A History of International Airmail Stamps
Airmail stamps are one of the most popular categories of stamps among stamp collectors. Their striking imagery tells tales of aviation history over the past century, both on a national and international level. They also tell tales of international mail treaties and milestones, and of currencies and countries that no longer exist today.
Interested in finding out more about some of the world's airmail stamps or trying find out more information about your own? Please read on and discover more about airmail stamps!
NOTE: All stamp images, designs, and logos are copyrighted by their respective postal services and, to the author's knowledge, are in the public domain.
The First Airmail Stamps
Believe it or not, the first airmail stamps date back to well before the 20th century! The first airmail stamp is officially the "Buffalo" balloon stamp, which was a stamp used on letters carried on Prof. Samuel Archer King's special flight from Nashville to Gallatin, Tennessee, USA aboard his balloon, the "Buffalo" on June 18, 1877.
From 1897-1908, the "Pigeon Post" used pigeons to carry messages between New Zealand's Great Barrier Island and the mainland. Messages carried by these pigeons - or "Pigeongrams" - were posted for 2 shillings a message by Walter Fricker's "Great Barrier Pigeongram Agency".
On February 18, 1912, the first official delivery of airmail by an airplane was made in Germany when pilot Hermann Pentz flew a monoplane made by German aviation pioneer Hans Grade from the German city of Bork to Brück. On the letters in this batch of mail were special stamps commmemorating the event!
The first official airmail stamp to be used on government mail transported on an airplane was printed in Italy in 1917. This stamp was an ordinary express mail stamp overprinted with a special mark which commemorated the flight and indicated that it was an experimental air mail flight from Rome to Turin, Italy.
German "Flugpost" and "Luftpost" Stamps
Germany is a country that has a long tradition of airmail stamps. As mentioned above, it carried what may be the world's first batch of airmail in an airplane and came out with its first official airmail stamps ("Deutsche Flugpost") in 1919. This tradition continued from the days of of the Weimar republic until 1945 when Germany was partitioned following the end of WWII in Europe.
During the Weimar years, Flugpost ('flight mail') stamps featuring the "wooden dove" were issued by the Reichspost for Germany, Saarland, and Danzig Free State (modern-day Gdańsk, Poland). Saarland stamps were issued from 1920-1935 and Danzig Free State was issued stamps until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when it was incorporated into Germany. Later on, Flugpost mail became Luftpost ('Air mail') mail.
During the Nazi years, the Reichspost issued airmail - or Luftpostdienst stamps featuring striking images of Junkers bombers and cargo planes, as well as overprints of regular stamps. These stamps were used up to the Third Reich's dying day in 1945, when Germany was split into two and both East and West issued their own Luftpost stamps.
In both East and West Germany, Luftpost stamps were issued by the postal authorities of both countries up until reunification in October 1990.
Chinese Airmail Stamps
Another country that has a long tradition of airmail stamps is China. From the time the first postal mail run was flown from Beijing to Tianjin on China's east coast in 1920, airmail has been the perfect way to deliver mail across China's vast land expanses.
After that first airmail flight, China's airmail system developed very efficiently and rapidly. A year later, the first Chinese airmail stamps were issued by Chunghwa Post (the national postal service of the mainland until 1949) depicting a biplane with the emblem of the Republic on its tail. This was the first of many colorful airmail stamps issued by Chunghwa Post.
After the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949 and the establishment of the People's Republic, postal service was taken over by what is now known as China Post. They continued to issue some interesting airmail stamp sets throughout the 1950s and 60s, including a set of definitive stamps featuring a cargo plane flying over Chinese landmarks such as The Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
Today China Post continues to issue very lovely, collectable sets of airmail stamps featuring Chinese scenery and wildlife, ancient Chinese artifacts, and more.
Japanese Airmail Stamps
Airmail was a part of the Japanese aviation industry as early as 1919, when the Imperial Aeronautical Association staged airmail contests between flyers. The flyer who could fly to a certain destination the quickest and deliver their load could win a prize such as money. These contests were largely held for one purpose: To establish airmail hubs across Japan.
Airmail stamps have been a part of Japan's airmail service since at least 1922, when the first regular airmail route was established between the towns of Tokushima and Sakai, which is in Osaka Prefecture.
Throughout the 20th century, Japanese airmail stamps depicted cargo planes flying over natural Japanese scenery, Japanese wildlife such as pheasants and ducks, and historical artifacts such as Buddha statues. Two of the most famous Japanese airmail stamps are two (see right) that depicted cargo planes flying low over a pagoda and over the Great Buddha of Kamakura. These stamps were issued in 1951 and 1953 respectively and were used throughout the 1950s.
In 1966, Japan Post started using Japan's Anglicized name of Nippon on all postage due to the Universal Postal Union's (UPU) international postal conventions which require that member countries use Latin letters for their country names on their postage. All airmail stamps issued in Japan from this year onwards feature both versions of the name on the face.
Airmail Stamps of the US
One of the countries most famous for its airmail stamps is the country where the world's first airplane made its flight: The USA.
Airmail stamps have been issued by the US Postal Service since 1918, when 14 cent stamps featuring a Curtiss Jenny C3 biplane. A misprinted version of this stamp, which features an upside-down plane known as the "Inverted Jenny", is one of the world's most valuable and rarest stamps!
During the 1920s and 30s, noteworthy aircraft of the time such as Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the Graf Zeppelin balloons and the China Clipper received their own special airmail stamps.
Airmail stamps from World War II feature some amazing artwork of cargo and transport planes such as the DC-4 and Lockheed Constellation flying over famous American landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and New York City.
