Welcome to ZEPPELIN mail collecting

John Duggan


John Duggan was a famous English scholar who published numerous studies and books on Zeppelins as well as editor for many years of the magazine “Zeppelin” (A Study Group Newsletter).

Without his passion which led to the writing of several publications, future Zeppelin collectors would not have been able to count on a solid foundation on which to build their collections.

Below, an article by him published in Zeppelin magazine n.3 December 2000 of which Duggan was editor in which he offers ideas to new enthusiasts on how to start a new Zeppelin collection.


It was with great pleasure that I was able recently to welcome as members several people who had only recently  decided to collect Zeppelin mail. Unsurprisingly, they had a number of questions on the subject and it occurred to me that a little space should be found in Zeppelin to record these items.

The objective is to try to simplify our chosen area of study and collecting and thus make it more accessible to a wider collecting membership. I should like to ask other members to provide a more extensive range of points that would be helpful to the newcomer.

What should I collect?  
Zeppelin mail covers a very wide area and some of these can prove very expensive indeed. By contrast, there are areas which are colourful, interesting and not especially expensive.

Of course, one can start simply collecting any items of Zeppelin mail and after a time deciding which are attractive. A possible (but non exhaustive) range of collecting areas might be:

  • LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin (Lovely cachets and some very attractive frankings: some postcards are available. The story of this airship is very interesting and the information has been published. The mail is relatively inexpensive if one restricts the collection to German acceptances).
Figure 1 – Example of correspondence sent with the LZ-130 airship
2-3. 12.1938 Sudetenlandfahrt
  • The LZ 129 Hindenburg (Completeness here would involve the expenditure of many thousands of pounds to acquire an example of Lakehurst crash mail. However, the cachets used on mail to North America are very attractive and Olympic and other charity stamps in contemporary use can make for a colourful display, which can be enhanced by postcards. Some people collect mail from the First North American Flight, but some Treaty State (see below) mail can be expensive. Mail flown in 1936 on the South American service is not easy to find, but is not especially expensive and can go unrecognised by dealers and auction houses which have failed to do their homework).
Figure 2 – Example of correspondence sent with the LZ 129 Hindenburg airship.
06-14 5.1936 – 1. Nordamerikafahrt 1936 – Return voyage Lakehurst / Friedrichshafen board stamp dated 12.5.1936 and arrival stamp Type 1 in Frankfurt dated 14.5.1936.
  • A major Flight, such as, for example, The Polar Flight, The Egypt Flight or the Flights to England (All are well described in the literature).

Mail from one country. (Germany will prove the fruitful and a collection of such mail will avoid the high costs associated with Treaty State mail. A collection of, say, Brasilian Zeppelin mail will provide the collector with a range of cachets with the advantage that the mail itself is unlikely to be hugely expensive).

  • Commercial mail. (There are numerous definitions of Commercial, but one could, for example, limit oneself to mail originated by, or sent to business companies. One could specialise in machine frankings, which appear to be growing in popularity. Such mail is not easy to find, but the chase will be fascinating).
Figure 5 – Example of commercial mail Letter from Rhydt, Germany (d.21.6.34) to Buenos Aires, Argentina (a. 28.6.34) Postage (mechanical): 1.85 Rm, as per the rate for Argentina with Air France (surface area / 20 gr. 0.25 Rm, air surcharge / 5 gr. 1.60 Rm)
  • Pioneer Zeppelin Mail. (A wonderful field, but expensive and for the newcomer this is perhaps an area to approach with caution. Be certain to have very early and very expensive items expertized).
  • Postcards. (These could be cards that have never been near an airship, but the text sometimes tells a great story. The focus will probably be on the picture itself and great collection can be assembled without huge expense).
Figure 8 – Example of postcard depicting the LZ-127 “Graf Zeppelin” airship
  • World War I airships. (Such mail is not often found and when it is it tends to be from the ground staffs rather than from the crew.  In any event, little, if any, of the mail was actually flown, merely posted from the airship base. Only the Sieger catalogue (now out of print) lists such mail, depicting the various cachets used. There is a great deal of literature available dealing with the airships themselves but these make no mention of the mail. The best book here is Douglas Robinson’s The Zeppelin in Combat published by Shiffer Publising (1994).
Figure 9 – Example of World War I mail 1915. Detachment of naval airships, purple stamp on field postcard from Kiel to Berlin

Now some basic questions:

What is meant by „Franking“?
This means the postage used on the cover. Most internal flights of, say, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin would have mail franked only with the minimum required postage (e.g. 1 RM). So-called Heavy franking may be explained by using the postage rates for the South American Service. These were made up of the normal international rate of 25 Pf (to 20 gr) plus 15 Pf (each additional 20 gr); and the airmail surcharge of 1.25 RM per 5 gr (to Brazil) or 1.50 RM (to other countries in South America). Thus, a letter of, say 55 grs would call for International Rate of 25 Pf (first 20 gr) plus 2×15 Pf (each additional 20 gr) = 55 Pf; plus airmail surcharge of 11 x 1.25 RM (per 5 gr) = 13.75 Pf. Total for a letter of 55 gr = 14.30 RM.

Do the stamps used affect the Value?
This is an interesting area. First, there is the matter referred to above (and often the very high frankings will be by means of a so-called meter-mark.

Secondly, sometimes rare stamps ca be more valuable than an ordinary zeppelin cover, so obviously one would value the former rather than the latter. Thirdly, it would indeed be fair to say that, say, a cover with a 4RM stamp would be more valuable than one with 2RM stamp.

A good example here is the Polar flight where 2RM was the rate for postcards and 4RM for letters.

The latter stamp is much more valuable than the 2RM. Fourthly, stamps in blocks of four are in high demand and again greater value attaches).

What are Treaty States?
These are countries which negotiated postal treaties for the carriage of mail by Zeppelin. (I am unclear as to whether such treaties were made with the Reichpost or with the Zeppelin company, although in 1930 it was with the latter. This probably changed for 1932, but I have yet to find a copy of such a contract). A non-Treaty State is a country (other than Germany of course) which did not have a treaty but which still had mail carried by the Zeppelin).