The aeropostal history
a land still to be explored

Flavio Riccitelli

The study presented here in the form of an article is taken from a presentation entitled “Some contributions to better understand Aeropostale History”, made in Prato, at the Institute of Historical Postal Studies, on February 23, 2008 as part of the V Postal History Colloquium, a day of study that saw 14 experts (university professors and researchers, managers of the postal sector and collectors) discussing the many ways of transporting postal dispatches, each bringing their own wealth of knowledge and experience. The comparison was intense and full of ideas, highlighting how the post office has had no qualms, over time, to exploit the means considered more convenient, fast and safe: from ancient ships to elephants, from stagecoaches to trams, from dirigibles to airplanes. , to rockets.

Although focused on air mail, the work presented in Prato did not neglect to highlight the need and the usefulness deriving from the comparison and possible synergies with fields of study other than aerofilatelia. Indeed, Aeropostale History finds the basis of its development precisely on this assumption. Furthermore, we wanted to bring out the great potential of research and in-depth ideas that it can offer, together with the many different ways of collecting it. Different ways of collecting that unfortunately are not yet very popular among aerophilathelia collectors, at least in Italy, and which hopefully will soon take hold, attracting new interests and new followers to this discipline.

Therefore, a discourse addressed to the aerophilatelics, so that they do not limit themselves to studying only what is most closely connected to aeronautical or aviation events, but also extend their attention to the more strictly postal aspects and, vice versa, to postal historians, so that they look with a new interest in non-strictly postal aspects and, specifically, in aeronautical or aviator aspects. In other words, both are asked for a kind of reciprocal “squint”.

The fascination that the airplane, with its almost epic century of history, has always concentrated on itself, seems to us an important starting point to begin describing Aeropostale History, all the more so considering that the materials of air mail they have always offered timely feedback in this regard. Materials that very often do not find space in catalogs, in consideration of the many historical, geographical, technical, as well as postal characterizations that make air mail, and Aeropostale History in particular, a potential rich in interests, many of which still all to be explored. And even if airmail does not originate with the airplane (think of the famous Ballon Montés or the journeys of Zeppelin airships), it is still this means that has been protagonist for the longest time.

The analysis started from here, with this premise, and then developed according to the following guidelines:

  • historical context
  • knowing the main evolutionary stages of aeronautical or aviation progress is of fundamental importance to define the historical context in which one moves;
  • reference regulatory framework
  • one cannot ignore the analysis of the rules governing postal transport by air, with a comparative vision with other countries;
  • level of technology development
  • the level of development of technology, by imposing its limits on air transport, has its importance in conditioning the development of air services;
  • some characterizations (insights)
  • there are many characterizations of correspondence and many lines of commercial development of air services.


In the first decade of the twentieth century, the airplane has above all a show function and only in 1911, albeit on an experimental level, does it begin to be used for official mail transport.

Italy, in 1917, was the first country in the world to issue special air mail stamps, but also in this case only for experimental postal flights (Fig. 1 and 2).

Immediately after the First World War, the intervention of the Royal Navy ensures with its seaplanes, in the upper Adriatic area, the resumption of postal connections, pending the restoration of ordinary land and sea vehicles. An auxiliary emergency airmail service followed in 1920, following the general strike of the railway workers, implemented with airplanes and airships, on the directives issued by the General Directorate of Aeronautics, the Airport Inspectorate and the Air Communications Service, in support of the alternative means made available by the Government to deal with the situation.

However, these are temporary interventions. And although the Italian aeronautical industry enjoys an excellent reputation all over the world, it is above all other countries that are involved in the creation of aerial postal networks: in particular the United States, where in 1918 the first regular air service in the world was inaugurated.

In 1926, regular air services finally began also in Italy, with the inauguration of the first airlines (Fig. 3 and 4) and at the same time the first series of special stamps is issued for the payment of the taxes established for air transport.


Initially (until 1929), in our country, the forwarding of registered and insured mails by air was prohibited, as the vehicle was still considered too risky. Not so for forwarding by air via the internal lines of other countries, but these are precisely lines that do not interest the Italian post office.

In some States (Canada) the new service is limited to admission, without directly regulating the payment of the air surcharges, which can also be collected through private stamps, while in other States (Colombia, Brazil) it is the airlines that take on the entire postal air service, with its own authorized offices and using stamps officially issued by the same airlines.
An Italian airline takes advantage of this opportunity, even with good promotional results: it is the “SA Aero Espresso Italiana”, which since 1926 has been operating the connection between Brindisi, Athens and Constantinople (Fig. 5).

