The History of the Panama Canal Zone Stamps

Here’s a little piece of history embedded in a postage stamp.

When the U.S. built the Panama Canal in the Republic of Panama, they of course wanted to commemorate the event. Its first stamps came out in 1904, but they didn’t have any special design at first. Instead, the stamps came as the current stamps of Panama or the U.S., with an overprint that said “CANAL ZONE”. Not the most creative method of celebration, perhaps, but it got the job done. Over 100 types of these overprints have been found, plus counterfeits.

Then in 1928, the Canal Zone created a regularly issued series that said “CANAL ZONE POSTAGE”. The series showed the faces of those who helped with the canal’s construction. One stamp also showed the Culebra Cut (at the time called the Gaillard Cut), a valley that makes up part of the Panama Canal.


In 1939, the Zone issued 25th anniversary stamps showing the before and after of the creation of the canal.

The four cent Canal Zone stamp was the most famous of the canal zone stamps thanks to an error. The stamp was issued in 1962 to commemorate opening of the Thatcher Ferry Bridge, a bridge that connects two sides of the Panama Canal. But some of the stamps were printed without the silver ink meant to illustrate the bridge. In response, the Canal Zone proposed an issue of intentional errors to offset the value of the original errors. However, a stamp dealer named H.E. Harris, who owned some of the original errors, filed a lawsuit and stopped the intentional errors from being printed.

The Zone printed its last stamp in 1978, which showed a train and a ship in a lock. After that, Canal Zone stamps ceased to be printed.

Leave a Reply