News | July 27, 2023

Postcard Sent on World’s First Official Airmail Flight Takes Off at Auction

Richard Winterton Auctioneers

The sender wrote on the back of the postcard: “Please keep this for my collection.”

Dating back to 1911, the postcard was part of an old family collection which had been largely forgotten about for many decades. 

Featuring a panoramic view of Dijon, the card is addressed to an AE Sauballe Esq in Purulia, West Bengal, the sender apparently anticipating its future desirability as a collectable, writing on the back: “Please keep this for my collection.”

It was amongst approximately 6,000 items of mail flown the five miles from Allahabad to Naini on a Humber-Sommer biplane by French pilot Henri Pequet on February 18, 1911. A few decades previously, mail had been carried by hot air balloons but Pequet’s 13 minute journey proved the possibilities of aerial mail by plane and paved the way for the world’s first regular airmail service in the UK that September, tying in with the coronation of King George V.

Richard Winterton Auctioneers’ philately specialist Phil Ives uncovered the postcard during a valuation at the family firm’s head office in Staffordshire, England. The archive sold for £420 ($545).

“It was part of an old family collection passed down through the generations and had been squirrelled away and largely forgotten about for four or even five decades,” he said. “The family knew of the collection’s existence but were unaware of the significance of this cover.”

Since the Wright brothers made the first powered flight in 1903, early pioneers and promoters attempted to commercialise the travel revolution by arranging air shows. One such show was arranged in February 1911 by Walter Windham in Allahabad, Northern India, to help raise funds for a church mission. Windham conceived the notion that if official sanction could be granted for a postal delivery that incorporated a section of the journey covered by air, then a premium could be paid for the privilege, the premium being a donation to the mission.

“The main event of the show was the flight made by Henri Pequet and as such was the first flight by powered plane in India,” added Mr Ives. “The flight was a success and so airmail services were born.”

Each item of mail on the flight was hand-stamped with a special cachet decorative frank designed by Windham and featuring the outline of an aeroplane. Usually in magenta – as is this example – but occasionally also found in black, the cachet is dated 1911 and reads ‘First Aerial Post U.P. Exhibition Allahabad’. The sender wrote on the back of the postcard: “Please keep this for my collection.”