Vance Auctions never disappoints, and their two pioneer airmail offerings are no exception. The auction is going on today, Oct 15, 2020 and I’m eager to see what the closing price is.
UK Aerial Flight postcards – Pioneer airmail first
1st UK aerial post card sent 1911
Of the two, it’s the UK postcard collection I covet. I’ve only managed to get a single of this postcard and the stamp torn off. But I love it all the same. The postcard came in several colour variations, so there is a lot of material to collect. This lot is a pioneer airmail collector’s dream. It includes different cancels, stamps, cachets, a cover, and postcards.
Specialized collection (formed by Ray Ireson of Montreal) of cacheted First UK Aerial Flight postcards / covers, London to Windsor from 1911. Neatly displayed on pages / stockcards with all being diff in some way. Has the various cancel Die numbers and cachets in various colours. Most are postcards but does have 4 covers which are scarcer (one of these is addr to India with Sea Post Office b/s). One postcard is the scarcer Windsor to London flight. Also has cinderella souvenir sheet & nice write-up. Most VG-F (19)….Est 2,500.00+ – Vance Auction write up for Oct 2020 auction
They are sometimes referred to as Buckingham covers. Four flights were set to take off on Sept 9, 1911 but one pilot crashed and two remained on the ground because of windy conditions. Gustav Hamel in a Blériot XI braved the winds and took off at 4:55pm from Hendon aerodrome in London. Eighteen minutes later, he landed at Windsor along with one bag of letters, postcards, and newspapers.
Gustav Hamel, 1913
Eventually sixteen flights were conducted, carrying thirty-seven mailbags – a total of 926 lbs of mail. This pioneer airmail lot contains quite a variety and would be fun to look through.
The Jewel of Canadian pioneer airmail
The last time I saw the Canadian semi-official stamp CLP6 come up for auction was in 2013.
LONDON to LONDON AIRMAIL semi-official stamp CLP6
It is one of those true rarities of the pioneer airmail world. The London, Canada to London England stamp is legendary among Canadian airmail collectors. The estimated price is $50,000. It, of course, has a certificate of authenticity. No sane buyer would consider bidding on a London to London without one. I’ll lay odds that more fakes are out there than were originally printed.
Frustratingly, these special flights are left out of Scott’s Canadian catalogue. Grab a Unitrade catalogue and flip to the back of the book to find any semi-officials. If you have a Sanabria airmail catalogue, it’s listed as S35. According to Sanabria, one cover was removed from the flight before it took off from Harbour Grace.
CLP6, Rare unused example of the LONDON to LONDON AIRMAIL. 100 stamps were printed for the “Sir John Carling” Trans-Atlantic flight that ended in disaster, but only 13 unused stamps and 1 cover are known to exist. F-VF appearance, NG, some small flts. Has 1975 RPSL Certificate. ONE OF THE GREATEST AEROPHILATELIC RARITIES! A STAMP THAT IS MISSING IN VIRTUALLY ALL COLLECTIONS – Vance Auction write up for Oct 2020 auction
Tully and Medcalfe, 1927. Standing in front of their Stinson airplane Courtesy Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library, London, Ontario, Canada
This flight is the stuff of pioneer aviation legends. Carling Breweries in London, Ontario put up a prize of $25,00 for the first to fly non-stop London, Ontario to London UK. One refueling stop was permitted at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Pilot Terrance Tully and navigator James Medcalf took off, in a Stinson SM-1 airplane named the Sir John Carling, after the man who sponsored the competition. Tully and Medcalf were last seen September 5 when they took off from Harbour Grace and set out across the Atlantic. They were never heard from again.
Thirteen mint stamps and one known cover remained behind and have become much sought after by collectors over the decades. The 100th anniversary of this ill-fated trip is coming up, so it’ll be interesting to watch prices on this stamp over the next five to six years.
When I get the final prices, I’ll update this page
Keep a watch here.
Prices realized – updated Oct 19, 2020
Just received the results for the two auctions I was following.
