The Graf Zeppelin was Dr. Hugo Eckner’s crowning achievement in the concept of the zeppelin. Even though the later Hindenburg and the Graf Zeppelin II would be technologically superior to the Graf Zeppelin, no other airship was so beloved by nearly all the world.
The pioneering flights of the giant German airship made front-page news around the world. The dirigible became the first commercial aircraft to span the Atlantic Ocean in 1928 and it set other aeronautical records in subsequent years. Before being decommissioned in 1937 and dismantled in 1940, it had traveled further than any zeppelin before or since: 590 flights, more than a million miles and 144 ocean crossings.
Two collectors of Ukrainian background sought to have mails transported on this new aerial conveyance. The renowned collector Eugene Vyrovyj and the stamp dealer Katherine E. Shattuck (later spelled Shutock) were philatelic associates who set up a trans-Atlantic correspondence. Both were members of the Society of Ukrainian Philatelists in Vienna, Austria. While he was a Ukrainian living in Prague, Czechoslovakia, she was an American-born Ukrainian (both mother and father having emigrated from Chernivtsi in 1902. The U.S. address on several of the covers that appear in this article was also the address of Miss Shattuck’s ECHO Stamp Co. Both parties conducted many successful and unique stamp exchanges over a number of years.
Mr. Vyrowyj and Miss Shattuck would address and send envelopes to each other – in quantity cancelled at special events. Subsequently, a received portion of the envelopes would be returned to the other in normal mail.
Figure 1 is a cover from the Graf Zeppelin that raveled on the return (second) leg of the first round trip between Germany and the U.S. The airship first arrived in Lakehurst, N.J., on October 15, 1928, after a 111-hour flight from Germany. It left the U.S. on October 30 bearing a great deal of commemorative flight materials, including the illustrated cover, which was mailed by Miss Shattuck to Mr. Vyrovyj. The envelope carries 6 cents airmail franking and a special violet commemorative marking that proclaims: “First Flight Air Mail Via Graf Zeppelin, United States – Germany.”
The return flight was much faster, since the aircraft was now riding the prevailing westerly winds. The cancels on the reverse reveal that the ship arrived at its home base of Friedrichshafen on November 1 and was delivered to Krale Vinohrady in Czechoslovakia two days later.
Figure 2 and 3 are a postcard and envelope both highlighted with the same round blue cachet that in German states: “The Airship Graf Zeppelin, First America Trip [of] 1929.” (This flight was the aircraft’s second trip to America.) Both items were mailed by Mr. Vyrovyj to Ms. Shattuck on or about May 16, 1929 (note special black “Luftschiff Graf Zeppelin” [Airship Graf Zeppelin] cancellation). However, 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) into the flight engine trouble developed and the ship became unmanageable. The Graf Zeppelin drifted a considerable distance in a short time. Finally, with the assistance of a ground force, it landed at Cuers, a French military airport. It took several days for temporary repairs to be made, after which the Zeppelin headed home, landing safely at Friedrichshafen.
All the mail that was on the zeppelin was overprinted with a red, one-line, German inscription that stated: “Conveyance delayed because of a break in the first American journey.” Mails received subsequently, while the Zeppelin was being repaired at its home hanger, did not carry this marking. Consequently, mail with this overprint has a greater value, for fewer items were carried on the original aborted flight.
On August 1, 1929, after the engines had received extensive repairs, the zeppelin again departed for its second Atlantic crossing, this time completing the trip without further incident.
The Graf Zeppelin‘s subsequent excursion was its most ambitious to date: a journey around the world. This trip was as big a global news story as the moon landing 40 years later. Carrying 16 passengers and a crew of 37, the airship left Lakehurst in the early morning hours of August 8, 1929. It made only three stops on her 19,500-mile trip. The first destination was its home base in Germany.
Figure 4 is of a pre-stamped 5 -cent airmail cover (with 1 cent stamp added), mailed by Miss Shattuck to Mr. Vyrovyj and carried on the first leg of this historic trip from the U.S. (postmark is New York on August 7, 1929) to Friedrichshafen (arrival cancel of August 10). The item was subsequently forwarded to Prague, arriving two days later.
From Germany the ship flew over Siberia to Japan, where it made its second stop in Tokyo. It next proceeded westward over the Pacific to Los Angeles for its final stop and then returned to Lakehurst on August 29, having journeyed for 21 days, seven hours, and 26 minutes – a new record for around-the-world travel. More amazing was the fact that only about 12 of those days had been spent in the air. The round violet cachet on the cover proclaims “First Round-the-World Flight, U.S. Air Mail” and lists the three stopover sites of the flight as well as Lakehurst, the beginning and end point.
The above pictures, figure 5, is of a postcard traveling in the opposite direction, once again making a groundbreaking journey – this time a Europe-Pan American tour. The German message in the round, light red cachet reads: “Airship Graf Zeppelin, South America Trip 1930.” This time Mr. Vyrovyj used a typewriter to print out Miss Shattuck’s address, as well as a short inscription under the cachet: “By Airship Graf Zeppelin to Lakehurst.”
His Ukrainian message on the back contains instructions for his philatelic partner. It reads:
Prague May 14, 1930
Highly Esteemed Miss Shattuck!
I am sending you three cards and four letters. If you like, keep for yourself one card and one letter and return two cards and three letters to me in a registered letter. If you like, you may retain one additional letter. Please also send me two-three letters by zeppelin, franked only with airmail stamps and not with some others. Sincerest greetings and I wish you all the best. E. Vyrovyj
P.S. [In the left margin] In another letter I inserted a prepared addressed envelope.
