk carried the numbers 45 and 46, and up to 1881 the cancels bore the station numbers. Illustration 15 in chapter 1 of 'Railway post in Lithuania' shows a mail van cancel from 1879 with station number 1, undoubtedly from Libava.

Right a postcard from 1876 to Libau/Libava/Liepāja with 'a different l' is shown.

Original print size of this image: 13,089 x 9,355 cm (is something more as the postal item)

On the back the author writes that he is living in 'Kowno'. At the station he delivered his postcard to mail van nr 3-4 and its cancel mentions the station number 38. The mail van nr 3-4 ran from St Peterburg to the border station Kibarty/Verzbolovo at the border with German East Prussia, and numbered the stations commencing from the Russian capital. So St Peterburg was number 1, that of Dunaburg/Daugavpils we know as nr 25 and so nr 38 for Kovno/Kaunas.

In Vilno/Vilnius the postcard was handed over to mail van nr 45-46 part of the train to Libava. The cancel mentions 1 as the station number.

Summarizing: in 1879 Libava was nr 1, in 1876 this number was assigned to Vilno. For those interested: see further the article on Muravjevo in HBG 47 (2005). In any case it remains remarkable that the postcard arrived in Libau/Libava within one day, September 13. The arrival cancel on the back confirms this. From: HBG 47 (2005)., p. 63-64 and HBG 56 (2010). - p.124

The oldest postmarks are the circular (single circular) with both section numbers e.g. No. 45-46. This postmark is reported with serial 1, 3 and 4.

The postmark, resized 50 %.

Later postmarks of this line are postmarks with one section number, on this card line 45. In the handbook 'Russian railway postmarks' ( by A.V. Kiryushkin and P.E. Robinson) this postmark is reported with serial numbers 1,4 and 9.
On this postcard the postmark of TPO 45 with serial number 2.
Between 1884 and 1915 the line Minsk-Libava ran via Vilnius. The card is sent to Vilnius and has an arrival-stamp of Vilnius.

Later is used a cross-date type postmark, only reported with serial 1. From about 1907 are used the well-known oval type postmarks, on line 45 with serials А, Б, В, Г and Д, the first five characters of the cyrillic alphabet. (see ЛИБАВА (LIBAVA) - МИНСКЪ (MINSK): connection with КОВНА (KOVNA), Kaunas, via КОШЕДАЩЫ (KOSHEDARY)

The opposite direction, Libava - Minsk: line 46.