Part 7- The Jazz Era

Figure 80. Rudolph Valentine (1895-1926) silent film’s ‘great lover,’ came from Italy in 1913 and broke into movies with Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Sheik in 1921.  30,000 fans mobbed his funeral in 1926.

Wired communication such as the telephone had already reached critical social mass by 1918 with 50-million calls daily.  It rose to almost 85-million daily calls by 1929.  As noted earlier, this shift began to strip the personal aspects of the message from the mail system.  Both businesses and families increasingly communicated by telephone rather than by letter.

Another mass communication medium, the moving picture, began the Americanization of the rest of the globe starting in the jazz era.  The early pictures of the 19th century quickly developed into the ‘nickelodeons’ of the early 20th century.  By 1905 films such as the Great Train Robbery were on the screen, and by 2925 major feature films such as Birth of a Nation were making box office records. A major advance occurred in 1926 when the first talking pictures were released.  A whole new era began then, dominated by American films and American film stars.  American ‘movie stars’ became icons both in the United States and abroad, while the movie sets generated new social aspirations around the globe.  Despite the Great Depression, American movie receipts topped one billion dollars by 1939.

Marconi had developed ‘wireless’ communications in 1896 and, on April 30, 1897, J. J. Thompson reported the electron, the first fundamental particle, taking advantage of Röntgen’s 1895 discovery of the existence of X-rays.  This provided part of the experimental base and intellectual impetus that led to radio, television, radar, modern computers and the revelations of quantum mechanics.  By 1902 Lee De Forest was working on the concept of radio and in 1907 developed his ‘audion’ tube.  Crystal detectors had already been developed in 1906, and by 1912 both the spark transmitter and crystal receiver were available.  The year 1914 saw the development of the three-electrode vacuum tube.

The first trans-oceanic radio station was established in 1914 at Sayville, Long Island (now chiefly known as one of the jumping-off points for summer visitors to Fire Island beaches), while in 1916 the City College of New York began a series of domestic radio broadcasts heard in a 100-mile radius around the city.  When Americans entered World War I, the government took over radio development and all the patents, which were widely dispersed.  At the war’s end both control and patents were released and radio could expand. Significantly, the first public broadcast of U.S. election returns took place November 2, 1920, announcing Harding’s election and the ‘era of normalcy.’  It was the same year the Home Department Stores of Pittsburgh began advertising the sale of radio receivers to the public.

The radio ‘craze’ got under way in February 1922, at which point there were only 60 radio ‘sets’ in America.  The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) had been formed the year prior.  By 1924 there were some 3,000 manufacturers of radio parts and 300 manufacturers of radio sets.  Every American male of high school age began to create his own crystal-set receiver.

By the critical year of 1927, there were some 700 radio stations and the government had to begin assigning broadcast frequencies.  AT&T’s New York City WEAF station was selling ads in the new medium. CBS was formed that year and NBC the prior year, so that radio broadcast networks were established.  By the close of the jazz age, radio was a multi-million dollar industry although only 13,750 families reported having ‘radio sets’ in the 1930 census.  Future events were already being forecast, for the first successful facsimile (FAX) machine was developed by RCA in 1924, while the first TV broadcast experiment took place on September 27, 1927.  Radio was to have a significant impact on stamp collecting in the 1930s and even more so on society as a whole.  The impact of TV and FAX machines would take longer.

Another area that was ‘jazzed up’ was transportation.  New car sales rose from slightly less than 1-million to 4.4-million cars annually by 1929 as personal transport began to replace the railroad.   In 1927 auto transport was about 55 million vehicle miles; the figures quadrupled to more than 206 million vehicle miles by 1930, closely split between urban and rural travel.   The American

Figure 81. ‘The Ruling Passion’ s both stamp collecting and auto touring for two you Jazz Age men.  Cover illustration for The Stamp Collector’s Magazine, ed. R.C. Bach of Nassau Street, N.Y.

frontier ‘tinkering’ tradition continued with young males working with the early automobiles produced by Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, Ford, Packard and others, particularly after Ford’s 1907 introduction of precision-part, mass-production assembly lines.  Bus travel records also exploded from 404 million passengers annually at the beginning of the era to 2,622 million by 1929, as bus companies developed to take advantage of the newly built road systems.

