Looking at an early mail postal scam

Looking at an early mail postal scam

I stumbled across an interesting early mail scam while reading through supplements to the Canada Post Guide. I came across a reference to a scam that seemed to plague the postal system to such an extent, the Postmaster felt obliged to issue a directive:

July 1913
INFORMATION FOR POSTMASTERS.
(15) Circulars regarding Fortune-telling business – 

Circulars posted by Clay Burton Vance, Palais Royal, Paris, France, offering to sell horoscopes for $3, have been observed in the mails, and postmasters are instructed to look out for such circulars, which are posted in Paris in square neutral tinted envelopes, and treat them in the same manner as circulars relating to illegal lotteries. Letters are not to be forwarded to the address of Clay Burton Vance, and money orders are not to be made payable to him.

Monthly supplements to the Canada Postal Guide 1912 to 1916 (pdf format) – Library and Archives Canada

That’s pretty darned specific. I started to wonder who Clay Burton Vance of Paris, France was and what did he do to warrant being singled out by the Canadian Postal authorities.  After digging around a bit I got a pretty clear picture of Mr Vance – he was a scammer of international infamy in a pre-mass communication age.  He used the post office to bilk the unwary for years.

Vance ran his postal scam in the first part of the 20th century and likely raked in a tidy fortune.  I found hundreds of ads that ran year after year,  in papers all around the world. For a mere $3, he would create a personalized horoscope for you, among other services. He drew in his marks with the same ad, promising a free reading and from there, it snowballed into serious money. 

The Australians are not amused by the mail scam

Scan of a large ad that ran in an Australian newspaper, the Bombala Times,  in 1912 - early mail scam

1912 Australian paper Bombala Times showing same ad that ran worldwide for about 6 years – click on image for a full size image – “Advertising” The Bombala Times (NSW : 1912 – 1938) 6 September 1912: 1. Web. 8 Oct 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134590305>.

He ran his scams from least from 1911 to 1916, possibly later. How pernicious was Mr. Vance? Prohibitions popped up in other mail services, instructing post masters to return all mail to/from him. 

Scan of instructions to Post Masters in Australia 1912 to deny deliver of mail to Burton- early mail scam

Australian prohibition from 1912

Who was Clay Burton Vance? That’s a good question.  Was he English, French, maybe American? No idea. He left a big footprint, but few clear details.  He was a scammer who would make Nigerian princes envious.  Australian papers began writing articles about his fraud. I loved the big headline screaming out “A Parisian Imposter”. 

Scan of newspaper article titled Parisian Imposter - early mail scam

Parisian Imposter Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 6 October 1912, page 1 – click to see large version

The  scam will be familiar to anyone who’s clicked a link promising something for free only to be hit with a pay wall. Vance did the snail mail version of this. He would offer a free reading or handwriting analysis and, in a classic bait and switch, send off an order form instead of the promised reading.

“…send me a sample of your handwriting. I’ll send you a list of your characteristics”. I sent Clay Burton Vance a sample of my writing, and, I think, six penny or half penny stamps. In due course I received a letter (or printed circular as I would call it) marked ‘A’ and order blank, also copies of testimonials”. Parisian Imposter Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 6 October 1912, page 1

A year later the Sunday Times ran another article titled Two of a Kind focusing on another scammer who they suspected worked with Vance, (or may have been Vance in my opinion). 

Scan of newspaper article 1913 accusing Vance of being a partner with another grifter - early mail scam

Two of a kind Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 27 April 1913, page 7 Click link for larger version

How bad does a scammer have to be to warrant a specific mention in Postmaster instructions? Pretty damned bad. The $3 per horoscope would be equivalent of asking for 3 weeks pay. In 1911 the average pay, in Canada, for a labourer was between $1 to $1.50 a week. A skilled job, like civil engineer pulled in $2.55 weekly. (University of BC).  