The UK aerial post card lot did not go! I am so surprised. I thought it was a great asking price. According to Vance, the lot is still available for $1,800. Oh for some extra cash right now. Of the two lots, this was the one that set my heart racing. I love those postcards. Another year. Contact Vance Auctions if you’re interested in this lot. Ask for Lot 370. It’s a hell of a collection.
The London to London, with a catalogue value of $50,000, went for $18,500. There is a wildly happy airmail collector out there somewhere with a top-notch addition to their collection.
The original Alcock and Brown article was published in 2008, when I purchased the Daily Mirror newspaper on display here. After 12 years, and the 100th anniversary of the flight, it was time to overhaul the post with more scans from the paper & links to interesting pages on the historic flight. I’ve also included a new section on stamps celebrating flight.
Alcock and Brown fly into history
In 2008, I acquired a piece of pioneer aviation ephemera that is the centre piece of my modest collection – a June 16, 1919 Daily Mirror newspaper, documenting Alcock and Brown’s flight:
The Daily Mirror’s account of Alcock & Brown’s flight, full of daring and breathless coverage
101 years ago, pilot Capt. John Alcock and navigator Lt Arthur Brown flew into history with the world’s first non-stop Atlantic flight. In this age of jets, it’s difficult to imagine how awe inspiring this flight was. It was one of those great turning points in history.
Daily Mail announcement
In 1913, Daily Mail £10,000 reward for the first successful Atlantic flight
The rules were basic:
the competition was open to all nationalities
the flight had to be nonstop, any stops between continents could be made on the water only
take place between any point in Great Britain or Ireland and Canada, Newfoundland, or the US
the trip had to be under 72 hours
Entrance fee of £100 must be paid
Each entrant could only use one aircraft and it was to be marked prior to take off
WW1 halted attempts, but when the war ended, the race was on. Teams were quickly organized to compete for the prize and honour of being the first. The main contenders were:
Australian legend Harry Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve flying a Sopwith Atlantic
Frederick Raynham and C. F. W. Morgan in a Martinsyde Raymor single engine aircraft
Maj. Herbert Brackley, Adm. M. Kerr, Maj. T. Gran, F. Wyatt, H. A. Arnold & C C Clements flying a 4-engine converted Handley Page bomber
Alcock and Brown in a Vimy Vickers
Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve who came close to succeeding, crashed into the ocean around the midway point on May 19. Raynham and Morgan set off May 18 and crashed on take-off. Raynham was unhurt, but Morgan lost an eye. Their chance was over as well.
The Brackley/Kerr team flew test flights around June 10th. During the test, an engine cooling issue arose, and the team was grounded while they waited on a radiator replacement to be installed.
Alcock and Brown in front of Vickers airplane 1919 credit: Library and Archives Canada
Alcock and Brown prepare for take off
Alcock and Brown’s Vickers Vimy being prepared for flight, much to the joy of Newfoundland locals
Alcock and Brown took off from Lester’s Field, St. Johns, Newfoundland June 14. They flew for 16 hours and 12 minutes. Their successful flight ended, with a crash into a bog in Clifden, Ireland June 15.
“We’ve had a terrible voyage … the wonder is we are here at all”
Put this into perspective, this was long before radar, satellites and in this case, no ship support to pluck them out of the water. If they crashed into the ocean, chances were, they would die. Although equipped with a wireless radio, they were unable to use it when it was damaged in the takeoff. They were alone, in all senses of the word.
A modified Vickers F.B. 27 Vimy was used to fly the 3,041km (1,890 miles) route. The Vimy was originally designed as heavy bomber but repurposed for long distance and civilian flights.
“[the Vimy] was specially built for the Atlantic flight. Its engines were two 3360-h.p. Rolls-Royce Eagles VIII; additional tanks increased its fuel capacity to 865 gallons and gave the aircraft a range of 2,440 miles.” pg. 10 The Vickers F.B.27 Vimy, Profile Publications No. 5.
