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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Phila-Trivia: The World's First Airmail Stamp (Issued in 1877!)

Many stamp collectors do not realize that the world's first airmail stamp was produced decades before the first mail plane took off, but that is indeed the case. In 1877, a 5c local airmail stamp (Scott #CL1) was privately issued by John F. B. Lillard, a Nashville reporter. The stamp was used to prepay postage for mail carried on a flight made by the Balloon "Buffalo" from Nashville to Gallatin, Tennessee, and piloted by balloonist Samuel Archer King. 300 stamps were printed, of which 23 are reported to have been used. Scott values the unused stamp at $7,500.- ($10,000.- for NH). Tete-beche pairs exist (as shown at right).

Although this was the first issuance of an airmail stamp, it was not the first time that mail had been carried by balloon. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, ballons montes (literally "manned balloons") carried mail out of a besieged Paris. Although no special stamps were issued by the besieged Parisians, Ballons Montes covers are highly prized, and are listed and valued by balloon name, time of departure, and destination in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue.

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