Friday, August 7, 2009

Airposts and their Stamps (1921)

William Cochrane.

This article is probably one of the first airmail articles, certainly of any length, to be published in a philatelic journal. It was first published in Stamp Collectors’ Fortnightly (January, 1921) from a paper read by Major RS Archer, MC, as his Presidential Address before the Liverpool Junior Philatelic Society, October 11th, 1920.

The Wabash Railway Company in U.S.A. has recently taken off its fast mail train between Toledo and St. Louis, because it could not compete with its rival in the air. To one who has closely followed the rapid development of the aerial mail, this announcement causes little surprise.

The increase in speed of the aeroplane over the train would in itself not affect the rail services, but this, added to the fact that the air line in question has maintained an efficiency of 92 percent for more than twelve months, has demonstrated the reliability of the aeroplane service.

All the experiments prove that the universal use of the aeroplane for mail-carrying purposes is coming, and almost daily the papers chronicle the institution of new air lines.

The collection of aerial post stamps thus becomes imperative to the up-to-date philatelist. One prophesies the not-far-distant date when the majority of the new stamps, certainly European, occupying the pages of our albums, till be those used in connection with the post conveyed by petrol-driven Mercuries.

Tonight, time will only permit a short flight through the intensely fascinating history of the air mail, whilst I pilot you amongst the forty odd stamps which the past three and a half years have brought forth in this connection.

The experience gained in the past War has, of course, been an invaluable help in the development of air services, and, curiously enough it was in wartime that the first airpost was instituted. It was necessary, during the Siege of Paris in 1870, to find a means of communication with the outer world, and, for this purpose, a balloon post was brought into being. The first ascent was made on 23rd September, 1870, and the services continued in almost daily use for four months, during which period 68 balloons were despatched, 60 landing on French or neutral territory, five being captured by the Germans, and three being lost at sea.

Envelopes despatched in this manner give no indication of their mode of conveyance. However, it may be taken that any envelope or card bearing a postmark dated between 23rd September, 1870, and 28th January, 1871, was forwarded from Paris by balloon post – the first authoritative air mail.

A connecting link between balloon and aeroplane posts took place in 1896, when a Mr. Fricker inaugurated a pigeon service between Great Barrier Island and Auckland N.Z., 66 miles apart, a post which continued for several years. Special triangular stamps were used for this service, depicting a pigeon in full flight, the denomination being 6d. (blue) and 1s. (red).

The first aeroplane post in the world, however, took place on 18th February, 1911, at Allahabad, India, organised by Captain Windham. The letters were carried by aeroplane from the United Provinces Exhibition to a Post Office receiving-station in Allahabad, from which place they were despatched to any part of the world to which they were addressed. Over 6,000 letters and cards, thus posted, were franked by the Exhibition P.O. with a die, specially cut in the postal workshops at Aligarh, incorporating a design of an aeroplane, encircled by the inscription “Aerial Post, Allahabad Exhibition,” together with the date of despatch. A nominal additional fee of six annas per letter or card was charged, which amount was handed, without deduction, as a donation to the new buildings of the Oxford and Cambridge Hostel at Allahabad.

In honour of King George’s Coronation this same Captain Windham was also the organiser of the first air post in the United Kingdom, which was flown between Hendon and Windsor on 9th September, 1911, and for a few following days. No special stamps were issued, but envelopes and postcards bearing a design of an aeroplane flying over Windsor Castle, with the winding Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance, were sold at 1s. and 6d. respectively. The postmark was worded “First United Kingdom Aerial Post,” and the date; about 100,000 pieces of mail being carried by this service.

U.S.A. was busy just about the same time, in 1911, experimenting with air mails, and this, coupled with the knowledge gained in the War, resulted in the establishment early in 1918, of an air line between New York and Washington, 218 miles apart. After the Armistice, lack of trains and engines led to an extension of this service to Cleveland and Chicago. This line now continues right on to San Francisco, by way of Omaha, Nebraska, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Salt Lake City, Utah. The trip takes three days and is 2,651 miles in length, but results in letters reaching their destination 42 hours before the mail-train is due. Another air line runs between St. Louis, Chicago, and St. Paul, whilst numerous other towns are in process of being linked up by air.

In the past twelve months over half a million pounds weight of mail matter has been airborne, and about £50,000 has been actually saved, as compared with the cost of transit by rail.

