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The First Coin Operated Automat

1956 Italian meter stamps of OMT

The Meter Stamp Society Bulletin - Volume 72 Issue 327 Spring 2020

Fabio Bisogno - 01.09.2020

     The news about this machine is very scarce and only found in the Italian mechanical postage stamps catalogue (AICAM publication n.344).
     You can find the OMT brand name on the front panel. This machine was used during the First Exhibition of the Postal Services Mechanization, organized by the Italian Postal Administration with the collaboration of the Post/Telegraph Administration of the C.E.C.A. countries, Great Britain and Switzerland, and held in Rome from 29th October to 11th November 1956.
     The machine was set up at the entrance to the show. Upon insertion of a 20 Lira coin it would frank a souvenir postcard. No date was shown so the card did not need to be mailed on the same day.

Self-service machine OMT - Man using postcard seslf service machine.
Self-service machines OMT - Man using postcard self-service machine.
On the rigth you can see the OMT self-service machine.


     The machine was in use for a very short time, possibly only the first day of the show. Only the 20 Lira value was known, and collectors assumed the machine could only dispense that single value.

OMT - 1956 souvenir postcard franked with 20 Lira
Souvenir postcard franked with L.20 OMT meter stamp.

     Recently I found a letter franked with a 25 Lira value of the stamp and that changed our assumption. My lucky cover find sparked me to find out more information about this machine. The truth is we did not know for certain that it was produced by OMT.

OMT - The only know letter</b> franked with L.20 OMT meter stamp
The only know letter franked with Lira 25 OMT meter stamp.

     We had only the testimony of philatelists who claimed to have seen or used it back in 1956. While digging into the historical archives of the Italian Postal Service I found some information including photos which are reproduced here (source: Archivio Storico di Poste Italiane). They show the machine and it’s brand label so now we know for certain that it was made by the OMT (Officine Meccaniche Taranto), a company that also produced cancellation machines.

OMT - coin self-service machine
OMT Meter 1956. The first Italian coin self-service machine.

OMT - Logo
OMT - Brand from the front of the machine.

     The label at top right of the machine reads (in Italian) “Attention: if this light is off, do not introduce coins without current.” This shows that the machine was electric and would only operate when plugged in. Lower down are four slots for inserting different size coins (5, 10, 20 and 50 Liras) plus a button for the recovery of defective coins. The printed directions on the machine directed the user to raise a little door and place his mail pieces inside, then insert his coins (maximum 80 Lira) and press a button. Although no denominations other than 20 and 25 Lira are known to exist we can surmise that every denomination divisible by 5 between 5 and 80 was available for franking.
     An Italian Postal Service financial report for 1956-1957 implied that this self-service machine was intended to be the first of what they hoped would become a country-wide offering of automatic franking machines.

OMT - man using coin self-service machine OMT - man using coin self-serice machine
Men using the self-service machine OMT.

     The reality though is that only a few other OMT automats were placed into use, three or four more later in 1956 and another eight or ten in 1978. None of these machines remained in use longer than a few months. Good luck finding some of these rarities.

OMT - posto automatico
Meter stamp OMT - Posto Automatico Roma Ferrovia - Piazza Cinquecento

OMT - raccomandate
Meter stamp OMT - Registered letter from Genova

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