More Information About the Hoboken Eagle and Wavy Box Cancel

By Robert J Payne & A J Savkis

[From the Machine Cancel Forum January 2004 Issue #207]

Addison C. Townsend was born on January 7, 1870, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. "As a boy he began collecting stamps, from Departmental wastebaskets in Washington when US Official stamps were still current"! [2] By the time the First World War came about, Addison was a veteran of the Spanish-American War, and ordered to report to Hoboken, New Jersey, for transport to France. [3] The Adjutant General called him to his office, and in the words of Townsend, "He asked, 'Are you kin to Capt Charles Townsend of Omaha?' I replied that he was my father. He pointed me to a chair by his desk and nodded to the Adjutant that he could retire. He told me that his father had served under him and was a fine soldier they were very sorry to lose when he died (in 1913) and that he hoped I was a worthy son. He then questioned me closely as to my past doings and finally said that there was a lot of hard and urgent work to be done getting the piers at Hoboken and across the river ready for passage through them of probably 2 million soldiers going overseas; that officers of experience were hard to find, and finally said, 'I would like to have you work with me Cap'n Townsend.' I replied that I had made my arrangements to go to France and wanted to go, to which he replied that I would be but one man over there, while over here where so-much was to be done in the shortest possible time I would be a great help. Finally I gave in and he picked up his telephone, called someone in Washington, had my overseas orders canceled and new ones issued assigning me the duty of Hoboken." [4]

From his experience during his sojourn in Cuba, "Cap" knew the importance of mail on the morale of his soldiers, and attacked the problem. The Hoboken postmaster was dumping soldier mail on the Army officers at the piers, who were clueless as to how to proceed. He met with the Hoboken postmaster and informed him that he would be taking 'all army mail off their hands as fast as it reached them. They surely would be glad. Did they have a frame of pigeonholes for sorting mail that I could borrow if plans worked out? Indeed they had!" [5]

How bad was the mail operation? "Cap" reported finding mail hidden in toilets so as to not require sorting and delivery! Forwarding of registered mail was also a problem. The mail was piling up. Ship mail was being sent overseas with the next vessel, but the mail onboard the second was missing the first because when the second ship arrived, the first was already coming home!

The work was seven days a week, 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM every day. To avoid the problems with ship mail being sent all over the world, so to speak, it was "Cap's" plan to hold it in New York until the ship returned. The naval officer in charge approved the plan, and "Cap's" duties were now limited to mail, and he no longer had pier duty. [6]

It was very important that the sailing information of troops was kept secret. As described by "Cap" to a mother wishing to say goodbye to her son on the pier, "This town is full of Germans, eager for news of departing troops. These sailings are absolutely secret." [7]

So the plan was devised to have 'safe-arrival' cards prepared in advance, and they would be mailed AFTER the transport arrived in France. Their processing was slow, and they were crowding the room. "So he had a man connected with the firm which supplied canceling machines to the postal service to come and we worked out a design for a postmark. This postmark which showed a spread eagle and the words "Military Post Office Soldier's Mail" in two lines above, was approved by the General. With the electric canceler in use we could postmark the thousands of cards in a twentieth of the time it took by hand. Then . . . in spare time . . . sort them by states, cities, etc. and they were marked and stored until the cablegram came in stating that the ship had arrived. Half an hour later they were at Hoboken Post Office and on the way, so a wife in Chicago (for instance) would know next day of the loved one's arrival, instead of two weeks." [8]

Classifying the Hoboken Eagle and Wavy Box Cancel

Machine cancel collectors identify this marking as being produced by an International machine, and collect them with other military machine markings. It is a pleasing design, and eagerly sought by cover collectors. It is frequently mistaken as belonging to the flag cancels branch of collecting, but it is not. Frederick Langford in his Third Edition of the Flag Cancel Encyclopedia (1976), identifies it generically as a 'wavy-box cancel.' [9] War cover collectors are interested in it. In The Postal History of the AEF, 1917-1923, Theo. Van Dam devotes a page to it, explaining that a distribution terminal was established in New York City (the Chelsea Terminal), where the mail was processed and forwarded to Hoboken Port of Embarkation for sending to France. For the reverse trip, mail was sorted in France, and then shipped to the United States ready for immediate dispatch to railway depots. [10]

Although Hoboken was on United States soil, it is not considered a ' domestic military facility'. Robert Swanson wrote an exhaustive work on such facilities, [11] but distinguishes the Hoboken facility as follows:

"Hoboken was the location of the main terminal for soldiers both leaving and returning from Europe. Various postal activities took place here, but I don't think it likely that much postal history material can be associated with the terminal as a fixed facility.

