STOCKHOLMIA 2019 Private Treaty Sale

Lot 65

United States, 1932, USS Akron Coast-to-Coast Mail. Presented in five binders, each annotated to a greater or lesser degree, holding over 450 contemporary covers from the Akron's May 1932 flight from Lakehurst, NJ, to Sunnyvale, CA, plus photos, press clippings, US Post Office Department documents, along with later commemorative items, etc. Covers include picture postcards showing zeppelins, AC Roessler covers (one binder dedicated to them), Roessler's zeppelin-illustrated Air Mail labels on piece and as unused sheetlets of four (each label in a different color), etc. Present are a range of cachet types and illustrations, with frankings including commemoratives, Kansas and Nebraska overprints, a Schermack Type III coil, bisects of 2¢ Washingtons, even a few Columbians (!) used. The Washington Bicentennial is a nice tie-in, with various labels or cachets, plus one cover with the complete set (#704-715) tied—with the cover signed by Charles E. Rosendahl, Akron's first commander. Several memorial covers or cards are here as well, along with covers signed by various other postal or naval personalities with ties to the ship.

* * *

The USS Akron and her sister ship, the USS Macon, were experimental-design zeppelins commissioned by the US Navy. Custom-built to be the first flying aircraft carriers, they were envisioned as scouting ships, the airplanes onboard serving as defenses but later repurposed to expand the zeppelin's range. At 785 feet long, Akron was one of the largest flying objects ever built, and she and Macon hold the record as the largest helium-filled airships.

Commissioned by First Lady Lou Hoover on August 8, 1931, Akron was put through a set of short-range flights to test her abilities and train her crew. Her early performance was mixed—not living up to the hype generated by press and officials—but as a prototype, she was serving her purpose: finding what worked, what didn't, and giving designers and operators the data they needed for improved designs.

In part to quell official and public grumblings, a coast-to-coast publicity flight from New Jersey to California was announced for February 28, 1932. Collectors had only a week to prepare and send covers to Lakehurst for carriage aboard Akron. The Post Office Department announced on February 20 that the amount of mail to be carried "will be limited, probably to not more than 150 pounds." A ground accident on February 22, however, scuppered the flight, and it was not until April 28 that she was deemed airworthy again.

Finally, in the early morning of May 8, 1932, the ship set off for California with nearly 42,000 pieces of mail aboard. Akron's path took her down the eastern seaboard, across the gulf states, Texas and Arizona, to Camp Kearney in San Diego and on to Sunnyvale, CA. Difficulties along the way (technical and meteorological), and a mooring mishap at Camp Kearney that left two dead, marred the flight's completion. But as is often noted cheerfully in crash cover write-ups, "the mail survived" and was processed and returned to senders.

Akron continued flying, both for publicity (up the Pacific Coast to Canada) and in service (over the Atlantic in search operations, further testing her aircraft trapeze release-and-capture system, etc.). Her final flight came on April 3, 1933, along the New England coast to assist in calibrating radio detection finder stations. Encountering heavy weather (and most likely un-recalibrated barometric altitude readings), Akron's tail fin struck the ocean shortly after midnight on April 4, breaking up and sinking the ship in very short time. Only three crew members survived.

Price: $10,000; £7,850; €8,500; 100,000 SEK; HK$78,000.

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