US Assistant Attorney General isn’t amused by the mail scam either

This was serious business. The US Assistant Attorney General filed a suit against Vance in Jan 1916 in an attempt to halt his abuse of the postal system. They went further and forbade post offices around the country from drawing up any money orders to Clay Burton Vance. 

you are hereby directed to inform the remitter of any such postal money order that payment thereof has been forbidden, and that the amount thereof will be returned upon the presentation of the original order or a duplicate thereof applied for and obtained under the regulations of the Department  – Post Office Department, Washington Order No. 9420 Jan 29 1916  Case No. 32436-S

US authorities went further in their wrath. They ordered all mail sent to Vance was to be stamped “FRAUDULENT: mail to this address returned by order of the Postmaster General” and returned to sender.  It would be interesting to know if any such covers still exist. 

… send your full name, address, the date, month and year of birth (all clearly written ), State whether Mr., Mrs. or Miss, from ad copy in numerous magazines … Correspondence received from Vance 

The initial offer was “free”. But as with Australia and Canada, the curious person was soon hit with a fee for the “complete life reading”. What was sent was a vague, nondescript reading:

Scan of US Post Office Department's complaint about Vance

This limited examination of your horoscope has indeed been interesting to me and I much regret my inability into go more fully into your indications. From US Post Office official complaint 1916

Vance would then go on to demand money for the full reading with promises of significant details about the person’s future. 

Another scan from the US post office's official complaint against vance's snail mail scam

I can assure you that your Complete Life Reading w ill contain information which you would highly prize and I trust you will post your order immediately. From US Post Office official complaint 1916

The post office goes on to explain how the con works: “… [what]Vance does is to send to the remitter one of the forms already made up and printed, according to the sign of the Zodiac under which he alleges the purchaser was born” ( From US Post Office official complaint 1916). In other words, Vance had pre-packaged horoscopes or handwriting analysis that he sent off. 

The first request for payment was $3. If the person did not respond, Vance would continue to send requests, slowly dropping the fee to .50c. It’s unclear how many fell for this, but judging from the international response, I’d say Clay Burton Vance was a pretty successful conman. 

C. B. Vance of The Hague, Holland incurs the wrath of the US Postal Office 

In May of the same year, the Post Office extended the ban to include C. B. Vance No 5 Groenedelstraat, The Hague, Holland for the same mail fraud offences. Looks like things got to hot for Clay Burton Vance of Paris and he set up shop as C.B. Vance of The Hague. I’m sure if a diligent search was made of various archives, this name and address will pop up on fraud lists as well. 

I was a bit amused to find Vance also published a book, in Portuguese, Oraculo – A Leitura da Vossa Vida – Revela o Seu Futuro which translates roughly to Oraculo-The reading of your life-reveals your future. It was printed by Livraria Civilização Porto, Portugal. 

Cover of book Oraculo

Best copy of book cover I could find – courtesy Good Reads

It’s the same photo that shows up in the ads. Makes me wonder if he was Portuguese. It’s highly unlikely he was using his real name. I don’t know if he sold any books, but I’m sure he found willing marks. 

A Sampling of Where the Ad Appeared

Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday, October 13, 1912, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States Of America
Salt Lake Tribune Sunday, February 23, 1913, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, October 5, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Sydney Sun Sunday, July 21, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate Saturday, April 20, 1912, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Newark Advocate Saturday, May 30, 1914, Newark, Ohio, United States Of America
Broken Hill Barrier Miner Saturday, January 27, 1912, Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia.
Sydney Sun Sunday, July 21, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
San Antonio Light Sunday, January 5, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Sydney Sunday Times Sunday, October 6, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Helena Independent Record Monday, May 11, 1914, Helena, Montana, United States Of America
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Sunday, December 8, 1912, Fort Wayne, Indiana, United States Of America
Bluefield Daily Telegraph Sunday, May 17, 1914, Bluefield, West Virginia, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, December 1, 1912, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Lowell Sun Saturday, June 1, 1912, Lowell, Massachusetts, United States Of America
Middletown Daily Argus Saturday, June 20, 1914, Middletown, New York, United States Of America
Cleveland Gazette Saturday, April 26, 1913, Cleveland, Ohio, United States Of America
Ardmore Daily Ardmoreite Sunday, May 31, 1914, Ardmore, Oklahoma, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, October 19, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Salt Lake City Herald Sunday, March 16, 1913, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Of America
Kingston Daily Gleaner Friday, April 3, 1914, Kingston, Kingston, Jamaica
Melbourne Punch Thursday, October 10, 1912, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
London Standard Tuesday, June 18, 1912, London, Middlesex, United Kingdom
Enderby Press and Walkers Weekly Thursday, December 21, 1911, Enderby, British Columbia, Canada
Cumberland Islander Saturday, November 18, 1911, Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada

I gave up after 200 ads and didn’t even get around to non-English speaking papers, but I’m sure he hit them as well. So, who knew – spam predates spam! Mail fraud is as old as the postal system. Modern day email scammers have simply picked up were the snail mail cheats left off. 

