Those who wish to major in 20th century American postal history (collecting or study) must minor in airmail. At one time the U.S. was so wrapped up in the postal progress of flying the mail that now any general collection of U.S. material that doesn't prominently feature it is incomplete.
After all the major new airmail routes were carved out and the flown covers had found their place in collectors' albums, there was nothing as exciting as the airmail until U.S. philately got on board with the conquest of space with the John Glenn Friendship 7 Mercury Capsule stamp of 1962. Then there was relatively little in stamp issues on the subject until Shuttle related stamps, postmarks and collateral material almost twenty years later. Meanwhile, using their own postal emissions as cold war propaganda, the USSR kept churning out issues commemorating their space program and star astronauts.
But space event covers were not as interactive as collecting covers that had actually traveled on flights. Space philately collectors did not have the opportunity to acquire a cover actually flown into space until the NASA Challenger Shuttle covers of 1983 sold by the USPS. These covers are not rare as there were over 200,000 produced.
One of the go-to dealers in the early days of airmail was A.C. Roessler of East Orange, New Jersey. A master of hype, he sold airmail covers through newsletters like the Air Plane Stamp News and advertisements in the philatelic press that touted fliers of the day as stars and celebrities. The collector who wishes to add Roessler covers to his collection should take note: Roessler himself serviced many covers, primarily first day covers and flights. Those who wish to add a Roessler flight cover to their collections should beware that he serviced the cover and that it is not just a Roessler envelope. Many sellers tout their covers as Roesslers and charge high prices, when in fact the only thing Roessler about it is the envelope of which he sold thousands to other dealers who produced their own covers.
Though the official airmail had been around since 1918, with earlier exhibition or pioneer flights predating it, with some interested collectors adding stamps and covers to their collections from the start, it was Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic to France that brought many laggard U.S. stamp collectors into the airmail fold.
Aerophilately in the World
Those whose attention drifted to international airmail found a lot to like in the French area, where aviation had practically been invented when the Montgolfier brothers discovered the properties of the hot air balloon in the late 1700's. But in the 1920s airmail in France was represented by the dashing pilots of the Aeropostale. One in particular, St. Exupery, would grab the world's attention though writings about his days of flying the mails in such books as Southern Mail, Wind, Sand and Stars, and Night Flight. But his best-known work remains the children's classic Le Petit Prince, which has been translated into nearly every known language, and has never gone out of print since being published in 1943.
The Rarest Official Airmail Stamp
One of the early airmail stamps, identified by Scott Catalog number as C3a, and popularly known as the Inverted Jenny was an error caused by feeding a sheet of stamps that were bicolor into the press for its second pass upside down. In 2013 the USPS will offer a souvenir sheet based on this airmail rarity in 2012. While the original stamp had a value of 24¢ the new stamp will be denominated $2. Such a sheet is a good way to get a representation of a world-class rarity into your collection.
One of the stamps from the original error was most recently offered at auction, where it was thought it would sell for about $450,000., though it failed to meet its reserve price and went unsold.
Although the excitement of airmail has faded into the mists of history, the Inverted Jenny will always have excitement attached to it thanks to its story. The lucky collector who has the wherewithal to add an Inverted Jenny to his collection or investment portfolio instantly becomes one of the elite of stamp collecting. But there are plenty of airmail items the everyday philatelist might acquire that conjure up the exciting days of early airmail, without having to take out a second mortgage to afford them.