Stamp Collector cover date Dec. 16, 2002

Collector's cacheted covers recall Lindbergh's feat

by Todd Ronnei

It all started when the Spring 2002 issue of Minnesota History arrived in the mail.

The quarterly journal of the Minnesota Historical Society featured a cover story on Charles Lindbergh, the Minnesota native who made history in 1927 with his non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris. The journal’s retrospective on Lindbergh’s life had warm praise for Lindbergh’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1953 autobiography, The Spirit of St. Louis. Intrigued, I bought the book a few days later.

I couldn’t put it down. I found it to be a real page-turner, a thrilling account of Lindbergh’s feat.

San Diego cover
Figure 1. This cover marks the beginning of Lindbergh's journey. It is postmarked in San Diego, Calif., on May 10, 2002--the 75th anniversary of Lindbergh's departure from that city-- in The Spirit of St. Louis, seen on the 13˘ 50th anniversary commemorative in 1977.
When I had finished the book, I had a new appreciation for Lindbergh’s monumental accomplishment. I also had an idea.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been making covers for first days and anniversaries of historic events. The Lindbergh flight--with its 75th anniversary then fast approaching--was begging for a commemorative cover.

My view on commemorative, or “event” covers, is that all three components--the cachet (envelope design), the stamp and the postmark--should tie together, with the end result being a unified whole.

I sat down at my computer and started pulling together the elements of my cachet. After a few hours of trial and error, I finally achieved the look I wanted.

It is, to my eye, perhaps my best cachet to date. Now that the cachet was ready, I needed the right stamps.

St. Louis cover
Figure 2. The next leg of the historic 1927 flight began in St. Louis, where Lindbergh departed for New York on May 12, 1927. This cover is franked with a 1927 10˘ Lindbergh airmail stamp and a 1993 29˘ National Postal Museum stamp portraying America's "Lone Eagle."
My first and most obvious choice was the 1977 stamp marking the 50th anniversary of the flight (Minkus CM860 / Scott 1710). Other possibilities included the stamp featuring Lindbergh from the 1993 se-tenant block of four honoring the National Postal Museum (CM1591 / 2781), the Lindbergh stamp from the Celebrate the Century 1920s pane issued in 1998 (CM1983m / 3184m) and the granddaddy of all the U.S. Lindbergh stamps, the 1927 10˘ Lindbergh airmail stamp (A10 / C10), issued less than a month after Lindbergh’s flight.

Some time ago, I learned that if I wanted to be sure I could add to my collection a single cover with a clear and well-placed postmark, it was necessary to submit about 10 covers. With 10 covers, the odds of getting at least one acceptable cover back were greatly improved. This “better-safe-than-sorry” approach meant I would need a bunch of Lindbergh stamps.

For the stamps, I turned to my friend and fellow collector Richard Knight of Tennessee. Dick has large holdings of U.S. stamps in quantity, and what he doesn’t have, he can get quickly at wholesale prices.

NYC cover
Figure 3. This May 20, 2002 New York City cover marks the 75th anniversary of the start of Lindbergh's solo attempt to reach Paris in one nonstop transatlantic flight.
Dick and I agreed that the 1977 commemorative was the easiest and least expensive stamp to obtain. He also had several panes of the National Postal Museum issue on hand, which he was willing to break up so I could have sufficient quantities of the Lindbergh stamp.

We also discussed the Celebrate the Century pane, but buying them in quantity at $4.80 each just to obtain one stamp from each pane was too much. We hardly discussed the 1927 stamp at all, since its current catalog value is $7.75 to $8 for a hinged copy, and I certainly couldn’t afford to obtain any quantity of them at that price.

Dick pulled the stamps together and sent them to me. What he didn’t tell me before he sent them was that he had managed to find a small quantity of the 1927 airmail stamp from a wholesaler at a fraction of the catalog price. I was thrilled!

The cachet was done, and the stamps were on hand. Now for the postmarks. New York was an obvious choice. But after reading Lindbergh’s book, I realized there were other appropriate places from which to obtain a postmark.

Ryan Airlines, Inc., of San Diego, Calif., built Lindbergh’s monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh spent considerable time there in early 1927, supervising the construction of the aircraft. He left San Diego in the plane on May 10, 1927.

Garden City cover
Figure 4. Lindbergh's nonstop solo transatlantic flight originated from Roosevelt Field, located near Garden City, N.Y. This cover has the May 20 pictorial postmark created by the Masonic Study Unit of the American Topical Association, offered by the Garden City, N.Y. post office commemorating the 75th anniversary of the flight.
Figure 1 is my first cover documenting Lindbergh’s trek. It is postmarked on May 10, 2002, the anniversary of his departure. Ironically, the airstrip from which Lindbergh took off is now San Diego post office property. A plaque noting the historic location was dedicated at the post office in December 2001.