"For instance, when soldiers handed over their "safe arrival" cards, the cards were probably processed in this area and stored in warehouses until the ship safely reached its destination. As the "introduction" mentions, this mail does not fit the scope of this book, since it would be considered "en route" mail.

"I have seen several photocopies of official military covers from the Post of Embarkation, cancelled by a non-standard double-circle handstamp [illustrated]. Invariably, these covers are "penalty" covers used for official business.

"Like other ports of embarkation, Hoboken canceled mail from incoming and outgoing ships, using the required mute cancels and/or censorship markings. Since I consider this type of postal history to be "in transit", rather than from a fixed facility, I do not consider it to be within the scope of this book." [12]


The typical and common use of the Hoboken Eagle and Wavy Box is on post cards provided by service organizations, like the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, Christian Science, Masons, and The American Library Association. As noted before, these machine markings are in black ink and Die 1, with the exception of the two items pictured in Figures 1 and 3A (they being Die 2, red ink).

Covers, as opposed to post cards, are difficult to find. But they do exist, as shown by this example owned by Bob Payne:

[Hoboken Cover]

Figure 4: Hoboken on SOLDIERS MAIL. Die 1, Black Ink.

A picture post card, perhaps originally intended to be mailed on a visit to New York City during leave, but later turned in to be delivered upon 'arrival overthere' was handled by Hoboken and duly censored is featured by Figure 5 below:

[Hoboken Picture Postcard]

Figure 5, above: Picture post card with 2-cent war rate postage. Die 1, Black Ink. (Bob Payne)

Note that many of these examples lack dates provided by the sender. In reviewing these covers and cards, remember the sequence. First, the mail is processed and handled BEFORE "Cap" Townsend arrives. Then he arrives to handle the mail. Finally, he processes the mail WITH the International Eagle and Wavy Box machine.

[Hoboken Card with Rubber Stamp] [Hoboken Card with Rubber Stamp]

Figure 6: Front and back of card processed by "Cap" Townsend before the International machine was installed. The rubber stamp marking reads: "SOLDIERS MAIL / CAPT. A. C. TOWNSEND, Q.M.R.C." It is applied in magenta ink. (Bob Payne)

Use of postage on covers or cards, instead of using the soldiers franking privilege, are hard to find as well.

[Hoboken Censored Card]

Figure 7: Another card with 1¢+1¢ postage, censored. Die 1, Black Ink. (Bob Payne)

[Hoboken Censored Card]

Figure 8: Another card, with 2¢ postage, censored. Die 1, Black Ink. (Bob Payne)

[Hoboken Salvation Army Card] [Hoboken Salvation Army Card]

Figure 9: Front and back of 2-cent postal card provided by The Salvation Army. Processed at Hoboken. Die 1, Black Ink. (Bob Payne.)

[Hoboken Unknown Card] [Hoboken Unknown Card]

Figure 10 Processed at Hoboken. Die 1, Black Ink. Another printed postal card with printed arrival message. The service organization that provided this postal card is not identified. (Bob Payne)

[Hoboken Card] [Hoboken Card]

Figure 11: A 2¢ postal card, without printing on the back and presumably purchased by soldier, and given to Hoboken Port of Embarkation for delivery when the ship safely arrived. Die 1, Black Ink. (Bob Payne)

[Hoboken Salvation Army Card] [Hoboken Salvation Army Card]

Figure 12: The war tax on postage ended, and post card and postal card rates went back down to 1¢ effective July 1, 1919. This card is dated August 25, 1919, LKU for Die 1, Black Ink. (Bob Payne)

[Hoboken Naval Card]

Figure 13: A naval cover, handled through Hoboken, with 3¢ postage used in lieu of the free frank privilege. Again, the usual DIE 1 Hoboken Eagle and Wavy Box applied with black ink is used. (Bob Payne)

Where were the machine markings, Die 1 Black Ink and Die 2 Red Ink, applied?

"In the United States, a distribution terminal was established in New York City (the Chelsea Terminal), where the mail was processed and forwarded to the Hoboken Port of Embarkation. On the other side of the ocean, distribution centers were established at St. Nazaire, Brest, and later at Le Havre.

"For mail from France to the United States, Joseph F. Buck noted in his exhaustive article, "The Yanks are Writing":

"Mail originating with the A.E.F. was concentrated at these ports and while waiting departure of available carriers was distributed to states, cities and railway routes as effectively as it was done at home. This efficiency was made possible by detailing to the postal service in France men from the railway mail service, so the distribution of mail to each state was in familiar hands. This obviated delays when postal matter reached the United States and upon arrival at any port it could be immediately handed to railway depots for dispatch."

