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.
The scramble to be the first transatlantic flight
In the early days of flight, there was a mad scramble to be the first at everything – first across the English Channel, fastest, highest, longest flight. You name it, pilots pushed the limits. After Bleriot’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 nonstop 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.
Alcock and Brown in front of Vickers airplane 1919 credit: Library and Archives Canada
Several attempts were made but Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown, flying a Vickers Vimy, claimed the prize.
The Vimy airplane
The Vimy was a big beast of a plane for its 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
Alcock and Brown’s Vickers Vimy getting ready for flight
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.
Canadian stamp Scotts #494 / SG #636
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:
Canada’s sad little stamp celebrating the transatlantic flight
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’s beautiful airmail stamp
1929 Newfoundland stamp – 1st Airplane to Cross Atlantic (non-stop)
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 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 hard put 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. Ranks up there as forgettable unless you want to fill that hole in your collection.
All photos credit: Library and Archives Canada.
Read more on this historic flight here: Pioneer Aviation – Alcock and Brown’s 1919 flight across the Atlantic
This is a reworked article about Alcock and Brown’s flight across the Atlantic, originally published in 2008. I’ve updated and improved the information, added links and posted some new images.
Alcock and Brown fly into history
One of my great passions is early aviation, especially pioneer airmail routes. I’m always on the lookout for any material dealing with early flights, people who made them happen, early aviation routes and especially anything philately related.
I just acquired a beautiful 1919 Daily Mirror newspaper of the famous Capt. John Alcock and Lt Arthur Brown first flight across the Atlantic Ocean. I’ll bet many of you thought the first trip across the ocean was by Lindbergh. Nope… wasn’t – was by a pair of British Royal Flying Corp and RAF WW1 vets flying in a converted Vickers Bomber in June 1919 less than a year after the end of WW1. Lindbergh was the first SOLO flight, not the first flight, as is often and erroneously written.
The trip took 16 hours and 12 minutes and had some truly terrifying moments, including one where the pilots were not entirely sure if they were flying right side up, the heating in their open cockpit plane gave out, the engine freezing over and flying as close as 20ft above the ocean. When the flight ended, Alcock was quoted “We’ve had a terrible voyage … the wonder is we are here at all”. A master of understatement wasn’t he.
The flight started in St. Johns, Newfoundland June 14 and ended in June 15 in Clifton, Ireland. Actually they landed in Derrygimla Moor – a bog that looked like an inviting green field.
Put this into perspective, remember 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 brink. Alcock and Brown used a sextant to check their course – yes a sextant, the same device used by sailors to check their position on the high seas.
Alcock & Brown’s route across the Atlantic
Here is a quote from the paper:
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.
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.
The winds were favourable all the way, north-west and at times south-west.
We drank coffee and ale and ate sandwiches and chocolate.
I like the part of the sandwiches and ale the best. They won the Daily Mail prize for achieving the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic. It was a whopping 10,000 pounds! That’s a princely sum now let alone back in 1919.
The Daily Mail headline
I’m completely chuffed about this paper. It’s 16 pages long and has all sorts of nifty tidbits about what was going on June 1919 – including some great ads and an interesting quick note on the R 34 Blimp’s 6 1/2-hour trial night run in preparation for it’s Atlantic run. It did the Trans-Atlantic run in July 1919 – starting East Fortune, Scotland to Nfld, Canada and then back via Mineola, NY to Pulham, England in 183 hours and 15 minutes. The R34 later crashed on landing in 1921.
Another interesting little article tells of the London-India flight:
The three British aviators, flying Handley-Page machine, landed for supplies at Tatoi, near Athens, on their way to London to India, via Rome.
1919 was a great year for pioneer flights. I haven’t finished reading the paper yet. I’ll post more from it later.
I’ll keep digging through my old articles and see if I can find any of the other flight related posts.