On May 18, 1930 the Graf Zeppelin left for Seville, Spain – the first stage of its Europe-South America-North America flight – and arrived the following day. Note the cancellation dated the 19th, which was undoubtedly applied in flight. Shortly after midnight of the morning of the 20th, the airship departed for a long (6,400-kilometer, or 4,000 mile) flight to Pernambuco, Brazil, arriving on May 22 after a flight of 61 hours. On the 27th, a short flight was made to Rio de Janeiro. After 70 minutes on the ground, the zeppelin returned to Pernambuco. The following morning, the aircraft proceeded northward on its historic trek, heading for Havana. Because of the weather, the ship skipped this rendezvous and continued on to Lakehurst, arriving at daybreak of May 31. The ship returned to Friedrichshafen by way of Seville, Spain.
Figures 6 and 7 are items apparently prepared by Miss Shattuck, but never carried on the last leg of this journey. The applied stamps were quite high-value for their time and were part of a three-stamp set released by the U.S. Postal Service in the spring of 1930. The stamps were specifically issued for use on mails carried on the first Europe-Pan-America round-trip flight of the Graf Zeppelin in May of 1930. Relatively few of these stamps were issued and today they are among the most valuable of all U.S. airmail stamps. The stamp in Figure 6 might be worth about $200, while the one in Figure 7 about $400. Why these two items were never mailed remains a mystery.
More about the U.S. Graf Zeppelin stamps
In February of 1930, Hugo Eckener, the pilot of the Graf Zeppelin, went to Washington to receive the National Geographic Society’s Gold Medal for his around-the-world flight. He used this occasion to lobby for and convince the U.S. Post Office to issue a set of zeppelin stamps.
The stamps, valued at $.65, $1.30 and $2.60, were quickly designed and placed on sale initially at the Washington post office and the Philatelic Agency on April 19, 1930. Two days later, they began to be sold at other post offices. This was about a month before the airship’s next scheduled big flight, from Europe to South America and then North America. The stamps were withdrawn from sale at post offices on June 7, 1930, a week after the arrival of the aircraft in the U.S. The stamps continued on sale at the Philatelic Agency for the benefit of stamp collectors until June 30, 1930. Subsequently all remainders were destroyed.
The $.65 and $1.30 values were used for postcards and letters respectively carried on the last leg of the journey from the U.S. to Seville, Spain and Friedrichshafen. The $1.30 and $2.60 values were used for post cards and letters respectively carried on the round trip flight Friedrichshafen to Friedrichshafen or Seville. These latter items were delivered to Germany by boat and forwarded to Friedrichshafen for the start of the trip.
Very few of these Graf Zeppelin stamps were sold. The U.S. and the world were still in the throes of the Great Depression and the $4.55 value for the set represented a week’s food allowance for a family of four. One million copies of each stamp were printed, but less than 8 percent survive and they remain the smallest U.S. issue of the 20th century (only 229,260 of these stamps were ever purchased). Despite this fact, the U.S. Post Office was able to present Dr. Eckener with $100,000 raised towards the expenses of the trip.
About Count Zeppelin and the flight around the world
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) was a retired German brigadier general who developed the rigid dirigible, a lighter-than-air vehicle that became known as the zeppelin. His first craft was completed in 1900. Despite many setbacks, Zeppelin persevered and continued his research to modify and improve his designs; in 1910, one of his airships was able to provide the first commercial air service for passengers. One of Zepplein’s closest associates from 1906 was Dr. Hugo Eckener. After World War I and Zeppelin’s death, Dr. Eckener became the chief proponent of dirigible travel.
Even with all its novel design innovations and the excitement and support of the German people, getting the Graf Zeppelin built was slowed by the lack of money. It had taken a plea to the German people by Dr. Eckener to raise most of the funds to have it built and more arm-twisting in the government to get enough monies to finish the ship. Finally christened on July 8, 1928, the ship was launched on September 18, 1928, but further financial support was needed to keep it flying. Such support was found by way of an American businessman and airship supporter, William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst put together a shrewd deal with Dr. Eckener that would benefit both the Zeppelin Company and Hearst’s newspaper companies. Hearst would put up the money for a global flight of the Graf Zeppelin that would gain it the publicity it would need to form a solid reputation for dependability. In return, he would get exclusive U.S. rights to the story.
Dr. Eckener, having been a journalist and writer before going to work for Count Von Zeppelin, knew how to make the most of this publicity and did so at every opportunity. The global flight would begin in Friedrichshafen and proceed to Lakehurst, N.J. Lakehurst would then mark the official starting point of the journey, as stipulated in the contract drawn up by Hearst.
Although the Graf Zeppelin was not the first aircraft to circle the globe, it was by far the fastest. What took months for a British military heavey bomber to do, with many breakdowns and hardships along the way, the Graf did in three weeks in comfort and style with a full passenger load over much previously uncharted land (Figure 8). The trip was a complete success and the world, particularly the US, caught “Zeppelin Mania.” Once safely moored at Lakehurst, Dr. Eckener was treated to a ticker-tape parade in his honor in New York City and the newspapers dubbed him the “Magellan of the Air”.
Six different Graf Zeppelin badges commemmorating the round-the-world flight were made available at auction (Figure 9). Made of heavy copper, each badge type was enameled a different color: blue, green, yellow, red, black, and white. These 4.5 cm (1.75 inch) medallions were slightly domed to give a globe-like effect to the central hemispheric map that appears on each badge. The four major stops of the journey were spelled out in the outer frame and their initials (L, F, T, and LA) appear on the maps and on the backs. The badges were almost cetainly manufactured in Germany and indicated by the “Tokio” spelled on the frame.