Scarce cachet on Midway Island flight cover captures attention during eBay auction

Oct 5, 2015, 12 PM

Would you pay more than $500 for this rather worn 1935 flight cover?

When this cover was listed on eBay in mid-September, it didn't take long for some knowledgeable collectors to recognize this piece of postal history for the gem that it is: an early trans-oceanic survey cover for a Pacific route that included Midway Island, which would become famous as the location of a pivotal 1942 naval battle during World War II.

Dealer Alex Hall of Tallahassee, Fla., described the cover in his online auction with this headline: "6.18.1935, 1st FLIGHT, HONOLULU, HAWAII to MIDWAY ISLAND, LUEDER-MIDWAY, PAN-AM."

Such a description, rich with important key words, was certain to get the attention of collectors seeking covers from the early days of the foreign airmail (FAM) routes.

When the auction closed Sept. 20, six collectors had placed 19 bids. Final realization: $527.07. 

"This Midway cover was in one of a dozen or more boxes of flight and event covers," Hall told me. "What struck me as unusual was the cachet and that exact date. Neither are listed in [the American Air Mail Catalogue] anywhere, and I’d not seen another like it, ever."

A number of collectors contacted Hall with questions during the auction, he said. He clarified that there are no markings on the back of the cover, no contents, and the cover is opened at the top.

Hall also added additional details to the listing as the auction progressed: "This cover was in an old time holding, stuffed in a box with newspapers and other covers in hot, humid, South Florida. It definitely is not a pristine, white cover, far from it, but it is what it is!!"

To learn about this important cover, I contacted noted military postal historian and Linn's Spotlight on Philately columnist Ken Lawrence.

"It's a trans-oceanic survey flight cover with a scarce cachet," Lawrence replied.

"Legs of the planned FAM-14 route, and combinations — San Francisco to Honolulu, Honolulu to Midway, Honolulu to Wake, and SF-Honolulu-Midway-Wake-Guam —were surveyed by Pan Am flying boats and/or Navy flights, before the entire SF-Honolulu-Midway-Wake-Guam-Manila FAM 14 service was inaugurated in November 1935.

"An old edition of the American Air Mail Catalogue lists and numbers all the TO survey flights, but the values are obsolete."

Although I don't collect such covers, I wish I knew more about them and had stumbled across Hall's auction. He initially listed it with an opening bid of $9.55 and a buy-it-now price of $35.55. Thirty-five bucks and change, as it turned out, was a real bargain.

Knowledge, as the old saw goes, is power.