On the 2nd of June, 1912, the Japanese postal authorities experimented with an air mail between Yokohama and Tokyo. A few letters are known to exist, whose envelopes bear the ordinary stamp and obliteration, with a special postmark, inscribed “Japanese Aerial Mail” and the Japanese equivalent for the date, but the attempt, being only experimental, was discontinued after the first day.

From 1912 till 1917, aerial mails did not make much progress, but the reason which caused the inception of the air post, namely, war, was responsible for the re-opening of this means of communication. It happened that there was very serious congestion on the Italian railways in 1917, to relieve which an air mail was organised, on the 22nd May, between Rome and Turin. These cities are about 350 miles apart, the air space between them being bridged within four hours. In this connection. Italy achieved fame by being the first country to issue a stamp for use of its air mail, which took the form of an overprint on the 1903 “Inland Express Letter” stamp, 25c. rose, as follows :-


A month later, on 28th June, owing to the interference of Austrian submarines with Naples and Palermo, Sicily, mail steamers, a special seaplane service was inaugurated between these two places, which are 170 miles apart. The stamp used in this connection was the then unissued 40c. violet “Express Delivery” stamp, overprinted with the words

25 CENT 25

Another wartime air mail was brought into being on 30th March, 1918, by Austria, her planes carrying letters from Vienna to Kieff [Kiev], with calls at Cracow and Lemberg. Three of the 1916 “Arms” type stamps were used, all being overprinted in block capitals with the formidable word “FLUGPOST“, meaning “flying post.”

“1.50 K 1.50” was surcharged on the 2kr. (lilac) and “2.50 K 2.50″ on the 3kr. (bistre), whilst the 4kr. (grey) was used without any surcharge.

To the U.S.A. falls the honour of issuing the first distinctive air post stamp, which made its appearance on the 15th May, 1918, on the inauguration of the New York-Washington service.

This stamp, which was recess-plate printed in carmine and blue, without watermark, at the Washington Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and is perforated 11, depicts a mail-carrying plane in flight. Over two million of these stamps were printed, out of which one lucky purchaser secured, over the P.O. counter, a sheet of 100 with the aeroplane inverted [the Inverted Jenny], the only sheet known to be printed in error. A Colonel Green eventually bought up the whole sheet, selling half of it, and retaining the remaining 50 in his own collection. These he had with him on hoard his steam yacht when it foundered in 1919, 43 of these stamps being so damaged as to be useless, which makes the error a very rare stamp.

The air-mail fee was reduced on 15th July to 16 cents, and again in December, 1918 to 6 cents, for which stamps of these values were issued, yellow-green in the first instance, orange in the latter, the original design being retained.

Since then the extra air-post fee has been abolished, and the ordinary mail fee of 2 cents, or 1d., an ounce is charged. It is not contemplated to issue a separate aerial mail stamp.

On 4th July, 1918, the Hungarians experimented with an air mail, having Budapest as its starting point, and with various internal towns as destinations; but owing to the weather conditions and accidents to aviators, it was only in existence 20 days. Two of the 1916-17 stamps were surcharged as follows :-

“1 K 50f. ” on 75 filler (blue).
“2 K 50f.” on 2 krona (brown).

the words “REPÜLÖ POSTA” being overprinted above the value, in red and blue respectively.

This overprinting was carried out at the State Printing Works at Budapest, and is not remarkable for its good workmanship. This will be especially noticeable in the copy I show of the lower value, in which several letters are broken, whilst the “P” of “POSTA” has no top at all. It rather looks as if this stamp had taken part in one of the accidents which occurred.

In October, 1920, an aerial mail was established, linking Hungary with other European countries, and the 1916-17 10kr. stamp was overprinted with the words “LEGI POSTA” and the new value, 3, 8, or 12 korona.

The air fairly hummed in 1919 with air post developments, and in all parts of the world aerial mails were instituted or carried out with this object in view.

Early in the year an aeroplane post was started between Bombay and Karachi to expedite delivery of mail brought by steamers to Bombay. Public apathy and lack of support, however, caused the speedy discontinuance of this air line.

Alexandria, Cairo, and Ismailia were linked together by air mail of 17th March, by “R.A.F.” planes, which carried only official correspondence during the native disturbances, no special stamps or postmark being used. The envelopes, however, were marked with rubber stamp, “Aerial Post, E.E.F.”, meaning “Egyptian Expeditionary Force”. This service was discontinued as soon as conditions were normal.

