Postcard flown on the first North American flight of the Graf Zeppelin (1928)

Zeppelin mail was mail carried on zeppelins, the German airships that saw civilian use from 1908 to 1939. Almost every zeppelin flight carried mail, sometimes in large quantities; the covers usually received special postmarks, and a number of nations issued postage stamps specifically intended for use on mail carried by the zeppelins.

First period, 1908 to 1914

The first zeppelin to carry mail was LZ 4, in July 1908, followed shortly by LZ 3. The early flights did not use any special markings; the first was an oval reading "LUFTSCHIFF / SIGNALPOST" around the edge and "Z III" in the center, used on LZ 6 (Z 3) from August to October 1909. By 1911 a number of different postmarks were in use; a typical example was a circle reading "AN BORD DES / ZEPPELIN / LUFTSCHIFFES", with a date in the center and the name of the zeppelin at bottom. These were actually applied on board the zeppelin while in flight, at a small postal station.

The zeppelins were taken into military service in 1914, and thereafter did not carry civilian mail, although military commanders had special handstamps applied to their mail.

Inter-war period, 1919 to 1939

In late 1919, LZ 120 Bodensee resumed flights and mail carriage, using postmarks much as before the war, until 1921 when it was given to Italy as a war reparation. LZ 126 carried mail briefly in 1924 before it was delivered to the United States and renamed the Los Angeles (ZR-3). The Los Angeles carried mail between Lakehurst, New Jersey, Bermuda, and Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, several times.

Letter on the first Germany flight of the Graf Zeppelin (1928)

LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin had a long and celebrated career. Within weeks of its first flight in September 1928, the Graf Zeppelin carried the first airmail to go directly from Germany to the US and vice versa. Germany issued special 2-mark and 4-mark stamps for the occasion. On the return trip, the zeppelin carried almost 52,000 postcards and 50,000 letters. In 1929, Graf Zeppelin circled the globe, with stops in Tokyo and Los Angeles. By the time it was taken out of service in June 1937, the zeppelin had made 590 flights, each flight carrying up to 12 tons of mail to and from dozens of countries around the world.

Although LZ 129 Hindenburg is most famous for its fiery end, for the 14 months of its existence, it carried considerable amounts of mail overseas, and many of those are readily available today. Most of the 17,609 pieces of mail on the last flight were destroyed in the fire, but a handful were recovered, and today they are highly prized crash covers.

The LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II was the last of the zeppelins to carry mail; it was in civilian service for only a few months, from October 1938 to August 1939, and made only 30 trips, all within Germany.

Zeppelin stamps

US 65-cent "Zeppelin" stamp, one of three values issued specially for the May–June 1930 Pan-American flight of the Graf Zeppelin

Zeppelin stamps were issued by a few countries to pay the postage for mail carried on Zeppelin flights during the late 1920s and early 1930s when Zeppelins flew passengers and mail from Germany to other countries and on return flights. Some stamps were regular issues overprinted while other were specially designed.

