Amelia Earhart – What Really Happened to Her?

January 29, 2010

1963 U.S. Airmail Stamp for Amelia

Amelia Earhart was the most famous female aviator of her time, and arguably one of the most famous people of her era as well. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and only the second person to do so. Amelia was the first person to fly across the Pacific from Hawaii to San Francisco. She also set many speed and distance record for flying during the 1930’s.

She was attempting to fly around the world in 1937 when she vanished in the Pacific Ocean around the Phoenix group of islands.

With a major motion picture coming out called “Amelia” starring Richard Gere and Hillary Swank (as Amelia), I thought it would be interesting to speculate on one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

Her plane, navigator Fred Noonan, and Amelia disappeared on July 2, 1937 while attempting to land on Howland Island for refueling. Radio contact was maintained, albeit one-sided until the end. Amelia’s signal could be heard, but she wasn’t receiving radio transmissions. An extensive ground and air search was undertaken by the US Navy at FDR’s request. No trace was ever found of her or her plane.

There are two main schools of thought on what happened to her. The first is that she landed on Gardner Island SSE of Howland. This is an uninhabited coral atoll well out of the shipping lands and with no source of fresh water. The theory is she and Fred survived the landing and lived for a couple of months, then succumbed. In 1940 traces of someone’s camp and bones were found. Further archeological digs have been done on the island, but no direct evidence or smoking gun have been found. This theory maintains the Lockheed Electra she was flying broke up and pieces washed out to sea or were scavaged by local natives. Again no direct evidence supports this.

The other theory and more likely one is that the plane and its passengers ran out of fuel and ditched at sea in 17.000 feet of deep Pacific water. Deep sidescan sonar searches are done yearly to cover an area the size of Rhode Island in trying to find the plane. These searchers believe that eventually they will be successful, and that it’s only a matter of time.

There was also a theory she and Fred were captured by the Japanese, tortured and killed. Research by American and Japanese experts have disproved this one. No partial or direct evidence exists to support this. It is pure speculation, and highly unlikely.

Will one of the world’s greatest mysteries ever be solved? Stay tuned.

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Inverted “Jenny” Sold for $970,000

November 16, 2007

jennysingle.jpgOne of the rarest and most popular U.S. stamps was sold at auction November 14, 2007 for a whooping $850,000 plus 15% buyers premium for total of $970,000!!

This was one of the famous 24c U.S airmail stamps issued in 1918. Yes that’s right the face value was 24c which was actually quite expensive in those days.

There was only ever one sheet of 100 of these stamps, the inverted error, sold to the public. The post office did find some others but they were defaced and then shredded to prevent profiteering.

I won’t go into the complete story because a book and many articles have been written which detail its fascinating history.

It was sold by the auction firm of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. of New York City on behalf of the owner. In 2005 they also sold a plate block of four of the same stamp for a record of $2,970,000 for a U.S philatelic item. How much higher can these go? Only time will tell. Read more at the Robert Siegel Auction website:

http://www.siegelauctions.com/2007/946a/s946a.htm

The sale catalogue (sale #946A) has wonderful write-ups on the history or the invert error by Scott R. Trepel (“The Allure of the Inverted Jenny”) and a great introduction by Joe R. Kirker ((“…and my heart stood still”). The catalogue can be downloaded in PDF format.


Airmail Speeds the Mail, snail mail that is!

September 24, 2007

Last night I was working on an exhibit that I have entered in an airmail philatelic exhibition coming up in October.  I thought I would try to explain the fascination with the collection of airmail material to non-collectors.

First of all a definition.  Simply put “Airmail” or “Air Mail” is mail that is carried to its destination by aircraft.  Obviously this is faster than by truck or train.  It was one of the great innovations of mail delivery which was made possible by the invention of the airplane.

Until recently airmail was a premium service of the post office and the user paid more for it.  Special airmail postage stamps were issued to indicated payment for this service. These stamps were only allowed to be used on airmail, not for other mail.  Later on that changed.

The first regular airmail flights in the U.S. began between New York City and Washington, D.C. in 1918. The planes were operated by Army pilots.  Later the government contracted the routes out to private contractors.  Some famous aviators who carried mail were Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart.

Early commercial airline routes were really paid for by the carriage of mail.  There were not enough passengers to pay for the airlines expenses.  Even today mail is a lucrative cargo for airlines.  Passengers do take precedence today though.  If weight is an issue the first thing off the plane is not passengers or their baggage, but mail bags. 

Today in Canada and the United States airmail has been abolished as a separate service. All first class (lettermail) mail is delivered by the speediest method of  transportation.  International letters are charged a premium for airmail service, but it is still technically not an airmail service. Both countries charge substantially more for international lettermail than domestic lettermail.

Collectors have always been fascinated with mail and aviation.  So much so that specialist societies exist dedicated to the pursuit of airmail stamps and covers (envelopes).  One such society is the American Air Mail Society.  For the first time ever the American Philatelic Society (APS) is hosting an exhibition that is entirely airmail related.  It is called Aerophilately 2007 and has been given “World Series of Philately” status.  This means that it has national level judging and standards. The grand award winner is entitled to compete against the award winners of all the other WSP shows.  It is being held October 19-21, 2007 at the APS headquarters in Bellefonte, PA.  Coincidently, Bellefonte was one of the mail refueling stations along the first trans-continental airmail route in the United States. 

