Pioneering flight rarities
Lord Northcliffe, the newspaper tycoon, had offered a number of prizes before the war, for the first flight from London to Manchester (1910) and round Britain (1911). In 1913 he announced a prize of £10,000 for the first successful flight across the Atlantic. The project was shelved on account of the outbreak of war, although there were no aircraft in 1914 that were capable of such a long flight. Early in 1919 Northcliffe repeated his offer and, by the end of March, six entries were received. The men who actually achieved success were John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown, both knighted for their achievement. The Postmaster General of Newfoundland authorised the overprinting of the 15c stamp with a $1 surcharge for use on the small quantity of mail carried on the converted Vickers Vimy bomber. Although flown covers are very desirable, the mint stamps are not scarce and can be picked up for around £100.
The first of the Newfoundland air stamps consisted of the 3c Caribou overprinted in five lines ‘FIRST TRANS-ATLANTIC AIR POST April, 1919’. Two sheets were thus overprinted, but of the 200 stamps 18 were defective and destroyed, 11 were given as presentation copies, and 76 were sold to raise money for the Marine Disasters Fund. The remaining 95 were affixed to the envelopes carried by Harry Hawker and Kenneth Mackenzie-Grieve in their Sopwith Atlantic, which took off on April 18. Bad weather, and engine failure, forced them down in the Atlantic the following morning but they were rescued by a Danish ship. The aircraft, together with the mailbag, was salvaged a few days later and most of the covers (forwarded by sea) show evidence of their immersion in salt water. Today Gibbons lists the mint Hawker 3c at £15,000.
More highly-prized are the 3c Caribou stamps which were overprinted in manuscript, by the Postmaster General Dr. J.A. Robinson, ‘Aerial Atlantic Mail, J.A.R.’ and affixed to about a couple of dozen covers. They were carried by Raynham and Morgan in their Martinsyde ‘Raymor’ which attempted the flight about an hour after the Sopwith but crashed on take-off, both men being slightly injured. A second attempt on July 17 likewise ended in disaster, so the Martinsyde covers had to be sent by sea. The manuscript overprints now rate £20,000 in used condition. This stamp was never available in mint condition, being affixed to covers when they were handed in for posting. A single example of the 2c Caribou with a similar manuscript overprint is known with an ordinary unoverprinted 2c, used on cover postmarked April 18, 1919.
De Pinedo flight
The Italian aviator Francesco De Pinedo is forever linked to the Newfoundland-Rome flight of 1927, on account of the very rare stamp produced in connection. This time the 60c stamp of 1897 portraying Henry VII was overprinted ‘Air Mail DE PINEDO 1927’ in red ink. De Pinedo left Trepassey aboard his plane Santa Maria II on May 23, 1927 but was forced to land in the ocean about 200 miles from the Azores. He continued from the Azores and reached Rome on June 16. Of the three sheets totalling 300 stamps, some 258 were sold over the counter, 18 were presented to officials, and four defective copies were destroyed. Of those sold, some 225 were affixed to covers, but about 75 other covers were franked by ordinary, unoverprinted 60c stamps. Very few De Pinedo stamps were preserved in unused condition and as a result they are now quoted at £24,000.
Six years later Newfoundland’s 75c airmail stamp was surcharged $4.50 and overprinted in connection with the Balbo Mass Flight across the Atlantic. These stamps are quite plentiful but one sheet was overprinted upside down. When the error was discovered it was torn up and thrown away but a block of four was retrieved in undamaged condition, while a further four which had been damaged were expertly repaired. These stamps now rate £35,000 apiece. A sheet of the 10c airmail was overprinted by mistake, and the handful of examples that have survived likewise command a price of £35,000.