NOTE: I forgot to bookmark the location of the US Post Office Department’s pdf file on Clay Burton Vance. If you are interested in reading the entire Assist Attorney General file (about 11 pages) leave me a note and I’ll send you a copy. I downloaded the pdf and forgot to save the page location. 

Suzor-Cote #492i line from knee error

Suzor-Cote #492i line from knee error

Sometimes you can look at a stamp over and over and not spot an error. This happened on the weekend when I posted a set of plate blocks on the Facebook group Stamp Collecting. I’ve owned a full set of Suzor-Cote’s “Return the Harvest” (1969) for at least 10 years now and love looking at them. Imagine my delight when someone pointed out I owned the line from knee error (thanks Michael!). Gobsmacked would be a better description.    

Canadian Stamp #492i – Return from the Harvest Field

Scan of Suzor-Cote plate block #492i showing line from knee error

Return from the Harvest Field LL plate block 492i

I dug out both the plate & the scan and peered closely and thought “son of a …” #492i – line from knee variety (pos.41). “How could I miss it after all these years?”

Close up of the line from knee error on the Suzor-Cote #492 stamp

Up close look at the line from knee error

Just goes to show, there’s always something new to find in your own collection. I missed it for so many years because I assumed there were no errors. The stamp auction house I purchased them from never spotted the error either and sold the 4 plates as a full set, no errors. Bonus!

Read more about Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté at the Canadian Encyclopedia  

Canada’s last airmail stamp – Canada Geese in Flight

Canada’s last airmail stamp – Canada Geese in Flight

I have a classic airmail for you. Canada’s last airmail stamp, issued 73 years ago on Sept 16, 1946.

Canadian airmail stamp showing a Canada goose flying over a lack

Sept 16, 1946 Scotts C9, Sanabria (for those lucky enough to have one) 18, SG 407

It was part of the post WW2 issues highlighting various peacetime scenes from around Canada. The set (all released Sept 16) included:

  • 8c Farm Scene of Eastern Canada
  • 10c Great Bear Lake in NWT
  • 14c Quebec Hydro-Electric Station
  • 20c Tractor Drawn Thresher
  • 50c Loggin in BC
  • $1 PEI Train Ferry
  • 7c Canada Geese near Sudbury, On (airmail)

Herman Herbert Schwartz (1885-1962)

The set was designed by artist Herman Herbert Schwartz (1885-1962), the same man who designed one of Canada’s great classic stamps, the 1929 Bluenose. He was one of the first Canadian artists hired by Canada to design stamps. Prior to 1920, American artists were generally used. Schwartz was also responsible for the design of all Canada’s airmail stamps. I tried to find information on him but came up embarrassingly short on details. One sparse entry popped up in Archives Canada:

Herman Herbert Schwartz (1885-1962)
Herman Schwartz, who was of Dutch origin, showed little interest in the family spice business founded by his grandfather in Halifax in 1841, W.H. Schwartz & Sons. He was more interested in art and, in August 1909, he was hired as an apprentice by the American Bank Note Company of Ottawa. 

He is credited with the design of many Canadian stamps issued between 1927 and 1954. The most famous work of this Nova Scotian artist continues to be the Bluenose issued in 1929. As well, he designed all the cachets used for the first postal flights made between 1929 and 1941. He also designed foreign postage stamps and Canadian bank notes.1

I found one photo of Schwartz in the Canadian archives.

Photo of artist and designer Herman Herbert Schwartz examining proofs

Herman Herbert Schwartz using magnifying glass to inspect stamp material 1942
National Postal Museum (Canada) philatelic collections
http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.redirect?app=fonandcol&id=2267035&lang=eng2

And that’s about all I was able to source. For someone who played such an important part in Canadian postal history, it’s shocking to find so little about him.