The Hague Conference of 1927 seems to clear up the obstacles that hinder the spread of air mail transport, first of all the diversity of fares. In Italy the Hague propositions concerning the transport of mail by air are implemented by the Royal Decree 1560 of 1929, which establishes the application of a special tax, variable by weight (every 20 gr. Or fractions) and by Km traveled. (1,000 km or fractions).

The universal postal convention (London 1930) confirms, in the matter of air transport of mail, the uniformity of tariffs, the obligation to notify the lines, the simplification of the payment of fees from State to State, according to the proposals of The Hague. But that’s not enough, new internal and international airlines are being established and others are being planned, so that the improvements in terms of speed in transport, deriving from the unstoppable development of air postal services, are largely mitigated by the lack of tariff uniformity. : one step forward on one side, one step back on the other.

In fact, according to the agreements stipulated with the various airlines, each postal administration has the right to request particular surcharges, depending on the destination countries and the airlines used, but also the calculation of the weight and the concessions reserved for the various objects. postal. In practice, a multitude of different surcharges, to the point of having alternative start-up possibilities for the same destination, with different taxes and methods that often force the sender to request the intervention of post offices. In fact, the air fare reintroduces, through the agreements between States and airlines, what were the problems of the individual agreements between States before the treaty.

Within this regulatory framework, in 1932, the publication of the first “Instruction” relating to the new service by our Postal Administration, of which an excerpt is reported here:

all kinds of postal objects are admitted to be transported by air, namely: letters, simple postcards or postcards with a paid reply, manuscripts, samples of worthless goods and prints of any kind, including those for the blind;
for these objects the right of registration is foreseen (registered mail);
the air surcharge must be paid in advance and can be satisfied, in whole or in part, by applying the appropriate air mail stamps, or failing these with ordinary stamps;
all correspondence in question must be provided with the special “Par Avion – By air” tag;
correspondence for foreign countries, at the explicit request of the sender, can also be forwarded by air to an intermediate point of the normally usable route;
in this case, the surcharge to be applied is the one established for direct correspondence to the country to which the last requested air route belongs and must bear the declaration “Par Avion Jusqu’à …”(Fig. 6).

The problem therefore remains of air surcharges, which for several years retain their variability, although competition between airlines and the postal administrations concerned, over time leads to uniform them for the same journey. Great Britain, well ahead of its time, goes further and starting from June 28, 1937, even manages to eliminate the air surcharge on letters and postcards directed to the countries of the British Empire, without even the need to indicate on correspondence the indication of the service.
Many years and another world war will have to pass before other countries do the same.


Due to the reduced range of the aircraft, air forwarding is often only possible on some routes and in some cases (United States, Australia), only in the destination country (Fig. 7). Aircraft are not yet able to overcome long distances, without those intermediate stopovers that allow refueling. This also explains the reasons why the first long-distance lines are built in Africa and Asia, as far as Australia, following trans-continental routes.

The connections with the American continent, on the other hand, present the big problem of ocean crossings, which for many years were only possible to South America, thanks to the presence of mid-ocean islands that allow technical stops. And in fact, the first transatlantic postal line, inaugurated by the French company “Aeropostale” on 2 March 1928, not only follows the easiest route of the South Atlantic, but is also a service that is not exclusively air. Despite the aerial companies of the Aeropostale pilot Jean Mermoz, it is in fact necessary to resort to the coordinated use of aircraft and ships for a long time, effectively creating an “air-sea mail” service(Fig. 8).

It is a mixed system: the route between Dakar and Fernando de Noronha Island is carried out by steamboats and the rest by aircraft. The result is however remarkable, considering that the travel time is reduced from 3 weeks to just 5 days. The line runs by air from Toulouse (later Marseille) to Casablanca and Dakar on the east bank and from Fernando de Noronha to Natal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires on the west, to Santiago, on the Pacific coast, while the section between Dakar and Fernando de Noronha is covered by the famous “Avisons”, the fast boats of the French navy (Fig. 9).

After Jean Mermoz’s first air crossing on 12 May 1930, only from 3 January 1934 did air crossings of the South Atlantic in both directions begin to take place with increasing frequency, until becoming weekly, starting from 5 January 1936, when the route is covered entirely by planes (Fig. 10).

In the connections with South America, towards the French, strong competition arises from the Germans, who first with the airship LZ.127 “Graf Zeppelin”, in the early thirties (Fig. 11), then with seaplanes launched from special catapult-ships, positioned off the African and Brazilian coasts, they activate an efficient air mail service. The service runs on the Stuttgart – Seville – Las Palmas – Bathurst – Natal route. To cover the last stretch, the “Dornier Wal” seaplanes are used, launched by two ships with catapult (Westfalen and Schwabenland), one located near Bathurst (Gambia) and the other near Natal (Brazil)(Fig. 12).

