1904 2c rose, violet-blue overprint horizontal
US #CZ1 – one of the first stamps issued for use in the Canal Zone

On June 24, 1904, the US issued its first stamps for use in the Canal Zone.

With military assistance from the United States, Panama declared its independence from Columbia on November 3, 1903. The Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty was negotiated, then ratified in Panama on December 2, 1903. The United States followed suit on February 23, 1904, clearing the way for a long-anticipated canal project across the Panama isthmus.

CZ4 - 1904 1¢ Canal Zone - Franklin Overprint up, green & black
US #CZ4 – US #300 overprinted for use in the Canal Zone

Almost immediately, administrators began preparations for the tremendous influx of people who would eventually assemble to work on the project. Faced with the knowledge that most of the work force would be imported to the region from America and Caribbean countries, authorities quickly established a postal service to serve their needs as well as those of the Canal Commission.

1928 2¢ Canal Zone - Washington, Goethals, flat plate printing, unwatermarked
US #CZ106 – the first permanent issue Canal Zone stamp

On June 24, 1904, postal service was established as part of the US Department of Revenue under the supervision of the treasurer of the Canal Zone, Paymaster E. C. Tobey. On this day, post offices were opened in Ancon, Cristóbal, Gatun, Culebra, and Balboa. Railroad station agents operated as postmasters.

A small supply of 2¢, 5¢, and 10¢ Panama stamps were overprinted “Canal Zone.” Only ordinary mail was handled by the Canal Zone postal system. Mail destined for Central and South America and the West Indies was turned over to the Panama postal service to be forwarded, while mail sent to the United States and its territories and possessions were sent to the US aboard vessels departing for New York.

CZC6 - 1949 4¢ Canal Zone Airmail - Gaillard Cut, red violet
US #CZC6 – one of the first Canal Zone Airmail stamps produced without an overprint

Overprinted Panama stamps were in use for less than a month. On July 18, 1904, they were replaced by US postage stamps overprinted “Canal Zone.” However, US stamps with images of famous Americans like Washington and Franklin weren’t popular with Panamanians in the Canal Zone. As a result of protests from officials and businesses, the Taft Agreement went into effect. It required Canal Zone stamps to be overprinted Panama issues, with 40% of the face value paid to Panama’s government. The US overprints were removed from sale in December 1904. All remaining quantities (almost 99%) were destroyed in 1906. Taft’s executive order was reversed in 1924, when overprinted US stamps were placed in use again.

1978 15¢ Canal Zone - Towing Locomotive, deep green & blue green
US #CZ165 – the last regular issue Canal Zone stamp

On October 1, 1928, the first permanent-issue Canal Zone stamp was placed on sale. The 2¢ stamp featured Lt. Col. George W. Goethals, the canal project’s chief engineer and first Canal Zone governor.

1904-78 Canal Zone Collection, 100 Stamps, Used & Used with Small Imperfections and FREE Used US 398
Item #M11596 – Get a collection of 100 Canal Zone stamps plus a FREE US #398!

The following year the Canal Zone issued its first Airmail stamps. These were Canal Zone stamps overprinted with “Airmail” and the denomination. The first Airmail stamps produced specifically for the Canal Zone were issued in 1931. They also issued Postage Due, Airmail Official, and Official stamps. The last Canal Zone stamp was issued on October 25, 1978. The Canal Zone ceased to exist on October 1, 1979 as a result of the Torrijos–Carter Treaty.

Click here for more Canal Zone stamps.

Need an album for your Canal Zone stamps? Click here for Mystic’s Heritage Collection of Canal Zone Stamps Album.

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  1. My wife and I crossed the Panama Canal, on a cruise in 1998. It was the highlight of the trip. The crossing begins early in the morning, when it was still dark. It takes a good part of the day, into the late afternoon. I remember that as the ship entered the canal, it went under the Pan-American Bridge.
    On the right, I saw a city of high rises – skyscrapers that were built under the
    Noriega administration, as it was narrated to the passengers.

  2. Yet another interesting article on the story of some of Americas great stamps and the story behind them keep the fascinating story articles coming please

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