During the 1950s and 60s, special airmail stamps were issued by the USPS to commemorate America's milestones into space, and to commmorate the addition of two new states to the Union: Alaska and Hawaii. In addition, the airplanes on airmail stamps made the transition from the cargo and transport planes of World War II to modern jet airliners!
US airmail stamps from the 20th century are printed in red or blue ink. These colors were to indicate to the clerk that the letter was being mailed via airmail and needed first priority.
The USPS ended all domestic air mail deliveries in 1975 and all international air mail deliveries in 1995 when routine first-class deliveries became standard.
Over the past two decades, many of the airmail stamps issued by the USPS have depicted American national parks, historical personalities and monuments, as well as famous areas of America, such as the 2012 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania stamp.
Chilean Airmail Stamps
When it comes to historical stamps, Chile is a country that often gets overlooked. Which is unfortunate since Chile made its own entries in the annals of aviation history! These historical aviation milestones have been commemorated in its airmail stamps over the decades.
Airmail stamps have been issued for Chile's airmail ever since the first airmail flight in 1927. To commemorate this flight, special commemorative stamps (which were not officially issued by Chile's postal service) were affixed to letters on this flight.
This first set of Chilean airmail stamps was an overprint of one of the most common sets of stamps used in Chile during this time: The "Presidente" series featuring Chile's early presidents.
Despite a series of dilemmas the following year (including one in which all of the country's airmail stamps were destroyed in a crash of Chile's only airmail plane), airmail service in Chile finally took off throughout 1928. Airmail routes were established across South America that year and one plane even managed to cross the Atlantic and land in Dakar, Senegal! Over the course of the following year, airmail links were established throughout the south Atlantic and with Europe and the US. In 1930, airmail flights were made using Graf Zeppelin balloons, which could do the job just as efficiently as the jockey pilots in their biplanes. The Zeppelins could drop off and pick up airmail loads with ease.
Commemorative stamps and covers were issued commerorating all of these events, as well as special envelopes that identified the aircraft used to transport the letter!
Throughout the rest of the 20th century and up to the present day, the Chilean postal service has continued to issue airmail stamps. Some of these stamps include cargo planes flying over national landmarks, the 1949 centennial of the foundation of the national postal service, and Chile's national symbol, the Condor.
Hungarian "Legiposta" Stamps
Some of the world's most gorgeous stamps come from Hungary. Hungarian stamps are some of the most common among stamp collectors that are cherished by many.
Hungary is another country that was one of the first to issue airmail stamps. The first Hungarian airmail stamp was issued in 1918...and this started a tradition that has lasted up to the present day!
During the 1930s, the Hungarian postal service issued airmail stamps that depicted cargo planes and scenery. However, unlike stamps from earlier and later periods of Hungarian history, stamps from 1937 until the outbreak of World War II were labelled Magyarország (Hungarian Republic) rather than Magyar Posta (Hungarian Post), which was used until 1989.
Throughout the decades of Communist rule, Hungary issued some collectable sets of airmail stamps. One from 1958 commemorates the 40th anniversary of Hungarian airmail postage. This series depicts a cargo plane flying over cities across Hungary. Another series from 1967 depicts passenger jets from Hungarian Airlines flying over cities across the globe.
Other Hungarian airmail stamps from the Communist period commemorated events in space (i.e. milestones in the Soviet and US space programs), nature, and the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
In recent times, Hungarian stamps - both airmail and regular - have featured a lot of computer graphics and contemporary art on their faces. This new type of stamp reflects changing times for Hungary and the world in general.
Yugoslav Airmail Stamps
During the 1950s and 60s, the postal authority of Communist-era Yugoslavia issued two fairly-noteworthy series of airmail stamps.
One featured a cargo plane flying over landmarks across the former Yugoslavia. This series depicted some very colorful paintings of waterfalls, mountains, and more flanked by a Soviet-built cargo plane.
The other series featured images of workers and industry with the same cargo plane flying overhead.
UN Airmail Stamps
One international organization that has issued its own airmail stamps for decades is the United Nations. The first issues of UN airmail stamps were issued in 1951 by the UN Postal Administration and depicted a dove overlapping a cargo plane. This dove can be interpreted as both a symbol of flight and a symbol of peace.
The stamp on the right was issued in 1963 and depicts both a pair of wings and the UN logo. This symbolism continued to be used on UN stamp issues well into the 1970s.
Thanks For Flying In!
Airmail stamps are both a genre of stamps and records of the history of flight over the past 135 years. Furthermore, they are one of the most beloved and highly sought-after genres among stamp collectors and flight enthusiasts alike!
Thanks for stopping by and hopefully you enjoyed your visit! Please come by again as there is much more to come in this hub! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. I appreciate any and all feedback!
- Airmail - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Airmail at Wikipedia.
- Airmail Stamps: Their Images and Symbolism
The Airmail Stamp Museum. If you're an airmail stamp collector and/or aficionado, this is the website for you!
- First Firsts
Includes some interesting historical info about airmail stamps.
- AIRMAIL STAMPS OF CHINA
Article about the history of Chinese airmail stamps.
- Chile: The Airmails (1927-1937) | The Philatelic Database - Archive of Stamp Collecting Articles
This article tracks the first ten years of Chile airmail, from the inaugural pioneer official airmail services between Santiago and Valparaiso in 1927 to the subsequent links to the United States and Europe.
- Philatelic Articles - Chile Presidentes: Postal History and Stamps @ Lingens.com
Article from Philatelic Articles about Chilean "Presidente" stamps.
- Hungary collectible postage stamps and covers
A detailed website about the history of Hungarian postage stamps.
- United Nations Airmail Stamps: Symbols of Flight
A visual study of early United Nations airmail stamps.
- The Stamp Blog
A blog from the author dedicated to the world of stamp collecting.