In the North Atlantic, on the other hand, even the presence of the Azores Islands and the Bermuda Islands is not sufficient to allow regular flights, to the benefit of shipping lines. Between Europe and North America, therefore, there are only exceptional flights, without any regularity, made for sporting reasons or for reasons of prestige. The only means that proves capable of carrying out a north-Atlantic route is the airship and it is the Germans who take advantage in this sector, who in 1936 inaugurated the north-Atlantic line.

Alternatively, the only intervention, operated by various countries, is the one that is carried out through the so-called “anticipation flights” or “acceleration” of the mail, to be embarked on liners departing to the United States or taken from those arriving .
A service of this type is that carried out in Italy with a collaboration between the airline “Navigazione Aerea SA” and the shipping company “Lloyd Sabaudo”: the SANA seaplanes make the air connection between Genoa and Gibraltar, coinciding with the transatlantic del Lloyd Sabaudo, to bring or collect mail bags, allowing a time saving of over a day, without any surcharge (Fig. 13). The first special stamps introduced also specify the means used: the I-AZED seaplane and the transatlantic liners Augustus, Conte Grande and Conte Biancamano(Fig. 14).

Still in the context of anticipation flights, another system used since 1928 by some transatlantic liners is the “catapulted mail”: on the deck of the “Bremen” and “Europa” ships some small seaplanes are installed which towards the end of the crossing are launched in flight using special catapults, allowing the early arrival of the mail of at least 24 hours (Fig. 15).

The system of anticipation flights was abandoned with the entry into regular service of the Zeppelins, in May 1936, on the north-Atlantic route. But it did not last long, because the tragedy of the airship LZ.129 “Hindenburg”, in Lakehurst, a year later, blocked any further development, decreeing the end of the airship as a means of transport(Fig. 16). For some time, at least as far as the North Atlantic is concerned, postal transport therefore returned to being carried out entirely by sea, with the exception of the non-stop postal flight Berlin-New York, carried out in August 1938 by Deutsche Lufthansa, with the new fast transport aircraft Focke-Wulf FW-200 “Condor”, four-engine low-wing, all-metal aircraft. The experiment will not have a follow up from the point of view of civilian transport, even for the military direction that Germany will give to the development of the new machines.

But in 1938-39, technical progress allowed the aircraft to make the direct air link on the North Atlantic route. In 1938, on the Biscarosse-Lisbon-Horta-New York route, the giant seaplane Latècoere 521 “Lietenant de vaisseau” of Air France Transatlantique, followed in 1939 by the entry into service of the Boeing 314 “Yankee Clipper” of the Pan American Airways, a seaplane with dimensions and characteristics similar to the French seaplane: entirely metal, with a central hull and high wing(Fig. 17). While the first service is interrupted with the entry into the war of France, that of the PAA continues even during the conflict.

At this point there are no longer any limits to the development of air transport of the post office and a little later also of passengers, up to the present day, with the plane which is now seen as a normal means of transport, like the others.


Prestige and national interests
One of the most characteristic features of the commercial development of air services is the great political and strategic interest behind the creation of each new airline. In this sense, in the 1930s almost all countries witnessed a rationalization and concentration of existing airlines into a single national carrier.

In Italy, the Ala Littoria SA company was founded in 1934, which was gradually entrusted with the management of all national airlines in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Colonies. The Rome-Paris line, inaugurated in 1935, is particularly well known(Fig. 18), the Rome-Pollenza-Melilla-Cadiz line, inaugurated in 1936 (Fig. 19) and the Brindisi-Rodi-Haifa line, inaugurated in 1937 (Fig. 20).

As a demonstration of how important the creation of a new airline is for national interests, there is no better example than the construction of the South-Atlantic direct airline, inaugurated by LATI (Italian Transcontinental Airline), after a long gestation, which took place in the Ala Littoria, at the end of 1939, when the Second World War has already begun (Fig. 21). In fact, with the beginning of the war, Germany and France are forced to interrupt the air mail services and Italy, not yet entered into the war, not only for economic reasons, takes over from them, alongside the similar service inaugurated in May 1939 by Pan American Airways.

Compared to the PAA, the start-up of correspondence with LATI is considerably more expensive, and not only for correspondence departing from Italy. From a comparison between the air fares paid for the two carriers, it is clear, taking into account the international political climate of the time, that there must be good reasons for starting direct mail to the United States via LATI, as an alternative to that via Lisbon with Pan American Airways(Fig. 22 and 23). The same can be said for mail from South America to Europe. Even from Mexico, which, due to its geographical position, sees the goodwill offered by the American company much easier.