My exhibit is entered in this exhibition and I am very proud to have mine displayed alongside some of the greatest airmail collections of our time.

 

Above: Early airmail pilot “Wild Bill” Hopson.

Here are some facts about early airmail:

– messages were carried prior to airplanes by homing pigeons.

– first mail to be carried by an air vehicle was January 7, 1785 on a balloon flight from England to France.

– first official airmail delivery in the U.S. took place August 17, 1859 via balloon from Lafayette, Indiana to New York City. Weather forced him to land and the mail was carried by train to its final destination.

– first official airmail flight was February 18, 1911 in India.  6,500 letters were carried a distance of 13 km (7.8 miles).

– first international airmail delivery flown by Theodoro Fels from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Montevideo, Uruguay on September 2, 1917.

– Scheduled airmail flights begin between New York City and Washington. DC May 15, 1918

-first airmail flight in Canada was June 24, 1918 from Montreal to Toronto.

– first woman to fly airmail: Katherine Stinson from Calgary to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on July 9, 1918.

– regularly scheduled transcontinental U.S airmail flights begin in 1924.

– In 1927 regular international airmail flights begin.

– Trans-Pacific airmail begins in 1935.

– In 1939, Canada implements regular trans-Canada and trans-Atlantic airmail.

So remember when you mail that letter that today it flies to overseas destinations in hours.  Before air transport it went by train or ship and took days or weeks to arrive. Of course now it is possible to send an e-mail letter to someone anywhere in the world and it will arrive in seconds.  The only thing about an e-mail is that it doesn’t have a colorful airmail stamp on it that I can collect.


How I Started Collecting Postal History

July 23, 2007

transportbrazil.jpg 

I have been collecting since age 8 years (50 years now). For most of that time I was a “general” collector, I was however, always attracted to the stamps of the United States and especially the airmail issues. In 2003 I finally decided that I wanted to become a specialist for a couple of reasons. One I wanted to learn a lot more about the stamps I collected, and second I wanted to focus my budget on obtaining the stamps I was really interested in. At that time I didn’t even collect covers, but only stamps. A stamp collector friend suggested that I should look into covers if I really wanted to be able to research and learn more about them.

A little skeptical at first, I started looking very closely at the exhibits at the shows and noticed that more and more of them were of covers and that those covers told a story that I was attracted to. I was a Second World War history buff This interest came from the fact that my father and a couple of his brothers had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war.

It was at the Edmonton Spring National Stamp Show in April 2004 that I came across the cover that got me addicted to postal history and in particular to the United States Transport Airmail Issue of 1941-44 (Scott C25 – C31). I was looking through a dealer’s box of U.S. covers when I saw this cover that I just knew I had to have. It looked so very interesting being a registered airmail cover to an exotic destination, Brazil. Not only that, but it was dated October 9, 1944 and was censored. A Second World War cover.

Immediately I wanted to know more about the censorship of mail, the rates and how the cover was carried to Brazil during the war. The handwritten notation “Written in German Language” totally fascinated me. Could this be a letter from a spy or to a war criminal? All these fantastic thoughts went through my mind. Not only that, but it had a stamp with the plane on it. This also attracted my attention because it was a U.S. airmail stamp that I had seen before, but never postally used on cover. Also I just like planes. So how could I resist. I had to have this cover. I bought it even though I did not collect them.

On the three hour drive from Edmonton back to my home in Calgary, my minding was swirling with thoughts of this cover. I just had to learn more about it.

When I got home I immediately started researching using the Scott catalogue and the internet. I found in the Scott Specialized catalogue that the 30c Transport stamp on the cover was issued in 1941 and was part of a series issued during that year. At this time I knew nothing about rates. On the internet I found the book I needed. This was “The Transports” by GH Davis. I immediately ordered it from the United States Stamp Society and waited for it to arrive.

This particular cover it turns out is not a rarity or not even that uncommon because mail to South American was never interrupted during the war. I did find out that the valid airmail rate to Brazil at the time was 40c with the foreign registry fee being 15c. The postage on the cover totaled 55c. Therefore this cover had proper postage paid in the correct rate period. Turns out that the censorship regulations required that letters written in foreign languages had to have that noted on the outside front of the envelope so that the censors could make arrangements for a translator to be available to read the letter. Further research showed that South American countries, and in particular Brazil, had many German immigrants during the first part of the twentieth century, so it was not at all unusual for this letter to be written in German. That was a bit of a let down, I was expecting or hoping espionage might be related to my cover.

A couple of weeks later the book arrived. I read it from cover to cover, and back again. Totally fascinating. Here was all the rate information I needed and detailed data on each of the denominations of the Transport airmail issue. Away I went to eBay and other on-line auction sites and started searching “Transport” as a key word. Bingo! Lots of covers for not too much outlay of cash. Managing to pick up many covers over the next few months I started researching the covers as I got them for rates, routes and any history behind them. I especially enjoyed the APO covers and trying to find out about the various military units and the history behind them.

Here I am four years later and I am still hooked. Since starting in 2003, I have built my exhibit of “Usages of the U.S. Transport Issue 1941-44” that has evolved from being awarded a Silver (at two frames) at its first showing, to a Vermeil (at five frames) at its most recent showing in late 2005. Most of all though I have combined a couple of my interests, philately and WW II military history. The result is that I am just having way too much fun!!


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