November 12 is Dia del Cartero — Postman’s Day — in México. The country reserves special days for almost all trades; more than 20,000 postal workers have the day off and citizens will give them a small bonus, typically between 25 and 100 pesos, dependent on how good of a job they believe their mail carrier has done and in appreciation of the work they carry out.
In Spanish, the word for post is correo, from the verb correr, meaning to run. It’s a direct reference to the original ‘message runners’ (corredores) which preceded the formalized postal service. During Aztec times, the main pathways and roads connecting different locations had small towers alongside them, situated apart every six miles (ten kilometers) or so. With these in place, relay runners would carry written messages — as well as other items — using the towers as relay and distribution stations. Legend has it that Emperor Moctezuma ate fresh fish, caught daily off the shores of Veracruz, by means of this relay delivery system.
When Hernán Cortés brought horses from Europe with him following the 1521 conquest, horseback riders replaced runners as a means to carry the messages and goods between the main towns and cities across the country. After 1579, the right to operate the posts was farmed out to members of the nobility, who were known as Correo Mayor de la Nueva España. The most important part of their operation was the route between México City and Veracruz.
In 1742, the administrator of posts in Madrid was ordered to improve the Mexican system, resulting in the 1745 establishment of a weekly post between México City and Oaxaca, followed in 1748 by a monthly service to Guatemala. In 1765, the Spanish crown bought back the rights to the postal service, effectively “nationalizing” the posts.
In 1813, México established its first formal postal service, which delivered regular messages between México City and the provinces each month. In 1824, México’s Treasury Department took over the postal system and this led to the issuance of México’s first postage stamps in August 1856 with a series of five stamps valued in ½ real, 1 real, 2 reals, 4 reals, and 8 reals. These carried the same design of the “father of México’s revolution”, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.. After their printing at México City, they were distributed to the district post offices where they were overprinted with their names before being issued to the public. This process was an anti-theft measure as any non-overprinted stamps were considered stolen, hence, invalid.
Further developments of the Mexican postal service took place during the reign of Maximilian, which included the installation of post boxes in urban areas. In 1910, Porfirio Diaz ordered the construction of the country’s main post office, the Palacio Postal, a grand building that remains in operation to this day in the downtown historic district of México City. By this time, trains were also being used to ferry messages and goods around the country.
Today, the use of railways has all but vanished and have yielded to road and air transport systems as the means to deliver post and parcels over long distances. However, the “last mile” of delivery continues to be undertaken by an army of dedicated postmen (and increasingly, women — although it’s still mostly a male-dominated job) on foot, cycle, and motorcycle.
Dia del Cartero was established in México on November 12, 1931, the result of retired army colonel Luis G. Franco peering out his window during a torrential downpour in México City. Franco spotted a postman removing his coat and covering the mail with it so that it wouldn’t become soaked. He was so touched by this act that he petitioned his godfather, President Pascuel Ortiz Rubio, to hold a celebration in honor of the nation’s postmen. This fiesta took place on November 12, 1931, at the penitentiary in México City.
In 1947, México’s Dirección General de Correos issued its first special stamp commemorating the work and efforts of the nation’s postal delivery men, labeling it “Anonymous Hero” (Scott #825). A total of fourteen stamps were issued to mark Día del Cartero in 1997 (Scott #2558, #2559a-d in a block of four, and #256a-i in a sheet of nine).
Scott #C169 was issued on May 16, 1947, the high (1 peso) value in a set of five — two general issue and three air post — stamps marking the Centenary International Philatelic Exhibition (CIPEX), held in New York City from May 17 to 25, 1947, The blue and carmine photogravure stamp, perforated 14, pictures U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt — well-known as a philatelist — and a representation of the first Mexican stamp, issued in 1856.