Vickers “Vimy” aircraft of Captain John Alcock and Lieut. A.W. Brown taking off on trans-Atlantic flight, Lester’s Field – photo courtesy Canadian Archives
“We have had a terrible time”
The flight skirted disaster from the start. Shortly after their 1:42pm take-off, the electric generator propeller broke off, depriving them of heating, the cockpit intercom system, and the wireless radio for outside communications. Brown didn’t alert Alcock to the electric failure. Had he, the pilot would have aborted the flight:
Both Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown described their journey as a very trying one – fog clouds rain and wind all the way. Their altitude varied up to 13,000 ft., and they were unable at times to know whether they were flying upside down or not.
They did not sight a ship but ascended hurriedly when on one occasion they saw the green Atlantic some thirty feet below them.
The breaking away of the generator propeller soon after the start prevented them from using their wireless.
When this happened Lieutenant Brown noticed that the propeller carried away with it one of the stay wires, but he did not tell Captain Alcock until after they landed at Clifden. Captain Alcock said, ‘I would have turned back had I know.’ – June 16, 1919 Daily Mirror
The weather cooperated around midnight, allowing Brown to plot their position with the sextant, enabling them to stay on course. At 3am, the Vimy flew into a snowstorm that caused some instruments and the engine to ice up. Brown, at one point, is said to have climbed out of the cockpit to clear the ice away.
“The wonder we are here at all. We scarcely saw the sun or the moon or the stars. For hours we saw none of them. The fog was very dense, and at times we had to descend to within 300ft of the sea.
“For four hours the machine was covered in a sheet of ice carried by frozen sleet; at another time the fog was so dense that my speed indicator did not work, and for a few seconds it was very alarming.” June 16, 1919 Daily Mirror
At times, they were unsure if they were even flying upright. Alcock was sure they had looped the loop at one point. Despite the conditions, the pair kept flying eastward until they sighted the coast of Ireland
We looped the loop, I do believe, and did a very steep spiral. We did some very comic ‘stunts’, for I have had no sense of horizon.
We drank coffee and ale and ate sandwiches and chocolate – June 16, 1919 Daily Mirror
At 9:40 am (British Summer Time), Alcock and Brown landed in Derrygilmlagh Bog, near Clifden in County Galway in Ireland, tipping the nose into the bog.
When making the landing the pylons of the centre section, as well as the main spar of the lower plane, were broken, but the steel construction of the fuselage saved the machine from further damage.
The machine will, however, have to be dismantled in consequence of this damage – June 16, 1919 Daily Mirror
Vickers Vimy, Pilots Alcock and Brown, Clifden 1919-06-15
The landing touched down on what they thought was solid ground. It wasn’t. Alcock landed in a bog, and the plane rolled forward and pitched into the soft soil.
“The machine circled over the town of Clifden, untroubled by the gusty wind prevailing, with the object apparently of seeking a safe landing place, and the roar of the engines created considerable surprise and excitement amongst the inhabitants.
Eventually, the machine turned towards the Marconi wireless station and landed on the soft ground. After running along the ground, the machine stopped and buried both propellers in the soft earth.” – June 16, 1919 Daily Mirror
Alcock and Brown were international heroes. Both were knighted within the month. Unfortunately, Alcock didn’t live long enough to enjoy his knighthood, he was killed in an air accident in Paris, Dec. 18, 1919. Brown died Oct 4, 1948.
Stamps commemorating the flight
Many stamps have been issued over the decades celebrating the Atlantic journey, including Canada’s sad little issue from June 13, 1969, the 50th anniversary of the flight.
Canadian stamp: Alcock and Brown’s transatlantic flight
I wrote about my disappointment with the design of the stamp in 2016, and my sentiments have not changed. The colours are typical of a 1960s design, but it lacks excitement and movement. I’m just not fond of most of the 60s stamp designs overall. Worse, Canada didn’t even issue a stamp for the 100th anniversary.
Newfoundland didn’t disappoint, however.