Switzerland was next in the field, or air, I should say, by the opening of a summer aerial post between Zurich and Lausanne, with calls at Berne and Neuchâtel, which took place on 28th April, 1919. The ordinary postage was charged, plus an air fee of 50c. For this latter purpose the current 50c. “Helvetia ” type stamp was overprinted at the Federal Mint, Berne, with a design in red, showing the Swiss Military Air Force badge. Postmarks bearing the words “Schweiger Flugpost” were used, in addition to the ordinary express letter postmark.

On the 5th May, 100,000 copies of the 35c. stamp of the 1906 issue of Tunis were ready for sale in connection with the air service which connected Gabés, Djerba, Zarzis, and Ben Gardane, as from that date. These stamps had been overprinted at the French Government Printing Works in Paris, and, in addition to the central overprint of the French aviator’s badge, the air fee denomination of “30″ centimes appeared on the stamp with the words “POSTE AÉRIENNE“, the old value being obliterated by three bars. The stamp depicts the ruins of Hadrian’s Aqueduct and, with its overprint, shows a true blending of the ancient with the modern. I wonder what Hadrian would say if he knew? This stamp has recently been replaced by a 30c. stamp of similar design, in blue and grey-green.

We now come to the gallant, but unsuccessful attempt of Messrs. Hawker and Grieve to fly the Atlantic from Newfoundland to the United Kingdom. This took place on the 18th May, 1919, on a Sopwith machine, and resulted in the aeroplane falling into the sea, the two aviators with their mail being fortunately salved by a passing steamer. The mail reached the P.O. intact with the help of the British Fleet. The contents were undamaged, though in some cases wet, but none was in such condition as to prevent ultimate delivery. For the purposes of this mail 200 of the 3c. “Caribou” issue were overprinted at the Royal Gazette Office, St. John’s (where all the other air-stamp overprints have been carried out), with the words “FIRST TRANSATLANTIC AIRPOST, April, 1919.” – for the flight was expected to take place in April, though weather conditions were unfavourable until the following month.

Of the 200 stamps, 18 were damaged and destroyed in the presence of the Auditor-General, 11 were used as presentation copies (one of which was sent to H.M. the King), and 95 were used and cancelled in the mail itself, leaving 76 still to be accounted for. These were sold at $25 each on behalf of the Marine Disaster Fund. and as only 182 of these stamps are known to exist, they are of great rarity.

The first Trans-Atlantic Air Stamp was presented by the aviators, to be auctioned for the benefit of the Marine Disaster Fund. Lieut.-Col. E. S. Halford. of the Air Ministry, eventually bought the stamp for £210.

Later in the month of May the air mail, ready for despatch by the Raynham-Martinsyde Atlantic flight, bore stamps of the 1c., 2c., 3c., and 24c. current “Caribou” series. These were overprinted as follows :-”1st Atlantic Airpost, Martinsyde-Raynham, Morgan”. The cheers of the send-off had hardly died away before the plane crashed to earth to become a useless wreck, and the mail had to be despatched through the usual channels.

The 15c. stamp of the 1897 (Jubilee) series, surcharged “Trans-Atlantic AIR POST, 1919. ONE DOLLAR” was now issued to prepay postage on letters sent by the Alcock-Whitten Brown flight to U.K. This non-stop flight commenced on 14th June, 1919, in a Vickers-Vimy machine, and by this means mail posted in Newfoundland on the early morning of 14th June was delivered in London on the night of the 17th-three days after leaving Newfoundland. The stamps were sold at $1 each, but the limited edition, was speedily bought up. 10,000 were surcharged in sheets of 25, making 400 sheets in all. In the overprinting errors hme crept in. Each sheet, therefore, contained 16 stamps normally overprinted; seven stamps with no comma after “POST”; one with an imperfect comma; and one without the full stop after “1919″ and no comma after “POST”. Thus it will be seen that of the 10,000 stamps issued, 6,400 were normally overprinted, 2,800 had no comma, 400 had an imperfect comma, and 400 had no stop or comma. It will be noticed that the block of four stamps, which I show, contains all four varieties – a rare combination.