Canada airmail C9 goose in flight 

The Canada goose airmail was the last airmail stamp issued by Canada. Cancel collectors will be richly rewarded in their search with hundreds of different ones used over the years. I have about 40 so far but am always on the look out for new city or slogan cancels. I find the used stamps far more interesting than the mint. 

2 Canada goose airmail stamps with cancels

Two used C9 stamps from my collection

Covers with interesting cachets are also another fun area to collect. I was a bit surprised to realise I have many C1s and 2s but only 1 decent C9 in my collection. No idea how I slipped up so badly. This is a nice cover, but i dislike the boring wavy line cancel across the stamp. Give me a good slogan cancel anytime. 

A cover from 1950 with a Canada goose airmail and a cachet stamp "First official airmail JETLINER Toronto to NY"

First Official Airmail – Jetliner Toronto to New York 1950

The stamp remained in use for many years, so the chance for finding interesting cancels and markings is huge.  

Collectors have 2 plate (1& 2) to acquire, as well as OHMS and G varieties. The first airmail official stamp (Scott #CO1), overprinted “O.H.M.S.” (On His Majesty’s Service), was issued in 1949.  And last, but not least – booklet panes. 

A booklet pane of the Canada goose airmail

Full booklet pane of C9 Canada goose airmail stamps

I get a kick out of sellers who label them “rare” and “rarely seen”. I have about 50 I picked up for a song at an auction years ago. Not particularly rare but delightful to own. Alas, not one has an error despite looking over and over for any. Error collectors should be happy with C9. A couple of major re-entries in plate 2 UR blocks can be looked for.  If you have a few interesting airmails you want to swap for a pane, drop me a line in the comments below. 

I’m going to keep looking for more info on Herman Schwartz. If I dig up anything, it’ll make a great addition to this page. Happy collecting everyone – one small stamp and tons of collectible material. 

NOTES:

1 – Postal Archives @ Collections Canada https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/postal-archives/08060203_e.html and https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/postal-archives/08060203_e.html

2. Image courtesy Archives Canada,  National Postal Museum (Canada) philatelic collections
http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.redirect?app=fonandcol&id=2267035&lang=eng

Scotland’s Experimental Postage Packet

Scotland’s Experimental Postage Packet

I’ve been sorting through random boxes, clearing stuff I’ve been hanging onto for no particular reason. You know the boxes, they go from move to move, apartment to apartment because you can’t bring yourself to make a decision. Nested deep in one of the boxes was a little tin of UK stamps.  Not a clue why they were shoved into a junk box, but I’m glad I found them.  I vaguely remember getting them in an auction lot over 10 years ago.  I guess because I don’t collect modern UK stamps, I shoved them away thinking I’ll check them later.

Small tin of UK QEII stamps - Scotland Experimental Post  Production

What’s in the tin?

 Inside, I found this:

What's in the tin? UK stamps - Scotland Experimental Post  Production

Lots of loose stamps, packs and little white boxes

 

Royal Mail presentation packs, loose stamps, including quite a few Machins that I haven’t looked at and something odd:

2 ½ x 3 ¼ size cartons. Sealed with either a red or blue label - Scotland Experimental Post  Production

2 ½ x 3 ¼ size cartons. Sealed with either a red or blue label

One pack was open, so I took a closer look at it and found more Machins.

Opened Royal Mail carton showing 4 Machins - Scotland Experimental Post  Production

Opened Royal Mail carton showing 4 little Machins

That’s a lot of packaging for 4 tiny stamps. In the dim recesses of my brain, I remember looking for info when they first landed in my lap and tossed them back into the tin after coming up empty. Ten + years on, I decided to give it another kick. 

The big problem was pretty basic – I wasn’t sure what I was looking at.  I wasn’t even sure the Machin stamps belonged in the boxes or if they had been randomly thrown in.  The boxes weren’t listed in any catalogue I searched. I didn’t want to open the other boxes and assumed they were Machins as well, so I rolled through the Machin listings in various catalogues and came up empty. 

It took a lot of detective work to find anything. How do you search for this? Small condom sized boxes of Machin stamps? Or small boxes of UK stamps? Those produced frustrating results, so I went to eBay and scrolled through pages and pages and pages of UK stamps, hoping to spot one. Bingo! One popped up.  I had a name to work with – Scotland’s Experimental Vending Machine Post.