Newfoundland Covers carried on the Atlantic flights
The postmaster general for Newfoundland approved 2 stamps to be used during the Atlantic crossing attempts. If you’re looking for the stamps in a catalogue, you won’t find them listed under Canada. Newfoundland was still a separate colony and didn’t join Canada until 1949. The first two airmails C1 and C2 were regular issues overprinted with “Trans-Atlantic / AIR POST / 1919 / ONE DOLLAR.” C1 was an overprinted .03c brown caribou stamp and C2 on a .15c red seals stamp.
Newfoundland airmail C1 – the Hawker flight
Newfoundland airmail C1 First Trans- Atlantic Air Post April 1919 overprint
C1 was issued on April 12, 1919, for use by Harry Hawker. Hawker took off in May, carrying 95 covers, each with the C1 stamp. Four hours into the flight, they ran into dangerous weather and engine trouble, forcing the pilot to turn back. They didn’t make it to land and ditched into the Atlantic on May 19th. Hawker had managed to pilot the single-engine Sopwith Atlantic to the shipping lanes and was picked up by the SS Mary, a Danish ship.
For days the public thought Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve were lost at sea. The SS Mary didn’t have a wireless radio, so no one knew until they reached port that they survived.
The Sopwith didn’t sink
Newspaper illustration of Hawker’s ocean crash
Their aircraft bobbed around the ocean until it was plucked out of the water by the SS Lake Charlottesville. The aircraft made its way to England, this time as a passenger and put on display at Selfridges Department store in London. Surprisingly, the mailbag survived and was safely delivered to the postmaster in the UK.
The C1 stamp, known as the Hawker stamp, is quite a bit of money. According to the Unitrade catalogue, a single mint stamp is worth $35,000 (unhinged). However, there are likely more forged C1s floating around, than genuine issues. Stampforgeries.com has an excellent page on how to spot fakes.
Newfoundland airmail stamp C2 – Alcock & Brown flight
Scan of Newfoundland airmail stamp C2
197 covers, with the C2 overprint, were carried by the Alcock and Brown flight. This stamp was also carried by future trans-Atlantic flights. According to my venerable Sanabria Airmail Catalogue, there are variations to look for:
C2 variations from the Sanabria World Airmail Catalogue – “In each sheet of 25 stamps there will be found 17 normal surcharges, without comma after “POST”, 1 without period after “1919”.
According to the catalogue, there are 3 variations.
C2 – has both a comma after the word “POST” and a period after “1919”
C2a – no comma after the word “POST”
C2b – missing the period after the date “1919”
The 2019 Scotts catalogue values them in order:
C2 – $210 for mint and used
C2a – $230 mint and $270 used
C2b – $450 for both mint and used.
I’d be very wary of purchasing a used C2a. There will be many forged cancels bouncing around.
There are a number of videos online of Alcock and Brown shortly after their successful landing. I’ve included one for you to enjoy. It covers a bit of the history, I may have glossed over and is good fun to watch.
If you’d like to read more about the flight and the stamps, check out these resources
I rediscovered an early Austrian airmail gem while rooting through my collection, looking for something. It’s a great little cover, primarily because the cancels are pristine. Nothing says frustration like a messy, unreadable cancel. A clear cancel offers up a treasure trove of information such as when the letter was sent, where it was sent from, and in the case of early airmails the actual routes taken.
Considering this cover is 89 years old, it’s looking pretty good. The stamps are bright and crisp with a clean cancel tying them together. It’s one of those treats found in the bottom of a junk stamp box lot I purchased at an auction years ago. Someone didn’t appreciate its beauty.
First Austrian airmail route
Austria established it’s first regular airmail route during WW1 on March 31, 1918. Starting at Aspern airfield in Vienna and ending in Kiev, pilots flew Hansa-Brandenburg C.I 2-seater recon biplanes at first. It covered over 1,200 kilometres along a route that included Vienna to Krakow, Lviv, Proskurow, and Kiev at the end. This route, by-the-way, predates the US airmail permanent route by 2 months.
