Exploration has been a part of the human experience from the very beginning, and we have commemorated our journeys in every form of art imaginable. One of the most popular ways to memorialize our journeys has been on postage stamps. Here are a few of our favorites.
The 1930 Europe-Pan American Flight of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin
The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was one of the most-traveled airships of all time. Built in Germany in 1926-1928, the commercial craft was named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, pioneer of German airships. During its 12 years of operations, it flew more than 1 million miles in 590 flights.
The Graf first visited South America in 1930, as one stop on a flight between Spain, Brazil, and the United States. The ship offered passenger service, as well as express freight and air mail between all four countries. The first such flight left from Friedrichshafen on the 18th of May, 1930, before stopping in Seville and subsequently departing Europe.
The LZ 127 docked at Campo do Jiquiá in Brazil, to the welcoming shouts of more than 15,000 onlookers. It proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, then flew to Lakehurst, New Jersey; after departing for Seville on June 2, it returned to Germany. Two years later, the Graf had an established Germany-Brazil passenger, mail, and freight service; this route was active from 1932 to 1937.
For many of its journeys, including the Europe-Pan American flights, the Graf found its funding from franked stamps on souvenir mail. Anyone could buy a stamp with the Graf’s design issued by Spain, Brazil, and the United States, which would be good for mail to be sent on one or more parts of the Graf’s route. In the United States, these stamps were issued in three denominations: $0.65, $1.30, and $2.60. However, since the United States was caught in the Great Depression during this time, very few stamps sold at such high prices. 1,135,000 of the $0.65 stamps were printed, with only about 20,000 sold or otherwise distributed. The numbers for the pricier stamps are low, too; for the $1.30 stamp, 1,005,000 were printed with only 30,000 distributed. The most expensive stamp only sold 5,000 of its 1,070,000 print run.
The stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 30, and over 3 million unsold stamps were destroyed; this made the Graf Zeppelin issues the smallest of the United States Post Office Department issues of the twentieth century.
Despite the low sales of stamps in the US, the Graf proved the feasibility of pan-Atlantic airship service. It offered regular services between Germany and South America in the summers for five years. The increase in commercial airplane service, as well as the high cost of the gas used in the zeppelin, contributed to the decline of demand for airship services, and the Hindenburg disaster made such journeys seem unsafe to the general public.
The LZ 127 was grounded the day after the Hindenburg crashed, and removed from service after its arrival in Friedrichshafen on May 8, 1937. In mid June, the Graf was taken to Frankfurt on its final flight, deflated, and opened as a public museum. Attempts to revive the airship program failed due to tensions between the United States and Germany. On March 4, 1940, Air Minister Hermann Göring ordered the ship to be scrapped for salvage, and melted for reuse by the German military.
Antarctica has been a land of mystery for thousands of years, as early geographical theories relied on a large southern continent to “balance” the land mass of the known world. “Antarctic” was coined in the second century AD, though it was not until the Cape of Good Hope was rounded in the 15th century that it was revealed to be a continent unattached to any of the other known land masses. Explorer Captain Cook and his crew were the first modern Europeans to cross the Antarctic Circle, though they did not see the mainland.
In the 1800s, Russian and British crews made claims to be the first to catch sight of the ice surrounding the continent, but it is unclear who actually gets credit. It is thought that American seal hunter John Davis was probably the first to actually walk on the ice. During the early twentieth century, various expeditions attempted to reach the South Pole, only to end in disaster and loss of life. On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the Pole, after an arduous race with Robert Scott of England. Scott reached the Pole 33 days after Amundsen, and all five members of his party died on the return journey.
Sir Douglas Mawson led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911-1914, focusing on the coastline between Mount Gauss and Cape Adare. The mission concentrated on mapping and surveying the land, and included discoveries such as Ninnis and Mertz glaciers, Queen Mary Land, and Commonwealth Bay. The Australian Antarctic Territory issued its first stamp in 1957.
The Journey to Space
The greatest journey humanity has ever undertaken is the journey off our homeworld and into space. The 1960’s were characterized by an intense focus on human spaceflight, especially the race to land a human being on the moon. Russia and the United States both had scientific and political reasons for attempting this feat, but after a slow start, the United States quickly pulled ahead. On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 mission launched: it would be the first time human beings had left the orbit of the earth. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell (better known for his time on the Apollo 13 mission), and William Anders were the first human beings to see the entire planet from space, to see the far side of the moon with their own eyes, and the first to witness an earthrise over the lunar surface. The photo of this event is one of the most famous and evocative photos in history.
Due to complications with the Lunar Module, the mission was refocused to go without the module, and to leave a few months earlier than originally scheduled. This placed a great deal of pressure on the astronauts as their training was suddenly intensified. The Apollo 8 mission was the first manned launch of the legendary Saturn V rocket as it blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Taking three days to reach the moon, the crew and craft orbited ten times; the crew took this opportunity to share a Christmas Eve broadcast, which was the most watched television broadcast of the time. Upon returning to Earth via splashdown in the Pacific on December 27, 1968, the three astronauts were named Time’s “Men of the Year.” The Apollo 8 mission was crucial to the success of the later moon landing missions.
The moon race was of interest to the entire human race, not just the countries directly involved. This contemporary gold foil stamp from Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) shows the Apollo 8 command module, with a cratered lunar surface behind it.
Whether we are exploring the furthest reaches of our own planet, or trying to reach the stars, humanity loves to push ourselves further, and to document our journeys in whatever way we can. Whether it’s stamps, coins, fine art, or just graffiti, we know how to say “we were here!” with style.
Each of these stamps is available from our store. Please click the links to see more information or purchase!