Postcard carried on the first airmail flight, 1911, which was part of a lot sold for £420 at Richard Winterton.

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Part of a pioneering journey in 1911, the card was included in an old family collection which had been largely forgotten about for many decades.

It was offered in a lot comprised of two stamp albums that sold for £420 at the Richard Winterton (22% buyer’s premium) saleroom in Tamworth against an estimate of £200-300 on July 26.

The postcard features a panoramic view of Dijon and is addressed to an AE Sauballe Esq in Purulia, West Bengal, the sender writing on the back: “Please keep this for my collection.”

It was among about 6000 items of mail carried five miles from Allahabad to Naini on February 18, 1911, using a Humber-Sommer biplane flown by French pilot Henri Pequet. The post was then unloaded and sent on its way over land and sea.

Pequet was in India flying demonstration flights for the United Provinces Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition in Allahabad.


Postcard carried on the first airmail flight, 1911, which was part of a lot sold for £420 at Richard Winterton.

Drum up business

Early flight pioneers and promoters had tried to commercialise the travel revolution by arranging air shows (also see our Photographica feature in ATG No 2603 for stereoscopic images of an event in Bournemouth in 1910).

The Allahabad airmail flight was organised by aviation enthusiast Walter Windham (founder of the Royal Aero Club).

To help raise funds for a church boys’ hostel, he came up with the idea that if official sanction could be granted for a postal delivery that incorporated a section of the journey covered by air, then a premium could be paid for the privilege and provide a donation.

“The main event of the show was the flight made by Pequet and as such was the first flight by powered plane in India”, said Richard Winterton philately specialist Phil Ives. “The flight was a success and so airmail services were born.”

Each item of mail was handstamped with a special cachet – a decorative frank – designed by Windham and featuring the outline of an aeroplane. Usually in magenta, as is this example, but occasionally also found in black, the cachet is dated 1911 and reads First Aerial Post U.P. Exhibition Allahabad.

Mail had been carried by hot air balloons but this 13-minute journey proved the possibilities of delivery by plane.

A few months on, Windham was the architect of a regular airmail service in the UK between Hendon in London and Windsor, Berkshire, starting on September 9 as part of the coronation celebrations for King George V.