With the rise of personal car transport, rural communities were less isolated; while in the cities the era of urban sprawl was about to begin.  These developments meant that many rural post offices were no longer needed, with the result that some 5,484 were closed between 1918 and 1930, although overall postal services, as measured by the number of stamps issued, remained fairly static.

There were two transportation mode shifts that began during the jazz era at the same time automobile development was reaching adolescent growth.  One shift was the substitution of the diesel locomotive for the steam engine on America’s rail lines beginning in 1925.  The second was the rise of civilian aircraft as a practical mode of transport.

Combined with the rise of an automobile economy, the shift to diesel engines marked the change from the previously coal-based economy to a petroleum-based one, the economy we know today.  It meant a major geopolitical and economic shift over the coming decades away from the Pennsylvania coal mines to the new oil fields of Texas, whose arrival was marked by the Spindletop gusher.  Overseas the shift marked the beginning of the significance of the Middle East oil fields, just then being discovered.

Initially the development of civilian aircraft had more philatelic impact. Before the war, aviation was experimental, as denoted by the pioneer Garden City airmail flights on Long Island. Wartime developments gave impetus to the importance of aircraft. immedi­ately following the end of the war, the military took over and established a nation-wide airmail system. In turn this was fairly rapidly replaced by civilian craft. Civil aircraft pro­duction went from 48 planes annually in 1921 to 5,414 by 1929, primarily because of the development of contract mail (CAM) flights. Night flights began in 1925 and civilian con­tracts in 1926. These early flights received a good deal of publicity, as did Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic hop in 1927.

Both of these changes in transportation mode had philatelic consequences. Railroad philately became a more interesting topic, more widely pursued, particularly as there were now thousands of railway mail agents who had both interest and money. Additionally there now was a growing group of general railroad ‘buffs’ who collected everything from car models and signal lanterns to timetables. Youngsters taken to see the first new diesels were impressed by them; some even became collectors of railroadiana. The introduction of the new airmail stamps coincided with the rise in the number of women at work. These women had newly-gained discretionary income as well as new role models in the early female pilots. The result was that airmail philately became the first philatelic area where women collectors moved to the forefront.

The jazz era saw a continued increase in the base of potential collectors. Over the preceding two decades, Fred Melville’s ongoing campaign for junior collectors was bearing fruit. At the same time, there was an addition of about 4 million white collar workers who would be most likely to be attracted to the new classicism, topicals and cover collecting that typified American century collecting in its early days.

Two well publicized events helped draw many of these new white collar workers into the stamp collecting hobby. First was the publicity in 1918 surrounding the discovery of the 24¢ airmail invert (C3a) by 29-year old William Robey at the Washington, D.C. post office and its subsequent sale. This discovery, and the profit thereon, made many who read or heard of it believe it was possible to garner large riches through stamp collecting even when buying at the post office. At the same time, the business use of strange-looking private perforated stamps such as the Schermacks combined with the publicity surrounding the coil waste finds and the imperforate Harding rotary press stamps triggered America’s well-known gambling instincts and focused them upon stamps as a possible get-rich-quick scheme. The Florida land schemes and the Irish sweepstake promotions of the 1930s appealed to the same instincts.

Another major publicity story involved the 192 1-3 Ferrari dispersal. In this case, the story that the King of England bad been outbid by an American, Arthur Hind, for the British Guiana penny magenta was featured in papers around the world. It helped eliminate any stigma remaining that suggested stamp collecting was a childish pursuit. Ferrari owned about 90% of the world’s philatelic rarities; the release of these onto the auction market meant the new middle-class collectors could afford a few choice items for their own holdings.

Although the number of real purchasers at the Ferrari sales was comparatively small, American collectors were prominent among them. The possibility of anyone owning a world-class rarity invigorated collecting in general. The fact that the great U.S. collection of Clarence H. Eagle was also dispersed in 1923 didn’t hurt. In addition to early classics, the Eagle holding was notable for strength in the 1869 and subsequent banknote rarities.

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