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Zeppelin mail

Zeppelin mail is one of the most popular collection fields in Germany as well as being one of the forerunners of modern airmail.

Zeppelinpost

The Zeppelin and his inventor

In philately, the term Zeppelin mail refers to post – usually letters and postcards – that was transported by airship. Although strictly speaking only those airships invented by Count Zeppelin were known by this designation, the term “Zeppelin” has come to be a synonym for airship.

LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin über Berlin (Quelle: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00959 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)


The development of Zeppelin mail

In the following sections we have collected together some of the more important milestones of Zeppelin mail history.

From postal drops to economic factor

Zeppelin Pioniere
The Zeppelin LZ 3 flight over Lake Constance 1907

At the beginning of the 20th century – in 1907 to be specific – the first cards were dropped by Zeppelin models LZ 3 and LZ 4. These private drop cards did not yet have a special cancel stamp to indicate how they were transported. One year later saw the arrival of the LZ 6, which was used for the commercial transport of flight passengers for the first time. From 1911, consignments were marked with the airship’s own cancel stamps, such as “On board the Zeppelin …”. In addition to the actual post cancel stamps, the Zeppelin mail was given its own flight confirmation stamp.

Exotic contract mail

Exotische Zuleitungspost
Registration card from the Eritrea to Italy flight 1933

When the First World War broke out in 1914, no Zeppelins were initially used for civilian purposes, but were used extensively for military reconnaissance work, material transport and also for dropping bombs. An estimated 100 airships were lost in the war.
After the end of the war, Zeppelins were once again deployed for civilian purposes, including postal transport. However, the first built models LZ 120 “Bodensee” and LZ 126 had to be given to Italy and the USA as reparations.
The classic era of Zeppelin mail began following the ongoing expansion of the airship industry in 1928 with the deployment of the LZ 127 “Graf Zeppelin”. Travelling by airship was a costly affair at the time, comparable with a first-class ticket in modern times. Because of this, many Zeppelin enthusiasts made a point of sending their letters and postcards by Zeppelin, even if they could not afford to travel on the airship themselves. Up until 1937, the LZ 127 “Graf Zeppelin” and LZ 129 “Hindenburg” models transported many tonnes of post, especially to North and South America. Many consignments also came to Germany from abroad merely so that they could be sent on their travels with the Zeppelin. This “contract mail” came from all over Europe as well as from exotic climes such as the Dutch East Indies, Eritrea or Senegal and was a major factor contributing to Zeppelin financing. Measured in terms of weight, postal transport was still far more attractive than passenger transport.

Coveted cancels and stamps

Polarfahrt 1931, Etappe bis Eisbrecher Malyguin mit komplettem Satz Polarfahrt Sondermarken
Polar flight 1931, the icebreaker Malyguin stage, with the complete series of polar flight stamps and the red special cancellation

Specially conceived stamps were even issued for some LZ 127 flights, such as the famous “South America Flight” (1930), the “Polar Flight” (1931) or the “Chicago Flight” to the World Exhibition in Chicago (1933). Little by little, Zeppelin airmail cancels became even more elaborate, featuring pyramids for the Orient Flight, windmills for the Holland Flight or Christmas trees on flights in December. It is often these cancels that make a card sought after by collectors. Especially interesting are covers and postcards belonging to passengers or crew members which feature a special on-board cancellation. Short reports on the flight or the signatures of famous personalities make them particularly appealing.

Snatched from the flames …

Crashmail LZ 129 Hindenburg
North American flight 1937, card from the unfortunate LZ 129 Hindenburg with certificate from the post office.

Of the 17,000 items of post that were aboard the ill-fated Hindenburg LZ 129 airship that crashed in Lakehurst, USA, on 6 May 1937, barely 400 were saved from the flames. This “crash mail” is among the most sought after covers in Zeppelin philately.
The Hindenburg disaster and the outbreak of the Second World War spelt the end of the Zeppelin era. In August 1939, the last Zeppelin mail was delivered in Germany.

From Zeppelin shares to pewter goblets

There are also many collectors of Zeppelin memorabilia such as medallions, photographs, postcards, shares or even menus and wine lists from aboard the airships. Ashtrays, salt cellars and even material from the outer shell of a Zeppelin are very popular among collectors. The main thing is that the objects should have a clear connection with the Zeppelin.


Auctioning or selling Zeppelin covers and memorabilia

Have we aroused your interest in this exciting collection field? If so, then why not have a look through our auction catalogue for the forthcoming auction.
Do you have articles of Zeppelin mail or memorabilia that you would like to sell? We hold special Zeppelin auctions on a regular basis. Please talk to our experts to find out how to secure the best price for your material.

Information on the following subjects can be found here:

How to submit material for auction
Inherited stamps
Having stamps evaluated