There really isn’t a lot out, even with a working title. I found a couple of sites that talked about them, but nothing substantial was offered up about the who, what and when. I trolled through the UK archives, checked the usual postal sites and information is sparse. Finally, I found a gold mine of information, courtesy one Glen H. Morgan and the Stamp Printer’s website. [http://www.stampprinters.info/Cartons.pdf]   And it’s a quirky little story.

Scotland Experimental Post 1977-1978 Production

Between 1977 and 1978, 6 cartons were designed, holding between 4 to 8 stamps per pack. They were manually filled and put together by a local post office authority.  This was an unsanctioned act by the Edinburgh depot, leaving the postal authorities a little unimpressed with the initial experiment

‘I am concerned (as I know that you are) that we did not know that this work [making-up the cartons] was being undertaken by your depot in Edinburgh. I would be grateful if you could make it clear to the officer in charge that P&SD should deal with postal regions through PHQ on all matters of policy and not take instructions directly.’ Mr. Hutton, the Manager of the Supplies Depot at Hemel Hempstead
http://www.stampprinters.info/Cartons.pdf

The first vending machines went into business March 7, 1977, in Dundee, Scotland. Followed by Aberdeen and Paisley on Mar 9, Kilmarnock the next day and Edinburgh a month later, on April 15.  Initially 2 books were put together and sold via vending machines. The first two used the Scottish Regional stamps. When rates changed, 4 more books were created, using regular Machins. 

Denominations:

First issue:

30p – Red Print – 2 x 6 ½ p and 2 x 8 ½ p Scottish Regional stamps

60p – Blue Print – 4 x 6 ½ p and 4 x 8 ½ p Scottish Regional stamps

Second issue when price increases took place in June 1977:

30p – Red Print – 3 x 7p (with 2 phosphor bands) and 1 x 9p Machin stamps

30p – Red Print – 3 x 7p (1 phosphor band) and 1 x 9p Machin stamps

60p – Blue Print – 6 x 7p (with 2 phosphor bands) and 2 x 9p Machin stamps

60p – Blue Print – 6 x 7p (1 phosphor band) and 2 x 9p 

The project was shelved in 1978. Costs coupled with a pragmatic look at the bulkiness of the little cartons doomed them:

‘A variable denomination machine which sold counter-sized books containing stamps made from sheet cylinders would be the ideal from our (PMK3) point of view. I am sure the public would also prefer it as books go into wallets and handbags more easily than boxes, and also take-up more room in vending machines and so reduce the capacity and increase the empty time.’
http://www.stampprinters.info/Cartons.pdf 

Over production of existing stitched booklets and comparative high costs for the little cartons kill off the idea. UK post printed 70 million stitched booklets yearly but sold only 46 million, leaving a substantial surplus of stamps. Creating a more expensive type of book/package would not help the oversupply situation.  

“The cost of cartons versus the cost of stamp booklets was revealed in a letter from Mr. Hutton to Mr. Burn. Counter books of ten stamps apparently cost around £7.93 per thousand booklets, while the smaller SVM booklets of six stamps came in at around £8.67 per thousand. The proposed Scottish cartons would be £140 per thousand due to the making-up by hand and, although this would reduce if packed by machine, the capital costs of the new equipment to undertake this task would be considerable. Mr Hutton further wrote: ‘It seems crystal clear, therefore, that, having already acquired the Libra machines, there is no case financially for the introduction of the proposed vending machines on a large scale”  Glen H. Morgan 
http://www.stampprinters.info/Cartons.pdf

When the trial completed, the remaining cartons were bundled into lots and sold off. In a couple of searches online, I found individual cartons sold for anywhere from $5 (Cdn) to $12 (Cdn), depending on the seller. I’m not sure how many cartons still exist but they seem to be a bit rare. It might be that most people gave up looking for info on them, like I did initially, and tossed them into a bin of unwanted stamps.  

