Flight of fancy

The concept of issuing dedicated airmail stamps never took off in Britain. It was, however, given serious consideration in the 1920s


Two of the airmail designs produced for the Post Office in 1922 by Bradbury Wilkinson, illustrating biplanes in flight and a pilot in his cockpit

Even if you disregard unofficial carriage labels produced for balloon flights and publicity stunts, airmail stamps now have a history stretching back 100 years.

The first of its kind ever issued by a government postal authority was Italy’s 25c express letter stamp overprinted specifically for use on the Turin-Rome experimental air mail service of May 1917.

In the United States, the development of aerial postal transport was considered so important that the world’s first set of airmail definitives was issued in 1918 (the 24c top value becoming famous for the printing error universally known as the ‘Inverted Jenny’).

By the end of 1920, dedicated airmail stamps had also been issued by countries as diverse as Colombia, Hungary, Japan, Newfoundland, Sweden and Tunisia. But a notable omission from that list is the country which invented the postage stamp.

Despite having operated the first ever scheduled airmail service in 1911, and despite creating an imperial airmail network which spanned the globe by the mid-1930s, Great Britain has never issued a stamp inscribed specifically for airmail use.

The suggestion was put forward on several occasions, however, and, as the postal archive shows, it was carefully considered.

About the author - Richard West researched this feature in the archives held by The Postal Museum

Read the full article in Stamp Magazine August 2017

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