US Stamps

Two recent finds, both scarce, document invalid use of U.S. airmail stamps

Feb 27, 2017, 2 PM

Modern U.S. Mail — By Tony Wawrukiewicz

There is often a question with airmail postage regarding the circumstances under which its use was invalid.

From July 9, 1924, until May 11, 1928, the fact that airmail postage was allowed to be used only on airmail was not clearly stated in postal regulations. 

However, starting with the announcement in Postal Bulletin 14687 (May 11, 1928), until Dec. 15, 1975, it was clear that airmail postage could be used only on airmail letters, including for the payment of special service fees. 

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From the latter date until the present day, airmail postage stamps could be used to pay both regular postage and fees for special services.

In my experience, examples are rarely seen of the invalid use of airmail postage where the misuse was caught and penalized. 

In fact, until I found the two examples shown in this column at last September’s Seapex stamp show in Tukwila, a suburb of Seattle, I had seen only two such examples.

The first 1968 letter pictured here was franked with an 8¢ carmine Jet Airliner over Capitol airmail stamp (Scott C64).

Because it was subsequently marked due 2¢, it was presumably mailed after Jan. 7, 1968, when the airmail rate increased to 10¢ for letter mail weighing up to 1 ounce.

Because the airmail stamp was affixed but did not pay the airmail rate at that time, it was an invalid use of an airmail stamp. 

Thus, a postal worker correctly noted “NOT AIR MAIL,” then the marking “THIS STAMP CAN BE USED/FOR AIR MAIL ONLY,” and finally, “POSTAGE DUE 2 CENTS.”

That is, the airmail stamp could only be used for airmail service, and because it was placed on an inadequately franked letter (for airmail service), all these manuscript and handstamped markings were necessary and were applied.

Incidentally, in the same vein, but more commonly found, are uses of airmail envelopes not paid at the airmail rate (usually paying at the surface rate), where they are returned for the proper (airmail) postage. 

Note that the handstamp on the first cover where the word “ENVELOPE” is crossed out recognized this more common occurrence.

In the second illustration, we see an August 1968 envelope also inadequately and incorrectly franked with an 8¢ airmail stamp (another Jet Airliner over Capitol). 

Therefore, the handstamp “AIRMAIL ENVELOPES OR STAMPS/NOT GOOD FOR REGULAR MAIL” was applied, and 2¢ was due to make up the correct domestic 10¢ airmail rate for up to 1 ounce.

This pair of covers is remarkable. 

Tony Wawrukiewicz and Henry Beecher are the co-authors of two useful books on U.S. domestic and international postage rates since 1872. The third edition of the domestic book is now available from the American Philatelic Society, while the international book may be ordered online.