A few websites I found thought the vending machines were old re-purposed condom machines. Although not true, it’s not a hard stretch to see the rational, when you look at the size and shape of the boxes. I thought the same when I first looked at them. I also thought it was a collector’s method of storing Machins. According to Glen H Morgan (http://www.stampprinters.info/Cartons.pdf) this is an apocryphal twist on the story. As fun as the idea is, the machines were Vendador cigarette machines, www.autonumis.co.uk which were already setup to accept 50p and 10p coins.

I’m resisting the urge to open the packs to see if one of them has the rare questionnaire that was slipped inside some. Not all had them and, quite frankly, my curiosity is killing me. But, I’ll be a good collector and leave them unopened.

Read more here on Scotland Experimental Post 1977-1978 Production:

Stamp Printers has a top-notch article on their site that dives deep into the experiment.  Scottish Experimental Cartons, by Glen H. Morgan Cross Post Magazine, Autumn 2009 http://www.stampprinters.info/Cartons.pdf

I relied heavily on the article for details about the Scottish Experiment. Mr Morgan’s article has a lot more information if you are interested in finer details about the experiment and the discussions behind the scene regarding it. 

Latest Canadian stamps – celebrating Canadians in Flight

Latest Canadian stamps – celebrating Canadians in Flight

Canada Post’s latest release, Canadians in Flight honours 5 significant Canadians and Canadian creations. This has to be my favourite subjects – Canadian history & pioneer flight.  There are 5 stamps, a booklet, souvenir sheet and 5 covers to in the set.

Close up of 5 stamps from Canadians in Flight

Stamps from the Canadians in Flight booklet

Starting at the top left and working across:

Elsie MacGill – The Queen of the Hurricanes 

Elsie MacGill, the underappreciated hero of aeronautical engineering, feminist and all around amazing Canadian. She was a woman of many firsts – 1st female graduate of electrical engineering at U of T, 1st woman to earn a Master’s in aeronautical engineering, 1st female practicing engineering in Canada, when recovering from polio MacGill designed airplanes and wrote articles about aviation, rode along with test pilots to observe her designs in flight, chief aeronautical engineer at Canadian Car & Foundry, headed the Canadian production of the Hawker Hurricane fighter planes in WW2, feminist activist, commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and tireless advocate for women’s rights1.

How bad ass was Elsie MacGill? She had a comic book written about her in 1942 called Queen of the Hurricanes – Elsie MacGill. MacGill was the Queen of Badass Women. Not enough Canadians are taught about her contributions to engineering, aviation and feminism so this is a long overdue tribute to a great Canadian.

Page from 1942 comic - Elsie McGill, Queen of the Hurricanes Image courtesy Roberta Bondar Foundation

1942 comic – Elsie MacGill, Queen of the Hurricanes

William George Barker, VC

Next is William George Barker, VC, enlisted as a private in the Canadian army, ended his career as a Wing Commander in the new RCAF. The lad from Dauphin, Manitoba who went on to be a WW1 Royal Flying Corp and RCAF pilot, businessman and the most decorated serviceman in Canadian history. Barker was one of those legendary fighter pilots that emerged from WW1, a small town prairie boy who became larger than life because of a war they were tossed into. Here’s an excerpt from the Barker’s official military records2:

William George Barker's service record note about his Victoria Cross win

William George Barker’s service record note about his Victoria Cross win

William George Barker's service record note about his Victoria Cross win

Second page from William George Barker’s service record note about his Victoria Cross win

Photo of memorial to William Barker at Mount Pleasant Cemetery Toronto. SHows two memorial plaques and a propellor

Memorial to William Barker at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto

Bush Pilot Punch Dickins

C. H. Punch Dickins, another flier from the prairies, was one of Canada’s great bush pilots. After WW1 ended, many pilots bought decommissioned biplanes and headed north to carry freight, mail and passengers to remote towns and mining camps that dotted the Canadian north3.

In Canada, the word “bush” has been used since the 19th century to describe the hostile environment beyond the clearings and settlements. In bush flying it has been used to refer to flying in adverse, if not hostile, conditions in the remote expanses beyond the ribbon of settlement in southern Canada, into the “bush” of the Canadian Shield and the barren Arctic. By the end of WWI most of southern Canada had been linked by railways, but the North remained as inaccessible as ever by land. Its innumerable lakes and rivers did, however, provide alighting areas for water-based aircraft in summer and ski-equipped aircraft in winter.  Bush Flying | The Canadian Encyclopedia 

Punch Dickins  cut his teeth fighting on the Western Front, serving in the RFC and later RCAF.  After the war, he flew to remote locations surveying over 10,000 miles of northern Canada for Western Canadian Airlines. 