To celebrate an experimental air post between Puerto, Port Colombia, and Barranquila, 200 of the 1917 2c. Colombian stamps were overprinted locally with the inscription “1 en SERVICIO POSTAL AEREO 6-18-19″ in five lines in black. Only one flight was made and the stamps were not accepted by the P.O. and were never cancelled by them. In October, 1920, an attempt was made to institute an air service between Cartagena and Barranquila, but owing to serious fatal accidents, this air mail has been indefinitely suspended. The contract for this service was given by the P.O. to a local firm, and letters carried through the air travelled at ordinary postage, plus 10c. per 15 grammes. Two thousand copies of a 10c oblong stamp were printed, depicting a vessel on the sea, with aeroplane above, and setting sun on the horizon. This was superseded by a set of seven values, issued privately by the air contractors, the design showing a map of the Colombian coast, with aeroplane in flight.

To signalise the first air mail over the Rocky Mountains the envelopes of letters thus conveyed were franked with a special postmark bearing the words “1st B.C. Alberta Aerial Post.” The mail in question was carried by plane, on August 5th, 1919, from Vancouver to Calgary, via Vernon and over the Great Divide to Lethbridge. On the return journey the pilot was forced to descend at Golden, and the letters were sent on by rail.

Japan had made no serious attempt since its 1912 experiment to commence an air post, but with the intention of instituting regular flights between Tokyo and Osaka nearly 300 miles, stamps were issued for use on letters to be conveyed by the first air mail on October 3rd, 1919. These stamps were the current 1½ sen (blue) and the 3 sen (carmine), overprinted with the design of an aeroplane in red and black respectively. These two air stamps were on sale only at Head Post Offices on October 3rd, and in spite of elaborate precautions to prevent one person buying more than two stamps of each value, the entire issue of 40,000 overprinted stamps was sold out in a very short time.

The weather played an important part in connection with this mail, and behaved so badly for day after day from October 4th, that the flight was abandoned for a further attempt (to the delight of the more superstitious Japanese and the letters sent by the usual method.

The “King Albert Aerial Mail Service” was commenced early in January), 1920, in Belgian Congo. This service, which is carried out by seaplanes, embraces the whole of the Upper Congo River, and is flown in conjunction with the arrival of the Belgian mail steamers.

In August last, four finely-drawn stamps, depicting scenes in the Congo with a seaplane above, made their appearance for use in this connection. The perforation is 12 and the values are :-

50c. orange and black.
1fr. violet and black.
2f blue and black.
5fr. green and black.

By some unfortunate mistake, one which has caused the Belgian Government much annoyance, the word printed at the foot of each stamp, “Postluchtdienst,” should have appeared as “Luchtpostdienst.” As it stands the translation reads: “Service of the Postal Air,” instead of “Postal Service of the Air.” Of course, the printer may have been a man of imagination, and this was his way of prophesying that the air was soon to be so impregnated with correspondence as almost to describe the term “postal air.”

The air post instituted between Reval and Helsingfors in Estonia. was the direct outcome of the icebound nature of that country’s coastline in the Gulf of Finland, which, at the time, permitted only a few Ships to arrive at Reval.

Thus it happened that, on 7th February, 1920, three British-piloted planes left Reval with mail and reached Helsingfors in less than an hour later. Weather conditions prevented the return journey being made for over a week. The service, however, was continued until two months later, when, owing to a shortage of aeroplanes, only a very small proportion of the mail could be carried. Preference was given to diplomatic and Registered letters, ordinary being taken if there was room. The breaking up of the ice early in May permitted the re-opening of sea communication, and the air mail was discontinued.

In March a five mark imperforate triangular stamp was issued for use on this mail, printed in yellow, blue and black, and showing an aeroplane in flight. The ordinary postage was charged in addition to the air fee.

A Tientsin-Pekin aerial mail was inaugurated as a regular service on 7th May, 1920, with Handley-Page machines. Letters posted at 5 p.m. in Tientsin can now be delivered in Pekin three hours later. No special stamp has so far been issued, but the postmark reads: – “Chinese Post Office – despatched by aeroplane – Tientsin-Pekin.” The Chinese Cabinet has now sanctioned the opening of an air service between Pekin and Shanghai, with three intermediate stations, and 80 landing grounds.

