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1985 Vintage Transport - Trams

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Trams and cable cars initially horse-drawn then steam-powered and later electric-powered were a vital means of public transport in New Zealand cities for over 100 years. New Zealand town dwellers, having had no option but to rely on their own feet until the latter half of the 19th century reacted excitedly to the first signs of public transport. Where wheeled transport was available wagonettes, drays, and particularly, the high and flimsy horse-buses, made local travel an adventure.

Issue information

Steel rails began to appear in the streets, first with snorting, sweating horses and later hissing steam engines. Passenger transport became the life-blood of each city centre. Now the workforce could settle in outer suburbs and still be within reach of city employment. Hills that had been daunting prospects on foot were tamed by cable cars that climbed the slopes with invisible power. Electricity arrived, and its use on the streets preceded its use in the home, greatly impressing the populace in the days when housewives still cooked over coal ranges and lighting was by gas or candles.

Tram-cars reigned supreme in New Zealand streets for longer than any other public vehicle. There were weather-beaten drivers holding tightly to their reins, grippers or control handles. There were the many different conductors collecting fares and during wartime women took over these roles.

All served New Zealand and New Zealanders over the years, delivering people to their homes, businesses and recreational activities.  The public in turn became attached to these structures of wood and steel that gave everyone the freedom of the cities before the days of the all-conquering automobile.  

Stamp Bulletin

This stamp issue first appeared in New Zealand Post Stamp Bulletin No. 32 in October 1984.

Acknowledgments: Bulletin scanned and provided by John Biddlecombe of the New Zealand Society of Great Britain. Their web site offers further information useful to those interested in the stamps and postal history of New Zealand. Link:

Product Listing for 1985 Vintage Transport - Trams

Image Title Description Price

Single 24c 'The Nelson Horse-Drawn Tram 1862' gummed stamp.

Nelson developed the first passenger street tramway. A single horse pulled the coach-style tram along 1.6 kilometres of line from the city centre to the Port of Nelson. The initial sixpenny fare was dropped to threepence to encourage greater use. Pranksters laying stones on the rails caused derailments and the company offered rewards for their identification. In 1901 the service was bought by the Town Council but the cost of modernisation and electrification proved too much and the tramway was dismantled and removed.

  Single Stamp

Single 30c 'The Graham's Town Steam Tram 1871' gummed stamp.

One of the earliest locally-built tram carriages was made of that most famous of New Zealand timbers, kauri. Its short career had a rather inauspicious beginning. The discovery of gold at Graham's Town (now Thames) meant many passengers for the country's first steam tramway opened in 1871. The track ran from Thames to the deep sea wharf at Tararu Point. In May 1874 a heavy gale partly destroyed the wharf and washed away a large section of the tramway. Damage was so great both the wharf and tramway were abandoned. The line closed on 10 November 1874.

  Single Stamp

Single 35c 'The Dunedin Cable Car 1881' gummed stamp.

New Zealand's first cable cars appeared in Dunedin and came to be widely utilised there. The Rattray Street cable tramway was the first to operate outside the United States of America. In the days when horses and steam were the only recognised means of vehicle power, the sight of cable cars climbing the steep hills without visible means of power was awe-inspiring. The cables were laid in tunnels beneath the road and were powered by a steam engine housed in an adjacent powerhouse.

  Single Stamp

Single 40c  'Auckland - Electric 1902' gummed stamp.

Although Dunedin had the first electrics, Auckland was the first to go for a complete electric system and the novelty of the horseless tramcars attracted 15,000 passengers at twopence a ride on its first day in service. A further estimated 10,000 missed out. By the end of the first week 70,000 people had enjoyed the technologically advanced electric tram-car run by the Auckland Electric Tramways Company. Private enterprise meant ratepayers had no fears of transport levies.Being cheaper and quicker than the horse-drawn trams, Auckland became a community of tram-riders. 

  Single Stamp

Single 45c 'Wellington - Electric 1904' gummed stamp.

In 1904 it was Wellington's turn to get an electric tram.On the evening of 8 June 1904 engineers carried out the first trial run just a few minutes before midnight. Brilliantly lit, the tram came slowly and steadily down the track from the Newton shed, accompanied by frequent flashes of electricity from beneath the car and the overhead trolley wires. The spectacle was unique and fascinated the population. Then on 30 June 1904 the first section from Newtown to St. Patrick's College in Kent Terrace was completed and opened to the public. This trip was taken by the Mayor, Councillors and Public Works officials who boarded a double-decker car running on a single track at Basin Reserve and they returned in a single-deck car. The whole system was finally working in January 1905.

  Single Stamp

Single 58c 'Christchurch - Electric 1905' gummed stamp.

The first line opened in Papanui in 1905, however there was an unforseen mishap. A procession of eight trams set out towards Cathedral Square but the motormen were driving their trams too closely in procession and the fifth tram in line bumped heavily into the tram in front. The sixth car unable to stop in time, ploughed into the fifth with considerable force, demolishing the back platform. With the convoy reduced to six, the procession of trams decorated with ribbons and toetoe, continued undaunted through Cathedral Square and were greeted by crowds of sightseers.

As Christchurch was a city of cyclists and to protect them and pedestrians, the trams had large steel fenders with a net of steel mesh projected three feet in front of each tram-car. If a cyclist was struck, the motorman simply pushed a foot lever and both bike and rider were scooped to safety. Electric heaters were installed under each seat and winter travellers were often reluctant to leave their warm haven. 

  First Day Cover First day cover with stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $2.42
  Presentation Pack Presentation pack containing a selection of stamp products from the issue and further information on the theme of the stamps. $3.50

Technical information

Date of issue: Stamps, 6 March 1985; Presentation pack, 20 March 1985
Number of stamps: Six gummed stamps
Denominations: 24c, 30c, 35c, 40c, 45c and 58c
Stamps and first day cover designed by: R M  Conly, Waikanae
Printer and process: Cambec Press, Australia by lithography
Stamp size and format: 42mm x 30mm (horizontal)
Paper type: Unwatermarked
Number of stamps per sheet: 100 
Perforation gauge: 13.5 x 13.25
Special blocks: Plate/imprint positional or value blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least 6 stamps of each denomination
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 30 April 1986. First day covers remained on sale until 15 March 1985.
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