The Vienna to Kiev route ran until Oct 15, 1918 and ceased with the end of the war. The Saint Germain peace treaty further disrupted airmail service when it demanded the dismantling of aircraft in Austria, killing off the establishment of permanent airmail routes for a couple of years. However, in its short lifespan, the airmail route delivered a substantial amount of civilian mail:
Vienna-Krakow 6488 pieces.
Krakow-Vienna 8333 pieces.
Vienna-Lemberg (Lvov) 9428 pieces.
Lemberg (Lvov)-Vienna 11038 pieces.
Vienna-Budapest 2411 pieces.
*figures from 90 Years of Aviation in Austria
The first stamps were overprints of 1916 Coat of Arms stamps.
Flugpost overprints Austria #C1-C3
My venerable, and much loved 1944 edition of Sanabria describes them this way:
Issues of the Monarchy
Issued March 30, 1918, for air post service operated by military aviators between Vienna and Kieve (Ukraine), via Cracow and Lemberg. First Flight took place on March 31, the service being discontinued on October 15. Printed by State Printing Office, Vienna. Original printings were on grayish-white paper (25 x 30 mm), a second printing on yellowish tinted paper (26 x 29 mm) was issued on June 24, 1918. Imperforate stamps were specially prepared for members of the Imperial Court, and not for public distribution. p. 53 Sanabria’s Air Post Catalogue, Worldwide, 1944
I don’t have any of the first Austrian airmails in my collection. But I do have a few later stamps and covers. The one at the top of the page is a bit of a favourite. It’s one of those finds you don’t expect in a box of common (and often battered) stamps. Pulling it out was a bit like opening up a Cracker Jack box and finding a genuine metal whistle rather than a plastic one that thwips instead of tweets.
While poking around the Austrian archives, I found an interesting photo dating to the 1918 flights.
Title: From the newly opened Vienna-Budapest air mail. Empress and Queen Zita greets the pilot of a mail plane upon arrival in Vienna. Courtesy Austrian Archives.
There is no date on the photo, and the archive information was sparse. But it’s a fabulous peak into early airmail history.
The 1931 Vienna cancel is worth looking at closely.
Aug 31, 1931 post mark
One thing I’ve noted in early airmails, the cancels often seemed to be applied with great care. Even if the date was badly smudged, the modest little monoplane shows it’s later than 1918.
The Austrian airmail stamps C16 and C20 issued 1926.
C16 and C20 – 1926 Austrian airmail
The two airmail stamps (C16 and C20) are clean, with a well-placed cancel. This cancel isn’t the same as the big bold Erstflug cancel at the top of the cover but does add nicely to the overall appeal.
Apologies for only referencing Scotts stamp numbers. I don’t have easy access to specialty catalogues like Michel. If you have Michel numbers handy, feel free to post them in comments or over on my Facebook page.
Sanabria – you can occasionally find them second hand at book fairs or online. They are a great resource for tracking down information on the earliest flights. The one I used in this article was Sanabria’s Air Post Catalogue – 1940 Tenth Edition, Nicolas Sanabria & Harry M. Konwiser. Published by Nicolas Sanabria, Inc., N.Y. Check out ABE books if you’re interested in acquiring one.
Well, this was fascinating. I kept an eye on the Maresch & Son auction from earlier this week. I suggested in my post from the 21, the stamps might go for significantly less than the estimate and I was correct. Mind you, it didn’t take a clairvoyant to figure out the prices would be lower. With the current economic crash and pandemic fears, people are being extremely cautious. I was surprised at how low some went for. Makes me wish I had been in a position to bid on them.
The collection of early Canadian airmail proof cachets sold for less than half the estimated $1000 value. Someone snagged them for $425 (cdn). This could be a great centre-piece for pioneer airmail collectors. I have about 20 different cachet covers and love looking at them.
