Canadian stamp: First Transatlantic flight celebration 1919 issued June 13 1969
.15c Scotts #494 / SG #636 #494i (dull florescent paper)
Perf. 12 X 12.5
Designer: Robert William Bradford
Printer: British American Banknote Co.
In the early days of flight, there was a mad scramble to be the first at just about everything – first across the English Channel, fastest, highest, longest flight. You name it, pilots pushed the limits. After Bleroit's successful crossing of the English Channel in 1909, the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK offered £10,000 to the first person(s) to fly the Atlantic nonstop. That was the sticky part – it had to be non stop in under 72hrs. No serious attempt was made until after WW1 which produced big advancements in air technology making the possibility of an ocean crossing feasible.
A number of attempts were made but Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown, flying a Vickers Vimy, claimed the prize.
(Alcock and Brown are on the left and right. The archive doesn’t note who the man in the middle was.)
The Vimy was a big beast of a plane for it’s time. It was developed as a heavy bomber during the war. With a maximum speed of 160.93 km/h (100 mph), the flight took 16 hrs and 12 min, with a few heart stopping moments along the way.1
They took off June 14, 1919 from Lester’s Field, St. John’s Nfld and landed in the Derrygimla bog in Connemara, Ireland on June 15, 1919. The airplane was pulled out of the bog and is now stored at the London Science Museum in London, along with (be still my beating heart) my all time favourite airplane, an Antoinette Flyer.
Canada didn’t issue a stamp celebrating the flight for decades. The flight departed from the colony of Newfoundland, which wasn't part of Canada until 1949. It wasn’t until the 50th anniversary of the flight that Canada finally issued a stamp honoring the event:
I’ve never particularly liked this stamp. I know I write about loving so many stamps but this is one I’ve never been able to warm to. I love the flight, the airplane, the exhilaration of the trip, everything and feel terribly let down by this dull stamp. There’s no sense of motion or excitement. The engraving of the Vickers is nice, but the rest of the stamp sucks life out of it.
Newfoundland issued a number of stamps commemorating the flight – including a number in 1919, although these are strictly overprints. Their spectacular 1928 dark blue .15c issue still outshines Canada’s bland little offering. If you are a first flight collector, that's the one you should look for. This one has a sense of motion and beauty so sorely lacking in the 1969 Canadian stamp:
15,170,000 copies of the 1969 #494 were printed – mint goes for $2.50, usually much less if you are at a stamp show or auction. and can be found in pretty much any sales lots. Used fetches upwards to $2 and a plate block $12.50, although, again, that’s the catalogue price and a terribly optimistic. I don’t know of any errors or flaws in this issue. The 494i on florescent paper is catalogued at $10 for a single mint and about $5 used however you'd be hardput to get that much. I generally see the mint flogged for as low as $1.50. Plate blocks seem to have kept their value, with the last block I saw sold for around $10 per block.
Not the most beautiful nor memorable stamp issued by Canada. Pretty much ranks up there as forgetable, unless you want to fill that hole in your collection.
All photos credit: Library and Archives Canada.
1. Read more on this historic flight here: Pioneer Aviation - Alcock and Brown's 1919 flight across the Atlantic