The Transportation Topics
Another major development in the American century was the rise of transportation themes as topics. The steamboat era was nearing its end when stamp collecting began; the big new developments were the rise of the railroads and the blue ribbon races by steamships across the Atlantic.
Interestingly enough, stamp collectors never really took up the trans-Atlantic steamship covers to a major extent, and even today their study is largely an adjunct to destination collecting. Organizations such as the Ship Cancel Society put most of their focus on the Great White Fleet and U. S. Naval cancels, while the Ships on Stamps unit serves strictly as a topical group, interested in illustrated ships.
By contrast railroading was part of the social zeitgeist and was taken up by collectors. Unlike the stamp collecting songs of the last century, which never attracted great popularity, railroad songs became quite popular. Chattanooga Choo-Choo and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe both became large popular hits, while Casey Jones did well during the folk song era of the 1950s and 1960s. There were plays and films about the 20th Century Limited. Publications catering to the rail ‘buffs’ have almost double the circulations of philatelic ones today. What is unusual is that only a few of the ‘buffs’ also became interested in railroad philately. Classic rail collecting has drawn only a few devotees, and the later railroad post office (RPO) collectors have the Mobile Post Office Society of moderate size. The link between railroad topical philately and the much larger circle of rail ‘buffs’ has not yet been made.
The transportation topical that did take off philatelically as well as socially was the airmail field. Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in May 1927 caught the public imagination, and he became a hero of the late l920s and the 1930s, even having the ‘Lindy’ dance step named after him. The pioneer flights of 1911 both in America and Germany also drew comparatively large audiences and a host of souvenirs. Count Zeppelin’s experiments before World War I and the successful trans-Atlantic crossings after the war helped build excitement.
The pioneer Jenny flights with the 1918 issue of stamps to carry letters on them, combined with the excitement surrounding the discovery of the 24-cent airmail invert and the subsequent contract air mail (CAM) of 1919, built major philatelic interest. For years flight covers, airport dedication covers, and trans-Atlantic and Pan Am flights whetted philatelic appetites.
The first aerophilatelist collector and author was Dr. Robert Paganini (1866-1950), a German chemist who first wrote on the subject in 1911. He served on the Russian front during the war, being at the battle of Przemysl, a fortress that guarded the passes into Hungary. His major work was published in 1920. In 1919 and 1921, respectively, Fred Melville and Theodore Champion published airmail catalogs. However, the best-known catalog was that of a Venezuelan, Nicolas Sanabria (1890-1945) who worked in the United States.
The airmail topic drew an unusually large number of women collectors such as Mrs. Prentice Cromwell, Ethel Stewart McCoy, Mrs. Heathcote (a Rockefeller), and Mrs. McCleverty. Even today men and women of a certain age remember their first hunger for the Graf Zeppelin stamps or the first airmails, which they knew as children. Henry Goodkind (1904-1970), an editor of The Collectors Club Philatelist and the Aerophilatelist News, was a second-generation airmail collector, who also wrote for Sanabria.
A modern offshoot of aerophilately is space philately along with rocket mail collecting. Rocket mail came first, but space developments continue since the advent of Sputnik and the ‘moon walks’ with the more recent Mir space station and American orbital launches. While space philately has a band of devoted followers, it has not yet reached the extent of aerophilately, despite the fact that several collectors are among the astronauts.