Tag Archives: Wills cigarette cards

100 Years of Sending Mail by Aeroplane

The world’s first scheduled airmail service took off 100 years ago today as part of the celebrations for the coronation of King George V. Between 9 and 26 September 1911 16 flights carried 35 bags of mail from Hendon aerodrome in North-West London to Windsor Great Park marking the world’s first regular airmail service. Today Royal Mail has issued a miniature sheet commemorating the event. This is now available from http://www.royalmail.com/aerialpost.

Aerial Post Minature Sheet.

Aerial Post Minature Sheet.

The first demonstration of an official aerial mail delivery had taken place in February 1911 when Captain Walter George Windham had organised the first flight as part of an exhibition in Allahabad, India. After his return to Britain, Captain Windham used his experience to promote the idea of special mail flights to celebrate the coronation of King George V.

Postal officials suggested the exclusive use of specially designed private stationary for which an extra charge could be made and special postmarks be used. The design was created by William Lendon and featured a Farman biplane over Windsor Castle. It was sold in Harrods, Selfridges and other major department stores in London where the special postcards and letters could also be posted and collected by a private van. A huge amount of mail – about 58,000 postcards and letters – was subsequently received before the first flight took off on 9 September 1911.

Artwork for Coronation aerial post stationery.

Artwork for Coronation aerial post stationery.

The first airmail plane left Hendon on 9 September at 4.55pm carrying one bag of mail weighing 23 ½ lbs and arrived safely at Windsor just 12½ minutes later. The mail was then taken to the Post Office in Windsor by the cycle Postman, sorted and despatched to London by the 6pm train.

Four pilots were engaged to operate the Aerial Post service with Gustav Hamel performing most of the 1911 flights in his Blériot monoplane. He became one of the best-known aviators of the time but died soon after these pioneering airmail flights when he drowned in the Channel in 1914. That flying was very precarious was also proven by the accident of one of the other airmail pioneers. Frenchman Charles Hubert crashed in his Farman biplane attempting to take off from Hendon on 11 September 1911 with eight mail bags and broke both thighs.

Front of Wills' cigarette card number 46 showing the aerial post between Hendon and Windsor that took place in 1911. (2010-0383/46)

Front of Wills' cigarette card number 46 showing the aerial post between Hendon and Windsor that took place in 1911. (2010-0383/46)

It was this uncertainty and dependency on good weather and daylight which led to the end of the Aerial Post service after these first few days in September 1911. Too many special letters and postcards had been seriously delayed due to unfavourable weather conditions, which meant that there were no further serious attempts to establish a regular airmail service in Britain before World War I intervened. However, in 1919 the first public overseas airmail service was launched between London and Paris and later extended to more distant destinations to cover the British Empire.

- Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately

You can see a selection of photographs from our collection showing the history of the airmail service on Flickr.

More cigarette card images

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Images of cigarette cards from the Wilkinson Collection will soon be added to our online catalogue so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some more of the cards with you beforehand.

Many of the cigarette cards examine aspects of postal systems in countries across what was then the British Empire. They look at the uniform worn by postal workers, the different buildings that functioned as post offices and how the systems coped with extreme weather conditions. Four cards from a set produced by Royal Mail in conjunction with Wills in c.1930 illustrate this point well by showing the workings of the Australian Post Office.

This first card (2010-0383/14) shows the fetching uniform worn by city postmen in Sydney, New South Wales which is where the first Australian post office was established in 1810. The distinctive red jacket and the white helmet are both different from the uniform of London postmen at the time, harking back to an older military style of dress.

In contrast to this, 2010-0383/06 shows a Post Office established in a new gold town in Australia. Quite different from the impression given by the formal attire of the City postman, this post office seems quite understated amongst the tents. However, it shows how important the Post Office was, that

even the most adventurous cling to home and civilization through this visible link, the Post Office.

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

The other two cards are representative of the nature of the terrain and weather experienced by Australia and how, inevitably, this affected the transportation of mails across the country. In the 19th century, most people relied upon the mail coach for intercommunication: as the third card, 2010-0383/04 depicts, it was able to cover great stretches of the country in a relatively short amount of time.

Mail Coach - Western Australia

Mail Coach - Western Australia

As has been the case recently, Australia can also be subject to some extreme weather conditions. 2010-0383/05 displays this, showing a postman delivering mail to Kiandra in New South Wales, a mountainous district and, incidentally, an old gold mining town. The postman, fully equipped with his skis, trudges through the snow with the mail slung over his shoulder; as is printed on the card

In no other business could the work be done so expeditiously.

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

All the cards mentioned, and many more, will soon be on our online catalogue.