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Stamp News  August 2012 

                              Woodchip-free Zone 


Airmail arriving: "Fasten your seatbelts"


The introduction of the regular airmail services to and from Australia in the 1930s heralded the beginning of the end of the curse that was the Tyranny of Distance, which had so impeded Australia's commercial and industrial development up until that revolutionary advent.

Airmail services in those early years often were not without misadventures. The information to determine which flights carried a given postal article are now generally available, and this month I feature a number of items from Australia which it can be determined were carried by incident-related services. My thanks to Gary Watson, Director Prestige Philately, for recommending this topic (Gary suggested I use the term "Instigator"). Regular readers may recall I featured airmail incidents to Australia last January.

Gary and I share an interest in Australian mail to exotic destinations, less usual mail services and articles, incidents occurring in the postal system, and related philatelic esoterica in general. Perhaps it's a Philatelic Auctioneers thingy.

In my collecting, I prefer philatelic material to be uncontrived, with a particular fondness for philatelic items which mimic art. I don't share the enthusiasm some Australia collectors have, for example, for such things as questionable "unmounted" mint and/or "punctured" Officials, "double" prints (one "albino" a perverse "favourite" of mine), Specimen overprint vagaries (a philatelic candidate for the making of a mountain out of a molehill), watermark anomalies , etc. Some items from these categories have achieved auction realizations which defy gravity (not to mention common sense), prompting the Trade in places like the U.K. and U.S. to observe with envy (uttering "Why can't we get prices for our stuff like you Aussies get for yours?"). By the by, amongst "watermark anomalies", the 2/6d Aborigine (wmk. sideways to left rather than to right, or is it the other way around?) continues to increase its headcount, mint and used, in tandem with plummeting values. I predict this item will eventually be regarded, at best, as "reasonably scarce". Want something really rare, and philatelically way more significant for the 2/6d Aborigine? Try finding the philatelically important (the wmk. anomaly is not philatelically important, just expensive) Emergency printing of 1965 on a commercial postal article. I've recorded three in the past 24 years, and the highest realizing of these went for a few hundred dollars. But I diverge.

The subjects selected this month are very scarce to rare (or unique). This type of material is beginning to become sought-after by international exhibitors, yet generally when it does comes on the market can be purchased for sums which bear no relationship to rarity. How long will that aberration continue?

                   Figure 1. Thought to be unique survivor from City of Washington crash

Imperial Airways IW81 service, on the Delhi-London route, saw City of Washington crash at Neufchatel on 30 Oct 1930, while trying to land after developing engine trouble. Figure 1 is believed to be the only survivor of this event originating in Australia. It commenced its journey at North Brighton on 8 Oct 1930, transited Australia east to west via Adelaide-Perth domestic airmail service, thence carried by ship to India to join the airmail service ex Delhi, which departed 21 Oct. The rate of 11d comprises 2d letter rate + 3d domestic airmail + 6d Delhi-London airmail service. The article arrived in London in somewhat bruised condition, unsurprisingly given its dilemma, and was repaired by the British P.O. Estimate : $1000

                       Figure 2. Not out of place in a regional Postal history collection?

The Post Office staff at Port Douglas thought I was some kind of wizard when I recently showed off Figure 2. Apparently sent from one of the local hotels (there is a Foster's Export Lager Beer label on reverse!) on 17 Jan 1935 to U.K., I was able to return this item to Port Douglas (via eBay) some 77 years after it originally left town. It features here as it would have been sent south to Brisbane and loaded to Imperial/QANTAS service IW308, departing 23 Jan. Owing to adverse weather, Helena, servicing the Karachi-Alexandria leg, force-landed at Cairo on 3 Feb, and the mail load was transferred by rail to Alexandria. A nice item for a regional Postal history as much as it is for an Aerophilately incidents collection. Estimate : $200

                               Figure 3. Engine trouble necessitates mail load transfer

Figure 3 is an uprated Stationery 1d postal card, bearing a 9d Kangaroo, sent from Sydney to U.K. 12 Aug 1935. The rate for an airmail postcard was then 9d only, so the sender has ignored the 1d postal validity of the stationery item. This item was loaded to Imperial/QANTAS service IW366, departing Brisbane 14 Aug. Hanno, servicing the Karachi-Sharjah leg, developed engine trouble at Sharjah on 21 Aug, and the mail load was transferred to Horsa, which departed for Baghdad two days later. Estimate : $150

