Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

BC Airways semi-official stamp & Canada’s first passenger plane crash

Buckle up stamp fans, time for another foray into my favourite area - Canadian history and airmail.

If you are an airmail collector, you should look at Canada’s fascinating semi-official airmail history. Semi-officials were a branch of airmail stamps, issued by individual airlines. Canada Post sanctioned the private printing, allowing airlines to collect fees for delivering mail, usually to remote bush areas like the northern mining communities. Although the stamps were supposed to be affixed to the back of a cover, they often snuck onto the front, proudly displayed beside regular postage.

It’s a rich history to explore for airmail and pioneer aviation fans alike. If you happen to be a history buff, well bonus all around! A couple of sources will help you explore semis – van Dam’s catalogue and website are treasure troves of information. van Dam is also one of the most reliable sources around for purchasing semi-officials.  You can pick up copies of Unity Canada and Sanabria Airmail catalogues for pricing and a bit of information about the flights. Sanabria is harder to find, but copies occasionally pop up on eBay. But the best book is The Pioneer and Semi-Official Air Stamps of Canada 1918-1934 by Longworth-Dames. Semi-officials are ignored by Scotts and Gibbons general catalogues, though they might be in one of their speciality catalogues. If you are serious about semi-officials, you need van Dam and Longworth-Dames, although I do wish van Dam sorted their dreadfully dated website out. I bang my head on the keyboard everytime I use it.

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A little philately, climbing in Nepal & a trip down memory lane

Support the climb in Nepal 1981


Over Christmas I was rooting around my book shelf, debating whether to get rid of some old text books I’ve had hanging around since my Queen’s university days. I was thumbing through one and found something I had tucked inside way back in ’81:

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North Borneo State – where I torture a bit of history & show a few stamps

 Ready for a history lesson? Buckle up, this one gets confusing at times.

Some of the world’s beautiful stamps came from the State of North Borneo. The little parcel of land (abt 31,106 North Borneo Map 1888 The Map House, London Public Domainsq.m) was given as a gift, leased, abandoned, flipped, invaded and conquered at a dizzying rate in the span of about 200 odd years. It belonged to the Sultan of Brunei, but was leased to Great Britain as a reward for aiding the Sultan in a civil war. For a few years, the British tried to settle the land, built a port, imported labour etc. By 1805 it was viewed as a white elephant - too expensive to administer and too difficult to fend off the numerous pirate attacks so the British abandoned the lease and left. 60 years later, the Americans took out a lease on the land but quickly sold the lease off. Post-Civil War United States had no appetite for Asian territories and auctioned off the lease to the American Trading Company of Borneo.

Their effort was equally short lived. Disease, expenses, deaths and difficulty keeping labour on the land forced the company to abandon the territory within a year. They hung onto the lease for 10 years and flipped it to Consul of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Hong Kong, Baron Gustav von Overbeck who then negotiated a new 10 year lease with the Sultan of Brunei. Despite his best efforts, von Overbeck couldn’t interest the Austro-Hungarian government in investing time, men and money on the land. He was saddled with a costly lease no one wanted. Overbeck tried to sell the lease off to the Italians as an Italian version of Devil’s Island, but the Italian government didn’t see a need for a penal colony so far afield.

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Rocket mail – the attempt to ship postage via an explosive packed tube with mixed results

Rocket mail

Over the years, attempts at using new technology to deliver messages has been tried. There’s nothing new about co-opting technology to improve the speed and efficiency of communications. Mail is no different. Everything from pigeon post, pneumatic tubes, rockets and cats have been tried.

Interesting early attempts at rocket mail were conducted by Germans Reinhold Tilingand Gerhard Zucker in the late 1920s and early 30s, with mixed success. There’s something awe inspiring about the thought of tucking thousands of letter into a missile packed with explosives and booming them across the air. Tiling had some success, but died in ’33 after an explosion in his lab, leaving Zucker as the pre-eminant European engineer advocating the use of rocket.

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And here I sit with my stamps in a complete muddle, and nobody has bothered to tell me what it's all about."
"Listen now, Hemul," said Snufkin slowly and clearly. "It's about a comet that is going to collide with the earth tomorrow."
"Collide?" said the Hemulen. "Has that anything to do with stamp-collecting?”

- Tove Jansson, Comet in Moominland   

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