Zeppelin stamp issuing countries
Postal administration Year Denominations Notes
Argentina 1931 5¢, 18¢, 90¢ black overprint on 5¢, 18¢
red overprint on 90¢[1]: 492 
Bolivia 1930 5c on 10c, 10c, 15c, 25c, 50c, 1b overprint "CORREO AEREO / R. S. 6–V–1930"
5c on 10c has additional "5 CTS." overprint
10c known in black and bronze overprint
50c known in red and bronze overprint[1]: 908 
Brazil 1931 2500r on 200r, 500r on 300r
2500r on 3000r
overprint "ZEPPELIN / 2$500"
overprint "2.500 REIS"[1]: 1025–26 
1932 3500r on 5000r
7000r on 10,000r
overprint "ZEPPELIN / 3$500" [1]: 1025–26 
Cyrenaica 1933 3l, 5l, 10l, 12l, 15l, 20l Zeppelin and clouds forming Pegasus
Zeppelin and ancient galley
Zeppelin and giant bowman[2]: 668 
Egypt 1931 50m on 27m, 100m on 27m bilingual overprint "GRAF ZEPPELIN / AVRIL 1931"
overprint error "1951 instead of "1931"[2]: 979 
Finland 1930 10m overprint "ZEPPELIN / 1930" forgeries are known
error "1830" for "1930"[2]: 1112 
Germany 1928 -31 1m, 2m, 4m stamps show Graf Zeppelin crossing ocean[3]: 163 
1930 2m, 4m[note 1] overprint "(logo) / SÜDAMERIKA / FAHRT"[3]: 163 
1931 1m, 2m, 4m [note 1] brown overprint "POLAR– / FAHRT / 1931"[3]: 163 
1933 1m, 2m, 4m [note 1] overprint "Chicagofahrt / Weltaustellung / 1933" for Chicago World's Fair flight[3]: 163 
Greece 1933 30d, 100d, 120d Zeppelin over Acropolis[3]: 427 
Hungary 1931 1p overprint "Zeppelin / 1931" on Turul carrying messenger stamp[3]: 766 
Iceland 1931 30a regular issue overprinted "Zeppelin / 1931"[3]: 799 
Italy 1933 3l, 5l, 10l, 12l, 15l, 20l Zeppelin over pyramid of Caius Cestius[3]: 1166 
Liechtenstein 1931 1fr, 2fr 1fr - Zeppelin over Naafkopf Falkniz Range
2fr Zeppelin over Valüna Valley[4]: 500 
1936 1fr, 2fr Airship Graf Zeppelin[4]: 500 
Paraguay 1935 3p on 4p, 4p overprint "Cerreo Aéreo / (Zeppelin image) / ""Graf Zeppelin""
the Zeppelin image was handstamps while the text was printed[5]: 150 
Russia 1930 40k 80k Zeppelin and "Call to Complete 5-year Plan in 4 Years"
for Graf Zeppelin flight from Friederichshafen to Moscow and return[5]: 706 
1931 32 10k, 15k, 20k, 50k, 1r 5 different designs imperforate and with varying perforations and watermarks - bogus perforations errors are known[5]: 706 
1931 30k, 35k, 1r, 2r North Pole issue with Graf Zeppelin and Icebreaker Malygin transferring mail
all imperforate and perforated[5]: 706 
San Marino 1933 3l on 50c, 5l on 80c, 10l on 1l
12l on 2l, 15l on 2.60l, 20l on 3l
overprint "(Zeppelin image) / ZEPPELIN / 1933 / L. (value)."
also known inperforate[5]: 963 
Tripolitania 1933 3l, 5l, 10l, 12l, 15l, 20l Mercury and Zeppelin[6]: 573 
United States 1930 65¢, $1.30, $2.60 three different designs illustrating a Zeppelin[1]: 123 
1933 50¢ for the Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair flight[1]: 123 

See also

Notes, references and sources

  1. ^ a b c Counterfeits are known of these stamps
  1. ^ a b c d e f James E. Kloetzel, ed. (2006). 2007 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue: Volume 1 A–B. Sidney, OH: Scott Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89487-375-X.
  2. ^ a b c James E. Kloetzel, ed. (2006). 2007 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue: Volume 2 C–F. Sidney, OH: Scott Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89487-376-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h James E. Kloetzel, ed. (2006). 2007 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue: Volume 3 G–I. Sidney, OH: Scott Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89487-377-6.
  4. ^ a b James E. Kloetzel, ed. (2006). 2007 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue: Volume 4 J–O. Sidney, OH: Scott Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89487-378-4.
  5. ^ a b c d e James E. Kloetzel, ed. (2006). 2007 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue: Volume 5 P-SL. Sidney, OH: Scott Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89487-379-2.
  6. ^ James E. Kloetzel, ed. (2006). 2007 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue: Volume 6 So-Z. Sidney, OH: Scott Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89487-380-6.

Further reading