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Air Mail Postal History

air mail coversCollecting air crash mail covers is an intriguing and somewhat unusual pursuit. You can collect the covers of a single airline that has crashed, our create a collection focused on a, country, continent, region, state or specific time period. Some people collect the covers from crashes of a single type of aircraft. The earliest crash covers are those carried by balloon out of Paris during the siege of the French city from 1870-71. Many of the balloons crashed, but a surprising amount of the mail was recovered.

While some consider homing pigeons the first airborne delivery service, is generally agreed air mail as we know it originated in 1785, on a balloon flight from Dover, England to a spot near Calais, France. The first airmail stamp…designated specifically for airmail…didn’t appear until more than 125 years later. It was created in Italy and used on experimental flights. Austria got on the airmail bandwagon with a designated stamp in March of 1918, followed in May by the United States.
The concept was so new and limited that airmail stamps were produced by overprinting special delivery stamps.
Early airmail was significantly less direct than it is today. So a single cover may have special airmail markings applied, the transit times reflected in dispatch and arrival postmarks, and the airmail postage rates all indicate the means of flight and the route taken.
(The dirigibles of the 1920s and 1930s also carried airmail…known as dirigible mail. Still another arm of airmail cover collecting is air crash mail.)
Collectors already smitten with covers were especially interested in the new world of air mail. They went to great lengths to find out about the first flights between various destinations, and to get their letters onto them. In addition to the airmail stamps, authorities often used special cachets on the covers, and in many cases the pilot would sign them as well.

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