Siam, a country whose airmen are so intrepid and so seemingly without nerves, has commenced in September an aerial post between Bangkok and Chantzboon, roughly 300 miles. The current 5 satangs stamps has been overprinted by hand-machine, with the Siamese emblematic bird, the garuda, under which appear four lines of native wording.

When the London-Paris Airpost was opened to the general public on 10th November, 1919, the charge was excessive, viz, 2s. 6d. per ounce. The total number of letters sent on the first day after this charge was made totalled 315, whilst the aeroplanes ready for use had a capacity of 76,000 letters. Since then, however, steps have been taken to popularise the aerial mail, the chief of which has been the reduction of the air fee to 2d. per ounce, plus ordinary postage, whilst the express fee is 6d. an ounce.

A blue label, inscribed “BY AIR MAIL,” which can be obtained free from the Post Office, is the only outward and visible token on the left-hand corner of the envelope that it has travelled from England by aerial mail. The absence of this label, so long as the envelope is clearly marked as to its means of conveyance, will not debar the letter from being forwarded by air and delivered.

In France, a label is attached to the envelope, depicting as its central design, the great French aviator, Guynemer.

Besides the twice daily service to Paris and back, carried out by the Aircraft Transport and Travel Co., Ltd., recent air lines have linked together six countries, namely, England, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. This service was inaugurated on 15th September, when a Danish-piloted de. Haviland plane left Copenhagen with the London mail and, travelling via Hamburg, reached Amsterdam, where the letters were transferred to the Handley-Page and Airco joint air service, and so to London.

On the return journey, Queen Alexandra sent a basket of fruit to the Empress Dowager of Russia. The fruit left London a 3p.m. and was conveved to Her Majesty, outside Copenhagen, by 5 p.m. the following day. Last week a mail plane flew from Cricklewood, London, made a stop at Amsterdam, and arrived at Copenhagen in 5 hours 40 minutes, the distance being 520 miles.

The London-Amsterdam service, instituted on 5th July, 1920, is carried out by the Handley-Page Transport Co., and the journey of 265 miles has been flown in 1 hour 50 minutes, or an average of 150 miles per hour.

For use in connection with this inking up of countries, Sweden, at the end of September, issued three overprinted stamps, viz. :-

3 öre brown, Official, surcharged “LUFTPOST 10″
2 öre orange, Official, surcharged “LUFTPOST 20″
4 öre lilac, Official, surcharged “LUFTPOST 50″

Envelopes bear a blue label, similar to that of Great Britain, but the word “LUFTPOST” is printed in red thereon.

A provisional overprinting of the 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50c. current Spanish stamps with the words “CORREO AEREO,” marked the opening of an aerial post between Seville and Larache, in Morocco; between Barcelona and Palma, Morocco; and between Malaga and Melilla, on April 4th. Only 20,000 sets were issued and these provisionals are to be superseded at an early date, by a distinctive series of air stamps, portraying the progress of aerial navigation.

One of the latest countries to send mail through the air is the go-ahead State of Czecho-Slovakia. Three of the Hradschin series of stamps have been surcharged with new values, whilst a design of an aeroplane now forms the centre of the stamp. The 200 heller value is surcharged “14 KRONES,” which is the ordinary postage plus air fee between Prague and Warsaw. The 500 heller bears a new value of 24 krones, for use between Prague and Paris, a 5½ hours’ journey, carried out thrice weekly, travelling via Strashourg. The planes are sufficiently roomy to allow the carrying of passengers and goods.

The 1,000 heller now takes the value of 28 krones, for use between Prague and London.

On October 16th Danzig advertised its air mail by the issue of three provisionals. These stamps were the 40pf. Germans, already overprinted “DANZIG“; and further overprinted with new denominations, 40 and 60pf. and 1 mark, together with the design of an aeroplane on the two lower values and a winged posthorn on the 1 mark.

From this brief survey, of the development of the aerial mail, it will be admitted, I think, that the prophecy contained in my opening remarks as to the coming of universal air posts, is well-founded – or well-aired, whichever is the correct term.

Only a week or two ago the newspapers reported a combination of seven air transport firms, British, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, French, Roumanian, and German, with a view to completing a network of air lines that will shortly spread over the whole of North-West Europe.

A new world to conquer has sprung up before the philatelist, one in which his imagination, initiative and foresight can play an important part, and I trust that my remarks this evening may prove of use to those whose flight of fancy take them into the ethereal realms of aerial philately.

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