We take advantage of a cell-free system that reconstitutes essentially a single round of transport of the VSV-encoded G protein between Golgi cisternae to identify discrete stages in the maturation of carrier vesicles. Using GTP gamma S and N-ethylmaleimide (NEM) as selective inhibitors to accumulate coated and uncoated vesicles, respectively, we find these to be successive and obligatory transport intermediates. We find that the coated and uncoated vesicles that accumulate when transport is blocked have already transferred from donor to acceptor stacks but not yet fused. Similar coated and uncoated vesicles accumulate in appropriately treated whole cells. Our studies imply that a coated bud (pit)-coated vesicle-uncoated vesicle system analogous to that responsible for receptor-mediated endocytosis carries biosynthetic protein transport across the Golgi stack. However, "Golgi"-coated buds do not contain clathrin and seem to act as bulk carriers, whereas endocytic clathrin-coated pits carry a highly selective cargo.