"Mail received at the Hoboken and Chelsea Terminals received distinctive markings. Some examples, including the well known "Eagle" marking, designed by Captain A. C. Townsend (whose name appears on censored mail [13]), was used on mail arriving in Hoboken." [14]

The handcancels used at Chesea Terminal New York are not very common. Examples are featured below:

[Chelsea Term RPO]

Figure 14: RECEIVED CHELSEA TERM RPO / from A. E. F. dated May 14, 1919. The handstamp is in magenta. (Bob Payne)

The example in Figure 14 was a letter sent from the United States to the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France. The addressee could not be located, and the mail was directed back to the United States to the soldier's unit in the United States. Prior to going to the U.S. camp, the mail was received at Chelsea Terminal RPO, and marked received.

These Chelsea Terminal RPO handstamp markings are reported only for 1919 and 1920, the same period that the Die 2, Red Ink Eagle is reported.

The relatively common Die 1, Black Ink Eagle, is known used at Hoboken.

But where was the International machine cancel with Die 2, Red Ink?

The logical place would be in the United States, and at either Hoboken Port of Embarkation or Chelsea Terminal RPO. The single Die 1, Black Ink machine at Hoboken had no problems handling the mail for all of 1918 and the up to August 1919 at this location. A second machine at Hoboken seems unlikely.

The logical installation for the second machine would be at Chelsea Terminal RPO.

Note that the Chelsea Terminal is part of the civilian post office. The Hoboken facility is under military control.

[Returned Overseas Mail] [Returned Overseas Mail]

Figure 15: Front and back of another cover mailed to a soldier in the AEF, and returned to the United States when he could not be found. This cover also received a receipt mark from the Chelsea Terminal RPO, New York, N.Y. This receipt mark is square and also applied in magenta ink. (Bob Payne)

[Editor's Note: I couldn't resist noting: The marking indicates that the civilian CHELSEA TERMINAL RPO, NEW YORK, NY received this article form Central P.O. AEF (military). A generation later would see CPNY produced by another International machine during the Second World War! Wow! The more things change the more they stay the same!]

[Chelsea Term RPO]

Figure 16: Another example of a round RECEIVED FROM CHELSEA TERM RPO / from AEF dated May 26, 1919. This round handstamp is smaller than the example in Figure 15. (Bob Payne)

Closing Note

"Cap" would continue collecting stamps and covers, writing about his finds and experiences. He would retire a colonel, but was affectionately called "Cap". After leaving the military, he would continue in government service, eventually retiring as a regional inspector for the Internal Revenue Service. Needless to say, he collected revenue stamps. For machine cancel collectors, he is remembered as a pioneer collector and has been referred to as the Father of Flag Cancel collecting. He was honorary member #1 of the Flag Cancel Society. When he passed away on September 7, 1967, he was survived by his wife, his two sons, and a grandson. [15]

[Townsend Article]

Figure above: From the front cover of issue #1 of Flag Cancellations (September 1963).


Note 2: J Armand Gelinas MD; Bart Billings, Editor, A TRIBUTE TO 'CAP' TOWNSEND AND THE CAP TOWNSEND STAMP CLUB (November 1991) at page 12. This club book was published from available notes and clippings to provide members of the club with information about the club's founder, and distributed to members in attendance at its 405th meeting in Clearwater, Florida, at Robby's Pancake House. Townsend was one of fourteen founders of the SUB ROSA Stamp Club, and membership was limited to those with philatelic knowledge. In 1964 the membership voted to change its name to the "Cap" Townsend Club. Thanks are owed to Bart Billings for giving a copy of this handbook to A J Savakis.

Note 3: Gelinas, Billings, supra note 2, at pages 72-73, 83.

Note 4: Ibid, page 84.

Note 5: Ibid, pages 85-86.

Note 6: Ibid, pages 86-87.

Note 7: Ibid, page 95.

Note 8: Ibid, page 89.

Note 9: Frederick Langford, THE FLAG CANCEL ENCYCLOPEDIA (Third Edition 1976), at page 105.

Note 10: Theo. Van Dam, Editor, THE POSTAL HISTORY OF THE AEF, 1917-1923 (Second Edition, War Cover Club 1990), at page 8.

Note 11: His work DOMESTIC UNITED STATES MILITARY FACILITIES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (1917-1919) is privately published, and available from him at [ed. note: see: Bob Swanson website ]

Note 12: Bob Swanson, supra note 11 at page 135.

Note 13: Such an example is featured in Figure 6 of this article.

Note 14: THE POSTAL HISTORY OF THE AEF 1917-1923 (War Cover Club 1990) at page 8, Edited by Theo Van Dam with the assistance of many people. Contributors include Machine Cancel Society members Bart Billings, Jim Felton, Arthur Hadley, and Frederick Langford.

Note 15: Supra note 2, at page 11.

More Links

Main Article on Hoboken

Main MCS Webpage

Contact information for the Society's President.

Updated March 21, 2020
Original Updated 2004

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