Scan of a Western Canadian Airways airmail stamp

Western Canadian Airways Semi-official stamp

Western Canadian was one of the companies allowed to print stamps and collect money for the delivery of mail to remote locations. Punch delivered the first mail to the NWTs for WCA.  By the end of his career, Dickins flew over 1.6 million miles across the northern Canada. 

Avro Arrow

On the second row is the Avro Arrow, continuing Canada’s fascination with the best aircraft that never got a chance. A Canadian designed fighter craft capable of flying 2x the speed of sound, but buried and sunk in Lake Ontario for political reasons. The cancellation of the Avro is still considered a national scandal 60 years later and hotly argued about. 

Ultraflight Lazair 

And finishing out this set is the nibble twin engine Ultraflight Lazair, a Canadian designed ultralight craft that still buzzes around the skies5.  Between 1979 and 84, over 2000 were built and sold for under $5000 US. It is considered one of the most successful aircrafts sold in Canada. 

This is an OUTSTANDING set. I rushed out and bought the booklet and souvenir sheet the morning they were released.The covers were missing in action everywhere I looked. so it looks like they’ll have to be ordered from the Canada Post website. The booklet of 10 stamps costs $9.50 CDN as does the set of 5 covers.  The souvenir sheet of 5 stamps costs $4.50. 

Hats off to designer Ivan Novotny6 of Taylor | Sprules Corporation for this beautiful set. 

Scan of new Canadian stamps showing Elsie McGill, William George Barker VC, Ultralight craft, Avro Arrow and Punch Dickens

Canadians in Flight 2019 spring Canadian stamp release booklet

Canadians in Flight booklet back cover

Canadians in Flight booklet backside

Canadians in flight souvenir sheet - front showing stamps

Canadians in Flight souvenir sheet

Notes & further reading:

1 – To learn more about Elsie MacGill start with the Canadian Encyclopedia entry 
Vintage Wings – The Queen of the Hurricanes includes photos of airplanes MacGill designed 
Pick up the book Queen of the Hurricanes by Crystal Sissons, published 2014 by Second Story Press.  ISBN: 9781927583531 for paperback and 9781927583579 for hardbound editions. Or check your local library
Comic image courtesy Roberta Bondar Foundation 

2 –  Read more about William George Barker at the Canadian Encyclopedia 
There are many books written about Barker, one of the best is William Barker VC – The Life, Death & Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero by Ralph Wayne 2007. Published by Wiley Press ISBN 9780470839676 
Archives Canada has digitized his WW1 service records and you can download and read them here: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/100-stories/Pages/barker.aspx  
The Aerodrome’s page on Barker will give you a thumbnail view. 
Today in Ottawa’s History – The tragic death of Lieutenant Colonel William Barker VC 
Canadian Biography 

3 – Learn more about Canada’s bush pilots at the Canadian Encyclopedia 
Historic Wings entry on Punch Dickins 
There are a number of websites devoted to the bush pilots and the planes they flew including Bush Plane 
And of course don’t forget Canadian Encyclopedia’s entry on Dickins

4 – Avro Arrow’s development and short life is well documented. I’d start with Canadian Encyclopedia’s brief history
CBC’s Avro Arrow – Canada’s greatest plane that never was is a fascinating read
After years of speculation and searching, the Avro model was located in 2017 at the bottom of Lake Ontario. This story is behind a paywall, but the first couple of articles are free  
CTV has an interesting article on the mystery surrounding the destruction of the Avro

5 – A little bit of information can be found at the Lazair website and the Wikipedia page

6 – Interview with Ivan Novotny http://www.tsworld.com/content_interviews/novotny/novotny.ph

Moon mail – celebrating the anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing

Moon mail – celebrating the anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing

It’s been 50 years since the Apollo Moon landing, and this little stamp captured the world’s excited glimpse of humans stepping out beyond earth. I remember watching this on a black and white tv. As a child, I had the barest awareness that I was watching an important moment in history. 