The crash mail is undoubtedly one of the most compelling characterizations of the airpostal history, because the recovered letters are able to tell the tragedy of which they have been silent witnesses. Often they lack the stamps with which they were franked.

Among the most well-known air accidents is the one that happened to the I-ARPA airplane of the LATI company, which inevitably wanted it to occur during the maiden flight. The embarked postal dispatch was almost entirely destroyed. A part of it often has obvious burn marks.

Also famous is the fire of the three-engined seaplane Cant Z.506 I-RODI of the Ala Littoria, which takes place departing from Bengasi, on 27 September 1936. The seaplane coming from Asmara is bound for Syracuse. Upon taking off from the port of Benghazi, it collides with the superstructures of a steamer and falls, catching fire. The recovered correspondence is often without postage stamps, which were detached for the permanence at sea(Fig. 24).

Advertising and Promotions
Under the stimulus of the same companies, the air mail service becomes the object not only of promotions, but also of advertising. To the point of being offered on some exceptional occasion, without paying the surcharge, for the sole purpose of demonstrating the validity of the service itself.

Already in the 30s on letters or postcards sent to or from the Levant, sent with the AEI service, you can also see the special stamp “Exceptional forwarding / by air mail”. The promotion is repeated several times in the following years, both at the expense of the post office and on private initiative(Fig. 25).

But there are also isolated cases of promotional mailings transported by air, without surcharge, with the presence of only the postmark. (Fig. 26). Still other cases concern letters or postcards franked for forwarding via express, which are sent by air, in the absence of other fast means(Fig. 27).

Another promotion was introduced at the end of 1939, with the RD n. 134 of 25 January 1940 which establishes a reduction in the air surcharges on postcards of private industry, containing no more than 5 words of pleasantries, sent from 15 December to 5 January.
For the interior and in relations with Libya, Albania and the Aegean Islands, the surcharge is reduced by 50 cents. to 15 cents, with Italian East Africa from 1 Lira to 30 cents, while for European countries from 1 Lira to 20 cents.

The curious fact is that the decree has retroactive effect, given that the illustrated postcards at reduced rates circulate already one month before the signing of the decree, including those carried on the inaugural LATI flight. (Fig. 28).

The promotional reduction in air surcharges is also accompanied by advertising initiatives. LATI, continuing in the tradition started by Air France and Lufthansa, issues several advertising greeting cards, to be sent during the Christmas period, accepted for forwarding to Europe at a reduced rate. From Brazil the tariff dropped from 5,400 Reis to 2,500 Reis(Fig. 29).

There are also not a few curiosities to consider. One for all is this one illustrated here(Fig. 30): the return of “replies” abroad is regular and not only canceled with stamps from another country, but also with a “mixed postage”. The only possible case in the modern period.

We have therefore seen how many ideas and how many different ways of collecting the Aeropostale History can offer, and I would add, for all budgets. Of course, I must underline that this article is not exhaustive on the subject, but only wants to offer, as the title itself suggests, some contributions in the method of research and study, in which it is desirable that many can find themselves, so as to enrich a discussion on this topic with further insights. And so I invite all interested parties to pay attention to the themes of aeropostal history, so that everyone becomes the bearer of new ideas and new lines of research, freeing themselves from pre-established schemes.

In this sense, and I conclude, an approach that, in a certain sense, could be more appropriate is that which shifts the focus from “seeking” to “finding”, that is to say broadening the sphere of our curiosity, without limiting look for something specifically, as if you were looking for the missing sticker. In the sector examined here, what we have called “new ideas”, using the pun, it is easier to find them than to look for them.


• James W. Graue & John Duggan: Commercial Zeppelin Flight to South America, United States, 1995;
• James W. Graue & John Duggan: Deutsche Lufthansa South Atlantic Airmail Service 1934-1939, Zeppelin Study Group, Germany, 2000;
• Giovanni Micheli: Air Mail 1926-2000, Ed. Vaccari, Italy, 2000;
• Franco Filanci: The stakes are in the air, Storie di Posta n. 20, 2003;
• James W. Graue & Dieter Leder: German North Atalntic Catapult Flights 1929-1935, United States, 2004;
• Hans E. Aitink & Egbert Hovenkamp: Bridging the Continents in Wartime, Important Airmail Routes 1939-1945, Netherlands, 2005;
• Fiorenzo Longhi: Italian Aerofilia, Historical Descriptive Catalog 1898-1941, 2nd edition, Grafiche Cam, 2007;
• Edward B. Proud: Intercontinental Airmails – Volume I Transatlantic and Pacific, Great Britain, 2008.