What is Aerophilately?

Egil H. Thomassen


Aerophilately represents the study of ihe development of air mail services and a collection of documents pertaining to such development.

Or, expressed in another way, Aerophilately is a postal and philatelic mirror of the history of aviation and the airplane’s influence on the world’s communication system. In parallel with the development of the airplane, from the early exhibition flights, via the first air routes, to the intercontinental flights of today, we find the spread and development of airmail as a philatelic collecting area. The very large volume of mail transported by air forms the basis of a fascinating and complex collecting area.

Airmail collectors, or aerophilatelists, come from all walks of life throughout the world. They share a passion for aviation and its effect on worldwide communication. Many were stamp collectors as children, who returned to stamp collecting in later life and chose a speciality that offered new challenges and knowledge. others are advanced philatelists of a specified country who wished to research the postage rates and the usage of airmail covers and stamps in their specialized collecting area.

For all of them, airmail collecting offers great opportunities to meet fellow collectors, exhibit their collections, write about discoveries and share enthusiasm, for instance, on the Internet.

What can I collect?

The world of motorized airmail, all of which is the product of less than a century, offers the collector almost limitless choice. Much of it is yet untapped, still waiting to challenge the initiative and creativity of an airmail collector. As in all branches of stamp collecting, an airmail collector can collect whatever she or he enjoys collecting. But, if one wishes to enter an exhibit in a stamp exhibition, the FIP Commission for Aerophilately has prepared special rules: special Regulations for the Evaluation of Aerophilatelic Exhibits at FIP Exhibitions together with Guidelines for Judging Aerophilatelic Exhibits.

The Commission also has prepared a standard Paper for Exhibiting and judging of Aerophilately, and hosts seminars for the implementation of the rules, based on this paper.

The rules for aerophilately contain two fundamental elements: An exhibit shall primarily consist of postal objects and these shall have been flown. There are some exceptions to the rule on postal material. This concerns early airmail flown by carriers other than the postal authorities, when postal authorities’ participation was not possible.

The rules of aerophilately also allow the exhibition of airmail stamps, labels, vignettes, postal stationery and revenues, in addition to all kinds of correspondence which has been carried by air. If such material is to be exhibited, it should – if at all possible – be shown used on airmail items.

To illustrate the airmail collecting and exhibiting areas of today, some areas are described as follows:

  • The development of airmail within a country or a geographical area.
  • Airmail sent on a special route or postal connection.
  • Airmail sent from a specific airport.
  • Studies of airmail stamps, labels, vignettes, etc.
  • Studies of particular postmarks or transmission methods.
  • Airmail carried by a specific type of aircraft.
  • Airmail carried by a particular airline.
  • Airmail carried by airship (zeppelins).
  • Airmail carried by balloons.
  • Postal connections by homing pigeons.
  • The airmail connections during a specific period.
  • A collection of crash mail.
  • Airmail with a military connection.
  • Airmail marking a specific event.

The modern trend is to collect commercial airmail in addition to first flight covers. Commercial airmail faces the exhibitor with a greater challenge than covers that are described in a catalog. AIso combi-mail, such as covers that have been carried partly as airmail and partly as surface mail, are interesting objects. However, ways of collecting vary geographically.

Traditional collecting is still favored in some countries, but developments towards new ways of thinking have been noted during the last few years.

Another trend in aerophilately is the increasing interest in the history of the more recent past, not just the pioneering years. The airmail connections during the World War II are especially challenging, which is mirrored in exhibits, articles and books.

If you would like to exhibit your favorite aerophilatelic material, you should be member of a philatelic society (such as AAMS) and aim to exhibit first at a local or regional stamp exhibition. Much experience can be gained from exhibiting at this level. After you have learned more about exhibiting, you may wish to show your material at national level.

Once a vermeil medal is won at a national exhibition, you may try exhibiting internationally.

Where can I find information and material?

Numerous articles, catalogs and handbooks about airmail have been published and can be bought from stamp dealers or publishers.

Covers, stamps and other related material for your collection can be obtained from dealers’ stocks at stamp exhibitions and fairs, by mail order from established dealers, from club and public philatelic auctions, by exchange with other collectors and through advertisements in the philatelic press. Joining an airmail society is one way of obtaining information about these sources. Most of the larger societies publish a journal for their members. Many countries have specialist societies for airmail collectors. These societies are united in a worldwide organization FISA (Federation Internationale des Societes Aerophilateiiques).


From “Airpost Journal” n. 10/2007, published by the American Air Mail Society.