Lot 624a, full sheet of Patricia Airways
Valued at $480 sold for a mere $177 (cdn). Oh what a bargain. This one made my heart skip a bit. I own just one Patricia and coveted this full sheet. Ah the sins of stamp collecting.
Lot 627 – Special Delivery block, sold for $307 (cdn)
The estimate was @ $1500.
And finally lot 708a – early Nova Scotia
It was a big surprise and I’m sure collector of Nova Scotia stamps received a hell of a shock when their $325 (cdn) bid won a lot estimated at $2200.
Not all lots sold for far below the estimates. A few even exceeded the predicted price. But that’s the way auctions go. Some days bargains are to be had and other days, bidders war breaks out. The pandemic certainly had an impact. I’ll be watching a couple of upcoming auctions to see if this was a one off or not.
The pandemic has many of the 2020 spring stamp auctions on hold. The few slated will be online only and no floor bidding. My favourite Canadian auction houses – Sparks, Vance and Talman’s have postponed everything right through May, although they still have single sales available.
I confess, I can’t wait to see Sparks offerings. Their #33 auction is going to have some delicious Indian airmails from Leon Victor Pont collection. Pont was a friend of Stephen Smith, the man who pioneered Indian rocket mail. Some of the items will include correspondence with Smith along with signed stamps and other items. I call sales like this “dream auctions” because most items tend to be on the high end. I enjoy flitting through the catalogues creating wish lists. Half the fun of collecting is window shopping.
Canadian Stamp Auctions
There is no word on any auction from Talman Stamps here in Toronto. They tend to spring the auctions on us when they have enough stock ready. I imagine we won’t see anything until late summer or possibly fall. Vance is always a good bet for some early Canadian airmail and semi-postals, but they announced a postponement as well, with no date available. It’s hard to set dates when no one is sure when this pandemic will subside.
R. Maresch & Son Auctions Ltd., in Toronto, is going ahead with their auction on the 22 – 23 of April. You can see their catalogue here. There will be no live floor auction (for obvious reasons). The auction will be live via the internet instead. They have used some ingenuity in allowing people to see some of the lots. Because of social distancing, potential bidders can’t drop in and preview lots. Maresch have posted videos here. Scroll down below the videos for the catalogue.
If you’re an airmail collector check out lot 621. It’s a rare offering of cachet proofs. It’s 5 pages of Flight Cachet proofs from between 1928 to 1932. In all the auctions I’ve watched, this is the first time I’ve seen cachet proofs. A bit exciting.
International 2020 Spring Auctions
Looking beyond Canada, Cherrystone has a few interesting auctions coming up. I occasionally lurk around their site because they have wonderful high end items that make my palms itch. They have two auctions – April 22, US stamps & postal history and May 12, rare stamps and postal history. I’m not a big collector of US stamps so it’s the second one that I find interesting. You might want to take a look at their PRC Cultural Revolution stamps.
1041 ww 1967 Thoughts of Mao Tse-tung, single and set of se-tenant strips of five with imprints, unfolded, exceptional quality, without any tarnish, n.h., v.f., cat. $4,825 ………………………………..(938,943a,948a) 2,500.00 1042 ww 1968 Literature & Art, complete set of nine, n.h., fine-v.f., cat. $1,440………………………………..(982-90) 750.00
I haven’t seen these come up before. Though I don’t collect PRC (aside from airmails), the 1960s propaganda stamps are amazing pieces of Chinese history. They are also fine examples of philatelic propaganda. It’ll be fun to watch the prices on this trio. Expect them to go in the thousands. Although with the severe economic downturn, we might be surprised.
If you collect Canadian semi-official airmail, then check out the grouping of Patricia Airways in the same auction. These are all pretty affordable (depending on who wants to compete for them). Again, with the economy in turmoil, they might go for far less than expected.
1926 10c on 50c purple overprint inverted, upper left sheet corner margin vertical pair
Scattered throughout the May auction are other airmail lots, so a careful search of both catalogues will be rewarding.
I’m still looking around other auction houses, so I’ll post an update on them soon.