Lindbergh flew from San Diego to St. Louis, Mo. Lindbergh’s financial backers were St. Louis businessmen, hence the name of his plane.

Lindbergh wanted to spend more time in St. Louis, but competition for the New York to Paris flight was becoming intense, and he felt he should get to New York as soon as possible. He flew on to New York on May 12, 1927.

The Figure 2 cover notes the anniversary of the St. Louis to New York leg of Lindbergh’s journey. I had some doubt whether the St. Louis post office would postmark my covers on the date requested, since it fell on a Sunday. I need not have worried, as my covers were postmarked as requested. The “Main Office Finance Unit” handstamp used to cancel the stamps is unusual, but the city and date are clear, so I am satisfied.

St. John's cover
Figure 5. About 12 hours into the transatlantic flight, Lindbergh flew over St. John's, Newfoundland, so those on the ground would see him. This cover received a St. John's postmark of May 20, 2002.
Once in New York, Lindbergh was anxious to get his attempt to reach Paris under way. Poor weather, however, delayed the flight for more than a week. Finally, the weather cleared, and Lindbergh began his epic flight early on the morning of May 20, 1927.

The Figure 3 cover was postmarked in New York City on the 75th anniversary of the start of the flight. But Lindbergh didn’t actually depart from New York City; the flight actually left from Roosevelt Field, near Garden City, N.Y., just outside of New York City on Long Island.

My cover from Garden City, where the post office offered a pictorial postmark for the anniversary, is shown in Figure 4.

Lindbergh’s flight arc took him over the New England states and then over Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. While in the air, Lindbergh decided to change his course slightly to fly over the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, so people there would see him and report that he was still airborne.

British Forces cover
Figure 6. Crossing the Atlantic, Lindbergh's course took him over the British Isles. This cover has a May 21, 2002, British Forces Postal Services pictorial postmark.
The cover in Figure 5 was postmarked in St. John’s on May 20, 2002. I didn’t have any appropriate aviation-themed Canadian stamps on hand, so I used whatever mint Canadian stamps I found in my stock book. This cover is franked with Canada’s 1992 42˘ Flag definitive and a 1987 6˘ Parliament booklet stamp to make up Canada’s current domestic letter rate.

As Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, May 20 became May 21. When he was 28 hours into his flight, he reached the Irish coast. Soon he was flying over England.

Figure 6 shows the May 21, 2002, cover featuring the British Forces Postal Services pictorial postmark for the anniversary. Ian Billings of Norfolk, England, assisted me in obtaining this Spirit of St. Louis postmark. The cover is franked with a current British Machin definitive stamp.

To truly complete the collection, I knew I had to get covers postmarked in Paris on May 21, 2002. Two significant obstacles presented themselves: I don’t know French; and I don’t know anybody in France! I despaired of being able to add this finishing touch to my collection.

I turned to the Internet search engine Google for help. A search for “French topical covers” brought me to the web site of Loďc Marchant of Villeurbanne, France. His site was in English, so I knew I could communicate with him.

Hopefully, I sent him an e-mail introducing myself and describing what I had in mind. To my delight, Loďc responded quickly and positively. My covers were soon in the mail to him.

Paris cover
Figure 7. After 33-1/2 hours in the air, Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget Field, Paris, to a tumultuous welcome, on May 21, 1927. This cover is canceled in Paris on the 75th anniversary date and is franked with a new French stamp for the bicentennial of the French government's highest award, the Legion of Honor. Charles Lindbergh was a recipient of that award shortly after his arrival in the French capital.
My first idea was to have French envelopes franked with a current French definitive. But while looking at new stamps on the La Poste (French post office) web site, I saw a stamp for the bicentennial of France’s highest commendation, the Legion of Honor, that would be issued on May 21. This stamp would be perfect, since Lindbergh received the Legion of Honor shortly after his arrival.

Figure 7 is the final cover in the series, postmarked in Paris on May 21, 2002. No special Lindbergh postmark was available in Paris that day. The cover has a pictorial postmark noting the European Space Agency. By coincidence, it is also a first-day cover for the Legion of Honor stamp.

My small collection of Lindbergh 75th anniversary covers successfully spans 11 days and four countries. Although any number of things could have gone awry in the process, I was successful in getting every cover I wanted to commemorate this heroic man’s odyssey from San Diego to Paris three-quarters of a century ago.

I thank everyone who helped me with this project, especially the unknown postal employees in each city who handled my postmark requests with such care.

© 2002 Krause Publications. Used by permission.