It is hard to explain to folks what the excitement of stamp collecting is, but one way that gets the job done is to outline what goes into a topical stamp collection. It may be hard to believe, but one individual and his accomplishments can be the basis for a wide ranging collection.
The example features an individual of great interest to me as as a collector of philatelic balloon material. That man, as star of the area is T.S.C. Lowe, primarily known as the Union Army's Observation (aka spy) Balloonist during the U.S.'s War Between The States.
As we are commemorating the sesquicentennial of the U.S. Civil War a Lowe topical collection is a good entryway into a study of an interesting and tumultuous period of U.S. history. It is noteworthy that Lowe has not actually been commemorated and named on his own USPS stamp, but rather on an aerogram, picturing Lowe, and his observation balloon camp during the inflation of one of his balloons.
Balloonists Life Encompasses Philatelically Noteworthy History
The long arms of history reach out immediately to enable those who collect the Lowe topical to add all sorts of fascinating stamps to their collection as the story of one man of history is told through philatelic items. Naturally Lincoln can be added to the mix - and as every collector knows there is no lack of stamps to choose from to allow the topicalist to feature the 16th president.
Little known is that Lowe influenced another aeronaut when the latter was visiting the U.S. during the Civil War and observed Lowe: Von Zeppelin. It would be some years before he presented the world of aviation with his namesake airships, those lighter-than-air behemoths that - philatelically - speaking have added a great wealth of material to collect, from flown and event covers, to many commemorative stamps, issued by nations worldwide.
Lowe appears on a number of stamps and covers issued during the bicentennial of flight of 1983, the most familiar the Intrepid balloon stamp from the USPS block of four ballooning stamps.
There are pieces of postal history from the early days of U.S. ballooning, and many of the balloonists of the day, virtually all of whom were showman making ascensions at fairs, carnivals and other events, who used envelopes showing their balloons. These, as one might imagine are quite expensive items of postal history. For those who want to learn of the area there is no better reference than The Eagle Aloft - Two Centuries of the Balloon in America by Tom D. Crouch (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983)
Priceless Philatelic and Aeronautic History
A Lowe collection must also include reference, via philatelic example, to John Wise, Lowe's mentor who flew the Jupiter balloon, said to be the first mail carrying flight in 1859. Though you can't add any of that mail to your collection - a single example resides in the Smithsonian - you can add the stamp issued to commemorate Wise's mail carrying flight from Lafayette to Crawfordsville Indiana. Issued in 1959 by the USPS (at the time the USPOD) there is a wide variety of first day covers to choose from, including some flown on the balloon La Coquette, the balloon used in the film Around The World In 80 Days (1956, United Artists).
At this point in the collection one might also add a Jules Verne stamp, as the Mysterious Island was based on a runaway Civil War balloon, like Lowe's, though it was a Southern balloon. Among those issuing stamps for Verne's science fiction novel are Monaco and Guinea.
Postcards and Postal Stationery Fit Into Lowe Topical Collection
As Lowe aged, he toned down his ascensions, limiting them to special tethered flights including weddings aloft. He established a renowned tourist spot in California's San Gabriel Mountains, where on Mount Lowe he established the Alpine Lodge, access to which was through an incline railroad up the mountain.
There are many postcards available with the Mount Lowe cancellation, as well as stationary with the Alpine Lodge corner card (aka return address) which also feature the cancellation, a natural item to add to a collection featuring an American who left a large mark on the land and an eternal legacy in the sky.