Who, me? Yes, you may unwittingly be someone who collects stamps according to the subjects they depict – (e.g. animals, sports, space, trains, kings and queens) – rather than by country, purpose of issue or type of service. The theme of this month’s American Philatelist is airmail, so let’s look at how airmails and topicals connect.
We all know about the upside down “Jenny” seen on the famous U.S. Scott C3a (Figure 1). Here is what you may not know: the Jenny’s real name was “Curtis JN4.” The first flight of the U.S. airmail service was on May 15, 1918, in Washington, D.C. President Wilson and other dignitaries watched the untrained pilot in the modified-for-mail Jenny take off in the wrong direction – and then crash! Each inverted Jenny has its own story – perhaps the most unusual is about the copy (position 78) that a careless collector left on his desk. Somehow it fell to the floor where it was inadvertently sucked up in a cleaning lady’s vacuum cleaner. It was retrieved, but now, wrinkled and dirty, it is only now worth a fraction of its previous value. Moral: Don’t leave your stamps lying around! Of course, while Inverted Jennys are beyond the reach of most collectors, many U.S. stamp issues depict aircraft, including many airmail stamps, such as the China Clipper shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1. U.S. Scott C3a, position 76. This stamp was part of the McCoy block until the block was stolen in 1955, broken up, reperforated, and recovered in 2016 by its then-owners, the American Philatelic Research Library.
Figure 2. U.S. Scott C20, the first China Clipper airmail stamp, issued on the date of the China Clipper’s inaugural flight, November 22, 1935.
Did you know that the first ever airmail issue began as a different kind of stamp? In 1917, Italy overprinted its 25-centesimi Express Delivery Stamp with the words “EXPERIMENTO POSTA AEREA/MAGGIO 1917/TORINO-ROMA, ROMA TORINO” for use on that experimental flight (Italy Scott C1, Figure 3).
Figure 3. Italy Scott C1, courtesy of APS StampStore.
How about flying boats? These are fixed-winged seaplanes with a hull that allows them to land on water. They usually have no type of landing gear to allow operation on land. Flying boats were used in both World Wars I and II. Between the wars, Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific airlines used them to carry mail and passengers. Few are used today. Norway Scott 104-110, issued in 1925, depict them (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Norway 109, courtesy of APS StampStore.
The world’s biggest airship, the Graf Zeppelin, was huge, just about as long as the Golden Gate Bridge is tall. In 1930, the U.S. Post Office rushed the design and printing of the three Graf Zeppelin stamps in denominations of 65¢, $1.30, and $2.60 (Figure 5), quite a sum during that Depression time. Collectors protested the cost, and many boycotted the issue. Only about one quarter were sold. Then, adding to collectors’ grief, the post office destroyed all the unsold stamps.
Figure 5. U.S. Scott C13, the 65¢ Graf Zeppelin airmail stamp.
The world’s first airport was Croydon Airport built in 1928 in England. It was the main airfield for London until it was closed down in 1959. Now it is a visitor center for aviation. Hounslow Heath Aerodrome in August 1919 was the first airport to operate scheduled international commercial aviation services. A grass airfield, it was in the London borough of Hounslow. The world’s first stamp depicting an airport (Figure 6): Chile Scott C25, issued in 1931, shows Los Cerrillos Airport in Santiago. It was closed in 2006.
Figure 6. Chile C25, courtesy of APS StampStore.
Aircraft pioneers, such as the Wright Brothers, Otto Lilienthal, Glenn Hammond Curtiss, Bessie Coleman, Wiley Post, and Amelia Earhart have all been pictured on stamps. But one of the most celebrated pioneers was not portrayed on the first stamp to honor him (Figure 7). Charles Lindbergh’s name and plane, “The Spirit of St. Louis,” were shown on U.S. Scott C10 (1927), but U.S. law prohibited depicting living persons on a stamp.
Think about it – you may collect airmails – and you also collect topicals! Who knew?
Figure 7. U.S. Scott C10.
Jack Denys was president of the ATA from 2008-2016, winner of the ATA Grand Award, and is a prolific philatelic writer. He recently resurrected the ATA’s Albrecht Durer Unit and has received the ATA Distinguished Topical Philatelist and the APS Nicholas G. Carter Volunteer Service Award. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
About the ATA
The American Topical Association (ATA) promotes topical stamp collecting and the educational and recreational aspects of the hobby by encouraging the collection, research and study of topical stamps and their subjects; providing for the exchange of ideas worldwide; developing and publishing books, checklists and audio-visual programs; holding or participating in philatelic exhibitions; and assisting members to acquire stamps and dispose of collections. ATA is an APS affiliate.