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Australian Aerophilately

Aerophilately or the collecting of philatelic items connected with flight has existed since almost the time of the first air flights. Collectible items relating to aeroplanes include airmail stamps, airmail labels, postal markings related to air transport, rates and routes, particularly first flights and other "special" flights, mail recovered from aircraft accidents and other incidents.

Also covered in aerophilately are mail related to other methods of aerial transport. These range from rockets and balloons to pigeons!

First Flight Covers
See our selection of First Flight Covers...

and Rocket, Balloon and Pigeon Post covers

Air Labels or Etiquettes

Mail to be sent by air attracted a premium charge and it needed to be clearly indicated that the item was to go by air and thus developed airmail labels or ‘etiquettes’. The first label was developed in France in 1918 and in just a few year most countries had followed suit. The design of the labels varied but in 1927 the Universal Postal Union established that airline companies would be officially recognized carriers of mail and that air labels should have a blue colour and, when the mail did not actually travel by air, such labels or annotations should be crossed out. Airmail labels are often in French “Par Avion” denoting their origin.

Ross-Smith VingetteThe first Australian airmail label was the “Ross Smith” vignette. This was designed to go on mail flown by Ross Smith and his brother Keith in their award winning first flight from England to Australia. A prize of £10,000 was offered by the Australian government for the first aviator to do so. The flight left England on 12 November 1919 and took 28 days to reach Australia. 576 labels were printed, 364 were put on the carried mail and 87 mint labels were know to be given to the crew and VIPs. A vignette with full margin is worth about £15,000 and on cover from about £3000 to £5000. Replicas have been created several times, sometimes crudely or on yellow paper, all do not have watermarks while the original has. The replicas are common.

QANTAS first produced air mail labels in 1922 for mail carried on the experimental weekly airmail service between Charleville and Cloncurry. The vignette was in red and subscribed “FIRST TRIP AUSTRALIA’S SECOND AERIAL MAIL”. In January 1923 QANTAS issued a pale blue-green air mail label in booklets of 24, they subsequently issued similar format labels in different colours.

Other early air mail labels include the “Angel” vignette issued in 1925 by Australian Aerial Services Ltd in WAA Angel Vingettesheets and booklets and the 1929 Western Australian Airlines (WAA) red and blue labels. WAA also introduced a special label to affix to the backs of envelopes promoting air mail with their slogan “To Ensure Earliest Delivery Please Reply by Air Mail".

The Post Master General (PMG) issued an official blue airmail label in May 1930. However, despite this, the issuing of this label private labels and vignettes continued.

First Flights

Souvenir postcards were used by early aviators to advertise their services, including joy rides and advertising promotions. The first official air mail was flown from Melbourne to Sydney in July 1914. Souvenir cards were issued and the Post office prepared an oval date stamp for the occasion.

Australia's first airmail contract was awarded to Western Australian Airlines (WAA). The first airmail was carried between Geraldton and Derby in Western Australia on 5 December 1921. The Post Master General (PMG) allowed WAA to provide a cachet to be applied by the PMG in Perth on the first mail. Unfortunately the plane crashed on the first flight and the mail was forwarded by steamer for the rest of the journey.

In 1922 the Herald and Weekly Times experimented with sending newspapers by air from Melbourne and issued their own vignette used on the first outward and return flight to Geelong.

Charles Kingsford-Smith CoverIn 1928 Charles Kingsford-Smith made the first flight from the USA flying from San Francisco to Brisbane stopping at Hawaii and Fiji. The first “All Australian” Air Mail to England took off on 19 November 1931, piloted by GU Allen in the ‘Southern Sun’. However the machine crashed in Kedah. Kingsford-Smith flew to the rescue in the ‘Southern Star’ arriving in London on 16 December. Kingsford-Smith signed some of the covers flown.

As further routes were opened it became it the normal practise to mark the first flights (there and back) with special vignettes or cancels. Often the pilots would also sign the covers. This practise has continued to the present day.

Full coverage of flights and covers flown can be found in the comprehensive and useful catalogue “The Australian Air Mail Catalogue” (AAMC) by Nelson Eustis & Tom Frommer.

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