World Stamps

Ecuador’s first airmails could be used in more ways than one

Jan 9, 2015, 10 AM

All eight of Ecuador’s first airmail stamps, issued in 1929, used the same design: an airplane over the Guayas River.

In May 1929 Ecuador issued a series of eight airmail stamps (Scott C8-C15). Shown here is the second of the issues, a 5-centavo stamp depicting (as all the denominations do) an aircraft flying over the River Guayas.

The odd thing about these stamps is that they were valid for ordinary mail as well as for airmail.

Why? That is a good question, but I have a good guess (though it is only a guess).

In 1929 airmail was still in its infancy. In common with most other countries, Ecuador’s airmail rates were quoted as the ordinary mail fee plus the airmail supplement. But, unlike most other countries, Ecuador chose to allow payment of both ordinary mail and airmail with a single stamp.

This unusual postal decision meant that airmail stamps could be used and were used on surface mail as well as on airmail. Indeed, this usage must have been expected, since the 2c stamp by itself paid only the printed-matter rate.

By allowing both surface and air usage, Ecuador ensured that the public would buy and use the new stamps, even if the new airmail routes were not immediate successes.

As the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps & Covers 1840-1940 notes, “The stamps were available for all forms of postal service and were largely used for franking ordinary letters.”

The stamps were printed by the American Bank Note Co. and issued May 5, 1929, in plenty of time for the first departures of international airmail via Pan American/Grace Airways (also known as Panagra) on May 18.

The stamps depict a single-wing airplane flying over the Guayas River, which flows by the city of Guayaquil.

ABNC artists employed the same concept for the 1930 airmails of Panama and the 1934 airmails of Costa Rica, and those stamps are not very different from the contemporary airmails that ABNC printed for Honduras. The shapes and details are different but the “airplane over … ” concept is the same.

The lower denomination stamps of this series are quite common. One million each of the 2c, 5c and 20c stamps were printed, and five million were printed of the 10c denomination, which paid both the domestic and the Americas letter rate for surface mail.

The higher denominations are scarcer: Just 100,000 of the 50c stamp were issued; 30,000 of the 1-sucre; 10,000 of the 5s and only 2,000 of the 10s stamp.

The 1s, 5s and 10s denominations were reissued in 1930 in new colors (Scott C26, C28 and C30), and again in 1944 with different colors (C27, C29 and C31).

The quantities of the reissues were much greater: 15,000 each for the 1930 stamps; then 300,000, 500,000 and 200,000 for the 1944 issues. Stamps were overprinted for Official use in 1929 and 1930. The Officials are considerably scarcer than the ordinary airmail stamps.