                                       Figure 4. Missed flight a philatelic blessing

Always nice to have a higher denomination Kangaroo on an article involved in an airmail related incident. Figure 4 would not have been in this category were it not for the fact that Imperial/QANTAS IW426 service, which departed Brisbane 11 Mar 1936, was delayed arriving at Karachi, and the service went on to London without the mail load gathered further east. The mail was subsequently transferred to IW427, and that's were matters get interesting. The City of Swanage, flying the Alexandria-Brindisi leg, developed engine trouble and force-landed in the sea enroute to Athens. Much of the value of this item lay in the scarce franking of Kangaroo 10/- + 5/-, which paid the 1/6d oz. airmail rate x10 (i.e. for 4-5ozs.). Estimate : $2500

                                   Figure 5. Scipio survivor to less usual destination

The Scipio crash is one of the more often seen "crash" covers; 38 bags of mail destined for U.K. and places east thereof were recovered. Most of the mail survivors seen were to U.K. addresses. Figure 5 is unusual in that it is to Germany, and bears the French inscribed label explaining the event. Scipio crashed while landing in bad weather at Mirabella. The recovered mail was largely sent to Brindisi by ship. Estimate : $400

                                             Figure 6. Forced landing at Rhodes

The 1/6d Hermes is such a common franking to U.K. (it was intended for the oz. airmail rate) it's a pleasure to find one which was involved in an incident, as a redeeming feature. Figure 6, from Brisbane on 22 Sep 1936, was loaded on to Imperial/Qantas IW482 service, which departed Brisbane the following day. On 4 Oct City of Stonehaven force-landed at Rhodes. Estimate : $150

                                     Figure 7. Another forced landing, at Raj Samand

Another forced-landing, on this occasion near Jodhpur, India, came about when Caledonia, flying the Calcutta-Jodhpur leg of Imperial/QANTAS IW643, developed engine trouble. Figure 7 commenced the journey in Melbourne 8 Apr 1938, destined for Germany. Estimate : $200

                                 Figure 8. Idyllic location for unscheduled stop

Figure 8 was on Imperial/QANTAS SW69 service, flying from Coogee to U.K. at the reduced 5d "all-up" airmail rate, when Centaurus force-landed at Lake Biguglia, Corsica, the charming French island in the Mediterranean Sea. Estimate : $200

                         Figure 9. Passengers and crew OK, shame about the mail

Figure 9 is one of the more dramatic, and desirable, of Australian "crash" covers. Only two examples of mail from this incident have been recorded. On 28 Dec 1941 the westbound KLM service, being operated by Douglas DC-3, arrived at Medan, Dutch East Indies, and was due to leave the following morning. The passengers and crew had disembarked, but the mail remained on board. An attack on the airfield by Japanese fighter aircraft late on the 28th caused the aircraft to catch fire. The plane was destroyed, but fortunately there were no casualties. Estimate : $4000

                                        Figure 10. Near enough not good enough

Figure 10 may be a great rarity, or not. Registered at Winchelsea 20 Dec 1941, the article arrived in Melbourne the following day, under normal circumstances in time to be dispatched to Sydney to join Imperial WS151 service, which departed for Durban, via the wartime Horseshoe route, on 24 Dec. The article, however, was censored at Mebourne, which is where we cannot be certain it was processed in time (Censoring could cause an indeterminate delay) to make the Sydney departure time. In the absence of confirming backstamps further along in the journey, we cannot be 100% certain of the allocation to this flight, which crashed at Subaga 28 Dec. Potentially a great item, but near enough is not good enough, unfortunately. Perhaps someday I'll be able to confirm the flight allocation?

                                             Figure 11. New discovery is first of its kind

Philatelists love "finds", and I'm no exception. Figure 11 is from a major incident, the first recorded which originated in Australia, and worthy of inclusion in The Australian Air Mail Catalogue. British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines (BCPA) Flight 304/44, a Douglas DC-6, on a flight from Sydney to Vancouver, with scheduled stops at Nadi, Canton Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco, crashed during its initial approach towards San Francisco International Airport on October 29, 1953, killing all 19 people on board. The article received the "RECOVERED AFTER/AIR ACCIDENT" handstamp at San Francisco. Estimate : $2000

                           Figure 12. 7/6d block of three: record franking for this issue

Off topic, but no off item, Figure 12 has returned to Australia recently; a response to the June column, where I featured Australian high denomination frankings. A gentleman in the U.K. kindly took the trouble to send me a scan of this great item, and transfer of ownership was inevitable. It will be a feature in my upcoming exhibit of the Navigator series, 1963-66. A nice note upon which to complete this month's column.

Rod Perry has been a philatelic trader since 1962. He founded Rodney A Perry Auction Galleries (now Millennium Philatelic Auctions) in 1971. As a collector he has exhibited    nationally and internationally. Rod prefers his used stamps on cover and likens taking a stamp off its original cover to converting a tree to woodchips.