US Stamps

Collector interest fueling volatility in values for wartime postal history

Oct 14, 2015, 9 PM

By Ken Lawrence

Values on scarce wartime postal history covers have grown increasingly volatile as collectors’ interest has intensified. This Oct. 29, 1941, airmail cover from New York City to the Dutch East Indies sold recently on the eBay Internet auction website for $1,225 after spirited bidding by 10 competitors. The $7.85 in postage represented 11 times the 70¢ per half ounce airmail postage rate plus 15¢ for the registry fee.

The cover was in transit during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, arriving at Medan, Sumatra, on Dec. 17. It probably was carried on the Philippine Clipper (NC 14715) flight that departed San Francisco on Nov. 4 and arrived at Singapore on Nov. 12. Dutch airlines KLM and KLIMN transported mail between Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and Australia, as did British Overseas Airways, so it isn’t possible to pinpoint the routing of the final trip to the letter’s destination. Besides wartime postal history interest, this cover has strong appeal to specialists in Presidential series, Transport airmail, and Clipper airmail stamps, plus collectors of transoceanic airmail.

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Besides international airmail, today’s postal historians can showcase the fateful events that brought war to the United States with covers carried on surface ships. The cancellation location, date and time on the second cover — Honolulu, Dec. 7, 1941, at 9:00 a.m. — situated it between the first and second waves of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Until 2008 the second cover shown was in Randy L. Neil’s Presidential series postal history exhibit. At a Nutmeg Stamp Sales auction, it realized $7,500 plus a buyer’s premium. In today’s rising market for exceptional World War II postal history, it might bring twice as much.


Editor's Note: Ken Lawrence provides a fascinating, engaging look at international postal history set against the backdrop of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, in his October Spotlight on Philately feature: International airmail covers recall the ‘Day of Infamy’.