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By Dr. Jerzy W. Kupiec-Weglinski
At one point in our lives, we ask ourselves, paraphrasing Paul Gauguin, “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” The famous allegorical post-impressionist painting created by French artist Paul Gauguin in Tahiti is displayed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Indeed, during my 18-year tenure as a physician-scientist at Harvard Medical School, I was fortunate to enjoy and be inspired countless times by Gauguin and other Boston MFA masterpieces.
My professional background as an organ transplant researcher, blended with compassion for fine arts and a collector’s zeal, was instrumental in creating a nurturing environment for my later postal history research and writings. These culminated in a recent publication of a two-pound hardbound volume, The History of Airmail in Poland and Its Contribution to Airmail Services of Europe (1914-1939) (Figure 1). The venture, supported by the Collectors Club of Chicago, has already proven quite successful, as evidenced by the John Kevin Doyle Grand Award and large gold medal at Chicagopex-2021, glowing reviews at both sides of the Atlantic, and growing sales, which obviously make the publisher happy.
So, how did the concept for the book come about? The road was long and somewhat crooked at times.
Figure 1. The monograph The History of Airmail in Poland and Its Contribution to Airmail Services of Europe (1914-1939).
Airmail collectors are likely familiar with the Nierinck crash cover catalog, Recovered Mail, published as two volumes in 1992 and 1995. This mainstay reference for recovered mail refers to a crash that is very personal to me, about LOT Polish Airlines “Kopernik” on March 14, 1980: “After a flight from New York and Montreal to Warsaw, the pilot lost control and crashed near Warsaw airport. All occupants lost their lives. Mail is known.”
On a personal note, among 87 people on board was Grazyna Szafarkiewicz-Weglinska, a LOT flight attendant and my wife. I dedicated a chapter on crash mail in my book to Grazyna and all who perished in LOT disasters before and after the crash of March 14, 1980 (Nierinck 800314, where 80 stands for 1980, 03 is March, and 14 represents the day). I cannot state unequivocally whether this tragedy influenced, perhaps subconsciously, my future aerophilately collecting and research. However, it became apparent to me that every postal item has a unique, albeit sometimes a tragic story to tell. Each piece of mail with a variety of stamps and postal markings represents a “Gauguinian” small art-form with its origin (i.e., where does it come from?) and destination (i.e., where does it arrive to?).
Figure 3. A field postcard carried by the first airplane flight from besieged Przemysl to Neu Sandez (October 6, 1914).
As my research has documented, widespread assertions of “firsts” must always be treated with caution. I will demonstrate with three examples from my book.
Case 1, from Chapter 1
The Przemysl airmails of 1914-1915 illustrate the first time in history that mail-laden airplanes landed and took off within a surrounded fortress (Figure 3). This fact is not recognized in philatelic histories. Noteworthy about this venture is that unlike others that followed, these airmails were not philatelically motivated. In addition, the Przemysl balloon post of 1915 should be compared favorably with the more famous balloon flights from besieged Paris during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-1871.