The first stamp commemorating the 1969 Apollo moon landing, showing astronaut stepping onto the moon

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – 1969 commemorative stamp for Apollo Moon landing

To celebrate this event, USPS issued an airmail stamp (Scotts #C76) in Sept 1969, 2 months after this watershed event. This artistic rendering of the first footstep on the moon is immediately recognisable to everyone.

While that stamp didn’t go to the moon, Apollo 11 did carry something that should pique the interest of any airmail fans  – the first extraterrestrial airmail. The “Flown Apollo 11 covers” are genuine postal covers, complete with stamps, cancels, interesting cachets and serial numbers to identify each. 

The 214 covers bore one of 2 different stamps – Scott 1371, the Apollo 8 issue celebrating the first manned flight around the moon or Scott 1338, US flag over the White House – and autographed by the 3 astronauts. The ultimate airmail collectable. Unlike the Apollo 15 unauthorized covers (I’ll write on that at a later date), NASA did know about these and okayed their trip.

Photo of a postal cover carried on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew

Flown to the Moon postal cover

Three different cachets were used, the one above, Project Apollo 11 displaying the 3 astronaut profiles and the Apollo 11 mission seal. 

Each has a stamp that reads “Delayed in Quarantine at Lunar receiving laboratory M.S.C. Houston, Texas”. Like everything else aboard Apollo 11, quarantine was mandatory. The covers have a Webster, Texas Aug 11, 1969 cancel. 

The Moon covers also bear a handwritten inscription “Carried to the Moon aboard Apollo 11”. Covers pop up for auction occasionally, but is unusual to see them. According to the website Space Flown Artifacts, Neil Armstrong took 47, Buzz Aldrin 104 and Collins 63. Each used numbering their covers to identify the owner:  N = Neil Armstrong, C = Michael Collins and EEA and A = Buzz Aldrin.

A second set of autographed covers remained on earth, with family members, in case of catastrophic mission failure. These are referred to as “Insurance covers”.

“These covers were currency to our families in the event that we did not return.” Michael Collins r/f Space Flown Artifacts  

Undoubtedly these covers would have been worth a fortune had the unthinkable happened. It’s unknown how many exist, but it’s estimated around 1000 were left with the 3 families.  There are a couple of differences between the Moon covers and the insurance covers, including no quarantine markings, no “carried to the moon” hand inscription  and a different location for the signatures. 

Space Flown Artifacts tracks auctioned covers and their prices. The earliest known auction was 1991 and the cover fetched $13,750. The most expensive cover, to date, sold in Nov 2018 for $156,250. This one was a rare one – it came from the Armstrong Family Collection and had the number N-28. Armstrong held onto all the covers during his life and they never came up for sale or auction until his death. To date, 2 Armstrong covers have been sold – N-28 and N-18. 14 Collins and about 30 Aldrin covers have been put up for auction, with not all selling. If you are a big fan of the Apollo missions, check out Space Flown for updates on the status of covers. 

Now that the 50th anniversary has rolled around it’ll be interesting to see what stamps are issued to commemorate the Apollo 11 mission.

Here’s one last image to wind up the article. In 2010, NASA sent up the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which captured stunning images of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. You can even see the footpath left by astronauts along with rover tracks, untouched for decades. Something to think about over your morning coffee.  

A 2010 photo from a NASA LRO showing the Apollo 11 landing site with moon buggy tracks still visible

LRO photograph of Apollo landing site showing still visible footpaths and moon buggy tracks – NASA website

NOTES & EXTRAS
Interested in space oddities? Check out the article on NASA patent & technical drawing bonanza. I dug around NASA and Google patent pages and found a lot of great tech drawings for space suits, astronaut underwear and control panels.

I can’t encourage you enough to stop by Space Flown Artifacts – http://www.spaceflownartifacts.com/index.html  The website is a gold mine of early space flight and mission items.  
This page is dedicated to the Apollo 11 “Flown Apollo 11” covers  http://www.spaceflownartifacts.com/flown_apollo11_covers.html

Can’t get enough photos of the Moon? Check out their page on the Lunar Rec Orbiter here https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/apollo-sites.html and NASA’s extensive archives here https://history.nasa.gov/